Four bay Thoroughbreds, nostrils flared and eyes alert, paraded like Roman warhorses onto the Pimlico racetrack Oct. 5 to demonstrate that off-track Thoroughbreds can do just about anything, even carry a single rider, straddling them, into a big show.
Prancing with barely contained excitement, the team moved fluidly across the dirt track, performing figure eights at the walk and trot while their trainer Rachel Jackson stood on top the back two, the forward horses led the way.
As she and her Roman riding team demonstrated alongside other re-trained Thoroughbreds who performed a bevy of disciplines, including barrel racing, polo, cattle cutting, jumping and dressage, the word of their feats spread further, this year, past the diehard Thoroughbred lovers, and into the mainstream, according to event mastermind Steuart Pittman.
“I got a little teary eyed when I watched a couple of the demonstrations on the track,” admits Pittman, whose unrelenting goal is to help increase the marketability and value of off-track Thoroughbreds through his nonprofit organization Retired Racehorse Project. “But the most exciting things were taking place off the track.” And in the pages and over the airwaves of mainstream media, which covered the two-day event like a horse blanket, he says.
This year’s event was featured in write-ups in the Baltimore Business Journal, the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Magazine, and was covered live by two television stations, says Pittman, who explains that a prime goal this year was to spread the good word about Thoroughbreds well past the diehard fans, and into the mainstream.
“It’s been a huge challenge to attract the general public to any kind of horse event,” Pittman says. “This year we hired a professional media person to help us get press, and she nailed it! That’s big. It’s hard to reach those people to do a positive story.”
But positive it was. Pittman was interviewed by several television and radio shows and the resulting publicity has had immeasurable impact on the enthusiasm and drive of the Retired Racehorse Project’s ongoing quest to create a positive buzz about ex-racehorses. Says Pittman, “Our board is pretty pumped!”
The event itself drew approximately 450 people to the track to watch demonstrations and competitions— top Eventer Phillip Dutton won first place aboard 9-year-old gelding Icabad Crane for their efforts—and a roundtable discussion among trainers of all disciplines capped off an exciting, successful event, Pittman says.
“A real highlight was hearing our 10 trainers in different disciplines discuss the best way to train horses,” he says. “We had approximately 200 in attendance, some people had to stand, and there was something magical about listening as an Olympic rider and a ranch rider discussed (horse training) and as one spoke, the other’s head was nodding up and down in agreement.”
To see people at opposite ends of the horse world gather together to discuss best practices of training, and to agree, was a truly exciting moment, he adds. “One of the comments to which all trainers agreed is that the problems aren’t with the horses, they’re with the riders,” he notes.
But there were few criticisms of the riding done during the on-track demonstrations. Pittman says he got teary eyed when he watched a 14.3-hand chestnut ride gracefully onto the track to demonstrate newly learned polo skills. “This was a hot, little chestnut mare in a difficult environment, but in the hands of a really caring rider,” he says. “The rider said he could have asked her to do anything, and she would have done it, but he didn’t want to overwhelm her.”
So many good vibes came from all over that weekend. The event was live streamed on the Retired Racehorse Project’s web page and attracted 10,480 votes from viewers who chose their favorite team: Icabad Crane and Phillip Dutton. “Voting was pretty tight,” Pittman says. “At the end of the day, there was just 120 votes separating them from challengers Pookie’s Princess and trainer Patricia King.”
The event was also streamed by Blood-Horse, and drew 5,000 viewers.
Looking to the future, Pittman says Retired Racehorse Project plans to keep growing, and spreading the word about the exciting possibilities of warhorses like the team who rode in, Roman style, and wowed the crowd. ♥