Washed up racehorse is picture-perfect hunter

Pokey and Kira routinely square off against purpose-bred Thoroughbreds in the hunter/jumper ring.

Pokey and Kira routinely square off against purpose-bred Thoroughbreds in the hunter/jumper ring.

Five years after washing up on the backside of the Suffolk Downs racetrack, Pokeys Punch has started to gain ground in the world of the competitive hunter/jumper circuit, beating out horses who were purposely bred to do what only comes naturally to him.

Under the training and direction of owner/rider Kira Karbocus, a volunteer with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Pokey has picked up a head of steam competing in the three-foot hunter/jumpers, and winning with a natural grace and balance that did nothing for him on the east coast racetracks, but is putting him in high ribbons in his new career.

Pokeys Punch
New name: Revere
Sire: Special Coach
Dam: Susan Pixum
Foal date: May 13, 2004
“In our first horse show at the Saratoga Show Grounds, we competed against 40 professional riders, getting a 6th and a 7th ribbon in the 2-6 foot schooling round,” says Karbocus, who bought Pokey in 2010 from the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston, Mass. “He has a really great jump. He’s really scopey with a tight front end and knees, and makes a picture perfect hunter over fences.”

And since that first show two years ago, the pair has been moving up the ranks, achieving a personal best earlier this month at the Vermont Summer Festival.

Pitted against A-rated professionals riding un-raced Thoroughbreds who were “purpose” bred to be hunter/jumpers, Pokey achieved 2nd place ribbons in a pair of 3-foot hunter classes, she says.

Pokeys Punch was a washed up racehorse when Kira Karbocus took a chance on him.

Pokeys Punch was a washed up racehorse when Kira Karbocus took a chance on him.

“I got so lucky with him,” Karbocus says. “I had no idea what to expect when I got him off the track. At the time, I went with my trainer and looked at 10-to-15 horses at Suffolk Downs. I watched Pokey jog and that was it. We picked him up the next day.”

“He’s a really smart horse who just wants to please. He remembers things really well, so he was a joy to train,” she says.

Though they had to cool their heels early on while Pokey recovered from a bout with ulcers followed by an injury sustained in the paddock, the last two years riding hunter/jumpers have underscored Karbocus’s belief that an off-track Thoroughbred can be every bit as competitive as a horse who has never raced.

“We compete in Thoroughbred divisions at the shows because I like to support the cause” and illustrate that a horse with 30 starts can hold up, and even win against horses who never raced, she says.

For Pokey, the journey has been hard won. First, he had a late start, taking a year off to let down off the track and gain weight. And then was sidelined again with a bout with ulcers followed by a bruised sesamoid, sustained while romping in the paddock. “He has such a huge stride that he kicked himself while in the pasture, bruising his sesamoid. He had to go on stall rest and I wasn’t sure he’d ever recover.”

But recover he did. And now, after only two years of regular showing, Pokeys Punch is a force to be reckoned with in his second career.

“Many A-rated hunter/jumper shows now have Thoroughbred divisions. In the past, these classes were barely filled with enough entries, but this year, they’re packed,” she says. “This gives me hope that awareness of this wonderful breed is growing.”

Denny Emerson: Start to learn TB pedigree

Nasrullah. Photo courtesy Horse Collaborative

Nasrullah. Photo courtesy Horse Collaborative

BY DENNY EMERSON—In 1935, Nearco (by Pharos x Nogara) was foaled in Italy, bred by Federico Tesio. His impact on the American Thoroughbred is profound.

He’s a good starting point in pedigree education because he’s relatively “modern”, and, through the influence of three of his sons, he is in the pedigrees of almost all modern thoroughbreds and TB crosses.

The three sons, all of whom created their own dynasties, were Nasrullah (1940),Nearctic (1954) and Royal Charger (1942).
Nasrullah sired Bold Ruler, sire of Secretariat. He sired Nashua, maternal grandsire of Mr. Prospector. He sired Never Bend, grandsire of the two top Australian gold medal team eventers at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Look up Nasrullah and learn about him, because he’s in the pedigrees of hundreds of eventers and hunters and jumpers all over the world. He was a brilliant racehorse, but he was considered tough, stubborn and obstinate.

