T’bred nobody wanted pulls a carriage for team

Look Ah Yondah, left, and Prayer Service are Jan Roel's pair of off-track Thoroughbreds, currently making waves in the carriage-driving world as a unique pair of racehorses among warmbloods.

Look Ah Yondah, left, and Prayer Service are Jan Roel’s pair of off-track Thoroughbreds, currently making waves in the carriage-driving world as a unique pair of racehorses among warmbloods.

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
Dam: Caique
Foal date: April 8, 2007
Armed 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?”

Yondah and Jan pose for their Christmas card this year

Yondah and Jan pose for their Christmas card this year

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.

Yondah and Prayer wait by the gate, a matched set, as Roehl pulls up to visit.

Yondah and Prayer wait by the gate, a matched set, as Roehl pulls up to visit.

“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.

12 responses to “T’bred nobody wanted pulls a carriage for team”

  1. Clock End Farm

    Drove my OTTB in the carriage pleasure ring for years. Moreover he was a *phenomenal* horse to take out on the roads in a suburban area. Sensible and safe. Glad to see someone else doing it!! And here’s a funny story you can tell Mr. Fred: the late great Tom Hilgenburg joined the “You can’t teach TBs to drive” chorus fairly early on in my case. Couple years later I ran into him at a show; we both got to the in-gate way too early. His client’s horse was fidgety and my TB simply let out a big sigh, cocked a leg, and leaned up against the shaft to have himself a snooze. As Mr. Tom whizzed by us in yet *another* circle, laughing at himself, he called out “Oh yeah, those TB’s – WAY too hot to drive!” 😉

  2. Stacey Giere

    Wow, this is incredible exposure for the OTTB’s
    I am very proud of both Prayer and Yonda, especially during the week
    We cruised all over the Kentucky Horse Park and the pair
    Had such courage and athleticism in the water obstacle!

  3. Suzie Birks

    Great story! Hugs to this pair!

  4. Barbara Griffith

    I’m glad these two horses found a good home and it looks like something they enjoy doing too.

  5. Celia Burros

    I have trail ridden with Jan and both her OTTB’s, and they were better behaved than my Morgan who was supposed to be the veteran trail horse. I’m so glad they’re doing so well with driving too.

  6. LL

    Learned a few “new” words today reading this. I remember Prayer Service so I was glad to hear he has a good new life.

  7. cheri vaughan

    Long Live Yondah and Prayer!! Excellent team, stellar training!

  8. Janna Brown

    I absolutely love this article! Although I do not know how to drive horses, I had the privilege of riding “shotgun” on an obstacle course with proven carriage horses and it was such fun! I love hearing that OTTBs can have varied careers like this!

  9. Cindi Nave

    I’ve worked with thoroughbreds for years. They have some blood lines that are very nicely behaved, intelligent and brave. Then there are other lines that people should stay away from. You should be able to tell by the quiet eye and the head set when new things are seen.

  10. edna

    thanks for another story about how wonderful and talented ex-race horses can find new paths and careers. And help promote their buddies too.

  11. Cindy Crank

    What a lovely story and what a well matched pair. Also so beautifully turned out in that photo of them together pulling the cariage! Interesting that horses can understand up to 20 verbal commands beyond whoa and stand! Stories like this will encourage others to try a TB!

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