Lexington, Ky.—Oct. 7
Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park—riders have less than a year to get a horse off the track and get it ready to compete in one of 10 disciplines. You could forgive a rider for being tempted to rush a horse along in its training, but Allison Thompson resisted the urge with Cactus Willie, and it paid off in a big way—the pair won the eventing competition at this year’s makeover.
“Go slow, go really slow,” Thompson, 28, advised. “I just did longeing and in-hand work for a couple weeks, only flat work and hacking for a while, and he just did poles and cavaletti for a really long time because he was really uncoordinated. Now I can put up a decent fence and help him use his body.
“It felt really slow, but here we are,” Thompson continued with a laugh. “I never felt the need to rush anything; we just went as he was ready.”
Cactus Willie might get the best fan base award as well—his pit crew had some awesome t-shirts to show their support for the horse and Thompson as they competed in dressage and eventing at the makeover this weekend.
“You know he is tentatively for sale, but after this weekend,” Thompson said with a laugh, shaking her head. “The whole last month he’s really blossomed. They go through mental and physical growth phases, and he’s just come into his own in the last month or two.
“I love his personality, but now he’s starting to show me the scope,” Thompson continued. “He’s starting to show me the love of cross-country, all the stuff you love in a horse, and he’s got this whole following with the shirts and people following him online!”
Thompson has worked with Thoroughbreds before—she rides professionally and worked for Michael and Nathalie Pollard for five years before setting out on her own in 2016 in Fairview, N.C.—but it’s been a while since she competed one.
“My main horse is a warmblood now, but I love the different ride,” Thompson said. “My warmblood is beautiful and fancy, but he never makes time, and he has to be convinced the whole way around cross-country. You have to work to get it done, and this one already is like, ‘Ooo, where’s the next one?’ ”
Thompson had never done the makeover before this year, but you can bet she’ll be back—she particularly admires the problem-solving mind many Thoroughbred horses are equipped with.
“With the Thoroughbreds the answer is always, ‘I don’t know, but I’m going to go for you,’ ” Thompson said. “They’re like, ‘I don’t know, but I’m going to try.’ ”