OTTBs log 1,000 miles on cross-country trek

Valerie Ashker and her entourage has crossed into Colorado on horseback. She is attempting to cross the USA riding or walking her OTTBs.

Valerie Ashker and her entourage has crossed into Colorado on horseback. She is attempting to cross the USA riding or walking her OTTBs. She is pictured earlier in the journey.

Navigating tricky terrain and nursing broken bones, Valerie Ashker and her off-track Thoroughbreds crossed into Colorado this week, logging nearly 1,000 miles on a cross-country trek to prove the merits of the mighty ex-racehorse Thoroughbred.

Primitivo and Solar Express, opposite horses in so many ways, have had their ears pricked forward in shared enthusiasm for a daily walk or jog toward the east coast.

“They’re doing incredible,” Ashker says. “It was really perfect to take the two of them, because they’re both so different. Solar is rangier and comes from the Damascus/ Buckpasser line. Tivo is smaller and has a much more complex brain. They’re totally different, and yet they’re both doing amazing.”

Primitivo
Sire: Monashee Mountain
Dam: Siberian Shamrock, by Siberian Summer
Foal date: May 6, 2009
*
Solar Express
Sire: Bold Badgett
Dam: Proper Look, by Properantes
Foal date: May 18, 1999
Ashker was especially impressed with the cool-headed way the horses dealt with unusual terrain two days ago. “The day before yesterday we were riding, and all of a sudden, the horses went down to their knees in this weird mud,” Ashker says, noting that the top layer of soil was deceptively sandy, and appeared at first glance to be firmer than it was.

After pulling their horses out, Ashker and her boyfriend Peter Friedman were able to hose the horses off at a nearby correctional facility and get on their way again.

Though their travels have been hampered by unexpected injuries—Ashker broke her ribs and clavicle in two separate incidents—the pair, along with van driver and companion William Gass, have sought to stay positive on a challenging journey.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “I’ve called home crying some days. But if you look at the logistics of what we’re doing, it’s understandable. We’re living in an 1,100-foot trailer and getting up at 3 a.m. to take care of the horses.

“My daughter Lainey says that anybody doing this trip, no matter how young they are, would be seriously challenged.”

Lainey Ashker, a four-star Eventer, is flying to Colorado this week to joint her mother, and support the mission to ride across the USA on an OTTB.

Ashker began the journey in early May, when she departed her Crow’s Ear Farm property in the foothills of Sierra, CA., in an effort to raise awareness about off-track Thoroughbreds.

Now roughly two months and a thousand miles later, Ashker is philosophical about the trip.

“When I’m worried and stressed, I just have to look out the window of my trailer and see these two great Thoroughbreds, and I see their attitude, and it’s great,” she says. “They act like they can’t wait to get going. I’ve been focused on reaching the east, which I’ve thought of as my destination and as my prize. But I realize now that these horses are the real prize.”

Low claimer with 41 starts rocks Prix St. Georges

After a lot of hard work, Real Gentleman has the muscle to float above the show ring. Susan Correia Photography

After a lot of hard work, Real Gentleman has the muscle to float above the show ring. Susan Correia Photography

A hardscrabble racehorse who bounced between Suffolk Downs and Finger Lakes, earning a pittance and never shining during his 41-race career, continues to rise up through the Dressage levels, winning against the most rarified Warmbloods.

In his debut last month at a Prix St. Georges-level show in Nottingham, N.H., OTTB Real Gentleman took a fourth-place ribbon against seasoned Warmblood competitors, putting in a flowing, steady and brilliant test, says his owner and businesswoman Ann Seamonds.

Real Gentleman
Barn name: Rio
Sire: Gone for Real
Dam: Sunshine Star, by Star de Naskra
Foal date: Feb. 5, 2006
“It was a very hot day, and he was very, very obedient,” she says. “Though his tempi changes had a couple of little baubles, he basically knocked it out of the park.”

Ridden by Bethany Larsen and trained by Pan Am Games-winning dressage rider Mary Howard of Brentwood, N.H., Real Gentleman showed “flashes of brilliance in the expression of his gaits” during a performance that capped off a wonderful and unexpected journey.

The path from racetrack to show ring began in 2012, after Seamonds purchased the OTTB with the simple goal of helping to re-train a retired racehorse for a second career. At the time, her goals were simple; to be close to a horse, and to watch him find a new path for himself. “It wasn’t about the destination, it was about the journey,” she says.

Real Gentleman had 41 starts, bouncing between Suffolk Downs and Finger Lakes, before tapping his inner Dressage Horse spirit. Last week he took fourth at his Prix St. George debut against seasoned Warmbloods. Susan Correia Photography

Real Gentleman had 41 starts, bouncing between Suffolk Downs and Finger Lakes, before tapping his inner Dressage Horse spirit. Last week he took fourth at his Prix St. George debut against seasoned Warmbloods. Susan Correia Photography

But shortly after he arrived at Five Stars Farm in Brentwood, where Real Gentleman lives and trains with Mary Howard and his rider, Seamonds realized her horse, nicknamed Rio, was telling her he was ready for bigger and better things.

