Category Archives: racetrack life

Racehorses that pop: Holly Tonini’s Photography

cover of Other People's Horses

The cover of Other People’s Horses, featuring Holly Tonini’s image

This past week, I released my second novel, Other People’s HorsesThe book revolves around racetrack life, both at the farm and on the backside — in this case, at Saratoga Racecourse in New York — and when I saw Holly Tonini’s photograph on Twitter, I knew it was the perfect image for the cover of my novel. It evokes all the power, strength, and raw beauty of the Thoroughbred racehorse, captured mid-stride on a morning gallop.

I talked to Tonini about her photography and her horse life for the blog:

Looking at your website, you have a lot of shots of horses in multiple disciplines. What’s your favorite horse sport to photograph?

Oh man, this is a tough question! I love them all. I do have to say my favorites are those with a lot of action. I love the challenge of speed so horse racing is tops followed closely by barrel racing. I love to see the mud flying. There are so many I haven’t gotten a chance to photograph yet. I would love a chance to try them all.

What are the ingredients for a great racehorse shot? Which ones do people like best? The naughty horses, the nose-at-the-wire photos, the candid shots?

Timing and luck are the two main ingredients for a great racehorse shot. These ingredients are important to a lot of the work I do outside of horse racing too. Timing is knowing your subject. You need to be able to predict what that subject is going to do and at what moment they are going to do it in. Timing is also a part of luck sometimes. The unpredictable always happens and being lucky to be there and capture it is what luck is to me.

I think the photos that people like best in horse racing vary. I think the ones that stand out the best are the ones that show dramatic action and ones that show emotion. Those are the ones that get that “wow” response or cause a smile or tears. I think they also enjoy the ones that show how beautiful a horse can be. The portraits.

horse racing photo

The start of the West Virginia Governor’s Cup, Mountaineer Park, 2012. Photo: Holly Tonini

 

Do you do a lot of riding yourself?

I used to do a lot of riding. I have been riding since I was placed on the back of a pony when I was two years old. I now own a 17 year old mini pony named Stormy T that I won on a $5 raffle ticket at the local county fair when he was 3 months old. I also own an 11 year old Quarter Horse mare named Rumors that I’ve worked with since the day she was born. I don’t get to ride as much as I’d like but the three of us still find time to have fun doing ground work.

Keeneland at Sunrise

Keeneland at sunrise. Photo: Holly Tonini

What are some goals for your future photography?

Right now I’m not sure what my future will be in photography. I am currently back in school earning my Masters degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. I love the work that I do now. I freelance for a local newspaper covering a lot of high school sports and community events. I would love to move more into professional sports and maybe teach a class or two once I obtain my degree. I take everything one day at a time so only time will tell what my next adventure will be.

Where else might we see your work?

You can see a lot of my photography on www.heraldstandard.com. It is the website of the paper I freelance for, the Uniontown Herald-Standard. My portfolio website hollytonini.smugmug.com and my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/hollytonini/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under horsepeople, racetrack life, writing

Not The Prettiest, But – Equitation the Racetrack Taught Me

Most of us have one or two special riding instructors in our past who taught us some invaluable lesson. It might be that a-ha moment when you realized where your seatbones actually were, and how they worked. It might be when an automatic release finally clicked for the first time. It might have been a person, or it might have been a clever horse, who taught you that lesson.

I learned my most valuable riding lessons at the racetrack.

They may not be the prettiest forms of equitation, but six months on racehorses at Aqueduct taught me a couple survival riding skills that I use all the time now. Here are my two favorites:

The Half-Cross

A “cross,” as I understand it, is when you hold both reins in both hands. It’s what event riders do when we “bridge” the reins over a horse’s neck for long gallops or a particularly strong horse.

A half-cross is when you hold both reins in one hand. When I am riding in any sort of uncertain situation, I nearly always have my reins in a half-cross like this: right hand on right rein, left hand on left rein, extra loop of right rein in left hand as well. It’s a wonderful feeling of security.

