Thoroughbred Makeover Diaries Presented By Excel Equine: Horowitz’s Unlikely Journey from Broadcasting to Riding Horses

by | 01.28.2020 | 12:20pm
Horowitz and Sorority Girl (JC: Grand Moony) on the cross country course at the 2019 Spring Gulch Horse Trials in Colo., where Horowitz was also the announcer

Today we're launching a new monthly series called the Thoroughbred Makeover Diaries. Jonathan Horowitz has long been a racetrack announcer and commentator at the Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover. This year, Horowitz is planning to experience the action of the Makeover up close and personal as a competitor with new mount Cubbie Girl North. Each month, Horowitz will update readers on his progress.

“When do I get to jump those?” I asked my trainer.

It was October 2015 and my first visit to the Kentucky Horse Park.  We were walking the famous cross country course and had come to a jump that I mistook for a picnic table — for giants.

“Probably never,” Ashley Gubich, the trainer for Super G Sporthorses and CANTER Colorado responded.  “But maybe you could do that one in a few years,” she added pointing to a log … that I mistook for sloppy landscaping.

The problem is, I was somewhat serious in asking that absurd question. I had started riding four months earlier and, because I picked up how to post at the trot without too much trouble, considered myself an expert-in-the-making.

My job inherently makes me a self-proclaimed expert, plus there's an audience that listens to what I have to say. I'm an announcer. I had announced horse races for 15 years and was in my first year announcing the TCA Thoroughbred Makeover presented by Retired Racehorse Project. Seeing former racehorses that I had followed and announced succeeding in new careers and lives inspired me to promote aftercare causes and to learn how to ride at the age of 30.

Horowitz announcing at the Spring Gulch Horse Trials

But the reality is that I couldn't tell the difference between a bay or a chestnut and was relying on a bank of phrases that I knew to use in certain situations that would make it seem like I knew what I was talking about. Penny Chenery, the owner of Secretariat, once tested me during an interview in her Boulder, Colo., apartment about whether I could distinguish between a statue of the 1973 Triple Crown winner and Riva Ridge, the Kentucky Derby winner she owned a year earlier. I got the answer right because I knew Secretariat wore a No. 2 saddle cloth in the Belmont Stakes. I never told her I couldn't actually tell the two horses apart.

The first time I rode a horse with a trainer (because I've also learned that pony rides when you're four years old or trail rides when you're on vacation don't “officially” count) was on May 30, 2015. I had watched the cross country at the Colorado Horse Park Horse Trials in the morning and then went to the farm where the former racehorses in CANTER Colorado's program were being retrained. Ashley asked if I wanted to ride one of them. I said yes. She said to get my boots. I didn't have any but had worn the tennis shoes that I thought were the most appropriate for being around horses.

Horowitz's first ride, courtesy of Blondie H.F.

Ashley put me on Blondie H F, a 4-year-old chestnut filly with a white blaze and a flaxen mane that had gone through the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale in 2012 but never made it to the track. Ashley walked us around on a lead line. I have a picture with a huge smile on my face when Ashley took us off the lead line at the end. After that first ride, I asked Ashley if she gave lessons because I wanted to learn how to ride. On one level, I thought it would make me a more-informed broadcaster. But, on another level that I can't rationally explain but those privileged to work with OTTBs also share, I wanted to connect with these majestic equine athletes.

I jumped in the deep end, learning to ride from scratch on OTTBs with an eventing trainer.  Bringing you quickly up to speed, highlights in the four and a half years since include:

  • My first canter on Dec. 4, 2015, where I was breathing harder than the horse
  • My first jump on Feb. 5, 2016, over an intimidating six-inch vertical (Hey, that's six inches closer to the height of those jumps at the Kentucky Horse Park)
  • My first fall on April 4, 2016, at Spring Gulch Equestrian Area, where I would make my eventing competition debut two years later
  • Several schooling shows for dressage and hunter-jumpers where I got my butt kicked and was intimidated by kids half my age
  • Buying my first horse, Sorority Girl (Jockey Club name Grand Moony), in January 2018 after announcing her in races at Arapahoe Park and in the Thoroughbred Makeover
  • Competing in and finishing my first recognized event with Sorority Girl while also announcing at the Spring Gulch Horse Trials in May 2018
  • Figuring out a number of creative ways to be eliminated in my first year competing in recognized events
  • Winning my first ribbon at a recognized event at the Round Top Horse Trials on July 6, 2019, one year after my first elimination happened there

All the while, I've had a dream of competing in the Thoroughbred Makeover — and maybe getting to jump something in the same zip code as those cross country jumps that caught my attention the first year I announced there. It's the event that inspired me to ride. It's the event that inspired me to be a more compassionate member of the horse racing industry. It's all quite George-Plimpton-esque, as I still plan to announce.

“When do I get to jump that?”

So, I've found a horse for the 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover. Cubbie Girl North, a 2016 bay filly, was listed on CANTER Illinois after a four-race career that saw her finish in front of a total of two horses and behind the winner by an average margin of 25 lengths.

Her racing connections, Diane and Jim Childers, said they wanted to find her a new home where she could excel. We'll do our best to excel, but we'll certainly have some special adventures and misadventures along the way. I hope to share those adventures with you in this series of articles.

Cubbie arrived in Colorado on July 16, 2019. She had seven weeks off before I rode her for the first time. Trainers could ride their Thoroughbred Makeover prospects no more than 15 times before Dec. 1, 2019. The Thoroughbred Makeover will take place from Oct. 7 to 10, 2020.  My goals are to share what it's like for rider and horse to learn together, to tell some amusing stories along the way, and to show what happens when someone in their thirties pursues a new passion.

Twitter Twitter
Paulick Report on Instagram