In the few weeks since I have placed Nixon (Called To Serve, the winner of the dressage discipline at the RRP TB Makeover) on the market, I have been barraged by comments about how he will fall through the cracks due to the fact that I am selling him.  Let me start by saying how insulting this is to an owner, a trainer, a rider, or any connection to a horse that is for sale.  I have taken this horse, this “recusant maverick who seemed to hold a grievance against the world” and transformed him into something beautiful.  This process was 75% Nixon, 20% proper nutrition, veterinary care, and farrier work, and 5% me.  He was never malicious.  He never offered a buck or a rear, but he instilled fear in me through his outright SPEED.  But we persevered, and I say we because I am not his only owner. I am backed by my partner in crime, and super significant other, Luke.

I wish that I was a millionaire who could take on as many projects as my day would allow, but hence, I am not.  I am a graduate student living damn close to the poverty line.  The only reason I can even afford one horse is due to this manfriend whom we know as Luke supporting the roof over my head and the food in my belly, but low and behold, that was never enough.  I also have a retiree in my field, the most beloved horse of the century, or for those of you who follow my blog, Frank the Tank.  I have my “keeper” or my “heart horse” Mak Attack, my other retired racehorse who stole my heart 3 years ago as a four year old, the horse I hope to move up the levels with.  And then, due to mostly insanity, I get ONE project.  At a time.

These projects fulfill a lot in my life: my “baby fix,” funding for Mak and Frank, and on top of all of this, they allow me to play some role in the “unwanted horse” situation that so many believe encompasses the TB breeding and racing industry.  Only, none of the horses that I have gotten to retrain have ever been unwanted. Here are their stories:

1. Preston (2010 Devil His Due – Dear Phil)

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I got Prescient, or Preston, last summer after selling a warmblood for a friend and remembering just how much I loved working with young stock.  A friend from graduate school had reached out to me and told me that her father, a successful trainer here in Lexington, had a 4 yo who just wouldn’t stop growing, and would never make it to the track.  He was a favorite of the grooms and the breeders, but just wasn’t ever going to make it as a racehorse.  So off we went, bringing this massive 17.1hh TB from the track and into the world of eventing.  Preston turned out to be the easiest, most naturally gifted, horse I ever retrained.  And this didn’t go unnoticed.  Within 3 weeks, and without marketing, I had a call from a young lady named Skylar Davis.  She had seen him on instragram and was smitten.  A week later, Preston became hers.  They have now moved from starter up to novice, most recently finishing 2nd at Jump Start Horse Trials on their dressage score of 27!

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2.  Mason (2010 Dehere – A Song in A Minor)

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The fund’s from Preston’s sale did two things – it enabled me to finally get a jump saddle that fit Mak, and it allowed me to pursue another ex-racehorse.  So I reached out to my friends on Facebook to see if any of them had anything that was ready to retire, and heard back from a good friend who told me that he had a 4 year old that had been sitting in his field for a year, and was ready for a job.  I went out to inspect this munchkin, and found a horse who outwardly resembled Preston so much, but inwardly was an entirely different horse.  Where Preston was a big, slow, mature citizen, Mason was quick, opinionated, and a spitfire.  But what Mason lacked in maturity, he made up for in style.  His form over fences was second to none, and he drew looks wherever he went.  But because of this back cracking jump, he was also a harder sell.  I kept him for 6 months, competing him at local jumper shows and unrecognized events, before finally hearing from a young lady in Virginia.  She was looking for her “it horse” that would hopefully take her to Young Riders, and who knows, maybe even Rolex, and had locked eyes on Mason.  Watching her try Mason, and the massive smile on her face as he attempted to jump her out of the tack, just let me KNOW that they were meant for each other.  Julia Luce purchased Mason in March of this year, and have already taken the eventing scene by storm – most recently finishing in 3rd at the Maryland HT at Loch Moy last month. His jumping style still turns heads, even with Julia in the tack.

