The Thoroughbred Makeover Finale: It’s Just The Beginning

Oct 26, 2015 - 4:25 AM
Lindsey Partridge topped the Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover with the 8-year-old mare Soar. Photo by Rachel Sowinski

Lexington, Ky.—Oct. 25  

The final day of the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium at the Kentucky Horse Park saw the top three placings from each of the 10 disciplines compete in a final round.

With competitors ranging from severe rescue cases to graded stakes winners, the competition is designed to showcase the breed’s viability in a multitude of careers. At most, the horses have had nine months of non-race training, and in many cases, the time in transitioning to their new careers has been much shorter. The Makeover Finale offered more than a glimpse into each of the horse’s futures; it showed off the heart of both horse and rider and made clear that while it may have been a Finale, it was really just the beginning of a bright new journey for these horses.

America’s Most Wanted…Thoroughbred

Although just about ever rider at the competition would point to their own mount as the “most wanted,” the Makeover encouraged audience participation to help select the overall winner from the Finale. Walking away with the honors this year was Lindsey Partridge of Ontario, Canada and her horse Soar, who had captured the win in the Competitive Trail division earlier in the day.

Here is Soar’s round in the Freestyle division…

In what proved to be a fortuitous scrolling through of social media, Partridge bought the 8-year-old grey mare (Trajectory—Pyrenee, Mt. Livermore) after seeing some Facebook photos posted of her. Having proved eager to learn, Soar also has now proven her popularity amongst a star-studded Thoroughbred group.

“I already knew she was amazing and my perfect match—we can do anything together. But, now she represents something bigger and better. She’s the little western Thoroughbred that showed everyone just how versatile and calm Thoroughbreds can be with endless possibilities,” said Partridge.

Partridge bought Soar on Feb. 1 and the gray mare competed in small hunter and jumper shows, obstacle class, and extreme cowboy races to prepare, along with participating in a number of clinics.

Wondering what an extreme cowboy race is? Check out Partridge competing in one with both her OTTBs, Soar and Cupid…

Partridge, a professional trainer, runs Partridge Horse Hill, a natural horsemanship training facility in Pontypool, Ontario. She grew up showing in the hunters and jumpers, as well as many other disciplines. Such as dressage, eventing, western and trail. Her mentor for natural horsemanship was Gary Convery, She began training riders in natural horsemanship in 2002 and now runs Partridge Horse Hill with her husband, James. They offer pony parties, summer camp, trail riding, boarding and clinics in addition to training.

Every entry also walked away with a diploma and medal that celebrated their achievements and served as an encouragement in the road ahead with their OTTBs.

“I seriously gained 100 new friends from all over who really understood what the stresses and momentous days were like strung out over the past few months in getting ready for the Makeover,” said Emily Daignault-Salvaggio of South-Coatesville, Pa. who took away the win in the field hunter division aboard Gin Joint. “It’s a one-of-kind competition so I think that we all kind of were cheering for each other. Some may not have won or had their best days but they ‘got’ the goal of having a journey with their partner.  And we cheered for them just the same.”

Emily Daignault-Salvaggio on her Field Hunter class winner, Gin Joint. Photo by Rachel Sowinski

Set Up For Success

Throughout the weekend, the judging criteria for each of the divisions deviated from a standard competition to allow for the most encouraging experience possible for the still-green horses. For example, in the jumpers, riders were not judged with standard faults and a time score, but rather the horses’ suitability of becoming a show jumper in the future and the quality of training in preparedness for such a career.

“As horses that have not had more than nine months of non-race training, we didn’t really want to see them run as fast as they could over the jumps,” explained Steuart Pittman, President of the Retired Racehorse Project. Instead, the model was very similar to how young jumpers in Europe are scored when assessing potential.

Michelle Warro and the 4-year-old Best Things InLife topped the eventing division. Photo by Rachel Sowinski

While horses traveled from near and far to attend this year’s Makeover, one of just of the handful of international travelers was Backstretch Babe, a 6-year-old mare by Saint Ballistic and owned by Katie DeWolf of Ottawa, Canada. DeWolf, an amateur rider who has been riding for close to 24 years, including riding for Belgian Olympian Karin Donckers, hadn’t planned on buying “BB”, but after a planned horse purchase fell through and with an empty stall already paid for in Florida for the winter, DeWolf decided to take a chance on the mare.

