Fascination and love for the Thoroughbred horse seems to be alive and well in America! Who would have thought that 350 people cared enough about this subject to show up so eager to learn something new? I hope they came away with a renewed sense of admiration and respect for these horses, and a renewed commitment to improving their own riding and training skills.
I had my fingers crossed when JK Adams rode in at the start on Monster Chaser. JK has ridden in 5000 races, winning 1000 of them, so he wasn't nervous, but Kim Clark of Thoroughbred Placement & Rescue had warned me that the horse only had 7 days of post-race training and could be a handful.
JK gave all of us a riding lesson, setting the theme for the day in a way that words never could. Simply by staying balanced over the middle of the horse at all times, and putting his hands down in front of the withers, this jockey had his horse consistently in a round frame, with a swinging back and rhythmic movement.
I asked JK if he'd ever had a dressage lesson. "A what?" he replied.
CANTER, Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue, and Thoroughbred Placement and Rescue all brought quality horses that are up for adoption. Riders from each of these organizations shared some training tips and showed that young horses off the track are intelligent and eager to learn, even in an arena filled with a large crowd, video cameras, loudspeakers and a course of colorful show jumps. We saw fancy movers, brilliant jumpers, and even a twelve-year-old that went straight from ten seasons of racing to foxhunting in a matter of weeks!
The second group of horses were all in their first year of post-race training, all aged three to five years, and all doing more already than most horses of the same age who have never raced. Two were ridden by young professionals who are training and selling horses off the track as a business. The others were ridden by amateurs who are doing it for their own pleasure. The messages to the audience were made clear by these partnerships.
- Horses who have raced learn quickly in the sport horse world, if, and only if, they are ridden with balance and tact.
- Buying, training, and selling these horses is a good business, if you ride and train well.
- Allowing the horses to become absorbed in their own rhythm opens the door to their minds.
- Establishing boundaries within which their bodies work comforts them.
- Respecting the boundaries that they put up out of fear builds trust.
In the final segment, we watched older horses whose careers after the track have had major impacts on the humans who ride them.
- I got to show off my favorite retired racehorse, Salute The Truth, the only Thoroughbred stallion in America who is proven at the advanced level of eventing.
- Fran and Alyssa Hayward presented Cardinal Cross, the wiry little black twenty year old who brought both mother and daughter up to the preliminary level of eventing in a ten-year career that followed a 75-race career at the track.
- Alyssa Peterson wowed us all with the gorgeous mare Lettingo, who is heading to the CCI** at Fair Hill this month and has the talent to take Alyssa to the top internationally.
- Julia and Barrett Wendell brought forth R. Huey, the giant horse who would never retire, either from their racing stable or eventing barn. Huey hooked Barrett on racing, hooked Julia on eventing, forced them to buy a farm for his retirement, and is now teaching Hannah Ong how to really ride. He's twenty-two and gorgeous; the grandpa of An Otherwise Perfect Farm, and one of the stars of Julia's great book, "Finding My Distance."
I can't believe that anyone walked out of the arena that day not burning to improve their skills and dreaming of their next fine horse off the track. Thanks to everyone who sponsored the event, rode in it, and showed up to watch. It was a great team effort. We raised $2,400 for our hosts Maryland Therapeutic Riding, and we're already making plans for an expanded format for similar events at other venues.