For anyone who has ever been told they need a better horse to get the higher scores, Allie Conrad has a two-word answer: Parklane Hawk.
And to those who believe that the best dressage tests can only executed by Warmbloods with freakish, floating work across the center line, or that the highest reaches of equestrian competition are reserved for super fancy movers, her answer again, said with a knowing smile: Parklane Hawk.
Over the weekend, the “workmanlike” New Zealand racehorse who knocked around the track until he was seven, hit one out of the horse park at Rolex Kentucky Three Day.
Besting a field of the fanciest Warmbloods at the most arjudous four-star event in the Western Hemisphear, the ex-racehorse Thoroughbred, who is the very opposite of fancy, was piloted to victory by British Olympian and four-star extrordinaire William Fox-Pitt.
Barely able to contain her excitement, Conrad declares, “Parklane Hawk was the highlight of Rolex!”
To a Thoroughbred advocate who works tirelessly to promote ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds as valid mounts for the horse-buying public, seeing a horse like this win a show like that, is proof positive.
“We keep hearing that to be competitive on the world stage, you need to have a horse with a freaky movement. This is why you’re seeing big, lofty Warmbloods in the dressage ring,” she says. “But, horses like that don’t often have ability to gallop and jump.”
Whereas, a horse like Parklane Hawk, who would not make many oooh and ahhh over his beauty, though he is lovely, possesses the consistency, the tempo and rhythm to get the job done, she says.
“And that ability goes a lot further than the freakish, float-y trot across the center line,” she says.
Although he was the winner, Parklane Hawk was only one among 20 other gutsy ex-racehorses who represented the breed exceptionally well at Rolex this year, says Steuart Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Training Project.
Pittman has been heavily promoting the breed with his successful training project, which recently demonstrated how several ex-racehorses could be retrained in just weeks. And, Rolex Kentucky proved fertile ground for his newest educational symposium, Thoroughbreds for All.
A capacity crowd of 300 turned out after Saturday’s cross-country Rolex competition to watch a demonstration of freshly retired racehorses, selected from the herd at New Vocations, a nonprofit organization serving ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.
Horses were first inspected by two-time world champion event rider Bruce Davidson; he offered his opinion on conformation, movement and temperament. And he and panelists Cathy Wieschoff and Dorothy Crowell considered the suitability of each retiree as a Sporthorse.
After debating whether a long-backed horse is better for the sport, as Davidson said it was, horses were saddled up and ridden by students at the Chris McCarron North American Riding Academy.
Even in a jockey saddle, the principals of good riding were the same, Pittman says.
“The words were different, but the goals of good riding that Chris McCarron described were exactly the same,” Pittman says. “He spoke of trying to get the horse to engage his hind end, to fill out the bridle, and to settle.”
By the time McCarron mounted his flat, jockey saddle and put a Thoroughbred through the gaits, the floating trot and engaged contact between horse and rider made a beautiful picture, Pittman says.
“Chris McCarron is such a good rider, and what he achieved on horseback could easily pass for Training Level dressage,” he says.
If there was a take-away lesson from Rolex and the Thoroughbreds for All events, it was that the retired racehorse, often overlooked by riding champions, could compete alongside the big boys, Pittman says.
“The Thoroughbreds more than held their own in dressage” at Rolex, Pittman says. “I’m not surprised. They’re the most elegant horse on the planet!”
“The performance of the Thoroughbreds in dressage was unbelievably respectable,” she says. “The horses who came unglued in the dressage ring were the Warmbloods.”
And the icing on the cake was that a former racehorse ran away with the highest score of the entire event.
“Parklane Hawk,” Conrad says, “is just a good, honest, representative of the ex-racehorse.”
A winner through and through.