While some demos at the Maryland Horse World Expo went begging for an audience last month, the T’bred events packed them in like sardines.
“The breed is historically one of the most popular in America, not just because they’re loved, admired and beautiful but also because news of their talent as sport horses has really caught on,” says Steuart Pittman, creator of the popular Retired Racehorse Training Project.
In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Pittman discusses the growing reach of his ever-popular Thoroughbred retraining contests, which pit green horses and talented riders against each other, and the clock, to turn out a beautifully trained off-track Thoroughbred mere months after leaving the racetrack.
Pittman recently hosted packed seminars at the Maryland show, and is eagerly looking forward to more racehorse makeover success stories, as more and more people decide that their next horse will be an ex-racehorse.
Q: When it came time to introduce three well-trained Thoroughbred sport horses to a crowded arena, it was not seasoned riders who showed them to their best advantage.
What wound up happening was that after I invited participants who were in our show at Pimlico to join me in Maryland, the three who could make it were all teenage girls ages 14 and 15.
It was a nice surprise for people, and even though we’re very careful not to tell the public that anybody can go pick up a horse off the track, it does demonstrate that kids who are already riding, and are moving up from ponies, can actually do quite well on a Thoroughbred, enjoying the forwardness and athleticism of these horses.
Q: Who were these young ambassadors and their horses?
We had Elissa Ogburn who rode her horse Governor Jack, who is by Sky Mesa who stands at Three Chimneys. Governor Jack came from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, and Elissa did a fantastic job training this horse herself for the Thoroughbred Makeover. Then we had Amber Longreen and her horse Same as Always. Amber’s mother runs the Pennsylvania branch of New Vocations and Amber and her Pony Club friends all ride Thoroughbreds that are coming through that facility.
When she first got this horse they had some troubles at the beginning, and she was afraid of her horse. But now they are a great team.
And we also had Sarah Sopher who rode Thane, a half-million dollar horse from Darley Stables, USA. Thane was only three for the Makeover and he’s magnificent and he’s quickly learning dressage.
Q: What was the highlight of the demonstration?
All three horses were magnificent under the worst-case circumstances. We put them in a small dressage arena, which is only about 60-feet by 120-feet, and the grandstand goes up about eight-feet, surrounding the entire arena. It’s like we trapped them in a loud, round pen with noisy kids who were kicking arena sand!
But they were great. Nothing fazed them.
Q: On a different day, an up-and-coming OTTB named Ken’s Kitten impressed the heck out of everybody.
Jaws dropped the minute Ken’s Kitten started to trot around the ring. He’s a hot, chestnut horse, but he carries himself with the balance of an upper-level dressage horse.
He’s owned and ridden by Nuno Santos, who used to be an exercise rider for Bobby Frankel before returning to his roots as a dressage rider. Already, this horse is showing something really amazing.
He has an electric trot and is almost to the point of doing passage, and he’s almost performing pirouettes, and he’s only been in training for a year.
Q: If all goes right for this horse, you’ve indicated he could set the world on fire.
I think we’re looking at the next Grand Prix Dressage Champion off the track, like Keen. * Keen was an Olympic level Thoroughbred who is hailed as one of the greats.
There are so many people who say that modern racing bloodlines are not good enough for jumping, that they’re not the movers they once were. Well, eat your hearts out. This is one of the best moving horses in the country! (Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com will be featuring a story on Ken’s Kitten in an upcoming article, so stay tuned!)
Q: What do you think of the groundswell of work, spanning all corners of the Thoroughbred world, to help promote ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds as a great riding horse?
Jimmy Wofford was the Saturday judge, and he’s my old mentor. I used to take lessons from him on my old OTTB, and he was always very clear that Thoroughbreds were his preference.
So he just kept saying to me: “This is a great program! This is a great program!”
So many people are interested in the Thoroughbreds, and we have so many great events taking place, like the challenge sponsored by Emerald Downs and their marketing manager Sophia McKee.
And what the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is doing, which includes promotion of education seminars — there’s a real growth in the overall effort to help transition Thoroughbreds off the track.
Q: Yet, even with the increased awareness, and advent of Jockey Club-sponsored Thoroughbred shows, you’d take off-rack Thoroughbreds even further if you could.
We need a national breed association for the Thoroughbreds, other than the Jockey Club. Other breeds are marketed heavily. So for example, every time you have a Hanoverian doing something, the association takes out magazine ads to promote it.
The American Quarter Horse Association is the largest breed association in the US and has it’s own HUGE annual show (Quarter Horse Congress) as well as its own magazine. Although Thoroughbreds get coverage in magazines, there could be a lot more done to help promote the breed.
In the UK, their national breed association is Retraining of Racehorses (ROR), and it was created by both racing and the sport horse industry there. I think we need something like that here, which is much more organized.
That said, Pittman is riding high after a successful appearance at the Maryland Horse World Expo and eagerly planning future retraining competitions to showcase the versatility and talent of the Thoroughbred Sport Horse.