It's not too often that you find an off-track Thoroughbred that was unraced but didn't retire until he was five, but that's exactly what happened to the horse Joe Desoto. Sven, as he's known these days, was purchased for $500 by a pair of University of Kentucky students who have aspirations of competing with him in the Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover this October.
Sponsored by the Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA), the Thoroughbred Makeover is a three-day competition at the Kentucky Horse Park October 23 through October 25 that allows professional, amateur and junior riders to show their skills in retraining off-track Thoroughbreds in one or two of ten designated divisions. Attendees also enjoy seminars, training demonstrations, a vendor fair and more, all focused on caring for and training retired racehorses for second careers.
With cash and prizes totaling $100,000, there is a lot on the line and Sven is one of about 300 recently retired racehorses currently entered in the competition.
“From what we've been able to find out, he breezed a few times, got hurt, and then was tried at the track again. Even though he didn't race, he is tattooed and definitely knows what it's like to be ridden like a racehorse,” said Jenny Terrazas, one of Sven's co-owners.
Originally, Jenny and her friend, Hailley Stanz, were searching for a horse that Hailley could use for their college's rodeo team. Soon after beginning their search, the pair learned about the Thoroughbred Makeover and amped up their search, refining the criteria to off-track Thoroughbreds who were eligible to compete in the event.
Sven, who was turned out for several months after he failed at being a racehorse, was found by the girls on Facebook listed as being for sale. The two of them loved his look and his description, and contacted the owner with questions and made an offer.
“We pulled together what little money broke college students like us have to ship him to us,” said Jenny. “To top it off, we had to do this without tipping off our parents that we'd just bought a horse.”
Both girls have other equine interests, with Jenny riding hunter/jumpers on her draft-cross and running barrels on a leased Quarter Horse mare and leased OTTB, and Hailley riding Saddlebreds her whole life but recently expanding her skills as a rider and a horseman with barrel racing.
“Growing up riding Saddlebreds, I really never knew anything else about other breeds,” said Hailley. “Working with colts and two-year-olds at my Saddlebred barn has helped me tremendously with retraining Sven.”
The first order of business when Sven arrived was to get some weight on him, get his feet done, get his teeth floated and give him time to acclimate to his new surroundings.
“For the first bit of time, we took it easy with his retraining. We did a lot of ground work and when we rode him, it was in brief spurts of 15 minutes,” explained Jenny.
In the first 30 days of riding him regularly, Sven was a dream horse. He learned flying changes easily and worked off of leg and seat without much fuss. Jenny even started slowly riding him through barrel patters and poles. Everything seemed to be a breeze; that is until she pointed him at a jump.
That's when the issues started.
“That's where he drew the line. He told me right away that there was no way he was going to lift his feet higher than needed. Soon after, he started not wanting to back or not wanting to go to certain parts of the area we ride him in. Then, it became a true rodeo ride.”
With all of the good care and food Sven was getting, his energy level skyrocketed and he started showing off his athleticism in non-productive ways. Hailley and Jenny often had to lunge him for 15 to 20 minutes before getting on his back just to have a semi-productive ride.
“We had him checked by everybody – the farrier, vet, chiropractor, dentist – and he got the cleanest bill of health possible,” said Jenny.
Jenny and Hailley decided to take a step back and return to ground work, and things started to improve, but with the college rodeo season and the Thoroughbred Makeover looming, they needed to get him back to work.
“We've discovered that the less tack he has on him, the better,” said Jenny. “If it was legal to run barrels with a halter, tie down and bareback pad, we'd probably do pretty well. But, that's against the rules, so we are searching for the perfect Hackamore.”
The girls are planning to compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover with Sven in the barrel racing and freestyle disciplines, with Hailley likely piloting him around the barrels.
“Saddleseat is all about how you present yourself and your form, and how you look and work with the horse you're riding. I'm not going to lie – I'm a little excited that I don't have to worry about how I sit in the saddle – it's just about speed and accuracy,” she said.
For the freestyle competition, riders can present their horses' skills in any disciplines other than the ten listed as the Thoroughbred Makeover's official event disciplines. The girls plan to both take part in the presentation, which will be based on the movie Frozen, with Sven playing the part of the reindeer.
For both Jenny and Hailley, the competition isn't about winning. It's about the experience, both the weekend of the event and the months they've put into caring for, training and learning from Sven together. They've already gotten to know people from all over the country via social media who are competing in the Thoroughbred Makeover, and are looking forward to connecting and collaborating with them in October in an environment that is entirely geared toward their favorite passion – Thoroughbreds.
“I entered the Makeover to help to show how versatile OTTBs are,” said Jenny. “Many people choose OTTBs as English horses, but they have such potential as Western horses as well. Ultimately, some day my goal is to take an OTTB to the NFR (National Finals Rodeo).”
Once the Makeover is over, Sven will resume working toward the girls' original goal for him, which is being Hailley's horse for the UK Barrel Racing team. While Jenny was the one with previous Thoroughbred experience, it is Hailley who has decided to keep Sven.
“I am going to own Sven for the rest of his life,” said Hailley. “We are going to compete until he tells me we need to retire, and then he can live out his life eating grass and being fat and happy.”
Name: Joe Desoto (a.k.a. “Sven”)
Born: February 25, 2009
Dam: Flashy Senorita
Sale History: None
Race Record: 0-0-0-0
Race Earnings: $0
If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos.
Jen Roytz is a freelance writer and marketing and public relations consultant for various entities, both equine and non-equine. She can also still be found on the back of an OTTB most days.
Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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