Tag Archives: OTTB

Ambition: The New Novel Explores Eventing

Ambition - available May 20, 2014

Ambition – available May 20, 2014

It’s been more than a year since my last equestrian novel — too long! But I’m happy to announce that on Tuesday, May 20th, I’ll be releasing my newest novel, Ambition, to readers everywhere.

Still set in the rolling hills of Florida’s horse country, Ocala, Ambition leaps over to the sport-horse world and the sport of eventing.

Jules Thornton didn’t come to Ocala to make friends. She came to make a name for herself. Twenty-two and tough as nails, she’s been swapping stable-work for saddle-time since she was a little kid — and it hasn’t always been a fun ride. Forever the struggling rider in a sport for the wealthy, all Jules has on her side is talent and ambition. She’s certain all she needs to succeed are good horses, but will the eventing world agree?

Getting back into the eventing scene was a real pleasure for me as a writer. I spent my teenage years eventing in Florida and Maryland. I haven’t been over a cross-country course in more than ten years, but I still day-dream about it. Someday, someday…

As for the characters: I love Jules, but she’d never believe me if I told her that. Jules isn’t used to having friends. She’s used to being the low man on the totem pole, after what seems like forever as a working student in a show barn full of her own wealthy classmates. It’s just Jules and her horses, against the world — or so she thinks. But there are still some people on Jules’ team.

And since I like to think that the horses and the setting are just as important as the humans, you’ll find that several horses, including Thoroughbreds, and the heart of Florida horse country are well-represented. Just as Other People’s Horses and The Head and Not The Heart explored Ocala, Saratoga, and New York City in depth, I couldn’t help but celebrate Ocala once again, drawing upon years and years of memory and deep, deep affection for that chunk of the state called “North-Central Florida.”

So watch out for Ambition, available in ebook and paperback beginning Tuesday, May 20th. I think you’ll find it to be a very, very interesting ride… and check your stirrup length and girth. There may be a few bucks thrown in when you least expect them

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Filed under eventing, writing

Thoroughbred Renaissance is bringing new fun to OTTB shows

Vince, OTTB, in dressage

Invincible Vince and Barbara Breeze Fulbright show how OTTBs roll at dressage. Get in on the Thoroughbred-only dressage classes at Thoroughbred Renaissance! Photo: From Barbara Freeze Fulbright

The prize list and entry form for the Thoroughbred Renaissance Horse Show in Glenville, NY, is now up with a link from their Facebook page. This is an August show, and advance entries close on August 6th, so the time to get your entries in is now! You won’t want to miss this show: it has a bunch of very innovative classes, it benefits ReRun of New York, AND it’s open to Thoroughbreds only!

A couple of classes you won’t see at just any horse show:

  • Seasoned Campaigner. Part of the Showmanship division (which promises to overlook “racing adornments such as pin firing scars, splints, bows etc.”) which is “open to all Thoroughbreds with 30 or more starts OR >100K in earnings OR 15 years of age or older.”
  • Family Class. Also part of Showmanship, this is for people like me who get hooked on one sire or dam and collect their babies. Horses should share a sire or a dam, but they don’t have to share both.
  • Mare and Progeny. A Showmanship class for mares and at least one of their offspring, to demonstrate suitability of the mare to produce sport or trail/pleasure foals. If you want to prove to people that you’re totally justified in breeding your nice mare, get her a ribbon here!
  • Lead Ponies and Thoroughbred Costume Class. For the unsung heroes of racing, this open class isn’t restricted by breed, but the horse has to show proof of his “day job,” like being a lead pony.
  • Thoroughbred Renaissance Talent. 2 to 4 minutes to display your Thoroughbred’s talent. A talent show! For your Thoroughbred! Advance registration AND a brief description of the display are required.
The prize list is here, via Scribd. You’ll also find listings for combined tests, dressage tests, hunter, equitation, trail, and gymkhana classes. And there will be prizes! Prizes, I say! Now go get an entry in and start working on your Thoroughbred’s talent. The end-of-summer talent show will be here before you know it!

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Filed under Thoroughbred Horse Shows

That One Horse: Nancy Shulins’ “Falling for Eli”

I used to dream of being the star of a reality show called FLIP THAT HORSE. No, it wasn’t going to be about my many mis-adventures with horses that neither cross-tied nor tied to trailers; after one or two viewings, the finales of each episode would become rather anti-climactic, with viewers shrieking “Don’t tie him to the trailer!” or “Don’t leave him in the washrack for three minutes while you go find a sweat scraper!” until they all gave up in disgust and turned the channel back to another rerun of The Big Bang Theory. 