The Sort-Of Racetrack Half-Seat

Exercise rider on thoroughbred

An exercise rider at Stampede Park. Slightly exaggerated version of my sort-of half-seat. Flickr: nikki_tate

I think there’s been some hate going around Facebook about some kind of pose where theoretically advanced riders balance their hands on their horse’s neck instead of maintaining an independent upper-body position, like a little kid when they first learn two-point. This isn’t the same thing. This is pressing one’s hands into the withers, just in front of the saddle, at either the trot or the canter, and letting your weight fall both into your heels and your hands.

This is a happy secure place if you keep enough weight in your lower leg, and keep your lower leg in front of you. This is approximately how one gallops a racehorse, except that you aren’t high up in short stirrups, and bent at the waist over your horse’s neck. The security comes from the weight in your leg, ahead of the motion, and the weight in the withers, a spot that tends to be pretty stable even if the horse stumbles.

I use this when riding big, strong horses with a tendency to fall onto the forehand and stumble. If they do stumble, my leg catches me. If they are just being strong and pulling, my anchor at their withers ensures that they are pulling against themselves.

No, I won’t be winning any awards when I use these techniques. But I haven’t been in the showing business for a long, long time, and I’ve found that for me, anyway, the riding that counts is real world riding — security first!

2 Comments

Filed under racetrack life

A Fine Romance — Nancy Shulins

Guest Post by Nancy Shulins*

My horse has taken up with a chicken. And I am not okay with that.

It’s not just the inane jokes from boarders at the barn where I keep Eli, my OTTB. “Hey, who’s the hot chick?” “Don’t look now, but your horse is getting henpecked!”

I laughed too, at first. But my outlook turned fowl one morning a few weeks ago, when I opened the door to Eli’s stall to deliver his breakfast and out came the poultry.

She was all legs and breast. And she’d obviously spent the night.

Eli hung his head and looked at me sheepishly from the far corner of his stall, clearly exhausted after a long night of … what, exactly? I had no idea.

Then it dawned on me she had been stalking him, hoping to catch him on the rebound from his passionate if doomed love affair with the new chestnut mare in the adjacent paddock.

The mare had been young and attractive, an off-the-track Thoroughbred like him. Eli had fallen head over hooves for her instantly, whinnying shrilly and deafeningly whenever she was out of his sight.

Chicken and horse

flickr: arnoooo

In the sixteen years that I’ve owned him, I’d seen this sort of thing before, at other barns with other horses. But Eli’s previous loves had been ancient blind ponies and fat, elderly mares, with the occasional gelding thrown in. This was different. For once, he had chosen an appropriate mate. I was kvelling.

The chestnut mare was sleek and pretty, and best of all, she’d returned his affection in kind, making it doubly painful – to say nothing of loud – when her owner abruptly decided to take her mare home to her own backyard barn.

I braced myself for the worst – a hunger strike and major depression weren’t unprecedented – but Eli accepted his soul mate’s departure with infinitely more grace than I. For the first time, I understood why my women friends went into mourning when their sons broke up with potential daughters-in-law whom they, too, had come to adore.

Exit the beautiful Thoroughbred.

Enter the drab little chicken.

The mare hadn’t been gone a week when I first heard her successor’s bizarre vocalizations as I groomed Eli in the aisle between stalls. A cross between a moan and a groan, it sounded weirdly sexual, enough so that I put down my curry comb and went searching for the source. I found her right around the corner, scratching for bugs in a pile of spilled hay.

She was a dull, rusty brown, not much to look at as chickens go. The last survivor of the barn owner’s original clutch of egg-layers, she was the only one that hadn’t fallen prey to the coyotes that had turned the coop into their own fast-food joint.

As days passed, I began to see this feathered jezebel in the barn more and more, scratching and pecking at the bedding in stalls whose occupants were out in their paddocks. At some point, she lost interest in the empty stalls and started cooling her scaly heels in Eli’s.

Unprepared though I was for their cohabitation, in retrospect I should have seen it coming. There were signs, little warnings I chose to ignore, like the day I confronted the surreal sight of my 1,254-pound horse watching over a freshly laid egg.

To be fair, mine is hardly the first Thoroughbred to fraternize outside his species. Racehorses began “friending” other animals centuries ago, long before Facebook turned the noun into a gerund.

