Tag Archives: New Vocations

Thoroughbreds For All! Has Found a Winning Formula

Many thanks to Kirsten Collins for this great report from Thoroughbreds for All. Kirsten shares her life with three OTTBs at her own Harmony Farm. 

First, a confession:  I bought my ticket for Thoroughbreds For All! before I bought my Rolex tickets.  I offer this as testament as to how great this event was last year.  The event is built around show-casing Thoroughbreds transitioning from the track into new careers.  Here, the horses are the stars of the show and I couldn’t wait to experience it again.

Thoroughbreds for All 2013 West Wind Farm arena

Thoroughbreds for All! 2013 was held in the West Wind Farm arena. Photo: Kirsten Collins

I was not disappointed.   The event drew an even larger crowd this year, around 500 people, but West Wind Farm was easily able to handle it.  I can’t imagine a better venue than West Wind’s covered arena with its views of the lush spring Kentucky landscape as well as the ability to accommodate dozens of tables, caterers, a cash bar, and best of all, an enormous barn aisle that facilitated a close look at a nice crop of New Vocations Thoroughbreds.

Chris McCarron aboard Bilan

Chris McCarron aboard Bilan. Photo: Kirsten Collins

The program followed last year’s winning formula with minor changes.  Everyone enjoyed Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron getting legged up immediately on a very pretty Bilan.  Chris asked Bilan to stay close to the spectators (we had been reminded at the start to hold our applause so as not to startle the horses) and Bilan acquiesced in a very Thoroughbred way by jigging and looking and by not relaxing.  This was the perfect segue into Chris’ on-board lecture of how jockeys work with their mounts.   First, they seek cooperation, and then they seek ways to make their mounts comfortable.  For Chris and Bilan, this involved some give-and-take:  Chris asked “Please walk forward to the crowd” and Bilan replied “I’d feel much better if we trot back to the other end of the arena.”  And so Chris allowed him to take little breaks and move away, all the while stroking and rewarding him, and then bringing him back to the crowd for a little more exposure.

Chris polled the audience at times, seeking answers to questions about what a horse needs and what impacts a successful ride.  He said he wants a confident mount, but that of course requires a confident rider.  Chris said a rider brings three things into the equation that will influence the quality of the ride:  fear, experience level, and rider fitness.  Chris stated matter-of-factly that horses are looking for a leader.  A rider can provide that leadership but only if they are honest about their own abilities in the tack.  And at this point Chris pointed out that Bilan’s behavior was quite normal for some Thoroughbreds and he wisely reminded people to make sure they seriously considered their own ability to handle and accept this type of horse behavior.  As if we couldn’t love him more.

Mounted lecture with Chris McCarron

Mounted lecture with Chris McCarron. Photo: Kirsten Collins

The rider fitness remark surprised me a little, but what McCarron meant was you have to be able to physically handle that give-and-take phase with your Thoroughbred.  He’ll require a soft hand, yes, but still a firm one over the duration of your ride.  He cautioned everyone about getting physically tired, losing their form, and then losing the quality of the ride.  And he’s absolutely right; a horse deserves us to be our best in the tack because it is what we are almost always asking of our mounts.   By this time Chris had his horse moving well around the arena and it took physical restraint not to applaud both Chris McCarron and the lovely Bilan.

At some point I lost count of the New Vocations horses that were presented next, but I think there were between six and eight.  Each one fell under the gaze of Phillip Dutton and his vet (and fellow eventer) Dr. Kevin Keane.  Through their assessment my novice eyes could gain appreciation for traits both physical and mental.  Phillip is a quiet soft-spoken man who seemed indefatigable and able to look at every horse with fresh eyes.  Dr. Keane echoed many of Phillip’s sentiments about each horse.  In one case both of them were quite keen on a filly that I had dismissed the minute she entered the arena:  they both saw potential in the young horse and therefore helped me (and countless others, no doubt) to see this horse for her what her future could be.  It was an important lesson.  Once the riders were mounted and the horses put through their paces, Dr. Keane remarked that he liked to stand close to a horse when it cantered past so that he could gauge their respiratory status.  Again, this was new and valuable information for a novice looking at a Thoroughbred.