No, FLIP THAT HORSE was going to be the adventures of ME, Natalie Keller Reinert, retired racehorse retrainer, as I scooped up OTTBs left and right, here from a training center, there from a kill-pen, here from a stock-yard, there from a backyard, and turned them into amateur-owner eventers, 4-H hunters, dressage/trail/pony party pets, all the things that the average off-track Thoroughbred excels in: the very basics of being a Nice Horse.

Falling for Eli cover image, Thoroughbred horse

Falling for Eli, by Nancy Shulins. Best cover of the year award goes to...

I can’t help it; I love a new horse, a fresh start, quirks to explore and head-carriages to sort out. Why do you carry your hind end like that? Is something going on in that right knee? No? Then please stop pointing your toe! Let’s work on that bucking at every lead change, shall we? Hurry up, move along, my fingers are twitching to get back on Craigslist and find my next diamond in the rough!

I’m a natural-born horse flipper. (And that probably won’t Google well.)

That’s earned me some derision amongst friends and acquaintances. Why can’t I settle down with one horse? How can I stand to let them go? Don’t I get attached? 

Of course I get attached. But let’s be honest: we don’t get a lifetime, one-in-a-million, soul-mate story with every single horse that walks in the farm gate. That’s why they’re one-in-a-million. And sometimes you come across him, and you stay together for years, and more often you don’t. And you keep looking for years, and years, hoping to find that One horse again.

I’ve had one of those soul-mate stories, and a couple false starts, a couple might-have-beens, and quite a few really nice horses who just weren’t the One. My first horse was lovely, but he wasn’t the One. I stumbled through a few perfectly-nice-just-for-someone-else horses before I met the One. I suspect this experience had already planted an idea of the fleeting nature of owning horses before I met him, and it stayed with me.

He was my horse. He was My Horse. I knew all his quirks, and he knew all of mine. He did ridiculous things like cut off his eyelid, and I held up his sagging head while the vet stitched it back on. He was My Horse. It didn’t matter if he was accident-prone, or foot-sore, or too long in the back, or had a really awful habit of spooking hard at strange horses when we were out on trail rides. He was My Horse, with all of his limitations and strange reactions and inexplicable melt-downs, and there wasn’t enough money in the world for me to sell him on.

Falling for Eli is a story of the One, of author Nancy Shulins‘ My Horse. It is a love story. It is a memoir. It is a tribute, to one accident-prone Thoroughbred, with terrible luck and a hell of a spook, for whom there isn’t enough money in the world to sell him on.

Nancy Shulins is a re-rider who gave up horses in her teens. At the urging of her husband, in the midst of a deep depression, she shows up at an acquaintance’s boarding stable midway through a demanding career as a writer with the Associated Press,  and immediately wonders how she ever could have left the magic city at all:

Like Dorothy in reverse, I step out of the Technicolor sunshine and into the dim, russet barn.

For the moment it takes my eyes to adjust, I inhale the heady aroma of horses, manure, wood shavings, and hay, with top notes of worn saddle leather, and realize how much I have missed it.

And so it begins. For the horse-obsessed, the magic never loses its potency, whether we are five or forty-five or, I assume, one hundred and five. And when you meet your soul-mate horse without any stumbling through a paddock-full of bad matches and perfectly-nice-for-someone-else horses, perhaps the magic is that much stronger.

Shulins was looking for magic, although she might not have recognized that at first. Feeling lost, a childless woman on a stroller-and-playset-littered street in suburban Connecticut, the Land of Babies, she lavished attention on her nieces and nephews. And then they moved across the country.

And it became harder to ignore that something was missing from her life.

Horses fill holes in lives.

No, horses are not children. Most people will point out the most obvious difference: you get to leave the horse at the barn every night. But you also get to lie awake worrying about your horse, all alone at the barn. Will he be warm enough? Did I put enough rugs on him? What if something happens in the night? Something… anything! And maybe the barn manager’s alarm won’t go off! And they won’t get breakfast on time! And he’ll colic! And no one will know!

Anyone who has ever felt a flutter of panic as they drive up their barn driveway, just hoping, just praying that everything will be just fine with their horse, knows what I am talking about. It’s not so different from parenthood. It’s almost more frightening. You can’t bring them into the house and keep an eye on them; you pay others to watch them, or you leave them home alone. And when they’re as accident-prone as Eli…

Well…

This is no spoiler, but the God’s honest truth: Eli racks up the vet bills. To the point, in fact, where I was sorely tempted to flip to the back of the book to make sure there’s a happy ending.

There is.

Read Falling for Eli. Hug your horse. Feel lucky. Whether he is the One or not, there’s something there, something magical.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Sport Horses, Success Stories

You can’t hug a racehorse?

by Laurie Berglie

Laurie Berglie is a frequent contributor to Retired Racehorse and also writes at her blog, The Sassy Grey.

