An American OTTB goes 4th level this weekend

Kaytee Mountain performs with Sue Gallagher. Photo by Stacy Lynne Photography

Kaytee Mountain performs with Sue Gallagher. Photo by Stacy Lynne Photo

Kaytee Mountain once trotted with an awkward, sewing-needle gait.

Its odd up-down rhythm was all he could manage his first year after a racing career that went nowhere, and once he was the last horse anyone would choose to start in Dressage.

“It took us about a year to get a nice, normal trot. It still wasn’t great, it was quick; but, it was definitely better,” says his owner/rider Sue Gallagher of New Jersey.

While some may have wondered why the longtime rider, who in Australia, practiced a discipline similar to Dressage, would even consider snapping up a retired racehorse, a losing one at that, Gallagher says it was a “no brainer” for her.

The moment she stepped into Kaytee Mountain’s New Jersey pasture in 2007, she felt a tremendous welling up of joy just being in his company. While it’s true that he lacked the conformation of breeds built for Dressage —horses that leave the womb prepackaged for the physical rigors of the complex and beautiful discipline— this boy had spunk.

Entering his pasture, she glanced at the five-year-old prospect as he made eye contact with her, and with no hesitation, he came running.

“He galloped right over to me as if he was saying, ‘Hi! Here I am! What are you doing?’ ” And then, tail high, head in the air, he romped around the field as if he didn’t know he wasn’t a superstar.

He may not have had the resume to be a star, but he had personality and presence in spades.

Race name: Kaytee Mountain
Sire: Deniro, by Gulch
Dam: Kara Mountain
Foal date: April 16, 2003
“I loved him instantly,” she says. “There wasn’t a moment when he didn’t want to hang out with me, he was a real love bug.”

Throwing caution and practicality to the wind, Gallagher purchased him nearly on the spot, eschewing even a veterinary check to ensure he was physically sound, and packed him up for what would eventually become the biggest equestrian adventure of her life.

Starting small, with trot sets that were so abysmal they were laughable, Gallagher spent the first full year getting her green horse to abandon his up and down motion, which was more suitable for a merry-go-round.

Patiently overcoming numerous temperamental outbursts and bouts of tension, Gallagher and her first coach, Lisa Schmidt, eventually helped him to strengthen his weak topline through stretching exercises and consistent lessons that taught him to engage his hind end.

As he improved, Gallagher engaged the help of other coaches, including Silke Rembacz, Suzy Ross and Gabriel Armando.

Little by little, over the years, Gallagher and her handsome OTTB did nothing but practice and work. What came easily to others was something they had to strive for, and when Kaytee became confused about a request or difficult movement, his tension mounted.

Tension, she notes, has remained Kaytee Mountains’ biggest obstacle. But she has learned to work through it, remaining a calming, reassuring presence even when he starts to panic.

Kaytee Mountain and Sue Gallagher head to Fourth Level dressage Oct. 12. Photo by Stacy Lynn Photo

Kaytee Mountain and Sue Gallagher head to Fourth Level dressage Oct. 12. Photo by Stacy Lynn Photo

“Hot horses get very worried about things, especially if they don’t understand,” she says. “As soon as they get tense, their bodies go stiff like a board.

“When Kaytee gets confused or when he’s learning something new, or when we’re pushing him, that’s when we’ll see the tension, and this is when he’ll have a spook fit because he’d rather have a spook fit than work.”

She has learned that this is his way of escaping, of saying no.

And she ignores the behavior as she would in a difficult child.

“I pretend it never happened,” she says. “I never ride the behavior. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned.”

When he spooked, she’d push her arms forward, squeeze, and keep him moving in the direction already established. “If we’re heading toward F, and he says, ‘I’m going to spook!’ I say that’s fine, but we’re still riding toward F.”

She also learned not to hit, not to yank, and not to yell. She just puts her leg on and keeps going.

And that persistence has paid off!

After years of training, and of getting constantly hammered by judges for being too “tense” in the show ring, Gallagher and Kaytee Mountain have turned their performance into a cool, collected routine that has gained them entrance into a show level where few off-track Thoroughbreds have gone.

On Oct. 12 and 13, the pair will compete in 4th Level Dressage at the Horse Park of New Jersey, for The Garden State Classic.

Their victories in the dressage ring were hard won. Photo by Stacy Lynn Photo

Their victories in the dressage ring were hard won. Photo by Stacy Lynn Photo

It will be the culmination of years of exhaustive work, and hopefully, a turning point for the two as a team. Since last April, when Kaytee started to come into his own while performing Third Level, his physical strength has exploded, and his mind has sharpened to the point that he now quickly grasps and performs the harder moves.

Lead changes are a snap, and he is starting to canter pirouette!