Phillip Dutton, Chris McCarron, Steuart Pittman, Dr. Kevin Keane, and  Amy from New Vocations leading Come On Moe.

Phillip Dutton, Chris McCarron, Steuart Pittman, Dr. Kevin Keane, and
Amy from New Vocations leading Come On Moe.
Photo: Kirsten Collins

As with last year, it was mesmerizing to watch experienced riders work with Thoroughbreds in the midst of transitioning to new careers.  That these horses responded well to compassionate experienced rides is an understatement, but also a strong testament to their trusting, willing nature.  Try to imagine taking your first jump by trotting into a sea of faces set upon rows of bleachers; it could be intimidating, to say the least, but each of the three horses (ridden by eventer Tracey Bieneman, Rolex competitor Daniel Clasing, and returning rider/trainer Eric Dierks) jumped small fences of increasing complexity.  It was here that Phillip Dutton also kept making an important point:  those horses that did not immediately show bravery to a fence were not at all dismissed, but rather Phillip appreciated their carefulness.  He knew, as we all soon witnessed, that the horses would gain confidence as their exposure increased.  As I watched this segment I found myself brimming with pride at the progress these horses were making.  They settled in, figured out what was being asked of them, and did their jobs.

Daniel Clasing takes a break from Rolex competition.

Daniel Clasing takes a break from Rolex competition.
Photo: Kirsten Collins

The eventing world was well-represented at Thoroughbreds For All! as eventers bracketed the evening.  We were first introduced to several competitors whose Rolex mounts were Thoroughbreds and these riders had about 500 keen listeners as they talked about their horses’ strengths and talent (and a few quirks, of course).  To close the evening, local eventers Dorothy Crowell and Cathy Wieschoff returned with their upper level eventers Hennessey and Ready For April.  This was a fitting close to the evening as the two beautifully conditioned horses did a little warm up and then proceeded to jump some impressive fences.  They were such pros, their demeanor so professional and business-like and it was a brilliant way to demonstrate the rewarding path from a racehorse off the track to a well-trained eventer.  Remember how lovely Bilan jigged and danced for Chris McCarron?  I bet even Ready For April did that when he came off the track.  But it was impossible not to think of Bilan as an eventer-in-the-making.  All he needs is a chance to prove himself.

Thoroughbreds For All! is helmed by Steuart Pittman of the Retired Racehorse Training Project and Anna Ford of New Vocations and an army of their volunteers.  Each and every volunteer I spoke with was not only kind and gracious but also absolutely in love with Thoroughbreds.  They are invested in making a future possible for each and every horse lucky enough to walk off the track and into their programs.



Filed under eventing, Sport Horses, Training Theory

Thoroughbreds For All… And for all, a good night

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.

Parklane Hawk and William Fox-Pitt, Thoroughbred, Rolex 2012 winner

An OTTB wins at Rolex: It would be a fitting end to a very Thoroughbred-centric weekend! Photo: Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos.

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.


Filed under eventing, Media Coverage, Sport Horses, Training Theory

Three ways to find a Thoroughbred

The comments to “So where’d you get that racehorse?” keep piling in (there are even some on Facebook) and wow, was I fascinated to see how many readers got their OTTBs from adoption/rescue agencies! Comment after comment kept listing different organizations! I think this covers everyone who got a mention:

A few people got their horses from track workers (it tends to be female exercise riders who place horses, which is a little disappointing since the overwhelming majority of exercise riders are male. Men, if you are placing horses, please step up, defend your sex, and tell me about it!) and good trainers. One or two went the classified ad route.

Adoption agencies lead the pack by a wide margin, though, and the reason is simple. I’ll let Sarah from Miles on Miles make the point:

What I love love love about them is that they showcase those horses like nobody’s business. I could watch 2 videos of him being ridden and see multiple conformation photos before taking the 4 hour drive to see him. At any given time I can go on their website and want to take home at least 75% of the horses that are available. When I went to see him, I was able to see him being ridden, and then able to do ground work and bathe him and graze him, turn him out, on my own. They really “stand in the gap”, which is so important for people like me. I’m a competent rider, but I really didn’t want to take a horse that ONLY knew the track. I wanted someone else to take care of all the “firsts” that a transitioning horse goes through. Also, by the time the horses are put up on the website, they really know the horses, the good and the bad, and they were very upfront.

