It used to be that if you wanted to check out a promising horse coming off the racetrack, you needed an “in”—someone who could get you access to the backstretch and put you in touch with race horse trainers who might have good sport horse candidates. Those two universes—”race horse people” and “sport horse people”—well, it was often a case of “never the twain shall meet.”
Today, though, those two worlds are enjoying a much more symbiotic relationship. Race horse trainers want to get their horses into new careers if they’re not cut out for the track. Various non-profit groups help market horses that are coming off the track and looking for competitive or pleasure-riding homes.
A new entry in this growing effort is Thoroughbreds For All, an all-Thoroughbred showcase for horses being offered for sale through sport horse trainers or racing owners, or for adoption via a placement group, that was held at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., on Oct. 27.
The sale, put on by the Retired Racehorse Training Project, was the second incarnation of an all-Thoroughbred seller’s showcase. The first was a joint effort between RRTP and New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, held the weekend of the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** as part of a symposium on selecting and training ex-racers. That event was for paid ticket-holders, but organizers wanted to offer something similar that would be free for all, and, if successful, could be replicated with local partners around the country.
The sale at Fair Hill was the highlight of an entire weekend of activities. Saturday included educational sessions and an all-Thoroughbred trail ride. The Furlongs To Fences horse show, exclusively for Thoroughbreds, took place on Sunday.
- Watching race horses gallop at the training center, with narration from Alex Brown and Sally Goswell.
- Touring the Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center with founder Bruce Jackson to learn about their work to prevent and heal injuries.
- Touring the training barns at Graham Motion’s Herringswell Stables and Mike Trombetta’s new facility to learn about a typical “day in the life” of a race horse, groom, exercise rider and trainer.
- Mounted tour (with participants on their own horses) of the Fair Hill Training Center and Fair Hill Natural Resources Area.
- Educational symposium with Alex Brown, Tim Woolley and Janice Blake-Baeza, demonstrating how horses are ridden at the track; Steuart Pittman illustrating common training issues with newly-restarted race horses; Billie Rae Croll demonstrating methods she uses to make race horses into show hunters; and Louise Merryman sharing training methods for turning Thoroughbreds into eventers.
- Seminar on soundness issues and therapies used to resolve them at the Equine Veterinary Care at Fair Hill Training Center
The horses at the showcase were all listed on RTTP’s website ahead of time, to allow potential buyers an opportunity to window-shop, and a sale program was distributed with bios and prices for each horse, as well as contact information for the seller.
A Variety Of Options
Twenty-five horses participated in the showcase of horses for sale, entering the ring two at a time and showing whatever skills were appropriate for their level of training, whether it was trotting a crossrail or galloping through a grid. Horses with as little as a few weeks post-track training participated, as well as horses with established competitive records. Prices ranged from free to $25,000.
RRTP president and trainer Steuart Pittman emceed the showcase, reading the horse’s profile from a sales program and offering some commentary. Each pair of horses spent about 10 minutes in the ring, and interested buyers were invited to speak to the riders back in the stable area afterward.
Unfortunately, the showcase took place two days before Hurricane Sandy was due to make landfall in the mid-Atlantic, so many would-be spectators and some participants ended up staying home to batten down the hatches. Around 100 people pre-registered to attend the sale as spectators, according to the RRTP. The horses that attended came from Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York.
Beverly Strauss of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in Chesapeake City, Md., brought three horses, including one who was just a few weeks into training for his new career.
“We had the one 3-year-old [just off the track]. We’d had him in quarantine, putting weight on, and had been riding him almost two weeks. We put him on the trailer, took him up there, and he went and did his thing and was lovely,” Strauss said. The horse, Baby Bananas, a 15.3-hand bay gelding by Grand Slam, was priced at $2,200 and had just started jumping crossrails.
“It was a great showcase,” Strauss said. “Steuart’s commentary was very insightful; he knows Thoroughbreds. The horses were fairly and honestly represented.”
Many of the horses, as expected, were green, so the performances weren’t all flawless. But Pittman’s encouraging commentary explained setbacks and helped give spectators realistic expectations.
Although none of the horses Strauss brought found new homes through the sale, one spectator did come to the rescue and ended up buying a different horse. For Strauss, the benefit was less about coming home from the showcase with an empty trailer, and more about getting exposure for the horses and the rescue, and promoting the Thoroughbred in general. She recalled speaking to one prospective buyer who was getting back into riding and had come to the sale without being certain she wanted a Thoroughbred. Seeing the wide variety of horses available, how steady (albeit green) most of them were, and how reasonably they were priced seemed to sway her in the Thoroughbred’s direction.
Kait Schultz of Amenia, N.Y., brought two horses owned by clients to the sale: Arctiz, a 2004 gelding by Tiznow, priced at $1,500; and Leo, a 1999 gelding experienced at trail riding and hunter paces, priced at $3,000.
Schultz and her friend, Tesla Parker, took part in the RRTP’s Trainer Challenge as part of an independent study project at Alfred University (N.Y.) last year, when Schultz was a senior and Parker was a junior. (They also wrote a blog about their experiences, “The Thoroughbred Chronicles.” Participating in the showcase seemed to be a natural next step.
“It went really well! We loved the grounds, and our horses went really well,” Schultz said. “When our second horse came out of the arena, we had a line of people waiting to see them. Our horses were under tack for four hours that day!”
Several interested buyers tried the horses at the training center, although neither sold that day. Schultz suspects that buyers anticipated that all participants would be taking part in the horse show the following day, and planned to follow up there; she and Parker, however, had to head back home after the sale.
Still, she says, the experience was exceptionally valuable, just for the participation. “To be able to say that my horse went to this really big arena, and wide open spaces, composed himself like a gentleman, and we have it all on video… that’s a really good selling point,” she said.