“We had some connections to wonderful people at BB’s previous owner and breeder, Country Comfort Farm, who had this lovely mare that was recently retired. She had quite a tough career from crashing in a race and breaking her jaw and injuring her withers,” DeWolf told.

Hopping on a trailer down to Ocala in January, BB began her new life as an event prospect. “The Retired Racehorse Project was something that I found online somehow and passed the information on to my trainer, wondering if we would be a good fit for the Makeover,” DeWolf said.

Taking another chance on the mare, DeWolf and her trainer, Korah Broderick, decided to give it a go despite not knowing what the competition might be like or if the mare would adapt to all the newness. “She was a down-on-her-luck kind of horse and through good friends and some great connections, we were able to take her to give her a second chance at an amazing life,” DeWolf said. BB placed in the top 10 in the show jumping and eventing divisions.

Tearful Victories

As local rider, Carleigh Fedorka came into today’s dressage final in second place, a strong cheering squad was by her side. After putting in a solid performance during the training level test, Fedorka elated her fans by finishing out on top.

But true to form, the 6-year-old gelding by Afleet Alex didn’t let Fedorka coast to the top. “He was horrible in the warm-up and I felt like the more I rode, the worse it got!” she said. Yet, upon entering the ring, the horse with close to half a million dollars in race earnings to his name, acted like a seasoned show horse. “I truly don’t have words; it’s a dream come true,” Fedorka said with tears.

In another particularly emotional win, Kasey Evans of Chesapeake, Va., brought home the blue in the show hunters with Slambo, a 9-year-old gelding (Grand Slam—Amber Myth, Holy Bull). “Sammie absolutely loves this job and gives his whole heart. He’s so sweet and has really warmed up to all the kids and adults who love him in the barn now,” Evans said.

Kasey Evans celebrated Slambo’s win in the hunter division.

Overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity the Makeover provides to showcase the Thoroughbred, a win in this very competitive division was just icing on the cake. “His owners, Lani and J.D. Parker, really gave Sammie and me a shot at something great and I couldn’t be more honored,” Evans said.

Finding The Next Superstar

Because the Retired Racehorse Project is an organization with a strong emphasis on promoting the breed through education, the day also included a popular discussion about picking prospects—something many were eager to do after watching the talent in the ring.

With nearly 30,000 Thoroughbreds retired from the track every year and in search of a new beginning, the ability to find ones most suitable for a second career is paramount. Dubbed “the original Thoroughbred re-trainers,” the legendary panel included Olympian eventer Denny Emerson, top horse dealer David Hopper, renowned clinician and Olympian Bernie Traurig and hunter trainer Tiffany Teeter, who all delighted the audience by evaluating dozens of Thoroughbreds in-hand and under-saddle.

Legendary horsemen (from left) Bernie Traurig, Tiffany Teeter, David Hopper and Denny Emerson provided candid critiques of each prospect. Photo by Rachel Sowinski

Several of the in-hand prospects were built well for a possible career as a hunter, jumper or eventer. To test it out further, a pole was placed on the ground and the handler was instructed to trot the horse over it. While some trotted calmly right over, others required some persuasion and still others cleared it by a mile.

“If they want to jump it, let them jump it. They can do a little leap. Don’t discourage instinct,” Traurig said. Quick to emphasize the very real drawbacks of buying straight from the backside, Traurig categorized it as a high-risk activity. Instead, the panel encouraged working with re-homing organizations where potential buyers could evaluate more than a quick jog on the backstretch.

Emerson also encouraged buyers to seek out Thoroughbreds that have raced hard and remained sound and to not be turned off by a smaller horse. “If they’ve got scope, they’ll be able to carry you to the other side. Strength and size aren’t necessarily correlated. Sometimes we make too big a deal about being big,” he remarked.

Isabella de Sousa, 14, and Dewey Square captured the show jumping win. Photo by Rachel Sowinski

Eventer (and Chronicle blogger!) Tik Maynard and Mr. Pleastree were a popular duo and could often be seen demonstrating their mutual trust through Maynard crawling, standing or kneeling on the gelding. They also took home the win in the Freestyle division. Photo by Rachel Sowinski


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