It turns out pets are good for horses, which are, after all, inherently social beings meant to live together in herds. Like people, they do better when they have companionship. Racehorses in particular benefit from sharing their quarters, since the bulk of their time is spent idly confined to their stalls.

The solitary nature of their lives has given rise to a host of problems ranging from stomach ulcers to bad habits, also known as “stable vices.” Most are repetitive movements, corruptions of normal equine behaviors that have been rendered impossible by life in a stall. For a horse that’s fed highly concentrated grain twice a day, pacing, weaving and wood-chewing help eat up the hours they were meant to spend free-ranging for food.

Pairing racehorses with stall mates – goats, pigs, cats, ponies, and roosters – is a longstanding practice among trainers, since contented horses are less apt to pace at night and more likely to lie down and rest, making them better bets come post time.

At twenty-two, my horse’s racing days are far behind him. But the need for companionship is one he’ll never outgrow. And good friends are hard to find regardless of species. Who am I to say how his ought to look?

So, for however long this lasts, I’m committed to walking on eggshells.

A bird in the hand, after all.

*Nancy Shulins is the author of Falling For Eli: How I Lost Heart, Then Gained Hope Through the Love of a Singular Horse (Da Capo Press)

2 Comments

Filed under Herd Life, horsepeople, racetrack life, Sport Horses, writing

Ignoring the good: A horsewoman’s take on the NY Times expose

The March 25, 2012 edition of the New York Times carried a multi-page story detailing horrendous lack of oversight at America’s racetracks, and indicted the horse racing industry for allowing greed to overtake common sense and common humanity, placing the lives of horses and riders at risk every day. 

Although it is impossible to disagree that there are problems in America’s racing industry, reaction to this article is divided, in part, as horsewoman Melinda Rice Moss writes below, because there is simply no mention of the men and women doing the right thing with their horses; according to the New York Times, it’s all bad news. And that, she maintains, is an annual rite of spring.

Thoroughbred mare and foal

Melinda Rice Moss with her OTTB broodmare/eventer and foal by Hook and Ladder

I am a ninth generation Saddle Fitter, but more importantly, my family owned racehorses and I grew up on the Maryland tracks.  I worked as an exercise rider, groom, you name it. I even had an exercise rider’s license at Bowie before I had a driver’s license.  Throughout my adult life I have stayed in the Thoroughbred racing business in one form or another.  In 2009 I moved to NY to be with my fiance, Dr. Bernardo Mongil, DVM, a 4th generation horseman; at Monhill Farm we stand stallions; breed, raise, race and train Thoroughbreds.  One look at our website and you will understand that we are the die-hards who always try to do right by all our horses, even retiring them sound and placing them in homes for little or no money after their race careers.

In a nutshell, here is my opinion on the NY Times Article:

Does there need to be better regulations and stiffer penalties in horse racing in the U.S.? Absolutely. Even the racetrack vets should be held more accountable, as they often see and treat many of the horses not just on race day,  but also for pre-race checks. I agree, with the influx of slots and casinos there has been an increase of a lesser class of horse running for higher purse money, whereas before the slots were introduced those same horses may have been retired.

Thoroughbred stallion

Griffinite, a young sire at Monhill Farm, was a rescue from the infamous Paragallo abuse case.

The money from the casinos that goes back to funding the racetracks needs to be better distributed with some sort of financial program(s) set aside for retirement of ex-racehorses (a legit, regulated one—which by the way is in the works, or so I hear), better drug testing and research, etc. If you keep up with the racing industry publications, these are the same topics that have been discussed for many years.

Thoroughbred racing used to be “Old” Money, a “Sport of Kings” where the elite participated and only the best of the best competed. Unfortunately, in the last fifty years racing has fallen behind the rest of the major American sports (NASCAR, football, baseball, etc). For many, many years Thoroughbred racing refused to accept sponsorships (a big mistake compared to what all other major sports have done), and so since the late 1980’s, the sport has gone through a major downturn, and had all but died out, until the installation of slots came along; hence the many new problems with illegal medications, trying to “pump” up the horses to make them more competitive, creating an even bigger problem as the article speaks of.

