With quiet confidence, Lauren Lambert approached the silvery-white puff of a horse.
The skilled equestrian had learned at the foot of her mother, Martha, a master rider whose own career had taken her all the way to the Rolex competition fields. So, Lambert figured that hopping on the new, white ex-racehorse would be a walk in the park on a lazy afternoon.
She figured wrong.
As she pulled Baba Creek out of his stall to saddle him up, a chill enlivened the Kentucky air, reminding Lambert, and her friends who’d come to join her on a trail ride, that winter wasn’t far off.
Expecting to take full advantage of what would probably be one of the last good days for trail riding before the season ended, Lambert led the ex-racehorse Thoroughbred to the mounting block. But as she put her foot in the stirrup, he exploded without warning; bucking and galloping as she barely scrambled up and into the saddle.
“It was a little humbling,” Lambert says. “All these people were watching!”
And to this day, people haven’t stopped watching. But for much different, and more admirable reasons.
The now blazingly fast pair has been hard to beat in the competition fields. Among some of their biggest victories, they won the coveted Amanda Warrington Award, for the highest placed first-timer at the 2009 Fair Hill International Three Star. Also, in 2009, the pair took home the Area VIII Advanced Young Rider of the Year, and were placed fifth on the United States Eventing Association Advanced Young Rider of the Year.
In 2010, their winning ways continued. The pair placed sixth in the North American Young Rider Championships, and in 2011, had the fastest cross-country time at the Bromont Three Day in Canada.
Race name: Baba Creek
Barn name: Miles
Sire: Tricky Creek
Dam: Hail Baba
Foal date: March 5, 1997But, it never was a walk in the park. Getting there took hard work and more hard work after that.
“When we got Baba, we were in no position to purchase a $50,000 fancy Irish horse,” Lambert says. “After my Mom spent some time with Baba and got him going up to Preliminary, she said he’d be really good for me.”
That was when she was only 14, and her first riding lesson ended in a tearful, defeated walk back to the barn.
“I was so excited when I tacked him up to do a little jump lesson,” recalls Lambert, now 23. “I trotted up to a cross rail and we couldn’t even get over that. He was just cantering and quick” and nothing went right.
“I distinctly remember my mother coming by in her car, and I was so frustrated I was in tears.”
But she liked the horse. So she persevered, learning how to sit quietly in the tack, not making big movements, and approaching each ride with confidence.
Baba taught her patience, and Lambert finessed her skill.
And, on the cross-country field, he became a trustworthy partner who made sure they stayed safe.
“He’s always taken care of me on cross country. He’s just the safest horse, and he’s always had the most heart.”
She adds, “He’s never exhausted. The Warmbloods run out of gas on cross-country, but he never does.”
As Baba enters his 15th year, and is taking a little break to recover from tendonitis that flared up last fall, Lambert sums up their career and time together as an unparalleled experience.
Admittedly not “an emotional person,” recalling their ups and downs together causes her voice to hitch and a little embarrassment as tears may threaten. “That horse has taught me everything about what I know today about horses,” she says. “He has taught me to be very brave, very patient, and very quiet.”
But, Baba has tested every ounce of her mettle. “He was not an easy horse,” she says. “Some horses, like Baba, are meant for professional riders only.”
Thrilled as she is to see more and more people consider an ex-racehorse Thoroughbred for their next mount, she offers a word of caution.
“I’m not sure everybody understands that the Thoroughbred is not a big, Warmblood to flop around on,” Lambert says. “I’ve seen it before: A kid becomes an amazing rider on their Warmblood and they think it’s a good idea to get an ex-racehorse as a project horse.
“The next thing you hear, they’re saying the horse is crazy, that he’s bouncing off the walls. But it’s because the rider is bouncing around on them.”
It took many years for her to refine her skill such that it was worthy of her smart, athletic partner. She had to humble herself to learn the lessons, and there were no shortcuts.
As one who has had an ex-racehorse virtually make her career, her advice to anyone considering a horse off the track is to learn about their background, work with a skilled Thoroughbred trainer, and remember that the Thoroughbred is a far different creature than a Warmblood.
“Going from a Warmblood to a Thoroughbred is like going from a Cadillac to a Ferrari,” she says. “But, they’re also the best for upper-level eventing.”