I was at a Montana ranch 30 years ago and the old guy who owned the ranch said that he loved Nasrullah horses for ranch work, because once you got that tough streak working for you, instead of against you, they would work til they dropped.
So, start with Nearco and Nasrullah in your quest to learn about pedigrees.

About the Author, Denny Emerson:
Named “One of the 50 most influential horsemen of the Twentieth Century” byThe Chronicle of the Horse, Denny Emerson was elected to the USEA Hall of Fame in 2005. He is the only rider to have ever won both a gold medal in eventing and a Tevis Buckle in endurance. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and author ofHow Good Riders Get Good, and continues to ride and train from his Tamarack Hill Farm in Vermont and Southern Pines, NC.

About Horse Collaborative: The Horse Collaborative is a new platform for horse people to connect and share with friends. Since launching in 2012, the Horse Collaborative has quickly cultivated and connected a passionate international community of horse lovers, athletes, equine professionals, hobbyists, dreamers, and people who just think horses are cute.

— Photo and story reprinted by Off Track Thoroughbreds with permission of Denny Emerson and the Horse Collaborative.

An OTTB transforms life for grumpy husband

Gold Deputy turned a grumpy, non-horse husband into a new man with a happy lease on life.

Gold Deputy turned a grumpy, non-horse husband into a new man with a happy lease on life.

A bright chestnut gelding who raced 70 times without ever hitting a big payday proved to be the golden ticket for a family in search of a happier life.

In the most unexpected, even funny plot twist, the Thoroughbred purchased by Christine and Don Egidio in 2001 as a riding horse for their young sons wound up instead inspiring Don Egidio to give up his tedious career as an IT professional to pursue a life with animals, a life never before imagined.

“The funniest thing is that before we adopted Gold Deputy, my husband had never even been around horses,” says his astounded wife Christine. “But this horse chose my husband.”

Whether the Thoroughbred was having a lesson with a rider on his back, or just hanging around the barn, his ears were always tuned into her husband’s voice, she says, adding, “I could be riding him and as soon as he heard my husband, he would be looking for him” and ignoring her.

Gold Deputy
Barn name: Gambit
Sire: Mane Minister
Dam: Gold Line Miss
Foal date: Feb. 9, 1994
Gold Deputy often nickered to Don Egidio and it wasn’t long before the unhappy computer professional found his calling, she says.

“My husband was miserable as an IT person, but as soon as we got Gold Deputy, everything changed. The next thing I knew, he was watching (natural horsemanship specials) on TV and saying, ‘I could do that.’ ”

With an uncanny and natural talent, her husband taught their intrepid ex-racehorse to face his fears and embrace new challenges, bravely moving over tarps and then over outdoor terrain with its myriad distractions. He even began the study of natural hoof-trimming techniques, which he eventually parlayed into a full-time career.

“He apprentices around the country with the American Hoof Association and went back to school on a military scholarship to study equine sciences,” she says. Along the way, he has also discovered a hidden talent for working with difficult equines.

Gold Deputy has changed the life of his human family.

Gold Deputy has changed the life of his human family.

“I remember one time a girl came to him and said she couldn’t get her horse to lunge to the right. She’d had the horse with trainers and coaches and nothing worked. My husband told her, ‘I can do it.’ And about 45 minutes later, that horse was lunging to the right,” Christine says. “He’s more patient with them than he was with our boys when they were little. And the horses just love him!”

And Gold Deputy has been a patient teacher as well. On one memorable afternoon early on, the pair decided to ride the obliging gelding bareback to improve their balance. Taking turns leading the OTTB while the other rode, they were amazed at the care their horse took to keep them in place.

“When we started, we were so wobbly on his back, and he walked like he was tiptoeing on glass,” she says. “He could feel we were going to fall off and he made sure we didn’t.”

Fast-forward a few years, and now it’s Don Egidio who has earned the show accolades in western pleasure classes with his trusty steed! Their beautiful OTTB, who they adopted from Bright Futures Farm in Pennsylvania, can lope as slowly and rhythmically as horses who were bred for it.

“He was our first horse, and he’s absolutely amazing,” Christine says. “This horse has changed our lives.”