However, as in every sport there are the good, the bad, and the downright lowlifes. It seems that every year about this time—Spring, when all the big money races and the Triple Crown Trail come up—there is someone (often times PETA and some so-called “rescue” organizations, as well as the journalists trying to make waves) that come out with new “news & stats” trying to knock down the sport. It seems to me that in that five-page article there was more negativity about the sport than an attempt to create awareness of the big picture of racing.

As my mom used to say: “Bad news travels ten times faster than good news!” The media always latches on to the tragedies, and not just in horse racing. What about all the great every-day feel-good stories on the race track (or in the world in general)? We don’t often hear about those types of stories. Rarely does the media recognize the Breeders/Owners/Trainers and all the staff behind the scenes that care for the not-so-sound horses, or those that just need extra TLC; people (even grooms and riders) who spend their hard-earned money, even taking food off their own table, to care for a horse that needs extra care, in order to be rehabilitate it for a second career after the races or just for retirement. Not every race horse breaks down, gets destroyed by uncaring trainers or owners, and/or gets “dumped next to an old toilet in a junkyard” as the article so pointedly stated.

Thoroughbred filly by Griffinite

A Griffinite filly stretches out her legs at Monhill Farm.

Bernardo (who is also an equine vet) is a good example of an Owner/Breeder that truly tries to retire his horses sound for second careers, refuses to race a horse that is unsound, and always tries to do right by the horse. My friend Robin, whom you met via the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, does the same. She also follows her horses (as Bernardo does) after their careers. There are just as many GOOD Breeders/Owners/Trainers for every bad one the media talks about. I honestly can name more “Good” people in the industry than “Bad”. It is we “die-hards” who truly love our horses and do right by them, which is why I am such an advocate for the racehorse. Most racehorses are treated better than the average backyard or lesson horse.

These types of articles and the people that try to knock racing down really aggravate me. What Thoroughbred racing needs now is a new generation of Owners/Breeders/Trainers that understand and support racing, and the horses, for what it is, and a commitment to help better regulate it.

What some readers may not know is that the exact same situations (horses that break down, are mistreated, dumped at slaughter houses, or unsound, or horses with severe training issues are passed on to uneducated or unsuspecting “new” owners) are very common among all the other equestrian sports—the Western Show/Reining Quarter Horses, the jumpers, the Eventers, the Dressage horses, it happens everywhere! Show horses snap a leg while cantering in a show ring, or step in a groundhog hole with or without a rider.   The reality of dealing with horses, is that accidents happen all the time.  The difference is that other equestrian sports don’t have anywhere near the same regulations or penalties, nor do they get the same media attention, as horse racing.

How does the old saying go? Believe half of what you read and all of what you see?

12 Comments

Filed under Media Coverage, Outside Sites, racetrack life, Racing, Stereotypes

One Small Thoroughbred World

It’s a gloriously, happily, exhilaratingly, ridiculously small horse world. I spent a wonderful morning last November with a friend of mine, Monica Driver, who I simply never see enough of. She’s great company. We talk books, dogs, politics, and that’s just in the first five minutes. We were watching two of the young horses she bred, Analysis and Circuitous. The colts were training on the farm where they live when in New York. I snapped a few pictures. Little did I know the small world would start spinning.

Thoroughbred colt at racetrack

This is Analysis (by Freud, of course) as a long yearling that late November 2011 day being ridden at Stone Bridge Farm, New York. Analysis is Circuitous's half brother.

The pictures provide glimpses of a training farm and the routine a young horse in race training goes through.  It was a day exemplifying what one of my heroes William Steinkraus says makes for a good day’s training: nothing happens.

Circuitous is such a lovely bay I forget I’m a grey-aholic. Maybe because his sire is that grey poster boy: Skipaway. Others might even forget for a nano-second or two their passion for chestnut mares. Circuitous’s demeanor as much as his looks captivates. He’s outgoing yet calm in his stall, happy to interact with humans, and developing a prodigious work ethic and concentration.

Monica is an owner who manages Mosaic Racing to race her fourth generation homebreds. Monica has her horses thoroughly trained and provides funds for their life after racing. Just as all OTTBs are not the same by reason of conformation, soundness or innate temperament, OTTBS vary based on handling and training regimes in their formative years.

