When the TCA Thoroughbred Makeover was announced last year, Olivia Dixon from the Kentucky Equine Humane Center knew she wanted to be part of it. After searching for the right horse high and low, she decided to enter a gelding that had been surrendered to the Center, but was having a hard time catching the eyes of adopters.
As it turned out, that horse, a Devil His Due gelding by the name of The Green Knight, would not only do the Kentucky Equine Humane Center proud, but would partner with Olivia to win the Thoroughbred Ambassador award at the Retired Racehorse Project's TCA Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium.
Bred and raced by Thoroughbred Racing Nation, The Green Knight's on-track career got off to a quick start with a first-out win in the summer of his 3-year-old year at Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino at the maiden special weight level. He won twice more the following year, but at age five, he showed significant signs of racetrack burnout, which included a frightening flip in the starting gate (though thankfully left him unharmed), and was retired and turned out for several months.
The Green Knight was sent later that year to the Kentucky Equine Humane Center (KyEHC) in Nicholasville, Ky., to be retrained and adopted out to a non-racing home. Olivia, who serves as the KyEHC's resident trainer, saw quickly that The Green Knight needed to take things slow.
“The Green Knight has had some behavioral issues in the past that I firmly believe were caused entirely by anxiety,” wrote Olivia in one of her training blogs for the Thoroughbred Makeover. “He is sweet, calm and cool as a cucumber until you ask him something he doesn't know how to do. Then he begins to fret. It's my job to give him the tools, teach him how to listen, to move his feet, and teach him to focus on the small exercises he can do so that we work together towards a greater goal.”
It was this patient, nurturing approach that allowed The Green Knight to go from a fragile and at times skittish horse to one that mastered the trail competition to finish third in his division.
Olivia worked with The Green Knight throughout 2015, giving him new experiences at the pace he could handle them. By the time the pair showed up at the Retired Racehorse Project Open Training Session and Media Outing held at a local farm several weeks before the national event, they were a solid partnership. Together, they worked among the other horses, who were doing everything from roping and ranch work to dressage, jumping and even trail riding.
A few weeks later at the TCA Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium held at the Kentucky Horse Park, they were totally in sync.
“The Green Knight showed he was not the horse he once was when he was kicked off the racetrack due to misbehavior,” said Olivia.
Together, The Green Knight and Olivia traversed the trails of the Horse Park, navigating water and other obstacles designed to test a horse's bravery, confidence and trainability.
While the pair finished third in the Competitive Trail division and won the public vote as the Thoroughbred Ambassador, there was a bigger victory for them both.
The Green Knight was also included in the Makeover Marketplace, which featured horses competing in the Thoroughbred Makeover who were available for sale or adoption.
“Someone noticed The Green Knight in the Makeover Marketplace and came out to try him as a hunter/jumper prospect,” said Olivia. “His adoption had been my greatest goal upon entry to the Makeover, but to have that and receive third place and make it to the Finale in our discipline was more than I'd ever hoped for.”
On Halloween morning, The Green Knight loaded into a trailer and traveled to his new home in Ohio.
“The Thoroughbred Makeover was an amazing experience overall and brought many ex-racehorses into a positive light for the world to see,” said Olivia. “The Green Knight's resulting adoption has concreted the event as a huge success in my book.”
The Green Knight is just one of hundreds of horses who have been successfully retrained and adopted out by the KyEHC since its inception in 2006. The organization, which was one of the first 20 to be accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance in 2013, accepts all breeds of horses and ponies that are either seized by law enforcement or surrendered to the non-profit. Thanks in large part to public donations, many of their graduates have gone on to successful careers as show horses, Pony Club mounts, recreational riding partners, and beloved family pets.
For more information on the Kentucky Equine Humane Center and to view a current list of adoptable horses, visit www.kyehc.org.
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of Thoroughbred racing, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others, and she is the go-to food source for two dogs and one off-track Thoroughbred.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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