Last month at the Burghley Horse Trials in England, it wasn't just the world-class eventing horses making headlines at one of the equestrian world's premier events. Off-track Thoroughbreds were on display as well, competing in the last of six qualifiers held throughout the country for the SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse Championship at the prestigious Horse of the Year Show.
The Horse of the Year Show plays host each year to a variety of breed and discipline-specific national championship classes, including the finals for Show Jumper of the Year, Pony of the Year, Horse of the Year and others. Having a retired racehorse-specific championship class at the coveted show is nothing short of a coup, as was having them on display for their qualifier at Burghley.
The Burghley Horse Trials, along with Badminton and the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, make up the Grand Slam of Eventing and are three of the most highly coveted – and widely attended by spectators – combined training events in the world. On average, more than 65,000 spectators attend the Burghley Horse Trials and this year many of them also gained a better understanding and appreciation of off-track Thoroughbreds, as they watched nineteen retired racers compete in the SEIB Insurance Brokers-sponsored class.
In the Racehorse to Riding Horse qualifier class (and in the Championship at the Horse of the Year Show), horses were first ridden on the flat in a group, modeled similarly to a flat class in the hunter divisions in the U. S. Then, each horse was ridden by the ride judge for evaluation. Lastly, horses came back sans saddles and their conformation was evaluated.
“The “ideal” winner is one that is well put together, mannerly and moves well… one that would display a good aptitude for a showing career in open classes at the top level,” said Tilly Berendt, who handles public relations and promotions for the Racehorse to Riding Horse series.
The winner of the Burghley qualifier was Jack The Giant, an Irish-born son of popular American-based sire Giant's Causeway. Ridden by Alistair Hood, the 14-year-old gelding, who also won the class in 2014, competed on the flat and over fences during a racing career that saw him earn wins at Ascot, Leicester, Cheltenham, Kempton, Warwick, Sandown and Market Rasen racecourses (nine wins total – 1 on the flat, three in hurdles races and five in steeplechase races).
“He's a very intelligent horse, so therefore he's always been very good to work with,” said Hood of his winning mount. “He's quite a character – he's quite sharp, and sometimes he was unsure of what to do, but with a little gentle persuasion and a little bit of encouragement, we got there.”
Interestingly, Jack The Giant is owned by The Jackpots Syndicate, which was formed by Sophie Waddilove, whose partner, Nicky Henderson, trained the horse during his racing career. As the gelding was nearing the end of his career, Waddilove felt he had potential for greatness in the show ring. She and six friends, all of whom met during their days participating in Pony Club – formed the syndicate and enjoy celebrating Jack The Giant's success in the show ring.
“It's all worked really nicely for us, everyone's had a really good time and it's given him a marvelous career after racing,” said Hood.
Hood and Jack The Giant went on to take top honors at the Racehorse to Riding Horse Championship at the Horse of the Year Show this past weekend.
Taking runner-up honors at the Burghley Racehorse to Riding Horse qualifier and subsequently also at the Horse of the Year Show class was the regally-connected Barbers Shop.
Bred and owned by Her Majesty The Queen of England as both a racehorse and now as a show horse, Barbers Shop raced over jumps until age 12, when he was retired and began the retraining process to become a show horse. He won a qualifier for the Horse of the Year Show in June at Stretcholt Equestrian Center and competed not only in the Racehorse to Riding Horse of the Year class, but also the Side-Saddle Championships at the Horse of the Year Show with rider Katie Jerram.
“Astride, he's very responsive and he knows his job very well,” said Jerram. He's a charming gentleman. He did find standing very difficult in his first two years, and we spent quite a lot of time calming him down and being very laid back about it. He had a lot of apples and sweets to keep him calm. Now he's learned to just do it, but we don't fuss him too much. We just keep him as chilled as possible.”
Created by SEIB Insurance Brokers (formerly known as South Essex Insurance Brokers), one of the leading insurance brokers in England, the Racehorse to Riding Horse series aims to support and encourage the retraining of Thoroughbreds for careers in the show ring. The company was also behind the Search for the Stars series, which gave amateur riders a chance to compete for coveted spots in the Horse of the Year Show.
“The versatility of the modern Thoroughbred is incredibly impressive and these large-scale ventures that promote their versatility are so valuable,” said Berendt. “It's fantastic to see discipline professionals coming together to make things like the Racehorse to Riding Horse series work. It's been instrumental within the wider horse community in offering incentives for riders bringing along ex-racehorses.”
More information on the Racehorse to Riding Horse program can be found at www.racehorse2ridinghorse.co.uk.
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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