Thoroughbred colt at racetrack

Circuitous looking at Monica. Her shadow is on the right. A cool, crisp day and the young Thoroughbred stands almost perfectly square only moving his ears to keep track of the conversation.

Small world event number one occurred when Susan Salk profiled Circuitous and his winter training regime on her blog offtrackthoroughbreds.com.

Colt at racetrack

The humans kept talking. Circuitous has become interested in something else. His head is alertly up but he's relaxed as the brisk November breeze lifts his mane and fringes his tail.

Small world event two happened shortly after Susan’s profile appeared. Another friend, Amy LeBarron, mentioned what a pity there wasn’t a picture on Off-Track Thoroughbreds of Circuitous being ridden by his New York exercise rider, Gavin. Amy inspired me to dig up my snap shots of Gavin on Circuitous.

As the small world was turning Amy came up with a photo of herself riding Circuitous in New York. Event number three. What synchronicity. Amy was the person who skillfully, tactfully, patiently, positively, and with a sense of humor backed and trained the first two Thoroughbreds I bred. Here is a visual example of her doing the same for Circuitous.

Circuitous gallops on training track for Mosaic Racing Stable

Amy riding Circuitous mid-October 2011.

Event four shrunk the small world down to about tennis ball size. Heidi White has been on my radar for many years thanks to her international advanced level 4-star Thoroughbred Northern Spy.

Northern Spy shares his name with the Vermont goat farm with Thoroughbred connections owned by friends of mine, Brad Kessler, and Dona Ann McAdams. Lo and behold, Heidi White is the woman training Circuitous at his winter digs in Aiken. Years ago I reveled in the name connection, now here was one even more concrete.

Thoroughbred walking at racetrack

Followed by a vehicle Circuitous remains flat footed as he learns to walk around the farm on his own. Gavin keeps watch while Circuitous seems to have completely placed his trust in his rider.

Event five might stretch credulity so I hesitate to include it, but to get my horse world down to pingpong ball size it was Amy who sparked Dona’s photography of Thoroughbreds.

Oh and by the way, does this make this horse world example ball bearing size if Circuitous is the front page horse on the Stone Bridge Farm website, where White trains?

racehorse in training

One can never see enough pictures of Thoroughbreds walking calmly, especially when they're three, in race training, and it's a brisk, breezy, cool, November day. This is the kind of "early childhood development" that makes for great OTTBs.

So, thank you Monica, Amy, and Susan for the opportunity to wallow in warm memories of a November morning with Circuitous and friends sharing our appreciation for Thoroughbreds.

International Women’s Day was March 8th this year. In recognition of my own ridiculously small horse world peopled with warm friends I hereby declare today, March 27, to be Local Thoroughbred Women Friends’ Day. A toast to small horse worlds.  It’s been fun to celebrate with you. Here’s to a thoroughly friendly day in your horse world.

Racehorse galloping at training track

Circuitous galloping. This unedited point and shoot picture shows his length of stride and balance. Before this winter's round of training in Aiken you'll see he's not boring down on the forehand as so many horses might do at his age.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under racetrack life, Training Theory

Photoblog! A Day at Aqueduct

baked goods

If every racetrack offered a bake case like this, there would be more happy, sugared-up people at racetracks.

There’s nothing quite like spending a blustery February day at Aqueduct, and by nothing, I mean nothing except for perhaps heading to a walk-in cooler at your nearest restaurant and shutting yourself inside. But inside with some awesome horses! Today we hopped on the Crazy Train (that’s a colloquial term for the A train) and went out to the track. Aqueduct’s lonely train platform is a lot more crowded these days; the blinking, beeping, soul-sucking (I mean this in the nicest possible way) casino that replaced Aqueduct’s crumbling old grandstand attracts crowds that the horses haven’t been bringing out to Queens for decades, and do not get in Grandma’s way when she is trying to be first through the turnstiles on the way out of the station! She will run your butt over! Sing  it with me now: “The slots, the slots are calling…”

The plus side to the casino is that there is actually decent food to eat at the racetrack now, and the cream-cheese frosted brownie and the Starbucks coffee, liberally laced with actual half-and-half, may not have been the healthiest lunch option, but it’s a cut above the old “death before Sbarro’s” racetrack diet I used to be on. I was really tired of leaving the racetrack at five thirty with a headache from not eating all day!

