It was 2011, and a then-12-year-old Olivia Smyth was shopping for a horse who could be her partner in navigating the levels of eventing.
“From the get-go we ruled out OTTBs,” said Olivia. “After months of searching and searching with no matches, we found two horses, both of which were recently retired from the track.”
Olivia and her family had reservations about considering ex-racehorses. Much of what they had heard about young Thoroughbreds indicated that their high strung, nervous nature would make them less than ideal for a pre-teen looking for her next show mount.
They had been looking for quite a while, and since their goal was to have a new horse for Olivia to work with before the cold Michigan winter hit full-bore, they decided to entertain the off-track options that Olivia had found on the Internet.
“Gracie was only a few months off the track,” said Olivia. “When we went to see her, I walked her around, lunged her, then walked her around some more. The trainer got on her first, then I hopped on.”
Olivia instantly noticed distinct differences between Gracie and the school horses she'd been riding, mainly that Gracie was green and much more sensitive, but not in a stupid or frivolous way.
It took that one ride for Olivia to know that Gracie was the horse for her. She was so sure, in fact, that she and her family canceled the appointment to look at the other horse she'd planned to consider. Before long, Gracie made the move from Fox Den Farm in Ohio to Olivia's family's farm in Michigan.
“The winter was very mild, allowing us to trailer out to an indoor quite often, and by spring she was ready to show,” said Olivia.
Their first shows together were small schooling shows at or near Olivia's lesson barn, and the pair competed in a few flat and cross rails classes. Olivia and her trainer wanted to give the mare a well-rounded education and time to adjust to the stresses of showing, but their main goal was for Olivia to compete in combined training events with Gracie.
“At every show we've gone to, Gracie has gained fans,” said Olivia. “At one show my friend was sitting in the stands and overheard a group of girls spitting compliment after compliment about my mare. Afterward I met them and was so flattered by what they had to say about Gracie.”
Gracie seems to take the attention in stride. While she's not an overly “cuddly” horse, Olivia says she's loving and laid back and seems to slowly be getting used to the idea of affection, as well as joint decision-making.
“She's definitely a diva and has her own opinions about things,” explained Olivia. “She's not the kind of horse that will sit back and let you make all of the decisions – she likes to have some say.”
With a mother who's equine-inclined, it was of little surprise that Olivia would inherit the “horse gene.” Her passion for horses has led her to aim for a career in equine veterinary medicine while continuing to compete in eventing, hopefully on Gracie and other off-track Thoroughbreds.
“They really are beautiful horses,” said Olivia. “They are challenging to train, but the challenge is an enjoyable one. Most aren't high strung like many people believe; they're eager to learn new things and are really quite trustworthy. Once you go OTTB, you won't go back!”
Name: Game Gracie (a.k.a. “Gracie”)
Born: April 16, 2006
Sire: Judge T C
Dam: Miss Yellow Rose
Sale History: none
Race Record: 27-1-0-3
Race Earnings: $8,462
If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos.
Jen Roytz is the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. She also handles the farm's Thoroughbred aftercare efforts. She currently owns two retired Thoroughbreds: Point of Impact (by Point Given; a.k.a. Boomer), who retired from racing in late 2011 and is just starting back under saddle to find his forte as a riding horse, and Shotgun Shine (by Tale of the Cat, a.k.a. Gage), who is in training as a hunter/jumper. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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