by Rich Fisher, For The Inquirer
For years when she was a child, Cozette McAvoy would ask her mom for a pony. One day years later it hit her that, hey, a high-powered corporate lawyer can buy her own horse.
Since that revelation, McAvoy has become an owner, trainer and breeder of harness racing horses. She even shoes her own horses.
And while many lawyers own horses, it’s not as common to find ones who train and shoe them.
“I don’t really know any other attorneys that do this,” said McAvoy, a Coatesville resident who received her undergraduate degree from West Chester, a master’s from Lehigh, and law degree from the University of Georgia. “It’s such a pristine world. You come in dressed in your suits with your nails done, and your hair done and your make-up and all this.
“And then you go to sitting in an all-weather suit getting splattered with mud and hoping you remember the towels for the horse who tends to not keep his tail down … but my nails are still done,” she added with a laugh.
McAvoy would not have it any other way, as dealing with horses has provided her a joy that she can’t get in the corporate world.
That’s not to say she’s not a happy – and successful – attorney. McAvoy is a senior attorney, cell and gene therapies unit, for Novartis Oncology. She deals in acquisition due diligences, contract and license negotiations, product strategy and development and litigation and opinions. In the past six years she has won nine awards in her profession.
But like anyone, McAvoy needs a get-away world. She has gotten it with the 11 horses that she has stabled at Showplace Farms in Millstone, N.J. Two are broodmares and the other nine she trains. All but one is a trotter.
“I’d say it’s definitely an escape,” McAvoy said. “It’s like a vacation compared to (my job). Sometimes yes, you are a little cold, you get rained upon and muddy and what have you. But it’s the joy of being out there that makes you overlook anything you would consider to be a problem I would say.”
The joy of horses started early in McAvoy’s life as she grew up on a farm in Phoenixville, Pa.
“My aunt bred Arabians and sheep, but the Arabians caught my interest a little more than the sheep did,” she said with a laugh. “I was always fascinated with them.”
McAvoy picked up the nickname “Doc” at an early age because she wanted to be a veterinarian. Her first job in high school was mucking stalls at a local farm and it was there she truly fell in love with horses, but her initial career dream was dashed.
“I wanted to be a vet forever,” she said. “But the combination of what you had to do with mares and how it smells and just the 4 a.m. type of thing, I didn’t think I could really handle that.”
Thus, she ended up getting a degree in biology. From there she earned a master’s in chemistry and then it was on to law school. That spawned her career in acquisitions and patent work and also provided a nice enough payday that by 2011, she wasn’t asking for horses, she was buying them.
“I always wanted a pony,” McAvoy said. “I always asked for that every single holiday. My mom would save all her money to send me to Girl Scout camp in the summer so I could ride. And finally I thought ‘Wait a second, I can afford a pony now!'”
Initially, McAvoy’s interest was in Thoroughbreds, and in the summer of 2009 she treated herself to a birthday present by going to the pedigree and conformation clinic at Saratoga. While there, she met the Taylor brothers from Taylor Made – one of the largest Thoroughbred consignment companies in the world. Through the brothers, she met their uncle, Billy Bob Taylor, who was a harness racing man.
“I started chit-chatting with him,” she said. “He started talking to me about Standardbreds, how they race once a week, and you get a lot more enjoyment out of them. And they also happened to live right next to where my parents were. So I ended up hanging out with them all the time and he was always twisting my ear about Standardbreds and that’s what gave me the extra kick to come in and buy one on my own.”
This past summer McAvoy got to visit Jimmy Takter’s stable on her birthday, just before Hambletonian Day.
“I had heard from several people that he was the best in the business, and he was kind enough to allow me to stop by for a day,” McAvoy said. “I was able to tour the barns, watch him train, speak with his farrier, Conny (Svensson), and I even got a picture with (trotter) Father Patrick. That was nothing less than impressive.
“He’s everything I was told and more, and definitely a huge motivating factor in my decision to focus more on 2- and 3-year-old racing.”
McAvoy believes she has a nice 3-year-old in Celebrity Massive.
“He’s trying to get everything down,” she said. “I’m really excited about his potential this year. He just trained like a monster, really tough. He’s going to be really good this year.”
And she still loves her older conditioned horses, like trotter Worth The Money As, who recently finished fifth in the $25,000 Dash for the C Notes final at the Meadowlands.
McAvoy has a busy schedule as she is also involved in some real estate dealings. Interestingly, she transfers her work as an attorney to her skills as a trainer.
“With the horses, it tends to be a lot of keeping everything calm, keeping everything relaxed, just being patient,” McAvoy said. “With the legal field sometimes it can be the complete opposite. But primarily what I do is transaction negotiations and my style of negotiation is not very adversarial. We are both working to get in a good place that is better for each of us than if we both went toe to toe. So I try to keep it calm and discuss what is the purpose of this, what are we trying to do, what makes sense.
“I think that same kind of methodical calmness translates to the horses. But sitting outside on a cart is completely different than being inside a sterile environment with a bunch of high-powered people in a conference room for 12 hours.”
It is a life that she is thrilled to have discovered, and something McAvoy feels she will spend a lifetime doing.
“I enjoy my work as an attorney but it doesn’t give you the satisfaction of doing things with your hands, working on your own,” she said. “I’m so much more content. I was used to juggling a lot of things when I started this. The horses were just something amazing, something I wanted to have in my life for so long.”