“I would watch his lessons and could feel when he understood something. For me, that was the biggest joy,” she says.

Though he always had the mind for dressage, he had to work hard to build the muscular strength to do what comes naturally to the sport-bred Warmbloods, she adds.

“It took Rio a long time to develop the strength to do these movements. He’s now to the point in the medium trot where you do see the brilliance because he’s really strong and relaxed though his back. He can lift himself off the ground now,” she says.

His poise and balance was so impressive during a fourth-level test last year that a show spectator approached Seamonds and asked to sit with her to watch the performance.

“This spectator told me she had noticed Rio was a Thoroughbred and asked if she could watch with me. She later said she didn’t think what he’d accomplished was even possible for a Thoroughbred,” Seamonds says. “That comment meant so much to me. It just validated everything I feel about this horse. Even if he never sets foot in the show ring again, he has done so much good by showing other people how great Thoroughbreds can be at Dressage.”

With flashes of brilliance, the hardscrabble ex-racehorse held his own against purpose-bred Warmbloods. Susan Correia Photography

With flashes of brilliance, the hardscrabble ex-racehorse held his own against purpose-bred Warmbloods. Susan Correia Photography

She adds, “Rio absolutely belongs in Warmblood company.”

Following his successful debut at Prix St. Georges, Seamonds plans to enter him in another show at the same level in August. And as he trains, Seamonds has doubled down on her commitment to OTTBs.

On June 21, she purchased OTTB Smokey’s Honor after seeing his ad on the Retired Racehorse Project’s Trainer Listing. Smokey came through Parx Racing’s Turning for Home program, and was under the care and training of Jessi Werner and Phoenix Equine Services at the time. Seamonds decided immediately that the OTTB’s big, elastic gait was ideal for her next Dressage horse.

Both OTTBs are ambassadors for the breed in an arena where very few competitors started off as racehorses.

“Warmbloods have been purposely bred for a long time. There are dressage lines and jumping lines. But what I hope Rio and Smokey show is that you can train the same movement into a Thoroughbred,” she says. “It may come more naturally to the Warmbloods, but Thoroughbreds are also really capable of amazing things in the dressage ring.”

 

Boy saves doomed T’bred with birthday cash

Brandon, 9, of Ontario donated his birthday cash to save doomed Thoroughbred Karazan from slaughter.

Brandon, 9, of Ontario donated his birthday cash to save doomed Thoroughbred Karazan from slaughter.

A freckle-faced boy with a shock of red hair pledged his birthday money last August to save a doomed chestnut Thoroughbred from the Canadian slaughter pipeline when nobody else would.

Brandon, 9, of Ontario says he couldn’t bear the thought of the pretty ex-racehorse, whose looks reminded him of his own, going to slaughter. So after his mother MJ Allen explained to him that 17-year-old mare Karazan has been purchased by a meat buyer and would likely go to the slaughterhouse, he asked her to spend his birthday money to save her instead.

“I did it because nobody else was going to buy her,” Brandon says. “And I saw her hair was the same, exact color as my hair. And I wanted to save her because I love horses.”

His offer floored his mother, who was so proud of her son’s generosity and compassion that she cobbled together $650 with the help of some friends and purchased the mare from an online site that offers horses who have already been sold to a meat seller, a last chance to go to a willing buyer.

Karazan
Sire: Kayrawan
Dam: Regents Glory
Foal date: April 1, 1998
Allen explains: “I recently found out about this website, Need You Now Equine, and I was watching this mare Karazan because nobody seemed interested in her. My son noticed and asked what I was doing, and when I explained it to him, that’s when he said, ‘Mummy, my birthday’s coming up. Just give my birthday money to them. I don’t want the horse to die.’ ”

A few days later, the Ontario mother announced she had a surprise for Brandon. “I thought I was in trouble,” says Brandon. But, the news was much better: Karazan had been saved from slaughter. And better still, the horse was now his!

Brandon noticed the horse was the same color as his hair!

Brandon noticed the horse was the same color as his hair!

“When I told him the horse had found a home he started jumping up and down,” Allen says. “And then I said, ‘She’s yours!’ and he went nuts.

In late August, a couple of weeks before he turned 9, the best birthday present of his life rolled down the driveway.

After years of begging for a horse of his own Brandon got his wish on Aug. 22, and Karazan got hers, too.

“Karazan’s already spoiled,” says Allen, who notes that she has given her son beautiful rides on their small horse farm, where Brandon and Karazan will create lifelong memories.

“She’s his best friend. He’s always out grooming her and whenever he feels down, he walks out into the field with carrots in his hand to talk to his new buddy,” Allen says. “They’re a perfect match; She was meant to be with him.” — Originally published on March 2, 2015.