Long before Jan Vandebos knew a thing about horses, or helped head up RanJan Racing, she received some prophetic advice from onetime top racehorse owner Marshall Naify.
Calling her attention to the Thoroughbred racehorses who were a passion to both Marshall Naify and his brother Robert, Vanderbos’ future husband, the woman who had only ever taken a trail ride a time or two in her life was told to get ready.
“Marshall told me to pay attention to everything to do with horses, because it was going to be the most important thing in my life,” says Vandebos, noting that after Marshall Naify’s death in 2000, she and her future husband purchased a stunning bay yearling who’d been sired by prized stallion Bertrando.
And shortly thereafter, she was off to the races!
Mackelwane was the first racehorse she’d ever had an interest in, and she chose him entirely on a gut feeling. “He had a beautiful head and eye, and I just loved his presence,” she says.
He was sent to legendary trainer John A. Shirreffs to grow up and learn to become a racehorse. Only, he never did become a racehorse. Instead, he changed Vandebos’ life.
Dam: Specific Gravity, by Afleet
Foal date: Feb. 13, 1999“We got him as a yearling and retired him at six. He never did break his maiden,” she says. “And while we were talking about what to do, John Shirreffs told me he’d make a great riding horse, and I said, ‘John, I don’t know how to ride.’ ”
The pair decided in 2005 to retire him, and at age 46, Vandebos decided to take her first riding lesson so that she could tool around on her Thoroughbred stallion. And in doing so, Vandebos would embark on a mission to do the right thing for horses in her own life, while setting an example for others.
“My goal was to give this horse a life off the track. I remember seeing a lot of horses on the track who didn’t look good, they looked like sad horses,” she says. “And I didn’t want my horse to be a sad horse. I got this horse and I just felt responsible for him.”
Fearlessly, she embarked on an intensive course of riding lessons at an Olympic level barn outside of San Francisco. The once competitive tennis player, who grew up in a family of athletes, never had a moment of doubt about making a stallion her riding horse.
Although Vandebos felt ready after only three months, her barn manager still could not sign off on the idea, insisting she needed more lessons first. Undaunted, the intrepid rider moved her horse to racetrack barn Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, and shortly thereafter experienced the “very best day of my life,” she says.
“The farm manager put a western saddle on him with draw reins and rode him around first,” she says. “Then I got on and I trotted and cantered him, we did everything!”
For the next year, she rode Mackelwane several days a week, enjoying meandering trail rides together, and bonding with a horse who was never a problem.
Progressing beautifully, agreeably adapting to each other, it seemed that nothing could go wrong. Mackelwane was moved back to his old barn, and jumping lessons were begun, and then the undesirable stallion behavior —rearing, kicking and acting out—began.
“We didn’t want him to be dangerous for myself or anyone, so we made the decision to get him gelded, but it was late. He was already 8 years old,” she says. “After that, he became very unhappy, and I spent the next two years dealing with a horse who was being a monster.”
He reared. He bucked. He tested her. But she refused to yield. “I was taught that no matter what, never jump off. So I stayed on, and I went through two years of really tough times with him, Vandebos says. “People said I was going to get killed.”
What she got was an education.
After two years spent trying everything under the sun, Mackelwane’s good nature returned when she moved him to a barn that offered plenty of pasture and green grass.
“He’s been great every since,” she says. “He’s almost 15 years old now, and we still ride together. I do a little hunter stuff with him, and he’s great.”
Now the manager of the horses at RanJan Racing, she has parlayed her years of experience with her favorite OTTB into best practices for a race business that, above all else, keeps the horses sound and happy.
At RanJan, horses are not raced until they’re 3 ½ years old, giving them more time to grow stronger bodies, resistant to tendon problems and hairline fractures. Should a small injury occur, it is dealt with immediately, rather than allowing it to become a big problem later on, she says. And horses are given ample time away from their stalls, where they are allowed to simply “be a horse.”
