Huge numbers of Thoroughbreds retire each year and have no place to go. The Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, organized by the Retired Racehorse Training Project, is trying to change the destiny of some of those horses. The program is recruiting three top trainers to work with off-track Thoroughbreds for a month to show what they’re capable of.
The Challenge begins at the Maryland Horse World Expo on Jan. 21 in Timonium, Md. Three trainers will each select one ex-racehorse to train until the Challenge concludes at the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo on Feb. 25 in Harrisburg, Pa. A fourth horse will serve as an alternate.
“I think it’s amazing that no one has ever done an ex-racehorse challenge before,” said Steuart Pittman, president of the RRTP. “It’s a way to show people what it’s like to train these horses.”
The trainers selected for the Challenge have all been involved in some way with Thoroughbreds. Tiffany Catledge, who runs a training program in Middleburg, Va., was selected for her work with ex-racehorses in eventing, hunters and dressage. Eric Dierks is an eventer that has taken off-track Thoroughbreds through the advanced level. He trains and teaches at Renovatio Farm in Tryon, N.C. Kerry Blackmer runs Miles Ahead Farm out of Loch Moy Farm in Frederick, Md., and specializes in eventing.
To determine the selection order for the horses, Pittman has decided to quiz the trainers on racing trivia. Whoever gets the best score chooses a horse first.
“I’m more nervous about the trivia than getting on a horse fresh off the track,” joked Blackmer.
Blackmer has trained numerous ex-racehorses and credits her first horse, an off-track Thoroughbred named Which One’s That who she took through the preliminary level, with jump-starting her eventing career.
“I’ve always been lucky with horses off the track, because I find their training progresses very quickly once you get them home,” Blackmer said. “Hopefully I can introduce some basic bending and just show a horse to the judges that’s nice and relaxed.”
At the Maryland Expo, the three trainers will spend the first day describing to the audience why they chose their horses and what the buying process is usually like. On the second day, the trainers will ride their horses for the first time in front of an audience and three judges. The judges selected for the Maryland Expo include four-star event rider Stephen Bradley, Andrea Seefeldt Knight, who rode in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (Md.), and former steeplechase jockey Anne Hambleton.
“The owners will present their horses and tell a little background of them,” Pittman said. “The audience will have a great opportunity to see what it’s like to ride a horse with little to no education outside of racing.”
The trainers will show a new panel of judges just how much their horses have learned a month later in Pennsylvania. Pittman has already secured the services of renowned eventer Jimmy Wofford and hopes to bring more big names to the event.
The trainers will be posting weekly updates about their horse’s progress after the selection on Jan. 21. To follow them, visit the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge’s website.