Sea Walker, a champion show jumper whose heart beats with the bloodlines of Secretariat, was named the 2011 Rood & Riddle Thoroughbred Sport Horse of the Year this month in recognition of his 17 wins at major shows.
The naturally balanced ex-racehorse, who almost effortlessly switched gears from the racetrack to the show ring, was honored at the annual Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (TOBA) dinner Sept. 7.
In recognizing Sea Walker, the second ex-racehorse Thoroughbred to be so honored by Rood & Riddle, it is hoped his success helps shine a light on the potential that most ex-racehorse have to excel in sport.
“These awards,” says TOBA President Dan Metzger in a press release, “are a wonderful way to heighten awareness so that we may broaden the career of the Thoroughbred horse beyond racing.
“By spotlighting their successes in second careers, we hope to encourage people to rehabilitate and retrain Thoroughbreds after they have retired from racing.”
Sea Walker is a case and point.
Race name: Sea Walker
Foal date: March 20, 2000In 2011, the beautiful bay whose face is adorned with a brilliant, white star, competed against Warmbloods at some of the finest show venues. Tucking his knees, pricking his ears, he carried owner and rider Nicole Oliynyk gracefully over three-foot three-inch jumps, winning handily in 17 competitions. Among his wins were first-place finishes at WEF, Fieldstone, Skidmore, Lake Placid, and the I Love New York circuits, according to a press release.
He finished the year with three Championships and three Reserve Championships, and placed fifth in the nation in the Amateur Owner 3.3 Division.
Sea Walker is the second ex-racehorse to win horse-of-the-year since the award was established in 2009 by Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital cofounder Dr. Tom Riddle, DVM. Before that, Courageous Comet, a white gelding owned and ridden by Becky Holder, won in both 2009 and 2010.
In an earlier interview with OffTrackThoroughbreds.com, Dr. Riddle spoke of his hope that ex-racehorses would come to be viewed as gifted, competitive sport horses.
“My goal in developing this award was to try to put the spotlight on Thoroughbreds and on their usefulness in careers other than racing,” Riddle says. “It’s very important to me that these horses who have served us so well as racehorses be given other opportunities.
“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. They’re amazing athletes. People need to be aware of that.”
Before she purchased Sea Walker from some friends in 2005, Oliynyk had been given the opportunity to ride and show him.
It was clear from the outset that he possessed the heart to compete, and a natural flair that needed little fine tuning. But his feet were a different matter altogether.
“When he showed, he couldn’t keep his shoes on,” Oliynyk says. “Even when he raced, he was always losing a shoe.”
The solution was glue-on shoes! After taking about a year to allow his feet to grow out from their racing shape, and to toughen up, the glue-on shoes eventually proved to be the best foot protection for him. “That’s the shoe he wins in,” she notes.
As for secrets to winning on her OTTB, there are none.
From the beginning, Sea Walker required very little tutelage to re-shape his career from racing to showing, she says.
“His lead changes were perfectly natural, and he had a beautiful jump,” she says. “When I bought him, he had already been shown professionally at the three-foot level” and it took very little on her part to get the best performance out of her boy.
All the ribbons and trophies did not prepare her, however, for the thrill of being selected the Rood & Riddle Thoroughbred Sport Horse of the Year.
“I was flattered and honored,” she says, noting that the panel of judges were equally as impressive as the field of horses they considered for the honor.
Each year, the winning Thoroughbred is chosen by a four-person committee assembled by the chef d’equipe from each of the top four disciplines—Show Jumping, Hunters, Eventing and Dressage. Celebrity Thoroughbred trainer Michael Matz, whose standout career includes training Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, is given the fifth vote.
And this year, when all was known, and the judges had evaluated the stellar records of all the Thoroughbred Sport horses, it was Sea Walker who ran away with the title.