Gallop girl switches gears, trains softly

Valerie Buck gives Ready For May a smooch. Brian Simon photo courtesy of Valeria Buck

Valerie Buck gives Ready For May a smooch. Brian Simon photo courtesy of Buck

Valerie Buck rode for the best barns and galloped some of the greatest racehorses.

Sitting astride powerhouses such as Rags to Riches, Super Saver, and her personal favorite Fleet Indian, the exercise rider knew the well-bred superstars were very valuable indeed.

But she knew just as well that even the ones who never hit it big were worth something.

Intrinsic, undeniable value ran through all of their bloodlines, and it infuriated her to hear of a poor-performing Thoroughbred, derided as a throwaway.

“These are valuable animals!” she insists.

So, in 2009, Buck decided to start a new career, finding retired racehorses their second calling.

“By the time I left racing, I was so burnt out,” she says. “In 2009, a filly fell on me on the blacktop, and I suffered some major injuries. At this point, I decided to pull the plug on galloping horses” and seek a new direction in life.

Valerie pilots Rags To Riches. Brian Simon photo, courtesy of Valeria

Valerie pilots Rags To Riches. Brian Simon photo

Her first guidepost toward that new career appeared one day as she struggled to load a horse on a trailer.

After fighting a losing battle, she phoned a friend who happened to be well versed in Natural Horsemanship techniques, to come help her. Her friend did much more than that; he taught her the power of a method that can turn the most uncooperative mount into a willing partner.

Her horse eventually loaded easily, and Buck enrolled in a course in Parelli Natural Horsemanship, a well-respected teaching approach that focuses on training the person to communicate on a horse’s level.

“The experience completely changed my life and my perspective,” she says. “It reignited my passion for being around horses again.”

A woman who was so exhausted from the horse business that she barely enjoyed her own animals when she was home—sometimes she trudged to the barn to feed and water her horses without even a glance—is now on fire with a passion to teach others to enjoy their Thoroughbreds.

This spring, Buck is launching a certified nonprofit to retrain Thoroughbreds from a facility at Scotch Hill Farm in Washington County, New York.

Working with board members Kristina Dallas, DVM, Dean Westcott, a businessman and newly named treasurer, and Katrina Clay, the nonprofit’s secretary, the four will run nonprofit charity ACTT Naturally, whose acronym stands for Aftercare Continued Thoroughbred Training.

Buck plans to combine her years of equine experience with the Natural Horsemanship methods in which she has become adept, to bring out the best in ex-racehorses. She envisions holding clinics for OTTB owners and riders and offering boarding and training as well.

Valerie trains the Natural Horsemanship way

Valerie trains the Natural Horsemanship way

Although she is just getting started, Buck is eager to prove the worthiness of racehorses who others have forsaken.

“I feel I have the tools to help the horses and I know there’s a need for it,” she says. “My mission isn’t to make a hunter/jumper or a dressage horse, it’s to get a horse mentally balanced, and in the right frame of mind—without tie-downs or harsh bits — for their next career.”

15 responses to “Gallop girl switches gears, trains softly”

  1. Cindy Loader

    Amen! I have such great respect for people who realize that they can make a difference in a horses life. I rescue and re-hab unwanted and abused horses but am not a non profit. It is my passion. I also went through the Parelli system and feel that it is the best basics for people to learn about being a partner. It is also important to move on and learn from other natural horse trainers about horse training. There is so much incredible learning to be had. Jack Brainard is in his 80’s and continues to learn from other horsemen.
    I am an Equine Touch Practitioner and have found it invaluable to horses. You can learn to do it for your own horses.

  2. Carmel

    What a great story! Love to hear that natural horsemanship methods are being used as I too have been using the Parelli method with my OTTB and she has responded beautifully. You can’t believe what a wonderful relationship you can have with your horse until you use the “natural” approach, whether it be Parelli or someone else. Way to go!

  3. Kitster

    I have known and worked with Valerie at the track for years, she stayed there a lot longer then I did! Its so good to see one of my fellow racetrack workers learn about and use Natural Horsemanship. OTTB’s are so smart they can do anything! I think when more people take and learn this approach, they will realize this. Keep up the good work Val, and yes, I am coming to Saratoga this summer , so lets get together!!
    Karen and Kitster

  4. Karl rosenberg

    I admire those who correct for the love of the horse

  5. Teresa Melnick

    Thank you Valerie, on behalf of all of us who care about animals, horses in particular, and Thoroughbreds most especially! I have two former racehorses and love them to death. Would love to attend a clinic. Keep us posted.

  6. sara

    You are living your dream! Congrats and I hope I can be of help!

  7. April Tschan

    Me too. Sold almost out if thoroughbreds last year. I just don’t like where the ” game” is going now. Courses are horrible, drugs and cheating are rampant . I have been doing race horses since I left Appaloosas n quarter horses and invested my whole life and even have a farm. Now, i am training my last thoroughbred mare to be a barrel horse, my gelding I had is retraining too be jumper, i am restarting a medicine hat paint that was rescued from the killers to be a trail horse, and I have my first Appaloosa soon to be delivered since I was a young teen. All horses deserve a chance, and a second chance.

  8. Lisa Craig

    Way to go, Valerie! I hope that the horses under your care somehow realize just how lucky they are. Best of luck, my friend. 🙂

  9. Susan Crane-Sundell

    Congratulations Valerie:

    Your piece in natural training and understanding the thoroughbred mind will be ever so valuable as everyone works together in their own unique way to help more horses have healthy, happy lives. looking forward to hearing about your efforts!

  10. Sue

    Bravo, Valerie. I too have a “throw-away” T-Bred, the smartest, most sensitive – and, naughtiest – horse I have ever owned. He has put ME on the 22 ft rope and showed me the true meaning of a carrot-stick!! After years and years of watching ignoraymuses train brutally, I am forever grateful for the movement to “natural” horsemanship. Say what you will about Parelli, when you “take the time it takes”, their methods, undoubtedly work!!

    1. valerie

      you don’t know how much you don’t know until you know it!

  11. Second Chance Thoroughbreds Inc.

    We would love to have her attend our Thoroughbred Jubilee Benefit Horse Show in July and give a demonstration!

    1. valerie

      Thanks, what is the date of your horse show?

  12. Anna

    I received a lovely email from Ms. Buck when she won the bid on one of my paintings (of Rags) at Belmont’s Anna House fundraising auction. It was a treat to hear from her, because often, I don’t know where it winds up.
    I will enjoy following her story, as she ventures on. I admire her attitude.

  13. Ruthanne Hanlon

    Valeria may be my new hero. I too have a soft spot for TBs and am always pleased to see someone addressing the issue of “throw aways”.
    Would love to attend one of her clinics if they ever stop in central OH!

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