Lexington, Ky.—Oct. 7
It’s the final day of the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park. The top five horses from each discipline are invited back to compete for the top prize, but the real winner of the day didn’t jump a single fence in the ring.
When junior rider Kaitlin Hartford started warming up her horse, First Around, for the eventing competition, something didn’t feel right.
“I was warming up for this, and he was off, so we took his back boots off because I thought maybe it’s just his boots. He was walking weird in them when we put them on,” Hartford, 17, said. “I cantered around to loosen him up, and we jogged again, and he still wasn’t sound.”
Hartford and “Bruce” were sitting in second in the eventing competition at the makeover, a huge accomplishment for any rider, let alone a junior, and there was a lot of prize money waiting to be given away to the winners. Those weren’t the first things on Hartford’s mind, though.
“I said, ‘OK we’re going to go in, I’m going to salute the judges, and I’ll raise my hand like we’re on cross-country and say I retire,’ ” Hartford said. “I said to the judges, ‘My horse is unsound to compete. I retire. I’m not going to put him through something he doesn’t need to go through. There’s always next time, and this is just a step in his journey. It’s just a step in training.’ ”
Hartford walked out of the ring patting her horse to a huge round of applause, and she may have wiped a tear or two from her eye on her way out the gate.
“Being in second place it was definitely tough, but my horse always comes first,” Hartford said.
Horses are in Hartford’s blood—her mother showed hunters, and her grandmother evented, and Hartford tried her hand at both.
“I started in the hunter ring. I had a little pony who decided she did not want to be a hunter. I got bucked and thrown and reared off,” Hartford said with a laugh. “And somehow my mom still allowed me to continue riding her with lots of begging.”
Hartford, Callahan, Fla., evented her pony up to novice before beginning the search for a horse to continue moving up the levels. She saw a listing looking for a home for Mastercraft, Wendy Lewis’ former advanced mount.
“I was on Facebook, and I found him for free,” Hartford said. “He had torn his digital flexor tendon in the past, and they didn’t think he would make it back to the top upper levels. It took me a year to figure him out, but now he’s my intermediate horse. He’s amazing.”
Hartford plans to continue working with Bruce and hopefully move him up the levels as well.
“The Thoroughbreds try so hard. They just try so hard, their brains are great, and they’re willing to do pretty much anything unless you get an absolutely crazy one, which I haven’t come across yet,” Hartford said with a laugh. “They try their hearts out even if they aren’t sure they can do it. This one hadn’t seen a brush or a big ditch before yesterday, and he skipped over all the novice questions like it was nothing.”