After reading Natalie Keller Reinert’s article, “You Can’t Hug a Thoroughbred,” I had to laugh!  Of course I completely agreed with her that you could hug a racehorse, that you could, in fact, hug any horse.  But after reading this, I was reminded of my own OTTB mare, Misty, and how, at first, I couldn’t hug her.

Unlike Natalie, I didn’t grow up around Thoroughbreds.  My mom is a Western rider partial to Paints and Quarter Horses, so I spent most of my life riding those “safe” breeds.  She, for quite simply a lack of knowledge/first hand experience, always told me that Thoroughbreds were “crazy” and “on drugs.”

So I’m not sure if it was my mother’s disapproval or just the sheer, raw beauty of the Thoroughbred, but I wanted one.  (Also, it may have been Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred book series too – I was severely addicted to them as a child).

Interestingly, however, until Misty I had never ridden a Thoroughbred.  But then on a hot day in July of 2008, there was Misty, standing in a small paddock on my farm, having just been dropped off by her current trainer.  I stared at her; she stared at me.  What was I going to do with this horse?

Oh well, I thought – let’s just get started.  I began treating her like any other horse.  I gave her some time to adjust to her new surroundings before I rode her, but I was there every day, grooming her, getting to know her.

grey thoroughbred hug

Hugging the sassy grey!

But I’ll never forget that first night.  I was getting ready to leave and went into Misty’s stall one final time to say goodnight.  I went to her side and hugged her, threw my right arm over her withers, my left arm around her chest, and laid my head on her shoulder – and she…turned around and tried to bite me!  It wasn’t a serious effort – more of a “hands off lady!” nip at the air.

I was shocked!  So I leaned in to hug her again – same reaction!  By this time, my mom was laughing as both mine and Misty’s expressions must have been priceless.

“You know,” my mom suggested, “Maybe she’s never been hugged before.  She probably doesn’t know what you’re doing.”

Oh!  All of a sudden, I felt bad for my new horse.  Had she never been shown any real affection?  Was my hug the first she’d ever received?  (Or maybe she was just a touch-me-not kind of girl!)

I believe my response was something like, “Well I’m just going to force myself on her until she loves me.”

Very mature, I know.

But that’s what I did!  Every night before I’d leave, I’d hug my Thoroughbred.  She went from fake-biting at me to just tossing her head a little to full acceptance (or tolerance) of my affection.  She has even hugged me back a few times.

So can you hug a Thoroughbred?  Absolutely.  Can you hug a mare?  Sometimes.   

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Filed under OTTB Stories, Stereotypes, Success Stories

Get toasty for OTTBs, plus horsey books for summer sizzlers

Horse calendar

We all know you have one just like this. Bob Langrish says thanks for the summer home.

If you’re in California, you should go ahead and X out next Thursday on the MAJESTY OF HORSES calendar that we all know you have. Because on June 28th, all-around wonderful people and OTTB enthusiasts/utilizers SQUARE PEG will be putting on what sounds like the most fun fundraiser ever. (Sorry horse show organizers! Still love your work! Keep it up!)

From the press release (which I get because I am now The Media):

“It’s Italia, Half Moon Bay’s go to spot for fine Italian fare, shows its love for Square Peg by hosting the second “Square Peg Celebrity Bartender event” from 5pm until closing, on Thursday June 28. Celebrate the spirit of Aloha with island-themed menu items and some island-inspired drinks, which will be made at the bar by no other than Square Peg’s executive director, Joell Dunlap. There will also be a raffle with fabulous prizes for the winner to take home.

Square Peg Foundation is a non-profit horse rescue and adaptive riding center in Half Moon Bay.
The foundation depends on funds raised through promotions such as this one at It’s Italia in
order to provide the most beneficial environment for the students and horses.

What: Celebrity Bartender at It’s Italia (fundraiser)
When: Thursday, June 28th. 5pm – Closing
Where: It’s Italia 401 Main Street, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
Dress: Hawaiian
A portion of the proceeds and ALL the tips at the bar go directly to Square Peg programs!”

I’m not sure where Half Moon Bay is, but come on, California can’t be THAT BIG. There’s like, Disneyland and Santa Anita and then the redwood forests. I’m sure this is right in the middle. Everyone get on your best Tommy Bahama shirt and report back after you sober up. No—scratch that—before you sober up. 

today's weather

Live Weather Center 9000 says it's hot.

Meanwhile, back on the east coast, it is one million degrees with a heat index of 110. If you are out riding, you are a crazy person. Luckily, I have an alternative occupation for you on this fine Midsummer’s Day. I slaved over an armload of library books so that I could write the 2012 Summer Reading List for equestrian tastemaker Dappled Grey, and I have nine wonderful books that you simply must pick up. Oh, and my own book, The Head and Not The Heart, is on there as well. There will be a test.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fundraising, Outside Sites, therapeutic riding

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.