Looking back on the hard road they’ve traveled just to get here, Gallagher feels it has all been worth it. She is honored to participate in such a high level of competition with an American Thoroughbred racehorse.

And she believes his well-earned success will inspire other Thoroughbred owners to stick with it, and get their horses strong.

“Tee has come a long way from galloping around a track. I can’t wait to see what he can do over the next couple of years as we continue to practice perfecting those basics, build strength and as a result help him become even more settled and relaxed in his work,” Gallagher says. “He is truly a wonderful boy, who strangely enough, has taught me so much about the dressage discipline.”

17 responses to “An American OTTB goes 4th level this weekend”

  1. Jenny

    I have two ottb mares, full sisters, and had a previous ottb mare. I have known nothing else. I love what you say abt riding forward. You have the perfect attitude. I would love to keep an eye on you!

  2. Sharon

    Terrific story!

    Buddy I know you aren’t prissy enough for this discipline. It’s okay Mama still loves you the way you are! Some thought I was crazy to buy a “green” horse at age 52, said I could / would have numerous problems. I never paid attention to the nay saying, and never looked back nor regretted bringing you into my life. You aren’t perfect, neither am I; we are learning together! We have both felt frustration, and confusion and sadly some days anger. It’s all good Little Man, we take care of each other, and that’s what matters!

    PS I know dressage isn’t prissy and I’m sure difficult enough to learn even for the best of students w/2 and 4 legs, so please don’t be insulted by the word prissy :D TY

    1. Jon

      I am getting a new OTTB at almost 51. You are never too old.

  3. Lucy

    This is a wonderful story and a real tribute to the sport of dressage. Dressage should be all about the horse, and bringing him/her to the best that s/he can be.
    Kudos to Sue Gallagher for being a role model for dressage riders and the Thoroughbred horse!!

  4. S. Allen

    Here’s hoping you have a successful eventing this weekend! Best of Luck!

  5. Susan Crane-Sundell

    Kaytee has found the perfect partner in Sue Tenacity determination and discipline will make them winners in every sense of the word. It;s a graceful and precise practice and they deserve all the best!

  6. Jon

    They all have a talent. Tee has one for dresage. Look what patience and a rider that is willing to listen to her thoroughbred can do.

  7. sharon

    Thank you for posting this, great story , live close to the Horse Park of NJ
    will go show support!

  8. Lisa Suphan

    What a wonderful triumph! I have had the pleasure of “watching” Sue and Tee training and competing via pictures and posts on Facebook – and I have loved every minute. You can see just how wonderful the relationship is between them – the trust, the respect and the affection. Way to go Team G!!!

  9. Jeanne Reponen

    I love the story! I also have an OTTB! As soon as I saw him I knew he was the one! “Entity” I also call him Tee for short! I have been learning to overcome the temperamental outbursts and it is truly paying off! Trail riding is our thing but I do love dressage!! He is getting better!

  10. Lisa Melone

    An inspiring story! Kaytee triumphed over his fears–maybe my OTTB will too! His mind sounds similar to Kaytee Mountain’s. Ditto to those in the over 50 crowd who got their OTTBs!

  11. 3 Months at Shadowood Farm | Ngugi's Word

    […] With 3 months of training complete at Shadowood Farm, we are headed toward our debut in the show ring come spring or summer of 2014! I’d like to end with a link to a post that a friend at the barn shared with me. I instantly saw much of my own story in this story. Thoroughbreds are remarkable animals that, when given the correct patience and love, can take their talents far.http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2013/10/11/an-american-ottb-goes-4th-level-this-weekend/ […]

  12. liz gray

    there are hundreds of wonderful ottb’s with great potential in other disciplines that are waiting for the right person to take them on. alot of people in the show horse world have the wrong opinion of t’breds off the track. it does not always take a year to let them down and start all over. most of them are so happy to do something else, they need a job, they need to be rewarded.

  13. Melissa P

    I can’t wait to hear how he did! Inquiring minds are dying to hear!

  14. Susan garden

    Loved the story. I have a ottb who came into my life 21years ago fresh off Arlington race track. I had been riding three months. Needless to say after many spooks bolts and much fear we have turned to dressage. She is 27 soon to be 28 years young and I am 70! We are now a team thanks to Laura at Shadowood Farm in Mchenry, IL. Her name is Lily. I saw her first on Easter Monday and yes she stood as straight as an Easter lily, she looked at me and said “take me home”.

  15. Susan Gallagher

    Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments.

    If you would like to see Tee training this winter, you can see him this weekend, Sunday December 8, at 10.30am at the Silke Rembacz clinic at Acadia Farm, 350 Mannington-Yorktown Road, Pilesgrove NJ.

    Cheers
    Sue.

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