by Kirsten Collins
After the cross-country phase of Rolex Kentucky’s 2012 event, more than 300 patrons attended a symposium on OTTBs presented by New Vocations and the Retired Racehorse Training Project. Kirsten Collins sent this report on the event to Retired Racehorse Blog:
There are so many good things to say about New Vocations’ event “Thoroughbreds For All” that I hardly know where to begin. The event was flawlessly planned and executed. Attendees were greeted first by volunteers and then by the sights and smells of a country buffet served in West Wind Farm’s covered arena. Round tables were full of newly-acquainted horse people who enjoyed the sunset meal and conversation: the mood was bright and upbeat.
This scene played out literally in the middle of horse country, near Lexington, Kentucky. From one’s bleacher seat under the canopy of a covered riding arena, looking out at the breezy green April countryside, one suddenly became aware of a pretty little bay horse walking in, and then another. Hosts Steuart Pittman and Anna Ford introduced themselves and the horses, and all eyes fell upon the two bays…and then a third bay… and so it went until a nice selection of Thoroughbred ex-racers were introduced.
Soon enough, Steuart and Anna were joined in the arena by eventers Bruce Davidson Sr., Cathy Wieschoff, and Dorothy Crowell and by equine vet Dr. Steven Allday. They passed the microphone between them as they assessed half a dozen Thoroughbreds that are now in the New Vocations program. Cathy and Dorothy were much alike in their assessments, both seeming to prefer a more short-backed horse (Cathy mentioned that it seemed easier to “connect” them) whereas Bruce pointed out that his best jumpers had been long-backed horses. Dorothy uses a simple assessment tool when considering a new horse, simply called the three S’s: sound, sane, and a horse that makes her smile. Dr. Allday commented on the specific medical issues with each horse. Three horses were selected for a riding demonstration that would follow.
But first, jockey Chris McCarron brought two students from his NARA jockey school that he mounted on two of the New Vocations thoroughbreds. Chris focused on his riders’ hands and talked about a technique he teaches called “down and low with the reins.” It is his experience that this technique produces a quieter mount and that Thoroughbreds seem to respond well to it. He complimented his two student riders on their soft hands, which he felt was an essential skill. Chris then donned his helmet, mounted one of the horses, and produced a brief but beautiful ride, demonstrating not only three gaits, but also a lead change.
Audience members were delighted to find themselves auditing a riding lesson given by Bruce Davidson Sr. Three riders – Eric Dierks, Kerry Blackmer, and Steuart Pittman – mounted three of the horses selected from the early session. The horses were not calm and quiet mounts; they had never before seen bleachers and a sea of faces in their riding arena, and they reacted to it. But because all were ridden by experienced riders, their anxiety was limited to a very few antics; mainly jigging, head-tossing, and looking. Every horse held it together, and the two with the longest tenure in New Vocations program even took their first jumps. Everyone in the arena (with the exception of Kerry) chuckled every time Bruce calmly said “Just drop the reins, Kerry.”
Dorothy and Cathy got a chance to showcase their off-the-track mounts. Under Dorothy’s care, her young horse Hennison gets work every day. And yes, that means jumps, too. She warmed him up as the fences were set, talking gently to him as well as the audience, and then let him trot several jumps before he trotted in and cantered out of a double combination. Dorothy mentioned she worked with her horses for four to eight years before bringing them to a four star level. Cathy’s horse Ready For April is eventing at the preliminary level, and he is flat-out lovely. She is an advocate for ground work with a rope and trains all of her horses with this method. She demonstrated by trotting Ready For April over a new jump before mounting and riding him over it. Her delight in her horse was infectious. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
To close the evening, the wonderful eventer Molokai, still a looker at age 29, pulled Dorothy into the arena as she talked a bit about their years together. “Mo” put a classy finish on the evening, reminding everyone what is possible when a horse is given a chance to prove himself as an athlete.