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Which brings me to Nixon, or Called To Serve…

3. Nixon (2009 Afleet Alex – Andover Lady)

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The funds from Mason did two things as well – they provided for a dressage saddle for Mak (y’all would have been impressed if you had seen me in the 1965 Stubben Tristan at the makeover), and again, they enabled me to obtain another ex-racehorse.  I knew after selling Mason that I needed to stick with my gut about what type of horse to get next.  They had to qualify for the RRP, but they also had to qualify for me.  So when I ran into Brent Wilson of Vinmar Farm at Keeneland on day in April and he told me about this horse who had just shipped in, I was intrigued.  He hit all of the criteria: big, bay, young, sound, good conformation, RRP qualified….but what we weren’t sure about was good brain.  I don’t need to go back into this summer, and how hard of a nut Nixon was to crack, but what’s important is that he cracked.  He’s now a phenomenal sport horse prospect.  And with this revelation, he is now on the market.  The funds that Nixon will bring in will provide for so much – another project, the vet bills incured when Mak fractured his splint bone this summer, who knows, maybe even my very own trailer that I can use in order to haul even more ex-racehorses around to local shows and events!

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The moral of the story is this.  Not everyone is out there to sell horses into bad situations.  Not every sales horse is heading to slaughter.  There are good horse SALESMEN, just like there are bad horse TRADERS.  I do my best to find horses that are desirable to the market, and then apply training and skills in order to make them lucrative.  A horse with a skill set it so much less likely to trickle down into a bad place – although this does happen, and I acknowledge that.  But without people like me who sell these horses, hopefully trained and obedient companions instead of recusant mavericks, there would be many fewer horses for the rest of the population to own. These same people that berate the TB industry for overbreeding are also those who believe that horses should only be adopted or “rescued.”

Well I believe the opposite.  Not every horse need rescued – as these three so perfectly portray.  But every horse needs retrained.  And that is what I am here for.  To take one horse at a time, give them love and care, and most importantly, teach them a new skill set that turns them from horses who gallop – to horses that jump, half pass, rein back, open gates, rope, pen, and most importantly, prosper.

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8 Comments on “Retraining, not rescuing, the modern day thoroughbred

  1. Don’t listen to the nay Sayers. You are doing awesome work. Many a rescue dog, even those bad pitied, has been trained to do awesome work finding drugs, lost children, as service dogs for the disabled and so forth. They are not useless and love to work. It’s seeing the potential. Keep it up.

  2. I love this article! I’m a vet student with a retired horse looking into getting my first (easy) project. It’s so inspiring to hear that you make this work with a similar work/financial burden. Keep up the amazing work!

    • It isn’t easy! I’m lucky that I have a very supportive boyfriend and a very supportive advisor! I think my advisor has realized that I’m more productive in the lab if I have a pony (or two) to ride!!

  3. Keep up what you’re doing Carleigh. There are so many people out there who don’t understand what it takes to match a job with a horse. Not every horse is made for every discipline. It sounds like you are willing to first find what the horses niche is and train him for that. The second step is finding the correct rider for that horse. It eliminates a lot of frustration for the horse and the rider. Kudos to you! Keep up the good work!

  4. Congratulations on jobs well done! A famous trainer/instructor once said we need to give big gold stars to people who teaching beginner riding lessons because they set the foundation. I say the same for anyone who has the skill and ability to take a horse and make it more useful – in your case finding these Thoroughbreds seeking second careers and putting in the time and effort to make them useful for someone else. Your buyers probably don’t have the talent to do what you did with these horses, at least not in an efficient and timely manner. If it wasn’t for people like you these three horses (and hundreds of others each year) would probably never have the opportunity to be productive members of the horse industry. Each horse went from one person interested in them (you) to several people wanting them for productive careers. Keep up the good work.

  5. People sometimes ask me how I can sell my horses. Like you, I have a few who will stay with me until we’re all in the dirt, but my response is always, “I’ve gotten them this far, now they deserve to be somebody’s #1.”

  6. I think this article from the foreign press about TB racing being alive and well will cheer you up. It sure did for me! I teared up each time I read it. We constantly hear negative press about TB racing, mostly from our own. PETA doesn’t count. I say in the TB world we eat our own. Hardly a positive word ever said about racing. Yes there are bad people and bad things go on. But with the only focus on those things it becomes very discouraging. I have been a racing fan off and on my whole life but a devoted fan the past 10 yrs. and I have noticed a BIG shift in aftercare of TBs, more rescues and re-training centers. I checked out New Vocations when I was looking for a horse. They were only in OH then. Now they are well known, have multiple facilities and gets national press coverage. Old Friends was a small operation. They have expanded and get great press coverage with prominent breeders, owners, and trainers making substantial donations and choosing to retire the very top horses there. There are many more that I can’t name off the top of my head. You know many more. Japan now works with TB organizations to be sure our stallions are brought back home when done at stud like Silver Charm. I hope you can share this link https://www.thoroughbredracing.com/articles/what-american-pharoah-experience-says-about-health-us-racing

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