Have you ever looked at a Thoroughbred – on or off the track – and wondered to yourself, “What have you seen? What do you know?” If the horse in question passed through the hands of Trudy Veinot, it's safe to say he or she has seen and learned a whole lot.
Based on a small farm in Central Kentucky, Veinot has built a career on the backs of Thoroughbreds. A former jockey-turned-trainer, Veinot always seemed to have a way of getting along with young horses and had an eye for spotting talent. Today she earns her living as a pinhooker, purchasing weanlings at the November breeding stock sales in partnership with the intention of preparing them for resale and hopefully selling them for a profit as yearlings.
In a business where everyone has their own way of doing things, Vienot's approach is truly unique. Every meal her horses eat, grooming they get and lesson they learn comes from Vienot herself, and by the time they leave her care, they not only look the part of a well-prepared yearling ready to take center stage at the country's premier Thoroughbred auctions, but they've got a few other tricks up their sleeves that will serve them well in racing and beyond.
It was on Facebook that I first came across Veinot's name. Scrolling through my news feed this time of year, I often come across conformation photos of yearlings being prepared for the sales at Fasig-Tipton or Keeneland. So often, they are the picture of health – balanced and alert, with gleaming coats and sleek muscling — the result of meticulous grooming, proper nutrition and daily handling and exercise over the span of several months.
What caught my eye this day, however, was that in a series of conformation photos I saw something I'd never seen before. While each looked just as you'd hope they would leading up to The July Sale at Fasig-Tipton, perched atop each yearling was Veinot herself, sitting bareback holding the reins to a Western bridle.
It piqued my interest, so I investigated further, doing a bit of “Facebook stalking” on her page. There, I found a short video of each horse being ridden at the walk and at a slow, stretchy trot, as well as taking a few steps backward.
Normally Thoroughbreds are started under saddle toward the end of the year after the yearling sales have passed, not in June before the yearling sales have started. To be honest, I wasn't sure how I felt about someone sitting atop one of these horses at such a young age, so I reached out to Veinot to learn more. I was glad I did because I got to know someone who truly puts her horses' well-being at the heart of everything she does, both for racing purposes and for the sake of their long-term viability after racing.
“Everything I do is about confidence-building for these horses. I only ride them a handful of times and only for a few minutes each time in the weeks leading up to when they will sell. The majority of the work I do over the course of the eight or so months I have them includes hand-walking up and down hills, lunging in a round pen and out in the open and working with them to overcome obstacles that might be scary, like flags or tarps or logs to walk over,” said Veinot. “One of the greatest gifts you can offer a horse is the ability to think through things rationally and overcome what they fear. It will serve them well in their training at the track, it will serve them well on race days and it will serve them well in their hopefully many years after racing.”
Her approach with each horse, which is based on natural horsemanship methods combined with traditional yearling prep, is gradual, never over-facing the horse with more than their minds or bodies can handle.
On a typical day in the weeks leading up to each horse's sale date, Veinot might do ten minutes of lunging at a slow to medium trot to get their heart rate up, then continue with 15 minutes of hand-walking up and down the gently rolling hills Central Kentucky is known for. Once she feels her horses are confident in the round pen, she takes their daily lessons outside, lunging them in open fields.
“I often lunge them in a 20-acre field and will often walk while I lunge so they get to see different scenery,” said Veinot. “Being asked to lunge or work away from the round pen for those first few times can be intimidating for them. The confines of the round pen becomes their comfort zone. Teaching them to work and pay attention to me out in the open is a key lesson for them.”
She says the days she gets on their backs are their easy days. The first few times she gets on them they are bareback and in the stall, as she says not having a girth tightened around their belly gives them one less thing to think about. She teaches them simple leg aids, how to bend and how to accept soft contact with the bit, and most is done at the walk, first in a round pen and later in a paddock.
“I know that when my horses arrive at the sales grounds they look fit, but all of the fitness work is done through groundwork. I bet each of them doesn't have even three miles total of riding on them, but they'll remember these lessons,” said Veinot, who stands just five-feet tall. “Someone can choose to turn them out for the sixty days, saving the money they would have paid someone to break them and give them time to mature, or they can send them to whatever two-year-old program they prefer and they will fit right in.”
Veinot consigns her horses with Taylor Made Sales Agency. As Vice President of Marketing and Public Sales for Taylor Made, Mark Taylor has seen the value in Veinot's approach to horsemanship.
“The horses that come to us from Trudy are always in great condition. I think her feed program is excellent. Her horses always look like they're doing well from the inside out. You can't just groom a horse and expect it to look great. She feeds them right, gives them plenty of time outside to enjoy themselves and then adds her prep program on top,” said Taylor. “I have always seen benefits to horses that receive early lessons in ‘natural horsemanship.' Trudy's program is aimed at developing confidence in young horses. Lessons come at a slow pace and the horses really enjoy being put to work. Another key is that she does not overdo it. She rides her yearlings some before the sale, but it is not stressful. Basically, she teaches them the fundamentals in a very safe and relaxed setting. I believe this is an added benefit to buyers and will ultimately make them a more trainable racehorse when the time comes.”
If results count for anything, that seems to be the case. In 2015 Veinot and her partner bought an Orb colt out of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale for $52,000. Purchased by Winchell Thoroughbreds for $130,000 the following year at the Keeneland September Sale, the colt (named Dixie Fever) won at first asking in an $81,000 maiden special at Oaklawn Park. Another pupil, Fascilitator, ran second twice before getting up for the win at Fair Grounds in a $41,000 maiden special against a well-stacked field that included the likes of a Tapit colt out of Champion Groupie Doll. He came back a month later to score an easy win in a $76,000 allowance at Oaklawn, also for Asmussen and Winchell.
“I think what truly sets them apart is that I've taught them to overcome what they fear. The gift of confidence and ability to rationally think through situations that are presented to them will not only serve these horses in racing, but for their entire lives,” said Veinot.
Our conversation was long, my questions were many and her answers were thoughtful. Not only did I gain an entirely new perspective on how a horse can be prepared for the sales and for life, but it was a good reminder to not judge a book by its cover.
You can watch Veinot's three yearlings (hips 145, 347 and 349) go through the ring at The July Sale at Fasig-Tipton in person on July 10, or watch via livestream at www.fasigtipton.com.
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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