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Remembering Viva Pentelicus

This article was originally featured in the February 2024 Issue of BloodHorse Magazine in the Second Acts series.

This article is the original format and text. To read the BloodHorse article or to subscribe click HERE.

Remembering Viva Pentelicus: From Racetrack to Compassion and Connection - A Tale of Resilience

By: Alexis Arbaugh

Thoroughbred racehorses, beyond the racetrack, have the opportunity to start the second chapter of their life. Thoroughbreds who are bred for speed and purpose deserve fulfilling post-racing careers that honor their lineage and natural drive, guiding them toward a new future while respecting their racing legacy. Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited organizations provide care and opportunities to our Thoroughbreds, unlocking their potential and showcasing their versatility beyond the track and ensuring a fulfilling, meaningful life beyond their racing days. Numerous off-the-track Thoroughbreds are allowed the remarkable opportunity to evolve beyond their racing origins, finding new roles as riding horses, therapy horses, etc. each one fulfilling a unique purpose in their new life.

Viva Pentelicus, a 1996 gelding by Pentelicus out of Vivacious Sheila, arrived at Healing Arenas in late 2012 from Flying Y, a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) farm in Oklahoma. Healing Arenas had partnered with TRF to launch a Second Chances program for California – a program that eventually became Healing Arenas’ own equine-assisted therapy program. After selecting Viva and a few others, Healing Arenas loaded up their trailer and headed home to their farm in California.

Viva had retired to Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in 2005 after starting in 96 races at more than 20 tracks across the country over the course of 8 years, earning $347,494 from a record of 22 wins, 9 seconds, and 14 thirds. At just 15.1 hands, he was nicknamed “the little horse that could” for his immense heart and try.

Steve Trizis, a partial owner of Viva during his racing career, recalls a time when they sent him to a farm for a break and relaxation between races for a few months. The farm manager called Steve back a month into Viva’s stay, pleading them to take him back to the track. Viva was restless with a strong desire to run, and the supposedly relaxing vacation turned out to be anything but. Steve and his crew picked Viva up and brought him home to the track, where Viva appeared more relaxed doing his job on the track than anywhere else.

Viva’s heart carried him through his entire racing career, and he finished first, second, and second in his final three starts in the fall of 2005. He then did get a well-deserved retirement vacation at TRF’s Flying Y until he was picked out by Julie Baker of Healing Arenas. While all the horses brought home for the burgeoning Healing Arenas’ equine-assisted therapy program were special, 16-year-old Viva had a personality nobody could ignore. He was ready for a new job, and it was as if he knew when he stepped off the trailer, his purpose was connecting with people and helping them heal.

“When I first saw him,” Julie remembers, “it took about 15 seconds for me to realize how much class he has and how much I wanted him. He was a classy, old-school horse. He’s a warhorse, and right after I met him, I made up my mind that he would never leave me.”

In his 11 years at Healing Arenas and through a move with the program from California to Nevada, Viva assisted numerous groups through therapy: veterans, PTSD victims, first responders, foster youth, trafficking victims, and individuals and couples in counseling. Throughout these sessions, participants didn’t just receive therapy; they also acquired crucial horsemanship skills.

Viva seemed to recognize when he was being called, as the distinctive call involved singing “Viva Las Vegas,” and it was as if he understood that they were singing to him.

Among the many individuals impacted by Viva, one special story stands out above the rest. Viva played a significant role in helping a 17-year-old in foster care who was on the verge of aging out of the system. The teen, initially introverted and struggling to connect with people, found solace and guidance with Viva. Through their interactions, Viva helped him realize that it’s okay to reach out and connect with others. By the end of his time in the foster care system, the young individual had gained the confidence to lead his group, delegate responsibilities, and take control of his life.

Viva also played a role in teaching veterinary technician students as he participated in their “live labs.” He thoroughly enjoyed the attention he received from both vet tech and therapy students, just as much as these students cherished being around him.

Viva served as the poster child for Healing Arenas, and on National Agriculture Day in 2016, the then 20-year-old represented his breed at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, interacting with elected officials, staff, and the public. He served as a great example of the versatility of Thoroughbreds, proving wrong many of the misconceptions about racehorses and their ability to succeed in second careers after racing.

Viva offered care and support consistently until he passed away at the age of 27 in August of 2023. A painted portrait of Viva now hangs at Healing Arenas, a gift from one of their volunteers and Viva’s biggest fan. It serves as a reminder of his enduring spirit—a symbol of hope and kindness that continues to inspire and guide those on the path to healing. Viva, the spirited Thoroughbred, went from a winner on the racetrack to the heart of equine-assisted therapy. His journey tells a story of resilience and the power of connection. Through therapy sessions and teaching moments, Viva not only offered comfort but also shared important life lessons.

Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance has awarded accreditation to both Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and Healing Arenas and is proud to support Thoroughbreds like Viva as they transition from racing into new chapters in their lives. Propelled by an unwavering commitment to our industry’s deserving horses, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredits and inspects aftercare organizations, ensuring they meet standards of horse care, program policies, and operations. Accredited organizations receive grant funding from Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance each year to support the needs of the Thoroughbreds in their programs, whether those horses be looking for new adoptable homes, enjoying permanent retirement on a sanctuary farm, or working in educational or equine-assisted therapy programs like Viva.

Join us in safeguarding our Thoroughbreds’ well-being and honoring their legacy by donating to Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Together, let’s create a smooth transition for our deserving athletes to ensure they find loving homes and opportunities for fulfilling new careers.

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