There you go. If you’re not a trainer looking for an OTTB to train and sell on, you can’t beat the adoption agency route. The information is all there in front of you.

OTTB Such Fortune, at New Vocations

New Vocations tell you everything-even her pecking order so you know if she'll get along with your boss mare.

New Vocations sells me a horse twice a day, but I think they outdid themselves with Such Fortune. I want her soooooo badly. That’s beside the point.

In contrast to a New Vocations listing, here’s what you get from a classified ad. Here’s a small part of today’s page from Ocala4sale.com, which is where I got Final Call.

Here we have a free horse who is a little strong and not for beginners, but gives riding lessons to toddlers. We have a free horse who is too much for someone’s wife and step-dad, so he has to go. We have a free filly who… well, we don’t know anything about her, do we. And there is an OTTB of indeterminate height and  at an unspecified stage of retraining who is $1800.

Unless you really love cold-calling random strangers who can’t spell their own horse’s names correctly, I think New Vocations wins this face-off.

And then there’s Craigslist. But do we really even want to get into a Craigslist discussion? The first thing I pulled up on Ocala Craigslist was this:

$200. Really.

I had to stop there.

So there you have it. Three ways to buy a Thoroughbred. The adoption agency (don’t forget they have trainer-listings, so you can buy direct instead of adopt), the contact at the racetrack (Men! If you’re out there, comment!), and the classified/Craigslist ad.

Who wins? And which do we need more of?


Filed under Retirement Options

Retired Racehorse The Movie? Make it happen!

A few months ago, New Vocations announced that they were going to be adopting out former stakes horse and Kentucky Derby contender Z Fortune, a beautiful gray gelding from Zayat Stable. I remember some talk about making a documentary about retiring and adopting Thoroughbreds – which I can’t locate now – but if they are going to go through with this idea, Carolyn Conley, his new owner, was the right choice for adoption.

Z Fortune @ New Vocations. Facebook photo via Lisa Molloy

New Vocations’ website says that Conley was selected out of more than twenty potential adopters in part because of her relationship with the Zayat family, but it can’t hurt that this former exercise rider (who talks about riding Z Fortune’s tempestuous sire, Siphon, here) is also a member of the HRTV on-air crew.

I’ve teased them about it before, but HRTV have made efforts to showcase more than just surface statistics and morning-line odds in their coverage of Thoroughbreds. Back when I had HRTV, I spent quite a few mornings laying around the house watching old footage of World Equestrian Games and even Monty Roberts clinics. I can’t say the same for TVG. No offense (it isn’t pick on TVG day, to my knowledge) but TVG, I don’t like your name – could you please change it? Television Gaming? Really? That doesn’t exactly inspire respect or compassion for the living, breathing, feeling creatures charging down the stretch.

In that vein, though, HRTV and Conley have an outstanding opportunity to document the training of a retired racehorse. A video-blogged Retired Racehorse Blog. A weekly series on in the morning hours before North American tracks go to post. Hell, even little three-minute snippets between races or during one of their handicapping shows.

Are there any movies about retired racehorses, anyway? There are movies about bringing back retired racehorses to their former glory. This seems less likely and less like something I’d personally like to encourage! The time is now. Retired Racehorse, the Movie. Make it happen, HRTV!

Okay, maybe a movie is a grandiose plan. I’d still be happy with the little segments interspersed with the handicapping segments. Hey horseplayers! Horses do other things besides run quickly for your amusement! And I’ll try anything to make you see that! Anything to showcase that in this game, we’re playing with living pieces, who require our care long after their television spotlights are over.

More: http://therail.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/z-fortune-awaits-life-after-racing/


Filed under Media Coverage, Racing, Success Stories