It wasn’t long after Raise a Bandit left a West Virginia racetrack in the late 1990s to become a hunter/jumper that the naturally talented roan began cleaning up.
Pitted against the cream of the crop at that time, the Thoroughbred now called Blue Grass jumped his way into strong showings in Palm Beach, and winnings in Ocala, Fla., Saratoga, N.Y., and elsewhere.
“His jump was so incredible. It was breathtaking even over 18 inches, and everything up from there, ” says owner and trainer Margo Kusulas, proprietor of Turning Leaf Farm, Essex, Mass.
“Most horses that you jump don’t necessarily use their back as much as he did. He was really good right out of the gate. Even with the smaller jumps, his form was impeccable.”
Racing name: Raise a Bandit
New name: Blue Grass
Barn name: Bailey
Sire: Wise Exchange
Dam: Military Margaret
In competition after competition, the ex-racehorse proved to be a real bandit — raking up ribbons, trophies and championships. His victories include the 1998 New England championship in first-year greens, and a fourth-place national ranking the same year. He was also champion of the 1998 Skidmore Saratoga first-year greens and was a top finisher in the 1999 Palm Beach Amateur Owners low greens.
There were many other victories in a career that far outpaced his six-years as a racehorse at Charles Town in West Virginia.
After leaving the track and moving to a new home in New York, Kusulas learned of the horse through a horse-show judge who told her he knew of a “really nice horse for sale.”
His assessment proved to be an understatement.
“He jumped so hard, right from the beginning,” Kusulas says. “They kept asking me if I wanted larger and larger jumps, and he sailed over everything we put in front of him.”
Back on her North Shore farm in late 1996, Kusulas went to work prepping Blue Grass for a new career. There were a few obstacles to overcome, for instance, his habit of spinning from one direction to another, and trying to race another horse in the practice ring.
After about four months of training and working out the kinks, Kusulas took him to Florida, to try him at the HITS-Ocala shows. Right off the bat, he began taking thirds and fourths. Within a couple weeks, he advanced from three-foot jumps to three-foot-six, and pretty soon, he just started winning classes, she says.
“I had some top riders at the time approach me and say that he was one of the best hunters they’d seen,” she recalls. “He was never spooky with the jumps, and he was braver than most horses.”
Today, Blue Grass is enjoying retirement on Kusulas’ farm. A career-ending coffin bone infection in 2006 ended his days in the limelight; but, the mark he left in the show jumping circuit, and in his owner’s heart, still shines.
With over 23 years of experience, Kusulas counts Blue Grass as one of the most outstanding mounts she has had the pleasure to work with. “Even though I’ve worked with many great horses, he’s really the best.”