Sometimes, it’s a good thing when horses don't sell right away. Megan Northrop tried to get Sterling sold soon after he left the racetrack, but nobody bit on the gray Thoroughbred gelding.
So, Northrop wrote his name on one of the stalls in her barn and got to work training him. And in September, Sterling rewarded her by winning the Take2 High Score Jumper Award for 2013. “Many of my best horses have been ones I’ve tried to sell and no one’s wanted, which is kind of ironic,” Northrop said.
Ridden by Michael Murphy, Sterling placed first and second in the 1.00-meter Take2 Thoroughbred Jumper classes at the Kentucky National show, earning him points that clinched the year-end title. Take2’s Second Career Thoroughbred Program spotlights the success of off-the-track Thoroughbreds in the sport horse world by offering prize money and awards. Take2 classes were offered at more than 40 shows in 17 states in 2013.
“We won money in each of our classes, which paid our entry fees and gave us a bit extra,” Northrop said of the program. “We also won $1,500 for the year-end award. I can see that growing as more organizations get involved and provide more prize money.”
It’s a far cry from the money he earned in racing—Sterling picked up $115,126 in 35 starts on the track, winning seven times under his Jockey Club name of Roman Silver (Najran—Allmylifesacircle, Pleasant Tap)—but it’s a good start.
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A Kentucky-bred, Sterling, 8, caught the eye of Northrop’s husband, veterinarian Foster Northrop, when he was still running but moving down the conditions. He traded a delinquent vet bill for the horse and Sterling became Megan’s project. “From the very beginning, he had a great canter. A lot of the horses off the track have a long, flat stride and have trouble carrying themselves. Right when we started, I could tell from his canter that he was going to be able to carry himself really well and come up under himself at the jumps,” Megan said. “He also has a great hip. He’s got a lot of action behind at the trot and he uses his hocks very well. That’s something I look for.”
Megan got “Silver” going in the fall of 2012 and tried him out in a few different jobs. Her primary interest is eventing, but Silver let her know that wouldn’t be his job. “I did try and school him over some little cross-country stuff, but he just didn’t care for that,” she said. “I took him out foxhunting several times and he decided that wasn’t his thing. He was quiet to start and then caught on as some of them do. But he was really brave in the ring. He showed so much talent in the jumper ring. That’s where he’s happy so that’s where I want him to be.”
Foster and Megan spend the winters in Florida, with Foster practicing at Palm Meadows racetrack in Boynton Beach. So, Silver shipped down with them and Megan took him to grand prix jumper Debbie Stephens’ nearby farm in Palmetto. “When I do have a nice Thoroughbred that I think will make a nice jumper, I call Debbie,” Megan said. “She appreciates a Thoroughbred and has had some nice Thoroughbreds of her own. She’s always willing to check out another one. This is the third one we’ve worked together on.
“I trailered him over there and said ‘I think he’s special and I want to know what you think.’ Debbie said ‘Yes, he’s very special.’ She helped me with him this past winter and he’s come along miles in a short amount of time and been a lot of fun.” Megan and Debbie both showed Silver at the 2013 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival and he progressed from the training jumpers to the 1.15- and 1.25-meter classes by March.
Silver went home to Crestwood, Ky., with Megan in the spring. “Whenever Debbie came to town for the Lexington shows, I would drive him up and she’d keep him for the week and show him,” Megan said. “I have three small children, so I can’t stay with him the whole week of the horse show. It worked out great as a way for him to get the benefit of her expertise.” Stephens showed Silver at six shows in May, June and July, winning three classes and placing second once in the four Take2 classes they entered.
By September, Stephens’ assistant trainer Murphy took over the reins for the Take2 finale at the Kentucky National. The Take2 classes were run at the 1.0-meter level, but Murphy also showed Silver at 1.20 meters.
“A couple of the other Thoroughbreds I’ve taken to Debbie have been very willing and great with their style, but they haven’t has as much scope. Silver has a ton of natural scope and ability,” Megan said. “His big challenge was confidence that he could do it, and that’s what we’ve been working on. We have him on a program where when he’s showing at the higher level, we back him down to a lower level for a class or two. He’s got all the talent in the world, but sometimes he doesn’t believe in himself. We let him know that he can do it.”
Megan’s in the process of looking for a new owner for Silver. “I’ve held onto him longer than usual because he’s been so special and so much fun,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed being a part of this process with him. But my favorite thing is to get them started and then hand them off to another home and let them enjoy them and show them.”