Could the off-track Thoroughbred be the new “it” horse?
The “new black” as Allie Conrad, the executive director of CANTER Mid Atlantic, postulates on her Facebook page, before she rushes off to watch 21 resplendent ex-racehorses compete in the Rolex Kentucky Three Day.
In the opinion of Steuart Pittman, creator of the Retired Racehorse Training Project, the answer is yes: The once dominant Sporthorse, which in recent years played second fiddle to the Warmblood in the show world, is becoming fashionable once more.
“More and more people are starting to recognize that Thoroughbreds are one of the coolest choices” in Sporthorses, says Steuart Pittman, creator of a publicity effort to promote the breed.
On Saturday evening, after the last cross-country competitor has swept across the finish line, Rolex veterans Cathy Wieschoff and Dorothy Crowell will join two-time World Champion Bruce Davidson in a little something different.
They will gather at ex-racehorse adoption center New Vocations, 15 miles away from the Kentucky Horse Park, and cast their eyes on rookie ex-racehorses who have the potential to be something great.
“The idea,” says Pittman, “is to bring in an all-star cast of equestrians to evaluate newly retired racehorses, and to offer insights about what they could do in future careers.”
The event he calls Thoroughbreds for All will help prove his premise that everybody who rides should at least consider owning a Thoroughbred.
Billed as a celebration and symposium about Thoroughbreds in second careers, the event follows closely on Pittman’s Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, a promotional exercise earlier this year that matched four green racehorses with four riders. Fresh off the track, or out of the retirement paddock, these ex-racehorses were in the walk, trot and canter, before a live audience, in less than six weeks.
At the end of the exercise, all horses were sold for between $7,000 and $10,000 to eager buyers offering good homes.
Now Pittman has teamed up with New Vocations Racehorse Adoption to further the cause.
Anna Ford, program director of New Vocations, explains that approximately 10 horses from the farm, including Advice, a 2006 gelding who ran in the Kentucky Derby, will participate in the event.
“He’s your typical class horse that would run in the Derby. He’s a very confident individual who likes having a job,” she says. “He’s not even a month off the track. He raced in the east coast until 2010, and then he was purchased in the Keeneland Sale, and raced on the west coast.”
Now that he’s relaxing on the New Vocations farm, awaiting a new job, he’s experiencing a bit of a culture shock, she says.
“It’s taken him awhile to get used to farm life,” Ford says. “He goes out for an hour or two before he’s dying to get back in his stall. But, he’s got a great disposition and a good nature.”
From her vantage of adopting out ex-racehorses to the horse-buying public, Ford acknowledges an up-tick in awareness of the breed.
She credits the promotional events by people like Pittman, combined with the weak economy, for helping the cause.
“I believe that equestrians who could easily purchase $10,000 to $20,000 horses before, can no longer afford to. It’s much easier for them to purchase a $2,000 horse and put the money into training,” she explains.
As for whether Thoroughbreds might be a fad, Ford hopes for something a little more permanent than that.
“When I think of the word fad, I think of something that’s temporary,” Ford says. “I don’t think what we’re seeing is temporary; I think we’re experiencing more of a cultural shift.”
Pittman and Ford expect about 300 people to attend the Thoroughbreds for All event, from 5 to 9 p.m., at West Wind Farm, in Lexington, Ky.
The event will feature commentary by Davison, Wieschoff and Crowell. They will evaluate the group of New Vocations horses, and share insights on movement, conformation, soundness and temperament. After which, they will choose a favorite horse.
A jockey will then demonstrate how an ex-racehorse is ridden on the track, sharing tips on how the horse is trained. And Pittman will join equestrians Eric Dierks and Kerry Blackmer in riding demonstrations, as Davidson coaches.
“It’s almost a festival of the breed,” Pittman says. “This is for a community of people who are passionate about their ex-racehorses, and they just kind of feed on each other’s enthusiasm; it gives them pride.”
And that, he adds, is “magical.”