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Cat Burglar (Taco) 1996-2023

Cat Burglar (“Taco”) 1996-2023

Cat Burglar, a racehorse, event horse, dressage horse, adventure horse, and beloved friend, died peacefully March 31 from the infirmities of old age. He was 27.

Cat Burglar, known as Taco to his family and friends, was an exceptional athlete and devoted companion. He left the cross country start box 54 times and crossed the finish flags for each and every course without a single cross country jumping penalty. His movement and willingness earned high scores in dressage competition after his retirement from eventing. He won numerous year-end awards and Thoroughbred Incentive Program championships throughout his career. However, it was his kind and quirky personality that brought joy to his people as much as any of his ribbons. He was flighty, brilliant, gritty, exuberant, intuitive, overachieving, clever, mischievous, and affectionate. His sanity was sometimes in doubt, but his generosity and love for his friends never was.

Born in Michigan in 1996 (Up the Tempo x Taco’s Car Phone-Far Out East), was registered as Taco’s Tempo with the Jockey Club. He was purchased as a yearling for $1,800 and made 34 starts for John and Martha Struthers—and hit the board in about half of them, with three wins and a total of $32,500 in winnings upon his retirement in 2000. He was prone to bucking off exercise riders and so was assigned a larger one. He was twice suspended from racing due to misbehavior in the starting gate and sported a lifelong scar from a head injury sustained during one incident.

In the summer of 2000, CANTER Michigan volunteer Annika Kostrubala spotted Taco on the backside of Great Lakes Downs and immediately fell in love with his swinging walk and quiet charisma. Annika was unable to locate the trainer, so she left a note on the trainer’s car that she wished to purchase the horse. Weeks later, while she was overseas, Taco was suspended for the second time and the trainer called to offer him for sale. The catch was that the horse had to be gone the same day. After a scramble Annika’s daughter was able to pick Taco up and bring him home to Grass Lake, Michigan. When Annika returned to her farm, she found a thin, anxious little horse who would regularly unload her with a signature crouch, buck, and bolt pattern. However, as she gained his trust they were able to try some cross-country fences. She discovered that he was exceptionally willing, bold, and careful. The two began an illustrious eventing career of 35 starts and two CCI** completions. He was 2006 Area 8 Preliminary Horse of the Year.

In giving one hundred percent to every endeavor, Taco occasionally behaved in ways that disregarded the potential for injury. Such was the case when in 2007 he attempted to kick another horse on the other side of a stall door and caught his left hind leg instead. The serious wound that resulted led to an eighteen-month recovery complicated by lack of healing and an autoimmune response that led to uveitis. In the winter of 2007-2008, Taco came close to losing his battle. He cashed in one of his nine lives for another chance, and eventually recovered fully.

By the time Taco recovered from his illness and injury in 2008, Annika had embarked on a new professional path toward a physician assistant’s degree. She began a quiet search for the right situation for Taco and found it in fellow Chronicle of the Horse bulletin board poster Anastasia Curwood. Anastasia, a historian living in Nashville, Tennessee at the time, had just decided that her current equine partner was better suited to a different career than eventing. Taco’s experience and competitiveness were a dream come true for her, and she leapt at the chance to lease, then purchase, Taco from Annika with the support of her partner Carol Skricki. She brought him to Panther Springs Farm in Columbia, TN, then the home base of professional Amy Wise.

With Anastasia, Taco made twenty more starts at Novice and Training Level in USEA Areas 3 and 8. Far less volatile than he had been at the start of his sport career (though still quite spirited), Taco built Anastasia’s confidence over fences and continued his record of zero cross-country jumping penalties. He could be spooky and explosive at home and in the warmup in episodes fondly labeled Taco Moments, but he always seemed to know that the competition arena was his time to sparkle. He was always both brave and careful. In one memorable lesson, Amy Wise placed an artificial flower in the middle of a skinny fence to provide a focal point. Taco was concerned about the flower, but he would never dream of refusing the fence. He simply made certain to clear it by multiple feet. Anastasia’s favorite memory of Taco’s power was the steeplechase phase of the Indiana Eventing Association’s Training Three Day Event in 2011. Taco especially relished the combination of his racing and jumping talents and found a rhythmic groove around the track that left both horse and rider feeling ready to take on anything.

Taco’s eventing career ended when he was 17, after he injured the SDFT of his left hind leg for the second time. He transitioned to dressage competition at first and second levels, and qualified for the 2014 USDF Region 2 Championships at first level. At the show, he won a deeply competitive warmup class that was so large it had been split into two sections. His score was the highest of both. When it came time for the championship class, Taco was so excited about what he thought should come next—cross country—that he put his tongue over the bit as he trotted down center line and kept it there for half of the test. He was certain that he had been especially dazzling. Due to a hind suspensory injury the following spring, this would be Taco’s last competition.

Taco spent his retirement years in the style to which he had become accustomed. With Anastasia and Carol he had moved to Versailles, Kentucky in 2014. He did a brief stint as an adventure horse, brave and feisty on the trails. He continued to make some hasty and dangerous decisions, such as when he jumped the four-foot gate in his paddock on two occasions (a crash landing the second time used up another of his nine lives). In later years his job was to cuddle, make people smile, and look handsome. He moved to Karen Isberg’s Redbud Hill Farm, where he fell in love with a Shetland pony cross named Ginger, enjoyed expert nutritional support, goosed any horse that got cross tied in front of his stall, and destroyed each of his neighbor Oreo’s fly masks, one by one.

Taco is survived by his moms Anastasia and Carol, his previous owner Annika, his brother Biggie, his bonus brother and neighbor Glen, and his caregiver Karen. He has many other extended family members and friends. He is laid to rest on Bay Stone Farm in Versailles, KY, so named for his gleaming and soft bay coat. Donations in his honor can be made to Strides for Equality Equestrians (www.stridesforequality.org).


Thank you for sharing that lovely eulogy. I remember Annika writing about him and admiring her determination and eventual partnership with Taco. He made many memories, and that’s a lasting contribution to many lives.

Run on Taco!


Lovely remembrance :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:
Taco shared many of his TB quirks - if none of his Racing or Eventing successes - with my own Hey Vern.
Apologies for the hijack.
I smiled as I read your tribute, made me remember my own Coulda Been a Contender boy :disappointed_relieved:
Here he is, failing his 2yo Speed Test - hence no tattoo & no JC registration :smirk:


What a lovely memorial for Taco. My heartfelt condolences to all of the connections whose lives he touched. He sounds like he was the most wonderful horse, exactly what a TB should be. :heart:


I appreciate the kind condolences. Taco was a denizen of this Eventing forum for years through many adventures. Members of this board offered much support, especially when he was injured in 2007-8. And Annika and I met here. Taco gave us these friendships as well as his own heart. We miss him terribly.


Oh wow! I’m new here but I remember watching him go as a volunteer. Big hugs to his connections.

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@CookiePony what a loving and beautiful remembrance of a much-loved horse.
Thank you for sharing it with us.
Gallop on, Taco.

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I have not been on the boards for ages, but I was a regular when you and Annika were competing (and rehabbing) Taco. I am so sorry for your loss. He certainly was a character!