It's not often you see a Thoroughbred running barrels in a lively and loud rodeo setting. When you do, it's even less often you find a professional rodeo rider in the saddle. But professional barrel racer Lindsay Jensen is bucking that trend, most recently with a gray Thoroughbred mare named Arghazi, and she's picking up some major hardware along the way.
“She's a better rodeo horse than a jackpot horse, simply because she thrives off of the crowd cheers and loud music in the rodeo world,” said Jensen of her 11-year-old Thoroughbred. “She does just great at barrel races too, but really loves the rodeo setting.”
Minnesota-bred Arghazi had a brief racing career of just four races – two at age two and two at age three – but picked up a win to break her maiden at first asking. Jensen acquired her a year after her last race, getting her for free after passing on purchasing her as a training and resale project.
“A friend who announces for many of the horse shows in the area had her for sale. He owns racehorses and she had been sitting for a while. We had looked at her as a jumping prospect but decided she wasn't big enough,” said Jensen. “He ended up giving her to us. We decided she wasn't going to make a jumper because her stride was on the shorter side and she was on the smaller side, but at 15.3 she's huge for the Western world!”
At the time Argazi was just four years old, Jensen restarted her under Western tack, taught her barrels and has been competing with her for the past seven years.
Jensen earned her Women's Professional Rodeo Association card off of Arghazi, and together the pair took home the national Thoroughbred Barrel Racing Association Championship in 2014. That year they were also the top money-earners among all Thoroughbred barrel racers in the country.
But just as Arghazi hasn't always been a barrel horse, Jensen wasn't always a Western rider. Before navigating barrel patterns, she was a hunter/jumper rider through and through.
“My parents had horses, so I was riding by the time I could walk. My mom worked at a hunter/jumper barn, so she taught me everything she knew,” said Jensen. “I started showing ponies in the hunter ring when I was about seven years old and I also ventured into the jumper ring as well.”
Jensen showed hunter/jumpers until she was 17. Then, she met a boy.
“At the time I was dating a cowboy, and sure enough, I traded my helmet for a cowboy hat,” she joked.
Jensen attended college at Northwestern Oklahoma State University and competed on the school's rodeo team. It was while in school that she came to the conclusion she wanted to train horses for a living.
After college she went out on her own as a trainer and has never looked back. She owns and operates Rush Meadow Farms, a full service lesson and training facility located in Detroit Lakes, Minn. While her specialty isn't Thoroughbred ex-racehorses, she has found much success with the breed.
“Arghazi is the only ex-racehorse I currently own,” said Jensen. “I recently sold an OTTB gelding and still have my retired Thoroughbred gelding, Here's To Ya, who never raced. I've had a number of OTTBs throughout the years that I've used for the Extreme Retired Racehorse Makeover Barrel Race competitions in Negley, Ohio, including Doc of the Bay, who I won second place in the nation with there, and Sikura's Gift, who I won fourth with a few years later.”
Jensen usually has about eight horses in training for clients each month. While the majority of Jensen's training clients and competition mounts are Quarter Horses, she says there aren't many differences between how she trains Thoroughbreds to compete versus other breeds.
“Thoroughbreds that come through our training program are treated just like any other horse. So many people have this misconception of OTTBs as being crazy, hot, sensitive or flighty. I feel like if you treat them as fragile-minded and sensitive, that's what you'll create,” Jensen said. “If you treat them like quiet, well-minded horses, that's what they become. All of the Thoroughbreds I've owned have been great trail horses as well as arena horses.”
The biggest difference Jensen finds between training ex-racehorses and other horses is a tendency for former racehorses to be stiff through their necks and supple, so her first order of business when transitioning a Thoroughbred from racing to rodeo sports is to work on collecting and softening them.
Jensen says she rides her horses with soft, quiet hands and that she finds off-track Thoroughbreds do very well with that type of contact.
“I think having been at the track can help with their barrel racing career,” said Jensen. “In addition to becoming accustomed to crowds and loud noises at the track, they also learn how to run. It seems strange, but you do have to teach a horse how to run, but the ones off of the track definitely know how to run.”
Jensen says she finds Thoroughbreds to be light on their feet and able to handle a variety of different arena surfaces. While surprising to some, she also thinks they handle the distractions of the rodeo scene quite well.
“To be honest, I've worked with a lot more crazy Quarter Horses than I have Thoroughbreds. They are pretty smooth to ride and are good on all types of rodeo ground. They can handle the deep, as well as the hard, shifty footing because they stay on top of the ground so well. They always have such big hearts and want to please.”
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 equine, 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. While she currently has no plans to build an arc, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, 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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