From the dregs of racing to Dressage star

Real Gentleman dances beneath rider Bethany Larsen. Photo by Lynda McCann

Real Gentleman dances beneath rider Bethany Larsen. Photo by Leah Sancoff

Like royalty wearing rags, Real Gentleman spent his early life cloaked in the dust and sweat of working class racetracks.

Bouncing between Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Finger Lakes Race Track in Farmington, N.Y., the refined and upright gelding, who possessed hidden talents that could make him great, tried to plug himself into the gritty life, where he floundered.

In 41 starts, he had just a single victory in the battle for small purse money, before he finished out his career as the ugly winter of 2012 closed in. With a mere $16,000 in lifetime earnings, his real talents were hidden.

Real Gentleman
Barn name: Rio
Sire: Gone for Real
Dam: Sunshine Star, by Star de Naskra
Foal date: Feb. 5, 2006
But soon he would show he could outperform most Thoroughbreds!

After cooling his heels for two months at a New Hampshire farm, a dressage rider and her top-level equestrian coach came to inspect the bay gelding they’d spotted online in a video, which showed Real Gentleman cantering with the balance of a ballerina.

“We found him on a cold, rotten Sunday at the end of January 2012,” says Ann Seamonds, a longtime dressage rider. While nursing a cold and feeling a bit sorry for herself, she’d surfed the Net and discovered the bay Thoroughbred’s video on Facebook. And she saw in that brief footage a glimpse of talent that never did him any good on the track. “He had the most lovely presence and a lovely balance and a canter to die for. The walk and the canter are the two most important gaits in Dressage. The trot you can improve a little. And I loved his eye—he had a calm eye.”

And his looks matched his temperament.

Former race connection Chris Trakas couldn't be more proud of his former racehorse.

Racehorse owner Chris Trakas couldn’t be more proud of his former racehorse.

With snow swirling on the blustery wind, he was expertly put through his paces by trainer and jockey Jackie Falk, says Seamonds, noting, “He never put a foot wrong. She even jumped him over a snow bank.”

It took Seamonds and her coach, Pan Am Games winning dressage rider Mary Howard of Brentwood, N.H. about two minutes to see the regal bearing of an undiscovered star. “My trainer looked at him, then she looked at me and said, ‘He’s coming home with us.’ At this point, I wasn’t thinking of having a show horse to go up the levels with. I just really loved him.”

After shipping him to Five Stars Farm in Brentwood, the pair started training Real Gentleman for the beautiful sport of Dressage with no expectations. And one day, the confusion cleared and something just clicked for the gelding as he found his natural calling. “One day the look in his eye changed and it was like he realized in that moment what he was supposed to do,” Seamonds says. “After that, he never said no.”

Fancy stepping at his 4th Level debut at the University of New Hampshire.

Fancy stepping at his 4th Level debut at the University of New Hampshire. Photo by Leah Sancoff

And while onlookers might say, “No way!” the well built racehorse charged up the ranks of the Dressage discipline, conquering Levels 1 through 3 to compete and win at Level 4. This year, after winning his first 3rd Level show with a score of 71 percent, he debuted at the 4th Level at the University of New Hampshire earlier this summer with a score just under 63 percent, Seamonds says.

With reins gently held by skilled working student Bethany Larsen, Real Gentleman is expected to crack into Prix St. George next year, once he gradually builds strength. An unsung racehorse with the bearing of nobility is leaving all the racehorses he competed against in the dust as he conquers Dressage levels few horses can attain.

“He is a warhorse who found his true calling as a Dressage horse,” Seamonds says. “He is becoming a real ambassador for the OTTBs in Dressage.”

8 responses to “From the dregs of racing to Dressage star”

  1. MsMoose

    I object to the “dregs of racing” phrase…..Yes, this horse started at the race track (“Oh, the horror!!”) but his trainer is an expert rider in other disciplines, and her horses are treated like royalty. Those who show no ability for racing have a great foundation for other disciplines, and she and her owner make sure they all get suitable second homes. No “dregs” in this picture!

  2. Gayle Pruitt

    I love this story! He is beautiful, and reminds me of a very special horse we retired and had retrained for eventing. I get a lump in my throat every time I see him in the dressage ring with his young owner/rider – they are a lovely pair! I don’t know much about dressage, but for a horse who is bred to run and run fast, it is just amazing to me how in a few short years, they can become so graceful in the dressage ring! Thank you for sharing Susan!

  3. ruth

    Bethany–very nice!! Ruth Good

  4. Alplily

    He is a real beauty! And yes, his position is correct…

  5. Ann S

    Thank you, tiggy1998, for your comments. If you notice in the photos, his nose is slightly in front of the vertical, which is the correct carriage. He is soft in the bridle, and nothing is forced. We never use rollkur – the extreme rounding you refer to. It’s not just a question of impact on scores if the horse is behind the vertical. Many experts believe that rollkur (hyperflexion) can be physically and psychologically harmful to the horse.

  6. tiggy1998

    What a lovely boy! He will do well with Dressage. My off track horses are always schooled in Dressage as it is good for their bodies and keeps their minds occupied. The Thoroughbred is gorgeous when doing Dressage. Warmbloods do not ‘own’ the Sport any longer. I would be careful to not make him touch his Chin to his Chest as that is extreme and I do believe points are deducted at shows for this extreme ‘Rounding’. Well done!!!

    1. Nimpo Lake

      I’m confused why you would even mention rolkur (the extreme rounding you mention). The pictures here show nothing even approaching rolkur. Reins are soft, and the head is at the vertical. The riders here are obviously very talented and the horse has beautiful self carriage. Not to mention that I imagine Mary Howard has a good idea of the negatives of using rolkur, which, when used as a long-term training aid, causes severe muscular and skeletal issues, as well as psychological damage. To even mention it the way you do in your comment seems highly offensive to those involved with this horse, people who are obviously lovingly dedicated to him.

      1. Rhonda Ennis

        Thank you Nimpo Lake, you took the words right out of my mouth. Anyone taking an OTTB to 4th and PSG knows what they are doing and does not need “advice” on how to train their obviously well trained and happy horse.

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