Julie Goodnight is an internationally respected trainer and clinician with experience in a variety of training methods, including hunter/jumpers, dressage, racehorses, Western disciplines, colt-starting and wilderness riding. Growing up on her family's farm in Florida, Julie rode and showed hunter/jumpers in her youth, and by college she was exercising racehorses at the track and leading trail rides. It was when she was leading riders through the Rocky Mountains on horseback that she discovered her true calling: to teach people how to work with horses safely and with kindness. Showing her dedication to teaching and safety, Julie earned her Master Instructor and Clinical ranking with the Certified Horsemanship Association, and in 2008 was named Equine Affaire's Exceptional Equestrian Educator, one of only three such awards ever given.
Julie's up-beat and logical style of teaching has garnered her fans around the globe. She is best-known for her award-winning television show airing weekly on RFD-TV, “Horse Master with Julie Goodnight,” and her series of training DVDs. She travels internationally as a clinician and is a highly sought-after presenter at equine expos around the country.
How did you get into horses originally?
I grew up in central Florida on a small horse farm. My dad was into horses and we had Morgans, Shetland driving ponies and Quarter Horses. I was one of four siblings and the only one that got the “horse bug.” My dad recognized my passion and let me pursue it fully.
If you could sum it up, what is your “ultimate philosophy” when it comes to training horses?
First and foremost to “do no harm.” I have a very clear reason for being in the horse business- to help horses by educating their owners.
What are your impressions of Thoroughbreds, off-track Thoroughbreds specifically?
I love Thoroughbreds. It had always been my favorite breed because of their beauty and athleticism. As a breed, they are emotional, intelligent and highly sensitive. They can have hot tempers and a high flight response, but that is what we have bred into them.
What types of people do you find to be the best match for a recently retired racehorse?
A confident rider who is not afraid of speed. OTTBs are very broke in many ways but it sure helps to have an idea of what they know/have learned from the race track.
What are some areas that you feel OTTBs excel at particularly and why?
Obviously they do well in English disciplines such as jumping and dressage. Particularly as jumpers because of their light-weight and athleticism. But I have also seen some great OTTBs on the trail.
What traits do you look for in an OTTB for some of the more common disciplines?
First and foremost I would look for soundness. Also, I want bravery and as little emotionality as possible. Often, the more courageous horses also have volatile tempers but as long as you can manage the horse's emotionality, it can be a positive trait.
Are there any common injuries in OTTBs that you find easier/harder to work through for any disciplines?
Bowed tendons are a big challenge and can limit a horse's career options. Often there are chiropractic issues that can be easily resolved with treatment and cause big improvements to the horse's performance.
If you were to get a horse off the track, what would its first 30 days with you be like?
Debriefing and chilling out. Learning how to be a pleasure horse. Lots of turnout. We'd have to work on some basic skills like standing tied and good lead-line manners. For riding, I'd want it to be a strong contrast to the track– relaxed, easy, on a loose rein, maybe on the trail.
What are some of the first “lessons” you would teach a recently retired starting out his retraining?
How to respond to seat and leg cues. That the cue to canter means to canter on a specific lead that is dictated by the rider. How to come off the pressure of the bit rather than lean into it.
Can you compare/contrast the mindset of a recently retired racehorse to that of any other breed(s)?
No. OTTBs have worked a full career by the time they are 6 or 7. They have had so much more life experience than most other horses. The only comparison I'd make would be with futurity horses (reining and reined cowhorse) who are ‘rode hard and put up wet' at a very young age.
Can you talk about any OTTBs you've worked with that were particularly memorable?
When I moved to Colorado after college, I was gifted an OTTB that I actually rode on the track. He was a very cool horse– raced until he was 10– a seasoned veteran. I turned him into a mountain horse; he would go anywhere you pointed him. It was then that I learned that they don't clear trails for 17 hand horses!
What are some of your favorite things about OTTBs as performance or recreational riding horses?
Their handiness and agility. I love their temperaments, even though they can be somewhat volatile. They tend to be smart and easy to train, once you get a handle on their emotionality. I love their lightness and ability to run, jump and turn on a dime. They have had so much experience and handling in frenetic situations that they tend to handle strange circumstances well (crowds, PA systems, traffic, etc.)
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 the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. She also handles the farm's Thoroughbred aftercare efforts. She currently owns Point of Impact (by Point Given; a.k.a. Boomer), who retired from racing in late 2011 and is in training as a hunter/jumper. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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