How a Horse Helped Cowboy Hall of Fame Inductee, Bill Casner Overcome Tragedy
Being a part of RIDE TV’s This Old Horse has opened my eyes to so many great horses and disciplines. What I did not expect from working on this show was all of the great people I would meet and all the friendships I would develop with the owners of these special horses. One owner in particular that I have become fond of, was recently recognized by the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame this year as one of the greatest horsemen in history, Bill Casner.
Casner is probably best known for “Well Armed,” the winner of the Dubai Classic, also known as the “World’s Richest Race.” We had the privilege of capturing Bill and Well Armed’s story on the first episode of season 2 of This Old Horse.
There is so much more to this story that makes Casner a remarkable human being. He is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He invited us out to his beautiful ranch in Flower Mound, Texas, and he was happy to share his incredible story with us for an unforgettable episode of This Old Horse. He began his story in such a nostalgic way, reminiscing about his childhood and how his love for horses began when he was only four years old, riding on his family’s ranch and gathering cattle during the summer. He worked there every year during his childhood. Weather and work on the ranch could be grueling, but like so many other cowboys I know, he did it because it ignited a passion within him. That passion and joy was found while being on the back of a horse; being one with another animal and working as a team. “There is nothing else like it,” he said.
This love for horses led him to his first job of loping horses at Sunland Park. “It paid a dollar a horse and that was a lot back then,” said Casner. As the crew and I sat and listened to his stories of how he came from nothing and built an empire, a tone was set. The best way that I can describe that tone is: true dedication, hard work and passion will pay off. He has lived his whole life this way.
He met his wife Susan at the races working in one of the ticketing booths, he immediately knew she would be his teammate in life. After asking her out multiple times, she finally gave in and just a few months later they would be backpacking through Europe, something they both had always wanted to do. They traveled Europe sleeping in sleeping bags in parks and living on only $10 a day. “It was probably one of the best times of [her] life,” said Susan. This would be where Casner asked her to marry him.
Casner’s hard work would lead to advances in the horse-racing world where he went from being just a kid loping horses to owning some of the greatest race horses that ever lived. As his success grew, Casner’s family grew as well. Susan and Bill had two daughters that changed their lives. The girls were very active and into sports and kept Bill and Susan busy, like most children. Casner had stepped away from the racing world for a while to raise his family and he had gone back to his western roots of rodeo and team roping. His girls both rode and the horse always seemed to stay a part of his life. He eventually decided to get back into the racing world and partnered in one of the biggest endeavors of his career and created WinStar Farm.
After all of the success and good fortune that had come to this hard working man, there were moments to come that would be inevitable, unpredictable, and testing in every way possible. It is the outcome of these moments in life that I believe sets the greats apart from everyone else.
Bill and Susan’s daughters had decided to travel and see the world. Coming to the end of her trip, Karri, Casner’s youngest called home asking if she could extend her trip and go to Bali. “She had always wanted to see Bali,” Casner said. It was on this trip that one of the largest terrorist attacks at the time would take place at a nightclub and five Americans would be killed. Karri was one of them.
Casner talked of losing his daughter on the show and as we were filming I could no longer hold my composure and tears started streaming down my face. This man had seen such sorrow, a sadness that most, thankfully, never have to endure, and those that have, tend to never overcome. He talked about how he had “cried so much that you just get to a point where you can’t cry anymore.” He realized that he had to make sure his family did not fall into a hole of destruction because of their devastating loss.
“Instead of grieving our loss we tried to remember and cherish all the wonderful times we had with Karri,” said Casner.
During this time of darkness, I like to think a miracle was brewing, and it would soon come in the shape of a horse. Well Armed was born just a few months later. Casner explained Well Armed was born on a very special day, Karri’s birthday. The horse did not only share a birthday with Karri but the little colt was also pigeon toed, just like Karri. It was these little similarities I believe that led Bill to see something special inside of this horse. A horse that he couldn’t sell because of his flaws meant it was one he would have to keep.
It was with this horse that the Casner family would conquer so many mountains together, but not without trials and tribulations. Well Armed was turning out to be what they had hoped for, a great race horse, when they had discovered a chip in his knee after an accident during a race where two horses had hit the gelding on either side. A surgery was performed to remove the chip which was successful. However, days later Casner got a call that Well Armed was down in his stall and had fractured his hip in recovery. The fracture was so bad that there was talk of euthanizing the horse, But Casner wouldn’t have it. This fracture is where Casner’s true grit would shine through once again. If there was any chance of saving this special horse, he was going to give it everything he had to make it happen. For almost a year, Bill personally rehabilitated his young gelding. Through swimming and exercise he slowly brought this horse back to what most couldn’t believe, ready to race.
“We would only give him as much as he could take, and whatever we threw at him, he would take it. It’s what I like to call a horse with impeccable gumption,” said Casner. Listening to Casner tell the story gave me chills; A horse that should never have probably walked again, let alone run again, would go on to win the richest horse race in the world, the Dubai World Cup.
In the short time I have known Casner, I have been moved by the person he is. After filming the This Old Horse episode on Well Armed I remember calling home to my family because I couldn’t wait to tell them all about it. A story of beginnings, setbacks, devastating losses that most wouldn’t be able to withstand, determination, passion, and dedication that lead to a true fairytale ending. I describe Bill as the epitome of the American dream, and I can’t help but get choked up when I think about all he has been through and all he has accomplished. A person can only hope to be half the man that Casner is.
He was quoted in an article that I recently read, “I wasn’t certain how they chose me for this honor, but I do know that it was on the back of a horse.” He went on to say, “horses have been an extraordinary part of my life. You have this 1200-pound horse that so willing to do whatever you ask it to do. They totally amaze me.” I’m so proud and honored to have met Bill Casner. The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame couldn’t have picked a better candidate for recognizing a living legend. Congratulations to Bill Casner and the Casner family!
On another note, I have some exciting news to share with you all. We will be shooting more episodes of This Old Horse for RIDE TV! I cannot wait to cover more emotional stories like Casner’s and Well Armed. Do you have any suggestions on which horse I should feature next? Be sure to leave me a comment below!