And since RanJan Racing implemented these best practices four years ago, the horses have been more successful on the track! They have won more often, and no horse in their stable has broken down or been vanned off, she says.
Thinking back to those prophetic words spoken so long ago, Vandebos’ life has been inalterably changed by the horse. And she is making it her mission to be a standard bearer for best practices for racehorses, on and off the track.
“For me, raising horses and sending them to the track, is a huge responsibility,” she says. “I check each horse myself before they race … and when we retire them, we retire them sound so they can go on to have great lives.”
15 responses to “RanJan Racing strives to do best for OTTBs”
Beautiful story. They all have something to offer. I wish these folks would write the training manual for all TB trainers.
It is so nice to be reading stories of people who care what happens to their race horses after their career ends. It must have been such a learning curve for Jan to go through. I would never underestimate just how important lots of turn out in pasture is for our horse’s mind and health.
Jan is a dedicated and compasssionate horse owner. One of the few, we as owners can learn from Jan
Denise and I both know how much time and love you’ve put into protecting these gorgeous animals….you are truly to be commended!
We salute your Bobby for giving you the education and ability to do the wonderful work you’re engaged in!
We wish you both the best of life and success!
Bob and Denise Lom
After just finishing reading the fourth part of the Thoroughbred Daily News’ article on drug use and the American thoroughbred, I couldn’t appreciate Jan more. Sound practices that benefit the welfare of the horses make for happier, sounder more joyful horses and therefore owners and riders. Ir we could only have more people in commercial racing with Jan’s attitudes the sport would be better off. Thank you Susan for writing about Jan and showcasing her philosophies!
Jan, what a wonderful story, thanks for being an inspiration.
I’m a retired teacher, ridden all my life, some hunter jumping, English pleasure, dressage (Germany)….classes under Hans Gunter Winkler. Question: What to look for in an OFTB? I’m looking for a pleasure horse. I’m short, need a mounting blook, horse standing still etc. Congratulations on your work and your philosohy. I lost a mare recently, can’t find anything even close to her intelligence, talent and devotion.
David, It is often difficult to replace a once in a lifetime Mare.
My best advice on finding a suitable OTTB, is to check listings such as Canter etc. Try and
find a reasonably sound Mare. Some have already been started off the track, which is a plus. Give her time in the pasture and time to get to know you. You will then form a great bond, so when you do start her, you will both trust one another.
There are so many wonderful horses out there, that need good, loving
homes. Good Luck!!! Jan
We had hoped to see you again at Santa Anita in Frontrunners on December 31st. So sorry to learn of Robert’s untimely passing.
Keep in touch…SteveSherrill@msn.com
Thank you Jan for that bit of history I did not know. Your love, devotion, dedication, and caring for your horses is remarkable. You are a wonderful woman and I wish I were living closer so I could experience the joy of seeing you ride. I hope we can get together when I am at Jordan’s Restaurant in Wellington In July. He is looking forward to seeing you there too. Keep them running.
Susan, Thank you for your beautifully written article. Education and awareness
Are the best way to evoke change. The racing community has taken notice
And is ready to start supporting OTTB’s.
Jan Vandebos, Springtime Farm
What you’re doing is a great inspiration! I hope to write future OTTB success stories about some of your herd. And thank YOU so much for the interview. 🙂
Thrilled to see Jan’s efforts be recognized. While I’ve not known her for long, what I’ve learned over the past few months has made me truly respect her knowledge and passion. Hope she serves as an inspiration for the masses.
Jen, I couldn’t agree more about how Jan serves as an inspiration in the treatment and care of horses. And not only do her racehorses receive TLC, but, they’re performing very well!
For those willing to take the time to LISTEN, animals can teach us a lot — about ourselves, about each other, and about life. The philosophy at RanJan Racing is common sense, really: Giving youngsters time to mature a little more before sending them off to do an adult’s job. Mackelwane showed the way and his owner was wise enough to pay attention. Excellent story, Susan.