Nobody wanted a horse with screws in his ankle.
Cute as he was, Look Ah Yondah looked rather pitiful when stacked against other sale horses vying for new homes on CANTER Kentucky’s sale horse listings.
With six permanently affixed screws in his ankle and a paralytic condition of his throat, which affected his breathing, he didn’t seem the ideal partner for future sport-horse activities, says Jan Roehl, executive director of the Thoroughbred Horse Show Association. But in fact, she took one look at Yondah and knew something different just might be in store.
“He was not adoptable for many people because he has a condular fracture in the right front ankle,” says Roehl. “I think very few people, if any in the riding horse world, realize horses can be sound after that surgery.”
But Roehl didn’t let misconceptions stand in the way of a dream some said she was crazy to consider.
Look Ah Yondah
Barn name: Yondah
Sire: Distant View
Foal date: April 8, 2007Armed with the knowledge that Yondah had run soundly on his surgically repaired ankle, like Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet, when he won the famous garland of roses with screws in his joints, Roehl adopted the petite stud last March, gelded him, and then raised everyone’s eyebrows when she announced her plan.
She intended to train Yondah to be a carriage horse, working alongside another off-track Thoroughbred named Prayer Service.
“The carriage-driving people thought I was crazy to try to drive Thoroughbreds,” she says. “I had a hard time finding anyone to even work with me.”
And before well-known trainer Fred Merriam agreed to take on her team of perfectly matched bay Thoroughbreds – with nearly matching white stars – he donned a helmet and asked, once more for reassurance, “They’re not going to run off with me are they?”
But by the end of the lesson, the well-behaved pair had prompted an even better question: “Are you sure these are Thoroughbreds?”
While not every OTTB can be a carriage horse, for an even-tempered horse capable of standing still and following vocal commands, it can be an ideal sport with zero prospect of physical demand.
“They don’t have to carry a rider, and only need to go along at the trot,” she says, noting that carriage driving is also perfect for people in their 50s looking for a way to stay connected with horses. “I’ve done Eventing, and have been a racehorse owner, and I always promised myself that when I got old, I’d learn to drive a carriage.”
Transitioning both horses into the sport was easy, she adds. “All horses take 90 days to train to pull a carriage, start to finish. And, you know after the second week if they’re going to work out,” she says.
Before her team went to Florida for advanced training, they were trained individually by Stacy Giere of Ohio, who did initial-phase work, teaching them the basics of pulling a carriage and responding to vocal cues. Chief among their new skills, they learned to resist the instinct to move sideways —a maneuver that can upset the carriage.
Explaining that horses have the capacity to learn up to 20 words, Yondah expanded his vocabulary beyond “whoa” and “good boy” to include terms like “standing,” which means to halt and “put it in park,” “stepping in,” which encourages horses to plunge into muddy or uneven terrain, and “get in,” which is the signal to move between two obstacles, perhaps between trees or a gate, she explains.
“I tend to say their name first, before I give a command. Prayer tends to be the lazy one and Yondah is the workhorse, so if I want Prayer to pick up the pace, I’ll say, ‘Prayer, trot on,’ and he’ll move forward,” she says.
Verbal commands stand in for leg cues and rein work, which would otherwise suffice if they were carrying people on their backs, she explains.
Of all the horses to go through the training, Yondah was one of the easiest in her trainer’s barn, Roehl adds with a note of pride.
“For a horse to make a good carriage candidate for this, they have to be patient, willing, consistent, confident, trusting, and be able to stand still,” she says. “Everybody thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to drive Thoroughbreds, but now people come up to me at when we’re out driving, and they always tell me how beautiful they are, and want to know their breed.”
That question and the obvious answer, always makes her smile.
Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com salutes Roehl for taking a chance on a pair of Thoroughbred racehorses, especially the one nobody else wanted.