When eventer Katie Hasse headed from her base in Upperville, Va., to Lexington, Ky., in the beginning of October to participate in her first Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, her plan was only to exhibit her 4-year-old gelding Leonidas in the eventing and show hunter divisions. She did not intend to buy a horse—but sometimes things don’t work out quite the way we expect.
Whoopie Pie is a 5-year-old dark bay Thoroughbred gelding with two flashy white hind socks and a crooked blaze. Fawn Armstrong of Nicholasville, Ky., entered Whoopie Pie in the RRP Makeover freestyle competition, where she demonstrated la garrocha, an exhibition derived from the tradition of Spanish vaqueros.
Watch some of Whoopie Pie’s freestyle performance with Armstrong riding:
La garrocha performances showcase movements performed around a 12’ pole held by the rider; one end is held on the ground while the horse moves around it. True vaqueros use the garrocha to work cattle; as it turns out, Whoopie Pie dislikes cows, meaning that Armstrong’s original goal to compete in the working ranch category was off the table. It also meant that for Armstrong, a Western rider who uses her horses to work cattle, Whoopie Pie needed to find a new job.
Hasse has worked with dozens of OTTBs in her career, including her own RRP entry, “Leo” (Jockey Club name Vitruvian Man) a bay gelding by stakes winner Bernardini. She appreciates the breed because of their versatility and talent. “I think they are great horses, and they are reasonably priced,” says Hasse. “You could easily spend double importing something from Europe, when there are so many great off track horses available here. More people have $10,000 to spend than $30,000.”
Whoopie Pie, by Langfuhr and out of a Tale Of The Cat mare, was in the warm-up ring when Hasse first spotted him. Like many youngsters in a new environment, he was acting a little fresh, and started to truly move out. “He was supposed to be going western, but all I saw was his huge movement,” said Hasse. She noticed that Whoopie Pie was wearing a green bridle number, indicating that he was for sale.
“I asked his rider if she had ever jumped him, and she said no, as she only does western,” said Hasse.
Even so, Hasse liked Whoopie Pie enough to look him up in the sales catalogue, where she saw he was reasonably priced. So she signed up to take a trial ride on him. “They make it so easy,” said Hasse of the opportunity to try out sales horses.
Watch Hasse trying Whoopie Pie out over fences at the Makeover:
And just like that, Whoopie Pie had found his new home.
The Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, now in its fifth year, was conceptualized to promote the talent and trainability of the OTTB, to encourage trainers to take on the work of helping OTTBs get the foundation required to find a new career, and to help promote the sale of restarted Thoroughbreds to new homes. For the past three years, the Makeover has been held at the Kentucky Horse Park, adding an additional level of prestige to the still growing competition. Nearly 400 of the 509 Thoroughbreds registered with the program for 2017 came to Kentucky to participate in the showcase, and of these, 120 were offered for sale.
Hasse thinks that the Makeover provides the perfect opportunity for trainers of OTTBs to display these talented animals, and for shoppers to view a wide variety of animals which have been restarted in a variety of disciplines.
“It is such a cool concept,” said Hasse. “You can watch the horse compete, sign a waiver and try the horse out, and get the horse vetted, all on site.”
Erin Harty, spokesperson for the RRP, said that this year, organizers made a concerted effort to promote the sales aspect of the Makeover, including print ads and social media outreach. Trainers were encouraged to submit high quality conformation photos of their horses and fill out ad forms; about 80 of those with the best quality media and information were compiled in an album on the group’s Facebook page. In addition, the vital statistics on Makeover sales horses were compiled in a booklet, listed separately on the organization’s website, and were announced as being for sale during their performance. Early feedback is that sellers have experienced an uptick in interest in their horses.
“As of right now, we have 14 horses whose trainers have notified us that they sold at or after the Makeover,” said Harty. “The actual number may be higher since the trainers aren’t always fast about notifying us, and with all the interest in the event, I know a lot of people are still checking out the horses, so hopefully that number will go up considerably in the next few weeks.”
To further support interested buyers, RRP organizers made arrangements with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, located right across the street from the Horse Park, to conduct pre-purchase exams on site. They also set aside a specific ring for trial rides, so prospective buyers didn’t have to contend with the sometimes electric atmosphere of a warm-up ring.
“I heard a story of one potential buyer who brought a horse over to the vendor fair for some thermal imaging,” said Harty. “We are trying to be buyer-friendly, as well as to support the trainers.”
Due to the Makeover’s commitment to finding riders, both pro and amateur, who are dedicated to promoting the Thoroughbred in a positive light, Hasse said that the atmosphere was friendly and the feedback on the horses honest. Harty said that with Thoroughbreds being brought in from all over the country, a prospective buyer could find a great network of opportunities for shipping a new purchase home.
For Hasse, the potential for the Makeover to connect honest and passionate Thoroughbred trainers with enthusiastic buyers is limitless. “Prior to attending the Makeover, I had paid no attention to the sale aspect,” said Hasse. “Now I think it is one of the coolest parts, and it will only be getting bigger. It is hard to horse shop in the United States, where everyone is so spread out. Here, you can travel to one place and see a whole bunch of reasonably priced, started and talented horses.”