continued McEwan found the case so interesting, she started looking at the legal side of appraising. In 1991 she went to USD and got a paralegal degree.
Her big break came while she was staying with her mom in Florida in early 1995. A production company asked her to do some research for a movie on the Helen Brach murder story. The more she researched, the less she could see why horse trader Richard Bailey had been charged with solicitation of murder and swindling Brach with "worthless" horses.
"I was not finding any motive here, number one. Number two, they kept pointing fingers, saying he sold Helen Brach worthless horses. But when I researched the horses, I [discovered] these weren't worthless horses, they were just three-year-old thoroughbreds that didn't make it. That's not unusual. Remember my pyramid chart: 74 percent of the total running population [of racehorses] wins less than $10,000 over a lifetime. Twenty percent make less than $1000 over a lifetime. Twelve percent never ever win a penny."
Then she was asked if she would talk with the Richard Bailey defense lawyers about her research for the movie. "I made phone calls. 'I have information pertinent to your case,' I told them." They didn't take much notice until she faxed them a single page of information. "It was a pedigree page on one of the horses in the case. Very pertinent information. I got a call back in five minutes!"
A month later, in May 1995, she had a plane ticket to Chicago, all expenses paid. "They had me up there for the trial for three weeks in a $300-a-day hotel room, with a [health] club membership. It was so cool! I assisted the defense attorneys through cross-examination with prosecutors' witnesses. We would meet for dinner almost every night after trial for two- or three-hour sessions preparing [the defense attorneys] for the next day. I was also on the witness stand, providing equine education to the court and trying to show there is no direct correlation between how much you pay for a racehorse and racetrack success."
Even after this experience, McEwan wasn't convinced law and horses was the way she should go. But a New Zealand case that paid her $30,000 for 60 days' work convinced her. "God was knocking on my door," she says, "trying to send me a message."
This time she heeded it. Since then, she's implemented a "very aggressive marketing program" aimed at banks and insurance companies and doesn't expect any shortage of contracts. "It's a huge business," she says. "The horse industry produced $25 billion in goods and services in 1996. Nearly $2 billion in taxes. That's as much as the motion picture industry." She says horseracing can involve as many as a million people, from owners to jockeys to stall cleaners. The showhorse industry involves another 3.5 million people. Total economic impact, she figures, is over $112 billion.
And where you've got money, you've got disputes.
But all that legal know-how and racehorse genealogical data is nothing, she says, if you don't have a feel for the horses themselves. "I love horses," she says. "I started riding at three. I've had 28 years in the showhorse world. I can think like a horse."
She tells the story of Ghost Runner. "He was a gray horse. Real cute. His knee was so sore after a race in Louisiana, he just lay down. For five days. He wouldn't get up to eat or drink. My husband said, 'Leave him alone. He'll get up. He's got to get up on his own.' I was, like, forget it! I went down there and for hours I lay in the stall next to his head. He just needed somebody to care about him. I talked to him. I petted his head. Finally I had to go do some work. As I left, I turned around, and Ghost Runner got up. He had lost his will to live, and I talked him back into getting up. I'll never forget that. There are a lot of nice stories on the racetrack. Yes, there are bad people, but most people are into it because they love the horses. Me, I love horses and the law. It's perfect."