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

Riding Hot Thoroughbreds

This post is by Katie Hill, a professional trainer who writes about horses at Reflections on Riding. Katie and I share a fondness for hot horses, and if you’d like to join the fan club, check out her tips below for a confident ride on a confident horse.

I love Thoroughbreds (and I’m guessing you do, too, or you wouldn’t be reading Natalie’s blog). I’ve been riding ex-racehorses since I was a child, when Thoroughbreds off the track were the trade up from Shetland ponies.

grey thoroughbred racehorse

Demand Better at Belmont Park, in 1998... Photo: Bob Conglianese

Today, when so many other breeds (or in the case of warmbloods, registries) have unseated Thoroughbreds from their rightful place in the stable, I have to remind people that not every Thoroughbred is hot. If you don’t want a hot horse, I tell dressage riders and hunter/jumpers alike, then just look for one that’s not. There are plenty out there.

Which will leave more hot Thoroughbreds for people like me, who really like them.

Why do I like a hot horse? Training a hot horse to be “hot off the leg” is easy. Sensitivity is built in. Expressiveness, even brilliance, often come gratis with the hot horse.

I’ll admit, though, that hot horses’ behaviors can be challenging. Rushing, rearing, bolting, studly neck-shaking, and playful bucking are only some of the shenanigans. (According to the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins the origin of the word shenanigans is likely the Irish sionnachuighim — “I play the fox” or “I play tricks” – inspired by an Irish Thoroughbred, perhaps?).

If you’ve ever ridden a hot horse, you’ve heard the phrase “I play tricks” right through your saddle, I’m sure. So what to do about the shenanigans played by your hot OTTB? Here’s my top ten list:

1. Manage the problem while you’re not in the saddle. Lots of turnout. Room to run. Preferably with others if you can manage to dispense with hind shoes. Free choice hay. No sweet feed.

2. Discover what you need to do to get your horse calm (remember “Calm, forward and straight,” the mantra of Alexis L’Hotte, Ecuyer en Chef at Saumur from 1864 to 1870). Maybe the only way you can get calm is to start work with your hot horse in trot. Or in canter. Work up (or should I say down?) gradually to what should ideally be your warmup — a 10 minute walk on a loose rein.

3. Don’t be a prison guard — let your horse look around, and express himself a bit. Be a good friend and understand that your horse is a little edgy, a little anxious or maybe even a Type A. That’s okay. Be a role model for calm focus and stay cool. You can’t take too many breaks. When you do take a break, try walking on a loose rein or just standing to let things “soak.”

4. Don’t get sucked in. When you’re with your horse, on the ground or in the saddle, the agenda is yours. (See above, though; don’t be a prison guard.) Don’t fight the misbehavior. Correct and move on. Don’t take any of it personally. Smile, laugh or sing if you can.

5. Be brave. If being on a hot horse scares you, work on it. But work on it somewhere else than on your horse’s back.

Thoroughbred dressage

...and Demand Better at a dressage show, 2004. Photo: Katie Hill

6. Voltes (or small circles) are your friends. If your horse is rushing and your half-halts meet with “la la la, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!,” ride a volte. Voltes are easier when horses are balanced, so horses end up trying to rebalance themselves and that slows them down naturally.

7. Be the kind of partner everyone wants — reliable but also fun and creative. Keep sessions with your horse interesting, employing lots of different figures, lengthenings, cavaletti, jumping, liberty work (hot horses love liberty work) and changes of venue. Transitions in and out of gaits are useful and important, but try not to live there (overdo it, or do it tactlessly, and you’ll drive your hot horse insane). If you feel up to it and there’s a place to do it, there’s nothing like a good gallop.

8. Lunging is a great tool, but not to get the energy out. That won’t work with a hot horse. Most hot horses have “no bottom,” as they say. If your hot horse is racing fit on top of it, you’ll just add fuel to the fire. But lunging is a great tool for focus and freedom (leave off the side reins) and the ritual can be calming to a hot horse.

9. Make sure your hot horse isn’t rushing away from pain. Check for ulcers, and if you suspect something’s amiss, check in with your vet. Vets with a focus on holistic medicine can rebalance a hot horse with alternative remedies ( Dr. Xie’s Jingtang Herbal’s Shen Calmer is magic). Maybe your horse has a magnesium deficiency (Performance Equine’s magnesium is getting rave reviews). Maybe one of the other calming supplements would help. They’re finding out that Omega 3 deficiency may be linked to ADHD; why not try Wellpride?

10. Finally, embrace the power. Enjoy it and see where it can take you.

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Filed under Success Stories, Training Theory