So Scott, Thoroughbred gelding

I want him next!

It was an interesting day of races. There was one feature, the Busher, for three-year-old fillies, and then everything from $7500 claimers to starter allowances. The weather went from sunny to snow flurries, back to sunny, back to snow, all with a gale of a wind that would whip up from the south and blow sand in your face. It’s been a while since I had the grit of Aqueduct track between my teeth; today I tasted that dirt once again. Happily, it wasn’t because my entire face had just been ground into it while a horse tried to convince me to let go of the reins. Change is good.

There were a lot of favorites from big trainers, and the idea of the day was to try and find the sleeper horse that might come out of nowhere and surprise everyone. But they were few and far between. Every race seemed to have five favorites and two long-shots that were such long-shots not even I was going to mess with them. We did manage to get a first and a second with some slightly-better-than-even-money horses, but all in all it wasn’t a betting day. It was an enjoy the nice horses day.

Often one will just walk into the paddock that really catches my eye. The second So Scott, the dark bay pictured above, came down the ramp, I said “Oh I want him!” Yeah, he won his race. Look at the cheerful expression and that pretty body!

Stud Muffin, gray Thoroughbred racehorse

Stud Muffin, silencing the spindly-legged Thoroughbred complaint

Stud Muffin was in that race also. This horse came out looking like a show jumper, in full leg wraps and a dress sheet. (Public service announcement for all grooms: dress sheets and coolers have tail cords for a reason. If you use the tail cord, the rug will not end up over the horse’s ears from the wind, and you will not have a spooky horse with a rug over its ears. PSA out.) Anyway, Stud Muffin gets claimed every two races or so. He’s had like six owners in the past year. I feel kind of bad for him, but he keeps winning or placing, and he seems like he’s happy with his job, so I suppose he keeps going to barns that keep him in carrots, and that’s probably all he’s looking for.

I included the picture of Stud Muffin, not just because he’s beautiful of course, but because he is a nice reminder that large-boned Thoroughbreds are still bred, and it’s silly to argue that “all Thoroughbreds are being bred spindly-legged” and so forth! Thoroughbreds come in ALL shapes and sizes. In fact I saw one today, Lucky’s Dream, that was the spitting image of my first horse, a rugged Foundation-style Quarter Horse. It looked like someone had accidentally sent a cowhorse into the paddock. He was first out of the gate and finished second in a six-furlong race.

A few random shots:

racehorse saddled in paddock

This horse wouldn't go into the paddock stall. Instead of arguing, they just tacked him up in the paddock.

The track vet is always watching the horses, from the paddock to the starting gate to after the race, looking for signs of trouble. Here she is watching them come back from a race.

Track vet watching horses

The track vet

There were beautiful clouds passing through and occasional little bursts of snow flurries. Here is one of my favorite clouds, almost on par with the gorgeous thunderclouds that pass over Florida all summer long:

snow clouds, queens ny

Snow flurries and amazing clouds

Only the very rugged can survive running their horses all winter long on the frost-free inner track at Aqueduct; I was reminded of this several times when old friends and trainers came up to say hello and ask after us! I only made it through the end of December, after all, before I was just too frozen to put my feet in the stirrup irons any longer. I’d much rather spend my winters at Gulfstream or Tampa, but it’s nice to have Aqueduct here as a little get-away from the city, all winter long.

3 Comments

Filed under racetrack life, Racing

New Track, New Life: An OTTB training DVD in the works

Thoroughbred, OTTB, with child

One of TPR's graduates, Maggie's Charm

The Off-track Thoroughbred community has been getting to know Robin Coblyn pretty well lately, mostly because of her home-bred gelding, Four X The Trouble (Tempyst), who has been lighting up the screens with his handsome face ever since the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge started in January. Coblyn breeds and sells Thoroughbreds; whenever she can, she re-acquires them when their racing days are done, as was the case with Tempyst.

