Steuart Pittman, Jr., is president of the Retired Racehorse Training Project, and owns and operates Dodon Farm in Davidsonville, Md., where the four horses participating in the 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge are learning about their new careers. Pittman also stands the Thoroughbred stallion Salute The Truth, an off-the-track Thoroughbred who competed to the advanced level of eventing.
Erin: In a blog post last week, you mentioned that you’re definitely feeling the pressure of training on a deadline, with the Pennsylvania Expo just a week away. What are the pros and cons of training on this kind of timetable? Does it change your normal OTTB training program?
Steuart: This kind of pressure is what we all feel when we have a show or an event on the calendar. Some people train more effectively under pressure and others lose their feel. I personally have to work hard to keep my ego from getting between me and the horses. I want to win and be the best on the day of judgment, but that is irrelevant to the horse. It simply wants harmony in all of its work.
The good side of pressure for me is that it sometimes forces me to think creatively about ways to get around the barriers that appear in training. That said, there are no shortcuts that ever work and what these horses get in 100 days is nothing more than preparation for their futures. Hurrying with horses produces nothing but resistance.
Erin: While we’re sure you don’t play favorites, which horse of the current four are you enjoying training the most and why?
Steuart: I’ve been quite forthcoming about the way Declan’s Moon inspires and challenges me, so most people think he is my favorite. In the last week I have gotten a huge kick out of the way Gunport jumps. She starts out terrified of those rails but her innate love of soaring through the air trumps her fear, and it’s a thrill to feel it. Alluring Punch has come so far lately in his canter and has so much natural scope that he suddenly feels like we could jump around any course. And Suave Jazz is such an honest horse. He’s like a dog that wants to please his master. How can I pick a favorite when all four are such fun?
Erin: You’ve made a point of choosing horses with Maryland-area history and connections for the training challenge, and have mentioned them frequently. Why was that so important to you?
Steuart: The connections are Maryland and Pennsylvania, but more Maryland than Pennsylvania. We feel strongly that people in the equestrian world should get to know more about the farms and the people responsible for creating the Thoroughbreds we ride. RRTP and the 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge are designed to reach a national audience online, but the people who attend the expos are local. The racing and equestrian worlds are not as well-connected as they were in the past. We want to restore the mutual respect and the relationships that make transitioning horses from one world to the other easier for everyone.
Erin: The RRTP has made extensive use of social media in getting word out about the 100-Day Challenge, and OTTBs in general. Your Facebook page has almost 6,500 fans, the YouTube channel has almost 1,000 subscribers and a cumulative 165,000 video views. How important a role has social media played in the project, and what have been the benefits of a strong social media presence?
Steuart: None of this would be possible without the tools that the Internet provides. Our mission is to increase demand for these horses. That’s all about numbers. It’s promotion and education on a mass scale that is only possible online. We’ve done this primarily without staff and we hope to raise enough money to professionalize somewhat. We have been lucky to have extremely talented and generous volunteers but the potential to expand the reach of our message is huge.
Erin: Viewing the comments on the YouTube videos, it’s obvious that the virtual spectators have really connected with these horses as individuals and become invested in their progress. Was that intentional, or just a happy accident? And how do you think it has played into the popularity of the project?
Steuart: It was intentional. Last year the trainer challenge was a contest between trainers, but it was the horses people loved to talk about. This year we responded to that by shifting all of the focus onto the horses by putting them in the same training program. In the training reports and videos we explained the methodology in the context of each horse’s individual characteristics. Thoroughbreds off the track suffer from stereotyping, and showing the diversity of these four horses helped to combat the prejudices.
ABOUT THE 100 DAY THOROUGHBRED CHALLENGE
The 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge follows four horses that are starting new careers off the racetrack. The RRTP has been chronicling and sharing their progress online with videos and blog posts, and their 100 days of training will conclude with a demonstration at the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo in Harrisburg, Pa., on Feb. 23. Make sure to check in at www.chronofhorse.com on Feb. 26 for a report on the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo demonstration.
The demonstration will be judged by Nick Karazissis, a leading hunter/jumper trainer from California who grew up riding Thoroughbreds; Bev Strauss, an eventer, racehorse trainer, and director of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, one of the country’s oldest and most respected Thoroughbred placement organizations; and Donnan Jones (formerly Donnan Plumb), dressage guru to international eventers for decades, member of U.S. dressage team at Mexico Olympics, and wife of legendary Throughbred bloodstock agent Russell Jones. The judges will each have 100 votes to split up among the four equine contestants however they please.
Those who have been following the horses’ training online are also invited to vote, and choose which horse is best-suited for a variety of disciplines (dressage, eventing, show jumping, show hunters, fand ox hunting/trail riding), and also which horse is the one they’d most like to own. You can see videos of the horses and vote at www.retiredracehorsetraining.org.
There will also be a final demonstration and “graduation ceremony,” featuring the four participating horses, at Caves Farm in Owings Mills, Md., on Mar. 9. The event is open to the public, and proceeds support the RTTP’s efforts to increase demand for OTTB. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/4470469294.
Other recent Thoroughbred stories on www.chronofhorse.com include…
Look Out Hunter World, The OTTBs Are Coming! Top hunter rider Jennifer Alfano has an off-the-track Thoroughbred with her in Ocala, Fla.
This OTTB Is Helping Tracy Brennan Complete Her Bucket List Side-saddle, dressage, fox hunting, team penning, this Thoroughbred has done it all.
Arkansas Scores One For OTTBs In His First Grand Prix Win Hillary Simpson took a chance on a Thoroughbred who didn’t want to event, and found her next grand prix show jumper.