Every riding discipline has its version of racing's Grade 1 competition. In eventing it's four star competition, in dressage and show jumping it's the Grand Prix level. For this week's featured off-tracker, Blackcuda, while he may not have earned Grade 1 glory on the racetrack, in less than a year of show jumping he attained his new discipline's most elite level of victory.
The handsome gelding wasn't the most stellar of racers, but he broke his maiden and brought home a few checks during his 17 race career. Blackcuda's looks, movement, attitude, and the ever-important lack of sustained speed earned him an early retirement from racing. His first post-racing owner was eventing rider Courtnay Gray, who took him to Southern Pines, North Carolina with hopes of making him into an eventer.
Before long, Blackcuda caught the eye of fellow eventing rider Susan Beebee, who thought he might make a better hunter than an eventer. She sent him to noted hunter/jumper trainer Hillary Simpson, who quickly determined that he might be a good hunter, but he'd be a truly great show jumper
“We purchased [Blackcuda] with my husband's dear friend, Robert Kogen, whom had always wanted to own a Grand Prix horse,” said Hillary, who rides and co-owns Blackcuda. “At first, Grand Prix was not our immediate goal. We just really liked his spirit and attitude and felt he had a good bit of scope. None of us could have predicted what would happen eleven months down the road!”
Hillary grew up in an equestrian family, riding before she could walk, competing by the age of five, and winning her first national championship by the age of seven. Today she rides, shows and trains under the Palmyra stable banner, which she co-owns with her husband, William, and they've enjoyed significant success since starting the business in 2007.
“I have a good pipeline on up and coming jumpers, and I have two going Grand Prix currently,” said Hillary.
While Blackcuda, now known as Arkansas in the show ring and “Denis” around the barn, had some training on him by the time he and Hillary paired up, there was still work to be done. Hillary's first task was to develop his top line and overall fitness. From there, Hillary says it was all about letting him see bigger jumps and gain confidence navigating the tighter turns, flashier obstacles, and developing more ratable speed and precision that a high level jumper course demands.
“He was game from day one,” said Hillary. “It sounds ridiculous, but he's the type of horse that doesn't know what he can't do. Our only true roadblocks were keeping ourselves in check and not pushing him too hard when we got excited when he prospered. Anytime I ever moved him up to a higher class and played it safe to give him confidence at a new height as any good horseman would, I could sense his confusion, as if he were asking, ‘why are you holding back? Let's give it our all!'”
That commitment to playing it conservative and not overmatching Arkansas was tested time and time again as he began moving up the ranks.
In 2012, Arkansas, won at least six classes, including a 1.35 meter class at the Lake Placid Horse Show, a 1.40 meter class in Bromont, Quebec, and the jumper world's version of a Grade 1, the Grand Prix class at the Duke “Jump for the Children” Horse Show in his first-ever Grand Prix appearance.
“We moved him up way faster and well beyond what we expected of him in his first year as a jumper,” said Hillary. “I've certainly never heard of a horse winning the first Grand Prix he competed in, but it seems almost par for the course for him. 2012 was a year of enjoying the company and being a partner with another athlete that didn't know how not to go for the win every time.”
Around the barn Arkansas is a unique mix of sweet and crabby.
“He's not too fond of anyone chatting in front of his stall – he takes his personal space seriously. He'll let you know you should move elsewhere with pinned ears and a charming face. I lovingly call him a crab pot when I get that face.”
The crab pot has a sweet tooth as well, noshing on Twizzlers any chance he gets.
“We discovered his love for Twizzlers when he removed an entire bag from a grooming box while crosstied,” said Hillary. “He especially likes the extra long version you can purchase from the Hershey store, and Robert sends these frequently for him. We feed him the whole piece and he plays with it before finishing it.”
This week Rood and Riddle, one of the nation's largest and most respected equine hospitals, announced that Arkansas is one of several Thoroughbreds being recognized for their outstanding achievements in their off-track lives. He was named the winner of the Rood and Riddle Thoroughbred Sport Horse “Rookie of the Year” in the jumper division.
“Arkansas is one of many Thoroughbreds that have reached great success on the jumper circuit,” said Alex Riddle, who handles public relations for Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. “We are so excited that his connections took a chance on this young horse off of the track and took the time to polish him into a flashy, successful jumper. Arkansas and the other rookie award winners were competing against the largest group of off-the-track Thoroughbreds registered for USEF competition since we have been giving this award. That is a testament to the athleticism, talent and training of the four winners to be able to beat such a large field and also to the awareness of owners that have taken advantage of such a great pool of talent that exists in repurposing these great athletes.”
Hillary's enthusiasm and appreciation for Thoroughbreds as show horses has long been apparent. Currently she has a second retired racehorse, Appealing Wildcat, in training as a show jumper, and is just as thrilled with his progression as she's been with Arkansas.
“Caroline and Wade Young purchased Appealing Wildcat from Canter in December of 2011 and, while his training is a bit slower, he's a lovely horse that we all adore,” explained Hillary. “He's a very cool character, very laid back and has barely batted an eyelash at anything we've asked him to do. He's a quick study and an absolute pleaser – we're all looking forward to his accelerated training in Florida this winter.”
Hillary and her husband are both advocates of repurposing retired racehorses as riding and show horses and Hillary was quick to pinpoint what she feels makes them well-suited to the jumper ring.
“Their attitude! The good ones, especially those that suit to jump big fences, truly don't know what they can't do,” said Hillary. “That alone is a great attribute, as long as you recognize it and nurture it the proper way. It's an edge that most Warmbloods don't have and, at the end of the day, we all need a little attitude, especially the ‘can do' kind.”
Name: BLACKCUDA (Show name: Arkansas; Barn Name: Denis)
Height: 16 hands
Color: Dark Bay/Brown
Sire: Cornish Snow
Dam: Western Hula
Sale History: None
Race Record: 17-1-0-2
Race Earnings: $8,963
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 in training as a hunter/jumper; and Shotgun Shine (Gage), who retired from racing in 2011 and has become a trusty trail partner for young horses and an all around riding horse. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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