It was hard to be at the Kentucky Horse Park this past week and not be inspired by all that surrounded you. There, hundreds of Thoroughbreds, all with eight months or less of retraining since their last race or published work, showed off their new skills, doing everything from jumping and running with hounds through the field to racing around barrels, navigating obstacles, playing polo and more. They weren't just doing new disciplines, they were doing them well, showing how truly versatile this breed is and how dedicated their trainers have been in giving them a foundation in care and training that will serve them for decades to come.
This year it was well-known eventing rider Elisa Wallace who took top honors aboard the stunning gelding Reloaded, a son of Magna Graduate out of the Tale of the Cat mare Curious Cat. Wallace, who was an alternate for the U. S. Olympic Eventing Team in 2016 and has been a regular in recent years representing the United States on the world eventing stage, acquired the gelding from Jessica Redman, who transitions retired racehorses into second careers through her Benchmark Sport Horses.
Bred by Elisabeth Alexander and born in Kentucky, Reloaded was offered by Paramount Sales as a weanling in the 2013 Keeneland September Sale, dropping the hammer at $4,500 for buyer Tracy Henline. As a racehorse, he was at home in the claiming ranks, running in the Midwest, then in Florida and finally on the East Coast and earning his lone win after a serious case of “seconditis” that spanned four races at Arlington and Hawthorne. While he only earned $20,177 on the track, it is safe to say after this weekend, his value as an eventing horse already far exceeds any purchase price he ever would have garnered as a racehorse.
For those who have never attended the event, let me set the stage. Roughly 500 horses competed in one or two of ten available disciplines (barrel racing, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, field hunters, polo, ranch work, show hunters, show jumpers and freestyle, which allows you to do anything that doesn't fit into the other nine disciplines). The top five finishers in the preliminary competition come back for the finals, and the winner of each division entered into the finale for the chance to become America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred.
With more than $100,000 in prize money on the line this year, including awards for the highest-placed horses from certain states, aftercare organizations or other criteria, the competition was deep. Riders and trainers put their all into preparing their horses to the best of their abilities both mentally and physically and it showed.
Thanks to generous support from the Thoroughbred Charities of America and many other sponsors, the $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover is the largest retraining competition for recently retired racehorses in the world. While there is definitely a lot of money on the line for these competitors, what makes it special is the community and camaraderie it creates. Each year Thoroughbred enthusiasts from around the U. S. and Canada come together to support each other and the breed they love. They celebrate each other's successes, cheer each other on in competition and help each other in any way they can. They share stories, training tips and tricks and encouraging words in a way that is uncommon in other competition circles and they create friendships that will last a lifetime.
Each year the Retired Racehorse Project sends a postcard to the breeder of every horse in the Thoroughbred Makeover to let them know that one of their former charges will be competing at the event. This year, more than any other, we heard story after story of breeders and former owners coming out to cheer on their horses, bringing foal photos, horse shoes and other gifts for their current owners. Many of our competitors who had Kentucky-breds also took the opportunity to visit the stud farms that stand their horses' sires or even had the opportunity to meet their dams or siblings (and often took their friends and fellow competitors with them). These experiences opened their eyes to a new side of the Thoroughbred world they never knew, and in so many cases created not only a better understanding of the racing and breeding sectors of the sport, but life-long fans as well.
One of the best gifts you can offer a horse at the conclusion of his or her racing career is a solid foundation of post-race re-training. It offers them purpose and value for the long term. The nearly 500 horses that competed in this event now have a solid foundation of training that will serve them well for years, even decades, to come, thanks to the equestrians who took on the challenge.
This year's Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium doubled down on the momentum it's been gaining in recent years, drawing people from around the country and from all sectors of the horse world to come together and celebrate this magnificent breed.
Now, truth be told, I am a little biased on that opinion. In addition to writing Aftercare Spotlight (which is truly one of my favorite parts of any week), I am the executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project, the 501(c)(3) non-profit that puts on the Thoroughbred Makeover each year.
While I've attended the Makeover each of the past four years – three in Lexington at the Kentucky Horse Park and one on the home stretch of Pimlico Race Track – this was the first year I attended less as a volunteer, spectator or media professional and more as a leader of the organization. That vantage point allowed me to see the event through new eyes and showed me in so many ways why the Thoroughbred Makeover and all of the horses, competitors, spectators, volunteers and officials who come together to make it happen, is one of the best things to ever happen to the Thoroughbred world.
To everyone who played a part in making this year's Thoroughbred Makeover a success, please accept my most sincere and profound thanks for your time, hard work and talent in supporting this magnificent breed. To those who would like to be involved in future iterations of the event, we'd love to have you join us!
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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