But now well into his second career, the gorgeous gray horse seen bounding across dozens of You Tube videos—neatly clearing stadium jumps and enthusiastically throwing himself over water obstacles— has nailed it.
The off-track Thoroughbred has been to the Beijing Olympics, and recently took third at the 2010 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. This month he swept the American Eventing Championship and is to compete at the famed World Equestrian Games, held in the Kentucky Horse Park beginning this weekend.
As he gallops his way across eventing challenges, those who seek to raise awareness of the talent and potential of ex-racehorses hold up Courageous Comet as a powerful example.
World-renowned Kentucky veterinarian practice Rood & Riddle instituted the Thoroughbred Sport Horse of the Year award this year, and Courageous Comet was the first recipient.
On Sept. 10, Tom Riddle, DVM, a founding partner of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, presented the honor at the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) 25th annual National Awards Dinner. As the decorative vase was presented to Courageous Comet’s co-owner Tom Holder, husband of the horse’s rider Becky Holder, the argument for giving ex-racehorses a chance seemed to crystallize.
“My goal in developing this award was to try to put the spotlight on Thoroughbreds and on their usefulness in careers other than racing,” says Riddle in a telephone interview. “It’s very important to me that these horses who have served us so well as racehorses be given other opportunities.”
“They’re amazing athletes,” he adds. “People need to be aware of that.”
Riddle hopes more ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds will be given the opportunity that Comet was, when the horse was purchased by the Holders in 2000.
“While some Thoroughbreds are raised specifically to be racehorses, others are finding greater success in their second careers as sport horses,” Riddle said at ceremony. “Through this award, we hope to decrease the number of unwanted horses in the U.S. by demonstrating their value in these non-racing professions.”
Courageous Comet was selected by a celebrity committee made up by George Morris, Mark Phillips, Patty Heuckeroth, Hilda Gurney and famed U.S. equestrian and race horse trainer Michael Matz. Using a point system, the horse’s performance was weighed against other competitive Thoroughbreds in hunter, jumper, dressage and eventing disciplines.
To Thoroughbred advocates, the fact that Rood & Riddle partnered with the United States Equestrian Federation and The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association to highlight achievements of ex-racehorses is a great step.
“Sometimes a horse is just pursuing the wrong discipline,” Brown says. “When pursuing the right discipline, they can thrive.”
Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends, an equine retirement facility for pensioned ex-racehorses, says, “Courageous Comet is one more magnificent example of what an amazing athlete can accomplish given the proper training and care.
“Winning the Sport Horse of the Year is not only a tribute to Courageous Comet, but it symbolizes what so many other ex-racehorses might do if given the same opportunities.”
Awards like this help to recast the image of ex-racehorses, says Steuart Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Training Project.
“This award is brilliant because it honors retired racehorses as elite sport horses. We think of them too often as “rescues” while in fact, they are out there making … careers for riders at the top levels of our equestrian disciplines. The award will remind people that there is no limit to what a good Thoroughbred can do after a racing career with good training and riding.”
Sharla Sanders, founder of The Second Race, an ex-racehorse networking organization, agrees. The new award helps raise awareness of just how good off-track Thoroughbreds can be.
“There is a continual stigma attached to the racing Thoroughbred” when being considered for a sport horse or performance career, she says; but, the Rood & Riddle award will help overcome that stigma by “honoring the versatility and athleticism of the Thoroughbred.”