Heading for Home: Off-Track Thoroughbreds Excel at 2017 Makeover
by Mary Perdue
What do a gelding who raced 50 times over seven years, a bay mare who finished dead last in her most recent race at Turf Paradise, and a 5-year-old who still hadn’t broken his maiden after 18 tries have in common? One word: success.
Off-track Thoroughbreds Bowdrie, Dreamsicle and Uncle Silas were among over 300 entries who competed for more than $100,000 in prize money in ten disciplines at the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover, held October 5 through 8 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. Sponsored by Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) and organized by The Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), this is the fifth time the show has been held, and this year’s event had the most entries ever.
In order to be eligible to compete, horses must have started training for a second career no longer than ten months ago. Competition disciplines included dressage, eventing, hunters/jumpers, competitive trail, barrels, polo, working ranch and freestyle. The top five finishers in each discipline competed for a $10,000 prize, with ten finalists competing for the title of “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.”
This year’s overall winner was the 3-year-old filly Old Tavern, ridden by 17-year-old Charlie Caldwell. Old Tavern, a West Virginia-bred daughter of Peak Dancer, trained to race but never made it to the starting gate.
Judging from crowd size and reaction, the freestyle event, sponsored by Godolphin, was the most entertaining to watch. Competitors performed five-minute routines, “in any manner that demonstrates the trainability and talent of the horse. “ Last year’s freestyle winner, Lindsey Partridge, finished second this year with her 8-year-old gelding Bowdrie, who according to his owner started out as, “a high strung racehorse with a lip chain.” Now, Bowdrie performs calmly in a crowded arena, ridden bareback to music, pulling a string of balloons while navigating numerous distractions including a faux water pond and umbrellas opening near his face.
“We took a journey together with no bit or spurs and I couldn’t be prouder of how we ended up,” Partridge, of Harmony Horsemanship, said.
Partridge and Bowdrie also finished second in competitive trail while Partridge showed the 5-year-old gray mare Here Comes Adri to a third-place finish in competitive trail and a sixth in field hunters.
Another freestyle standout was Dan Keen and the 6-year-old Borrego mare Dreamsicle, who finished third. Less than 10 months after finishing last in her most recent race, Dreamsicle demonstrated roping and polo skills, as well as flying lead changes and a hand ride at a full gallop in an indoor arena, and was among 120 horses offered for sale at the Makeover.
Keen, of Spicewood, TX, really engaged the crowd by proposing to his girlfriend, fellow trainer Laura Jones, at the end of his freestyle finale. Keen himself has over 30 years experience retraining horses for second careers, including mustangs and rodeo horses.
Even more impressive is the fact that this year markd Keen’s first Thoroughbred Makeover appearance. He and Jones started with six OTTBs with three who competed this year. Remarkably, Keen says he trained all three in all ten disciplines for the show.
“We took them back to kindergarten and gave them a good foundation,” Keen explained. “We taught them dressage, jumping, roping, polo and how to pull a carriage, and then at the end we decided what they were best at.”
Dreamsicle’s versatility, however, presented Keen with a unique and tantalizing problem.
“She can do it all,” Keen explained. “I took her to AAA jumping shows and she placed with Warmbloods. She’s good with her feet and has lots of confidence. And she just wants it. Every morning she’d come walking up to me like she was saying, ‘tack me up, man, let’s go!’”
One of the largest classes with 90 competitors was eventing, which consists of three phases — dressage, cross country and jumping phases. Uncle Silas, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Corinthian, met with limited success as a racehorse having never won a race , but now competes in cross country, as well as field hunting, and was offered for sale at the Makeover.
Owner/trainer Clare Pinney of Pulaski, TN, said Uncle Silas was originally slated to be a polo prospect by his previous owner, but when that didn’t work out, she acquired him for retraining as a hunter and eventer.
“He had bad feet when he came to me,” Pinney recalls. “He was in so much pain.”
Pinney began Uncle Silas’ rehab by pulling his shoes and wrapping his feet daily during the first month of stall rest, followed by special therapeutic shoes on his front feet only. It took another month of stall rest before his hind feet could be re-shod after which time Pinney began restricted turnout and handwalking until he was finally sound enough to begin training.
“As he healed, his character emerged,” Pinney reveals. “He’s quite a clown, and the best partner for hunting and eventing. (He) loves cross country and enjoys the thrill of foxhunting.”
This year’s Thoroughbred Makeover also featured educational seminars on a variety of topics, including a Q&A session with former jockey Rosie Napravnik, as well as a sponsor fair. RRP spokeswoman Erin Harty said that a total of 13 horses sold on or after the Makeover. Also, several entrants ended up not competing because they were sold prior to the event, indicating a stronger market for well-trained OTTBs ready for a new career.
To learn more about the Retired Racehorse Project and the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover, visit www.RetiredRacehorseProject.org.