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The Horse That Changed My Life | Nikki Sharpe and Zeus

"He is just so honest and so willing"

Nikki Sharpe has worn many hats, helmets you could say, since she began riding horses when she was barely a teenager.

From the famed barns at Windfields Farm in Oshawa where she grew up and still lives, Sharpe has developed horses of all ages and worked for some of the top stables in North America.

Through her travels for the last 15 years or so, one horse has remained a constant in her life, her best friend named Zeus, whom she met while working at Maple Creek Ranch in home town when she was in her 20s.

“I had always wanted a horse but my parents had told me that owning a horse was a luxury,” said Sharpe, who will turn 34 later this month. “But when I saw Zeus come into Maple Creek, it was love at first sight.”

Zeus, a cross between the stocky Haflinger breed and a Canadian Quarter Horse, became her project when he arrived as an inexperienced 3-year-old and she soon managed to scrape enough money together to buy the gelding. The pair have been inseparable ever since and have taken on many challenges over the years.

This spring, Sharpe and Zeus conquered new territory in the world of Ontario Quarter Horse racing and on May 7, the pair accompanied their first starter, and their first winner, to the gate at Ajax Downs.

Hammer Tyme, from the Big Dog Racing stable of Carol and Dave McIntyre in Hampton, ON, sped to victory on opening day of the Ajax meeting and was greeted by a beaming Sharpe and her dependable mount.

(Photo below - NIKKI SHARPE and ZEUS accompany HAMMER TYME and jockey BRIAN BELL at Ajax Downs on May 7 - Laurie Overton Photo)

Sharpe began working with Carol McIntyre in November after stints working at various Thoroughbred farms and one year training as a vet assistant. Next to horses, however, her greatest passion has been fitness training and she set a goal for herself to study to be a fitness instructor and personal trainer.

Today, Sharpe is among the top 500 instructors in Canada and she has been nominated for a fitness award.

Zeus has some lofty accomplishments of his own. He began with Sharpe in western pleasure riding, tried barrels and has even done jumping.

“There isn’t anything you can present to him that he won’t do,” said Sharpe.

Zeus had his first experience with ponying racehorses a couple of years ago when Sharpe was working at a Thoroughbred farm and the transition to ponying Quarter Horses at the McIntyre’s operation has been a smooth one.

“He’s so honest and willing” said Sharpe about Zeus. “He’s got such a great personality.”

With her two careers thriving – “I have the best of both worlds now” – Sharpe teaches fitness classes and then spends the rest of her time at Big Dog taking care of the barn, lunging horses and helping Carol prepare the runners for race day.

She has fallen in love with the Quarter Horse industry and believes Zeus has too.

“I like the Quarter Horse personality a little bit better; with Thoroughbreds everything always seems to be a rush. Here it is laid back, and calm. It’s a nice atmosphere. I was really lucky to find Carol and Dave.”

Zeus certainly looked like he was at home on the track at Ajax as the now 18-year-old gelding he stayed with the young and feisty Hammer Tyme in the saddling stall, accompanied him to the gate and then back to the winner’s circle.

Later that day, Sharpe took to her Facebook page much like a proud parent; “Zeus made me so proud in his debut as a pony for the Quarter Horses on Sunday”.

No doubt if Zeus could talk, he would be proud of his best friend too.

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