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A horse’s death, heartfelt gift bring together 11-year-old girl and retired harness racing champion

January 13, 2019

A horse’s death, heartfelt gift bring together 11-year-old girl and retired harness racing champion

Mario Caponi bakes a mean pizza.

Lindsay Whitmore has a wicked jump shot.

How a 59-year-old restaurateur from Cuyahoga Falls and an 11-year-old middle school athlete from Stow crossed paths this past autumn is the stuff that Netflix throws money at to purchase screenplay rights.

Caponi, when he’s not running his family’s Rocco’s Pizza in his hometown, is racing to Northfield Park to watch his stable of harness horses perform. His all-time favorite is the trotter Hello Carlo, who after 12 years of competing, signaled he was tired of circling the track to earn his oats and was retired at the end of 2017.

It was a well-earned rest, especially for a horse who cost his owner only $2,900 at the sales. Hello Carlo won 70 of 377 starts and $348,363.

“He just had enough of the racetrack,” said Caponi. “He was done and there was no way I was going to push him to race.”

Whitmore, when she’s not playing for the Lady Black Tiger Hoops, a Cuyahoga Falls youth travel basketball team, can be found at Larry’s Riding Stables in Kent, getting to know Hello Carlo before a new season of 4-H and county fair riding competition gets underway.

The team of Whitmore and Hello Carlo is forming because of a horrific accident and its resulting tragedy.

An old and well-worn mare that Brad Whitmore found six years ago on Craig’s List for $160 was his daughter’s first equine partner. Her name was Hallelujah Honey and the two of them hit it off right from the start.

“That’s because Lindsay and my older daughter, Tiffani, pretty much nursed Honey back to good health,” said Brad Whitmore. “When we got her she was all but half-dead. The people who had her fell on hard economic times and the mare all but starved to death. There was no life in her eyes.”

Before long, Hallelujah Honey was as strong as a horse and Lindsay Whitmore hopped on her back for a several summers of riding competitions in Summit and Portage Counties.

However, last July at the Summit County Fair in Tallmadge, disaster struck.

Lindsay Whitmore rides Hallelujah Honey during a county fair.  Photo courtesy Beth LoCascio

“Lindsay and Honey were waiting for the ribbon presentation when the horse next to them kicked out and struck Honey in her left front leg,” said Beth LoCascio, Lindsay’s mother.

The impact shattered Honey’s leg. The horror of the accident was soon sensed by the young girls standing around the stricken horse.

“One girl passed out. Another threw up,” said Brad Whitmore.

“The whole barn was crying,” said LoCascio.

Except Lindsay Whitmore. She had a judgment to make.

“She cried when we got home, but not until then” said LoCascio. “It was her horse and her decision to make.”

A veterinarian showed Lindsay an X-ray of Honey’s fractured left fore leg.

“We had to let her go,” said Lindsay.

The arena was emptied of competitors and spectators, the doors were slammed shut and Honey was euthanized.

Word of the devastating day at the fair spread quickly. Among those hearing of it was Caponi.

“My friend Eddie Gerzanics has a daughter in 4-H and he told me the story,” said Caponi.

It got the pizza man to thinking. Being a horse lover himself, he said he felt terrible for Lindsay, who was now without a mount for competing. And then it hit him: Wouldn’t easy going Hello Carlo be perfect for Lindsay?

Caponi contacted Whitmore and LoCascio last September and set up a meeting. But it wasn’t mom and dad he was interested in speaking to.

“I wanted to be careful that Hello Carlo was getting a good home,” said Caponi.

“It was really like a job interview,” said LoCascio. “He even asked her if she had a boyfriend.”

“Well, if she did, maybe Hello Carlo wouldn’t get the care he deserved,” said Caponi.

He was reminded that Lindsay was only 11. No boyfriends.

Lindsay Whitmore poses in Larry’s Stables in Kent alongside the riding ribbons she won with Hallelujah Honey.  Photo courtesy Beth LoCascio

With no more than a verbal agreement between Caponi and Brad Whitmore, Hello Carlo arrived at Larry’s Riding Stables in October. Since then, he and Lindsay have been getting to know each other.

“He doesn’t like peppermints,” she said. “He does love apples.”

Mom has already given Hello Carlo a thumbs up.

“He’s so lovable,” said LoCascio.

Although Lindsay has moved on, she hasn’t forgotten Honey.

“I have a cutting of hair from her mane and her tail,” she says.

“I would like to get some of it put into bracelets,” said her mom.

And Caponi?

He’s anticipating Hello Carlo’s appearance at this summer’s (July 23-28) Summit County Fair. “I’ll be there to see my old horse compete,” he said. “Plus, July 28 is my birthday”

Cake – make that pizza – for everybody.

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