April 28, 2012
"The Thoroughbred horse has the best temperament of any breed," said two-time World Champion Three Day Event rider Bruce Davidson at Thoroughbreds For All, a symposium on selecting and training Thoroughbred ex-racehorses held April 28 in Lexington, Kentucky. Nobody in the crowd needed convincing, but hearing it from a man with Davidson's experience strengthened their resolve to spread the message to non-believers.
Anna Ford, New Vocations Program Director, and Steuart Pittman, Founder of Retired Racehorse Training Project (RRTP), explained at the start how the vision for this event was born at last fall's National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Educational Seminar where both were featured speakers and met for the first time. The site of the event was West Wind Farm, where New Vocations transitioned and placed 80 of its national total of 429 horses in 2011.
"Everybody wondered what RRTP would do next after the huge success of our Trainer Challenge," said Pittman. "This is your answer. We are making plans with local organizations across the country for more Thoroughbreds For All events in the near future."
The first session after dinner was titled, "Selecting Your Next Ex-Racehorse." Five of New Vocations finest were presented for inspection to Davidson, Cathy Wieschoff, Dorothy Crowell, and Dr. Steven Allday. The panelists commented on each horse's suitability as a sport horse prospect, sometimes agreeing with each other, but not always. Wieschoff and Crowell identified a horse's long back as a negative, but Davidson said, "In my life, the horses with long backs have been the best jumpers." Dr. Allday, was able to comment not only on what he saw, but in one case on what he knew as the vet for 2009 Derby contender and recent New Vocations arrival, Advice. The final ten minutes of the session were a presentation by Dr. Allday that covered preventative therapies, common race horse injuries, and how and why he developed the highly acclaimed Lubrisyn product.
The second session, titled "Riding The Racehorse," started out with two students from Chris McCarron's North American Riding Academy demonstrating what they have learned under Chris's tutelage, one in an exercise saddle and the other in a racing saddle. Chris explained basic principles of riding that sounded very familiar to the predominately sport horse crowd. His biggest concern was that his riders learn to settle their horse's nerves and stay out of their way.
At the request of Mr. Pittman, who served as moderator for the evening, McCarron then agreed to ride. Within seconds the horse he mounted seemed to melt into his invisible aids. He demonstrated what could easily have passed for a competitive training level dressage test with his seat a good twelve inches from his saddle. "I like the horses to go out on the track with a bow in the neck and their hindquarters well engaged," McCarron said. "It's best when they reach down for the bit."
"Getting a Good Start" was next on the agenda. Steuart Pittman was joined by RRTP Trainer Challenge veterans Eric Dierks and Kerry Blackmer riding three of the horses from the first session with Bruce Davidson as instructor. When Dierks' horse demonstrated his athleticism with some very lofty bucks, Davidson told him to "Stay off his back and send him forward." Eric's confident smile only widened with each buck and the crowd quickly understood why Dierks was the Trainer Challenge winner.
Kerry's horse was one of the least favorite when presented in hand but under saddle drew much more praise. After his second trot over the ground pole Bruce proclaimed, "He has already established that he is a typey jumper." None of the horses had ever jumped but Bruce had both Kerry and Eric's horses cantering a two foot oxer within fifteen minutes. He encouraged both riders to stay out of the horse's way and let them figure it out.
Steuart was given the Derby horse, Advice, to ride. He was the most recent arrival from the track and never settled into the atmosphere, so was not asked to jump. Davidson fondly commented that "this horse doesn't owe anybody anything," in reference to his illustrious career on the track and his right to be treated with the respect he has earned.
The final session of the evening was titled "From the Track to Rolex," and featured Dorothy Crowell on her four year old Hennison, who she acquired from Makers Mark Secretariat Center just five months ago, and Cathy Wieschoff on Rebecca Farm, LLC's Ready For April who raced as Ready For May. This Derby hopeful turned Rolex hopeful has been with Cathy for two years and is eventing successfully at the Preliminary level.
Dorothy and Hennison demonstrated just how relaxed a young Thoroughbred can be in a stressful setting with the right early training. Hennison is a quality Kentucky-bred who sold as a yearling for $240,000 but never showed speed. Last night, however, he showed the kind of jumping focus and form that is sought after in the hunter ring. Dorothy had him cantering three foot fences quite happily and she never stopped smiling. When Steuart asked why she picked him, Dorothy said simply that, "He makes me smile."
Cathy Wieshoff explained that her contacts at the track told her about Ready For April before they were ready to let him go. She hoped he'd run slow and he did. She liked his build, his trot, and his spooky but very game attitude. Both she and Davidson commented that modern eventing rewards a very careful horse.
After a brief warm-up, Cathy dismounted and demonstrated the ground work she does with young ex-racehorses, explaining that she likes to let them jump their first logs, ditches, banks, and water unmounted at the end of a rope. She jumped Ready For April over three of the jumps in the arena from the ground, including a narrow wall, before remounting to jump under saddle. She explained that this was a very sensitive horse and that she had taken extra time with him both on the ground and in all other aspects of his training to build his confidence. His focus on her was absolute.
After jumping around flawlessly Cathy showed some of the trot work that drew her to him initially. Only when asked did she admit that yes they had won the dressage at their last event. This is a team to watch for the future.
And finally, the great Molokai was led in by his longtime partner Dorothy Crowell, looking beautiful still at age 29. The epitome of the classic Thoroughbred sport horse, Molokai started life in Kentucky as a racehorse named Surf Scene but then, in Dorothy's words, "Made it possible for me to do what I love with my life." Along the way he won individual silver at the World Equestrian Games and was the top placed American at the first Rolex CCI****.
The event was sponsored by Frank Stronach's Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Program, AmWest Entertainment Group LLC, and Lubrisyn. All proceeds went to New Vocations and Retired Racehorse Training Project, both of which are 501(c)3 charitable organizations.
For more information on RRTP's programs to increase demand for retired racehorses in the sport and recreational riding worlds, go to www.retiredracehorsetraining.org.
For more information on New Vocations, the country's largest racehorse adoption program, go to www.horseadoption.com.
The RRTP is a charitable organization under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations are tax deductible pursuant to applicable laws. Our mission is to facilitate the placement of retired Thoroughbred racehorses in second careers by educating the public about the history, distinctive characteristics, versatility of use, and appropriate care and training of the iconic American Thoroughbred.
Funding is needed to maintain and expand our internet services, conduct our Throughbreds For All events, produce educational videos, and finance our presentations at horse expos and other high visibility public events. We do not use donated funds to care for individual horses. That work is done by the farms and organizations that we serve.