05/15/2010 11:00PM

Injured teen receives dream gift at River Downs


CINCINNATI, Ohio - Billy Hays is known throughout the Midwest as somebody who has acquired hundreds of horses through claims, private sales, or the sales ring. He will most be remembered around River Downs for the horse he gave away Saturday.

Hays, a Louisville, Ky., car dealer who ranks first in the nation in number of wins for an owner, purchased a hunter/jumper for $3,500, just to give the horse away to Taylor Rhodus.

The story began in early December when 16-year-old Rhodus was involved in a car crash. Her boyfriend, Joshua Crane, was killed. Rhodus was driving her pickup when it hydroplaned and crossed the median, crashing head-on into a moving truck. She broke both of her legs and ankles, her wrist, and 11 ribs.

The doctors thought she would be able to walk again with some pain, but told her she wouldn't be able to ride horses again. She has a rod in one leg and is missing parts of her kneecap in both knees.

Rhodus had a relationship with Stormy, the horse Hays purchased for her, long before the accident. She was in the Equine Science program at the Greentree Health Science Academy in Monroe, Ohio, about 25 miles from Cincinnati. Her boyfriend Crane was trying to buy Stormy for her just before the accident.

After she came out of a drug-induced coma, Rhodus was depressed, and her mother, Tess, used Stormy as a way to encourage Taylor to get better and come out of her depression. A few months ago, Rhodus was finally able to go see Stormy. It lifted her spirits and she smiled for the first time. Both horse and girl were as happy as they had been since the last time they were together. It seemed that all was right in Rhodus's universe, if just for a little while. The doctors said Rhodus might walk by March, but she was back riding Stormy by the end of that month.

Word then came down that the owner of Stormy had received an offer, rumored to have been $8,000 to $10,000, if he would sell the horse. Tess Rhodus began searching for things to sell to buy the horse for her daughter. The mother of four was having a hard time coming up with enough, having sold all of the jewelry except her wedding and mother's ring. Hays's trainer, Joe Woodard, got wind of the story and the rest as they say, is history. After the eighth race Saturday, Stormy was presented to Rhodus by Woodard.

"Billy said there are only a few times in your life you can make a difference, and this is one of them" Woodard said.