Fresh from her dramatic fifth-place finish at the 2013 Rolex Kentucky 3-Day, Lynn Symansky spoke of her hard-charging, tireless ex-racehorse Donner the way so many others, these days, are marveling at the comeback of Thoroughbreds in sport.
“The off-track Thoroughbreds have come back into style again,” Symansky says in a telephone interview. “In my career, I’ve ridden all types of horses, and if I had my choice, I’d choose an off-track Thoroughbred any day of the week.”
With good reason.
During the grueling three-day course, Olympians and top international riders battled extremely challenging terrain, leaping enormous jumps, down steep ditches into water, as they battled each other for preeminence in the largest eventing venue in the Western Hemisphere.
And on the lips of many competitors and observers was the breed, Thoroughbred.
“Off the track Thoroughbreds can be a little quirky, but in the end, they will do whatever you ask,” Symansky says. They were noticed and commented on so much at Rolex that Symansky observed: “It’s like when a fad comes back into style.”
Praising the work of the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program, and re-homing organization CANTER, to help spread the good word about the work ethic and prowess of the Thoroughbred sport horse, Symansky predicts her “plain, brown-wrapper” OTTB, who was the highest scoring Thoroughbred this year, has an inborn drive to be “insanely competitive” in the years to come.
“When we went back to the barn after the cross-country, Donner (Jockey Club name: Smart Gorky) felt so good that he trotted back. He could have gone around a second time!” Symansky says.
Donner was among 17 off-track Thoroughbreds competing at this year’s Rolex.
Although there were some disappointments—fan favorite Becky Holder, aboard her striking gray Thoroughbred Can’t Fire Me, had a fall at Jump 24— the pair delivered a tremendous Dressage test, captured on video and shared throughout social media. Some fans described their test as “magical” in its precision.
Holder is best known for incredible success on her other gray OTTB Courageous Comet, who was twice named the Rood & Riddle Sport Horse of the Year for competitive achievement.
Although many fans groaned in sympathy when Holder fell, they also delighted in the performances turned in by Donner and by Meghan O’Donoghue and her OTTB Pirate, who finished 12th overall.
CANTER Mid Atlantic executive director Allie Conrad and OTTB owner and professional photographer Wendy Wooley agreed that the two performances —by Donner and Pirate—were at once beautiful and captivating.
“My favorite moment at Rolex was watching Meghan O’Donoghue clock around like she’d done it her whole life, on her Thoroughbred Pirate, with a huge smile on her face,” Conrad says. “The horse was so good.”
And for Wooley, who admired O’Donoghue’s smiling demeanor over hair-raising jumps, the photographic shot for her was of Donner and Symansky streaking over a table obstacle.
“Donner looked like a bullet coming over that table,” Wooley says, “and you can see Lynn peering between his ears with one eye. They were an intense pair, and amazing to watch.”
As the owner of her own gray OTTB, and a photographer who shoots horse racing with her husband Matt Wooley, Wendy Wooley felt herself swell with pride when she watched the Thoroughbreds, or heard a kind word spoken.
“At the end of the cross-country, you could tell that the other horses were so tired, that when they later went into stadium jumping, they started crashing through some of the jumps,” Wooley says. “But the Thoroughbreds still had gas in the tank.”
Both Wooley and Conrad smiled when well-known competitive rider Emily Beshear, while walking the course, was overheard extolling the virtues of Thoroughbreds.
“She was telling course designer Derek di Grazia that last year at Rolex, she was really happy coming home on a Thoroughbred because the Thoroughbreds were in better shape than the other horses,” Conrad says.
And speaking for those who want nothing more than to see the American Thoroughbred sport horse return to its preeminence in the competitive realm, Conrad noted that a concurrent event— Thoroughbreds for All, which markets off-track Thoroughbreds to the horse-buying public, drew 500 attendees.
“It was really neat to see the support Thoroughbreds got, at Rolex, and at Thoroughbreds for All,” Conrad says.
“People were walking around all over the place with Thoroughbred shirts on,” she says. “It makes me so happy to see that this little movement … continues to grow.”
11 responses to “Donner takes 5th at Rolex, TBs rock it”
I never would have believed I would be riding and loving an OTTB. My impression was they were all too high strung and crazy. I was wrong. They are incredible athletes, incredibly smart and willing. They will give you their heart. If you get the opportunity to get an off track TB go for it you won’t regret it.
Such a wonderful and encouraging article!! And LOVED the photos!!!
We are transitioning our 1st OTTB now and have hope that he too will be a great demonstration of Thoroughbreds in the sport horse community!
My wife and I have had up to 6 OTTB’s. So what if a few of them were spirited fire breathers? They made me ride better and pay attention to what my horse was telling me. If I wanted to go, they were ready. The OTTB mare that I learned to ride on was a failure as a race horse. On cross country she was a brave unstoppable force. Stopping was not in her mind.To her all all of the other OTTB’s we have or have had, I owe them thanks for all of the great hours in the saddle and the lessons they have taught me. Love your OTTB!
I love that first photo–it’s phenomenal! I’m so happy to see OTTBs making a comeback in the show arena. I remember when warmbloods were all the rage in the late 80s-90s. They were imported from Europe for untold sums of money and failed to perform as well as a $500 off-track Thoroughbred. And yes, TBs can be quirky, but bottom line is they want to please you and love having a job to do.
Awesome article–it’s true, they always have “gas in the tank” and never tire. Love my OTTB’s
I love that photo of Donner and Lynn! I have four OTTBs and they are ALL special!
Wow! Look at Donner tuck! The concentration on both Lynn’s and Donner’s faces is pure poetry! It’s wonderful to see our OTTB’s going out and being triple threats where it matters. Can’t Fire Me and Becky owned that Dressage ring ans Pirate and Meghan look like they’re out for a romp! That smile says it all!
Thank you for the article and it is great to see the overall athleticism of our racers on display where all the world can see them performing to their peak.
Wendy Wooley your photography is stupendous and you really captured the joy and elegance of our OTTB’s and their partners!
As a board member of a Thoroughbred rescue organization, Equine Encore, of Tucson, Arizona, I can tell you that Thoroughbreds are the bravest, most honest, and most talented of any horses I ever saw compete. Their sensitive natures may need a little coddling from time to time but you never have to carry them home, they carry you home. I can tell you this from experience after having ridden for nearly all of my more than 70 years.
People forget that Thoroughbreds are bred to be athletes. That is what they are. Warmbloods were bred to pull carts and wagons filled with goods.
Look at the pictures in this article. Look at the eyes and faces of these atheletes, see the determination and drive that they have. That is the Thoroughbred athlete at work. You do not get that from anyother breed. Ride an TB or OTTB!
What a great story Sue!
I came across this quote on a USA OTTB Adoption site (sorry can’t remember which one) but it rings so true with me …
‘You do not import perfection. You identify it despite an unlikely first impression. You heal it, polish it, love it and grow it. Perfection is a transformation, it cannot be purchased. Your perfect horse is waiting for you – do not overlook him. Please adopt or foster an OTTB.’
they are just the BEST!!!!!!! this is shaping up to be a great year for OTTBs and let’s hope, for all horses at risk! pass the SAFE Act!