Fresh from her dramatic fifth-place finish at the 2013 Rolex Kentucky 3-Day, Lynn Symansky spoke of her hard-charging, tireless ex-racehorse Donner the way so many others, these days, are marveling at the comeback of Thoroughbreds in sport.
“The off-track Thoroughbreds have come back into style again,” Symansky says in a telephone interview. “In my career, I’ve ridden all types of horses, and if I had my choice, I’d choose an off-track Thoroughbred any day of the week.”
With good reason.
During the grueling three-day course, Olympians and top international riders battled extremely challenging terrain, leaping enormous jumps, down steep ditches into water, as they battled each other for preeminence in the largest eventing venue in the Western Hemisphere.
And on the lips of many competitors and observers was the breed, Thoroughbred.
“Off the track Thoroughbreds can be a little quirky, but in the end, they will do whatever you ask,” Symansky says. They were noticed and commented on so much at Rolex that Symansky observed: “It’s like when a fad comes back into style.”
Praising the work of the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program, and re-homing organization CANTER, to help spread the good word about the work ethic and prowess of the Thoroughbred sport horse, Symansky predicts her “plain, brown-wrapper” OTTB, who was the highest scoring Thoroughbred this year, has an inborn drive to be “insanely competitive” in the years to come.
“When we went back to the barn after the cross-country, Donner (Jockey Club name: Smart Gorky) felt so good that he trotted back. He could have gone around a second time!” Symansky says.
Donner was among 17 off-track Thoroughbreds competing at this year’s Rolex.
Although there were some disappointments—fan favorite Becky Holder, aboard her striking gray Thoroughbred Can’t Fire Me, had a fall at Jump 24— the pair delivered a tremendous Dressage test, captured on video and shared throughout social media. Some fans described their test as “magical” in its precision.
Although many fans groaned in sympathy when Holder fell, they also delighted in the performances turned in by Donner and by Meghan O’Donoghue and her OTTB Pirate, who finished 12th overall.
CANTER Mid Atlantic executive director Allie Conrad and OTTB owner and professional photographer Wendy Wooley agreed that the two performances —by Donner and Pirate—were at once beautiful and captivating.
“My favorite moment at Rolex was watching Meghan O’Donoghue clock around like she’d done it her whole life, on her Thoroughbred Pirate, with a huge smile on her face,” Conrad says. “The horse was so good.”
And for Wooley, who admired O’Donoghue’s smiling demeanor over hair-raising jumps, the photographic shot for her was of Donner and Symansky streaking over a table obstacle.
“Donner looked like a bullet coming over that table,” Wooley says, “and you can see Lynn peering between his ears with one eye. They were an intense pair, and amazing to watch.”
As the owner of her own gray OTTB, and a photographer who shoots horse racing with her husband Matt Wooley, Wendy Wooley felt herself swell with pride when she watched the Thoroughbreds, or heard a kind word spoken.
“At the end of the cross-country, you could tell that the other horses were so tired, that when they later went into stadium jumping, they started crashing through some of the jumps,” Wooley says. “But the Thoroughbreds still had gas in the tank.”
Both Wooley and Conrad smiled when well-known competitive rider Emily Beshear, while walking the course, was overheard extolling the virtues of Thoroughbreds.
“She was telling course designer Derek di Grazia that last year at Rolex, she was really happy coming home on a Thoroughbred because the Thoroughbreds were in better shape than the other horses,” Conrad says.
And speaking for those who want nothing more than to see the American Thoroughbred sport horse return to its preeminence in the competitive realm, Conrad noted that a concurrent event— Thoroughbreds for All, which markets off-track Thoroughbreds to the horse-buying public, drew 500 attendees.
“It was really neat to see the support Thoroughbreds got, at Rolex, and at Thoroughbreds for All,” Conrad says.
“People were walking around all over the place with Thoroughbred shirts on,” she says. “It makes me so happy to see that this little movement … continues to grow.”