Dr. Elizabeth Callahan wasn't in the market for a new horse. A partner in the Maryland-based mixed animal practice Veterinary Medical Center, Callahan's days are full. In addition to specializing in reproduction, equine nutrition and acupuncture, she breeds Warmbloods and competes at the FEI level in dressage and eventing.
Sometimes, though, you don't know what you want until it's put right in front of your face, and once you have it you can't imagine your life without it. For Callahan, that was exactly the case.
It was in February of 2012 that a persuasive friend with an educated eye for horses first spotted Aheadofthebest listed on the CANTER Pennsylvania website's trainer listings. After breaking her maiden ultra-impressively at Woodbine in Canada at the maiden special weight level, even earning the comment, “very game,” in the racing chart, she fell flat, failing to hit the board in her next four starts.
When the Woodbine meet ended, she shipped to Penn National for the winter meet, where her connections likely hoped the drop in class would help her to regain her form. Even at the lower claiming level, she couldn't finish better than sixth, and her connections posted her on the CANTER website in an effort to market her for sale to a non-racing home while she was still in training.
“My friend, Molly Sorge, told me she saw this lovely mare on the CANTER website and knew I had a thing for exceptional Thoroughbred mares,” said Callahan. “I looked at her on the site, mulled it over for a week or two, and even though I did not need another horse, I made an offer the day she was supposed to ship home to Canada. I drove up and picked her up sight-unseen. I never even saw her walk until I loaded her up on the trailer. As a vet, I don't suggest anyone do this!”
Callahan, a sport horse breeder who operates under the banner of Cool Na Grena Sporthorses, has found much success crossing Thoroughbred blood with Warmblood breeds. She has bred one 4* horse, several that have competed up to the advanced level and a number of preliminary and lower level eventers, all of which have either been at least half Thoroughbred or had Thoroughbred dams.
There is quite a detailed process one must follow in order to breed and register Warmblood foals, including a physical inspection. There are different inspections (and criteria) for different breed registries, and these inspections are held throughout the year in various locations across the U. S. and internationally. Regardless of the stallion or mare's breed – Thoroughbred, Warmblood or otherwise – they must be approved by the appropriate registry before their foals can be registered.
“The sport horse breed registries must approve the breeding stock before the foals can be registered. Each mare or stallion must be scored by judges and obtain a suitable score before they can produce registered foals,” explained Callahan.
Aheadofthebest not only gained approval from the breed registries to which she was submitted for inspection, but she garnered critical acclaim from the judges. Included in the judges' comments was the following:
In a brilliant type and with a super profile, fueled by a strong hindquarter, this Thoroughbred mare with good bone typified the best kind of Thoroughbred mares for a sport breeding program. Once in motion, Aheadofthebest lived up to her name, with excellent swing and overreach in a walk that moved through her body, an uphill energy and active hind leg in the trot and a powerful, uphill canter.
The judges' scores reflected their praise, as Aheadofthebest was the highest-scoring mare in the U. S. Rheinland Pfalz-Saar International (RPSI) Breed Inspections, placed eighth in the U.S. in the American Hanoverian Society Mare Inspection and was deemed a premium mare at the Oldenburg Horse Breeders' Society's North American inspection.
“The Hanoverian inspectors are quite strict when it comes to Thoroughbreds. Many Thoroughbreds lack the elasticity in their gaits and this is necessary to achieve a good score,” said Callahan. “She did quite well and the inspectors praised her for her type, her conformation and her overall impression.”
A rider as well, Callahan began the process of restarting Aheadofthebest, or “Sadie,” as they call her around the barn, putting a solid foundation on her and eventually taking her to several events, competing her at the Beginner Novice level.
“I was planning on riding her first, then breeding her the next year, but things went so well and I had such fun riding her, the breeding part got delayed until last year,” said Callahan. “She had a great foundation to start, so she was pretty easy [to retrain]. It's like driving a Ferrari.”
The more Callahan asked of Aheadofthebest, the more apparent it became that, while the mare had an incredible amount of off-track talent, jumping was not an area in which she particularly excelled.
“Although she loves to jump, she is not very good at it,” said Callahan. “As a matter of fact, she has almost no jumping talent at all.”
So, Callahan instead focused more on dressage work, winning both Thoroughbred-restricted awards and open competitions. The pair placed fourth in 2015 at the Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships, where Callahan was the top-placed adult amateur rider, and in 2017 they were the Thoroughbred Incentive Program's National Champions for 4th Level Dressage.
“I've never ridden to the level that we are doing right now and I just find it so awesome that we have traveled this road together – that she's tolerated my mistakes and continues to be my partner,” said Callahan.
In order to continue to compete throughout the 2017 season, Callahan opted to do embryo transfer, and via a surrogate, Aheadofthebest was represented by her first foal earlier this year.
“She is a lovely little filly by a Trakhener stallion and has her dam's personality and self-assuredness,” said Callahan. “Hopefully I'll do a few other embryo transfers with her while I continue to ride and train her.”
When competing at shows, Callahan uses a CANTER saddle pad to tout the fact that her mare is a Thoroughbred and tries to promote the breed however she can in the sport horse world.
“I've had multiple judges ask what breed she is and they're often surprised when I tell them she's a Thoroughbred,” said Callahan. “She is just a lovely horse and exemplifies the movement and type we need to add to Warmblood breeding. What she lacks in the suspension and huge gaits she makes up for in her active hind leg, lateral work, her desire to go forward and her presence and elegance.”
Continued Callahan, “She is always forward. No matter how tired or hot we are, she always has something left in the tank. I love that and I love her sensitivity to the aids. I just have to think it and she tries.”
Name: Aheadofthebest (a.k.a. “Sadie”)
Born: February 22, 2008 in Canada
Sire: Best of the Bests (IRE)
Dam: Bold Consort, by Bold Executive
Sale History: none
Race Record: 8-1-0-0
Race Earnings: $36,296
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky and was recently named the Executive Director of the Retired Racehorse Project. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She is the go-to food source for one dog, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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