But her interest in helping retired racehorses doesn’t stop with the foals she bred and raised herself. Coblyn is also involved with Maryland’s Thoroughbred Placement and Rescue (TPR) and is a key member of a very big project that the charity is developing: “New Track, New Life,” a DVD series and retraining manual created especially for the growing numbers of people about to mount up on their first OTTB. I spoke with Coblyn about this exciting project, and, she explained, it all has to do with the hard work of racehorse trainer and TPR president, Kimberly Clark.

Clark, Coblyn explains, has been devoting her time and energy to retraining Thoroughbreds for years, even while she was still training at the racetrack. “Kim is incredibly passionate about these animals,” Coblyn says. “The number of horses she has placed, and where they are, and what they are doing, is just phenomenal.”

In helping owners retire their racehorses and placing them with new riders, Clarks found that people who weren’t racetrackers didn’t understand how their horses had been treated all their lives. Misinformation and miscommunication — and the frequently used term “fire-breathing dragon” — were scaring people away from OTTBs.

“People didn’t understand their horses and couldn’t deal with them the way the horses were used to,” Coblyn says. “People need some kind of understanding of the racetrack life. Kim wrote a blog with some simple retraining concepts, addressing those questions like ‘why won’t my horse pick up his hoof when I’m standing on his right side?’ and ‘Is it safe to ride my horse in a group?'”

Clark’s online training manual, A Guide to Understanding and Retraining Your Off Track Thoroughbred, was written to help riders and trainers understand the OTTB’s unique lifestyle and prior training. It is currently available in PDF form on TPR’s website, goodhorse.org.

Eventually, Clarks and a group of other Thoroughbred enthusiasts founded Thoroughbred Placement and Rescue. After putting together the 501c3 and creating TPR, the idea came to make Kim’s blog into a DVD series with an accompanying book. Coblyn, who has been a film producer since 1989, was the perfect fit for the DVD project. Naturally, she’s pretty happy about the job. “I’m finally getting to do things with horses,” she says, “And that is my passion!”

The DVDs would explain not just how to retrain an OTTB, but what their life had been like before, from the breeding farm, to the training center, to the racetrack. “It’s good for riders and also for organizations and rescues that might get in an OTTB for the first time and get stuck, because they don’t know what to do with one. OTTBs are turning up everywhere,” Coblyn says, not just at Thoroughbred-specific aftercare programs.

TPR’s eventual plan is to release two DVDs, one on “Racetrack Life” and one on “Retraining,” with an accompanying book that riders can take out to the barn with them. “We need to finish the on-the-track production, and then film Kim in the retraining process,” Coblyn explains. “The DVDs will be divided into chapters, with 8 to 12 minute segments—information bites that are the right size to think about and digest.”

Finding the money for such a big production has taken time, and is on-going, but the TPR team has gotten started with filming anyway. “We started fundraising last year,” Coblyn says. “We got a small grant from Thoroughbred Charities of America, but that’s gone. We put in four or five days of filming at Fair Hill and have used some of that to create a promo.”

Coblyn’s background in film production has been a big help in getting the promo video created. “I found other film professionals who would offer their skills for a non-profit at a reduced rate. Then I bought myself a computer and software, and taught myself how to edit.”

Even the voice-over artist on the video comes from within TPR’s ranks; it’s board member, former hunter/jumper rider, and exercise rider Lucy Krone. “She’s the tour guide to teach people what goes on at the track,” Coblyn says.

The promotional video is for the continuing fundraising effort, as TPR seeks grants and individual donations, as well as seeking strategic partnerships within the racing industry and with fellow aftercare groups. “I think there’s a lot of synergy there, if groups are willing to work together. We have meetings with people in the industry; we’re branching out instead of just going with the grant organizations.

“This is important for racing. If horse racing wants to continue as a viable sport, they need to prove they are an industry that can take care of their own.”

TPR’s New Track New Life Promotional Video. They request OTTB enthusiasts share it widely!

For more information, or If you want to donate to TPR, visit their website at goodhorse.org. 

2 Comments

Filed under racetrack life, Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, Retirement Options, Training Theory