23 C
Niagara Falls
Monday, May 20, 2024
Randy Lakeit and his horse Thunder

Randy Lakeit and his horse Thunder could be the poster children for “Canada’s friendliest town.”

A modern-day cowboy, Lakeit (pronounced Lah-kite) can be seen strolling around town astride his rescued standardbred trotter.

He makes his rounds on weekend evenings, travelling from his brother’s farm on Line 1 towards the Commons.

“I have a friend in a nursing home in the Falls, and I thought since I can’t often visit her, I can go and visit the folks at Upper Canada Lodge instead. The woman in the office there gave me the thumbs up, so I figure I’m good to go.”

Lakeit ambles the sleek brown horse up to the nursing home’s common room windows once a week, and the residents within make a delighted fuss.

Man and beast then typically make their way to the water’s edge for a nice view and some grass-nibbling, and then do a round on busy Queen Street, stopping for photos and chats with locals and tourists.

“People say. ‘Only in Niagara,’ and they take pictures and ask me questions. I’m happy to talk with them and let them pat Thunder,” says Lakeit.

About four months ago he asked a ferrier friend of his if he knew of a good, cheap horse. “He said, ‘No, but I know where you can get one for free.’”

Thunder, in a former life, was raced as “Tale to Tell” and was successful enough that when he fractured both his front legs, his owners decided to let him heal rather than put him down.

“I think that’s why he’s so easy and affectionate now — because they babied him so much while he was recovering.”

The horse, who quickly became Lakeit’s companion and partner, is 10 years old. The only evident souvenir from his life on the track is a branded code on his neck. “They use liquid nitrogen which damages the hair follicles so the hair comes in white. Did a little bit on me, too,” jokes Lakeit, who in his early fifties has some white hair mixed in with the blonde.

The ferrier’s words stayed true: The only cost for taking in Thunder was shipping him from Vineland to the farm on Line 1 — which happens to be directly opposite the Sentineal farm.

“Fred Sentineal is the nicest man in the world,” says Lakeit. “He’s always trying to help everyone, won’t take anything in return. And if I ever have a question about horses, I can always just pop over and say, ‘Hey Fred….’” 

One day this past summer Lakeit and a large group of equestrians from the Sentineal farm rode their horses to the Wednesday evening SupperMarket in town.

“There were about 15 of us. Fred brought a trailer for us to hitch the horses to.” Memories were certainly created that evening, for riders and SupperMarket patrons alike.

The brief version of Lakeit’s life story follows the arc of a small agricultural town and its evolution. He’s the eighth of nine children and grew up on a farm. He and his brother Rick — who now owns Caroline Cellars winery — had ponies when they were kids. They had a particularly memorable one named Thunder. Their parents owned Willi’s Variety, which operated on the land where NOTL Hydro now sits on Henegan Road.

“My job was to eat the candy,” says Lakeit with his trademark smile. 

They also had Willi’s Grape Juice, and Judy & Wendy’s Fruit Stand — the latter of which made it onto the pages of National Geographic in 1974.

In his 20s Lakeit tried his hand at farming mixed fruit, but it “cost more than it produced,” so he moved on to a long and successful career breeding dogs, specifically rottweiler and dogue de bordeaux (French mastiff) breeds. He’s sold pets to owners all over Canada, and won many awards and trophies. “One of my young dogues won best Canadian male puppy,” he says with great pride.

Most recently the renaissance man does odd jobs, mainly working for wealthy newcomers — “everything but roofing,” he said.

Lakeit straddles distinctly different eras, and seems to have one foot in the past as he rides his trusty steed through the changing streets of town. The slow clip-clop of hooves on asphalt are reminiscent of simpler times.

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