Just like humans, every horse is different. They react differently to situations, they learn things in different ways and they express themselves in a nuanced and unique fashion. As we've covered in this column time and time again, Thoroughbreds can often make a successful and relatively easy transition from racing to riding or showing. They enjoy human interaction and also the process of learning, and in most cases they dispel the notion they are hot-blooded and high strung. Some of them can be downright lazy!
Then there are horses like Mero Maggie, a mare for whom chestnut mare memes were made. As a Minnesota-bred racehorse, Metro Maggie made just three starts – all last summer as a four-year-old – finishing second last, second last again, and last in her final start. Current owner Katelin Bradley, who acquired the horse late last year, said that's likely due to the mare's high-strung, nervous nature.
While her tendencies may not have done her any favors as a racehorse, that hot nature combined with a patient and talented rider are the perfect recipe for making Metro Maggie into a successful barrel racer.
“She's very nervous and having watched her races, she'd start out fast and just fade,” said Katelin. “Her racing owner, who also bred her, did a fabulous job with her to try to help her through her anxious tendencies. I'm assuming that's why they waited so long to race her, as there's nothing physically wrong with her, and when it became clear that racing wasn't where she was going to be successful, they found her a different home and job.”
Bradley, who learned about the mare through friend and fellow horse woman Hannah Zimmer, turned “Metro” out for the first month she had her so she could focus on the duties that came with being named Miss Rodeo Wisconsin last year, and saw her travel to the National Finals Rodeo late last year to vie for the Miss Rodeo America title.
“She'd been turned out since her retirement from racing, but I felt like she needed more time, which worked out well for my schedule,” said Bradley. “I began I December by just doing some round pen work, which included a lot of lunging and standing with a saddle. Since she's very impatient and anxious, that kind of groundwork was a must.”
While Bradley began getting on Metro's back in January, it was another month before they even left the round pen. Once they did, everything they did together was slow, purposeful and methodical.
“We still mainly only do slow work at home. Lots of trail riding, drills and patterns at the walk and trot. When she gets anxious, we just bring it down a step and do it even slower,” said Bradley. “I gave her four months of just basic riding before we ever looked at a barrel pattern.”
Once Bradley did start incorporating barrels into Metro's training, it was very slow at first, walking and trotting around the barrels in the signature cloverleaf pattern, teaching her how to bend her body around each barrel and engage her hind quarters to push onto the next.
“Barrel racing looks easy, but it has a lot of specific maneuvers that they need to understand before they ever see a barrel,” said Bradley. “During those first few months under saddle we worked on teaching her to move off of my leg, how to do a proper rollback, doing a lot of leg yielding and just making her very flexible and workable off of all of my aids, not just my hands. They have to drive their hind end up underneath them and stay balanced in a turn, so we spent a lot of time doing exercises like that, so once I started introducing barrels into the mix, it was actually pretty easy.”
Bradley was boarding Metro at a facility that held small barrel races throughout the year. That was the perfect scenario for an easily-excitable horse like Metro, as she could still have some familiarity at her first few competitions.
While those first few runs went well, once Bradley hauled Metro off the farm for her first off-site competition, the mare tested Bradley with everything she had.
“The first time I hauled her to a barrel race, it took an hour for me just to get her [protective] boots on her legs. I'd lunge her, then try to make her stand still. It was a frustrating process,” said Bradley. “When you haul in for barrel races, everyone just drives up and ties to their trailers, so horses have to be good about standing around and waiting, because there's no stall to put them in while you're taking care of your entries and paperwork.”
Repetition can be a nervous horse's friend, and as Bradley persevered through Metro's nervousness, the mare began to get better and more accustomed to the routine.
“We've probably entered about 15 times now and she's done really well. At first it was a real struggle, but now when I haul her to a new place, I just tie her and let her eat out of her hay bag as I tack her up, get on and go,” said Bradley. “If she does throw a fit, I just let her get it out of her system and move on.”
Metro isn't Bradley's first foray into transitioning Thoroughbreds from the track to the barrel pattern. She has had several Thoroughbred barrel racers and is the page manager for The Western Thoroughbred, an Instagram account and Facebook group dedicated to Thoroughbreds working or competing in Western disciplines, such as reining, barrel racing, ranch work, trail riding and even racetrack work.
“I grew up doing 4-H and competing in small shows and events. I always really liked watching horse racing and it was when I saw Afleet Alex run in the Triple Crown that I knew I wanted to have a Thoroughbred barrel racer. I live in Northern Wisconsin and while there aren't a ton of Thoroughbreds here, there are some really competitive barrel racers that are Thoroughbreds,” said Bradley. “When I was 16 I adopted my first Thoroughbred to make into a barrel racer. Within a year we were running 2Ds and won more money than I paid for him. He's now owned by a girl in Missouri and is still barrel racing and still making money!”
Bradley got Metro with the intention of using the upcoming Thoroughbred Makeover as their first major competition goal. This month she has selected a larger competition than the ones they've been doing for their final prep for the world's largest racehorse retraining competition, as she feels the atmosphere will mimic what Metro will experience in October at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“Hopefully she'll learn lessons this weekend that she remembers once we get to the Makeover,” said Bradley. “The Makeover isn't the end-goal, but rather the beginning. This mare has been the toughest off-track horse I've ever worked with, but she has a bright future as a barrel horse. She's so talented and I hope she shows up to the Makeover as the horse I know she can be.”
Name: Metro Maggie (a.k.a. “Metro”)
Born: February 20, 2013
Sire: Awesome of Course
Dam: She's a Sweetiepie, by Cimarron Secret
Sale History: None
Race Record: 3-0-0-0
Race Earnings: $115
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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