Tag Archives: Rolex kentucky

Never Watch Rolex if You’re on a Horse Break

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break.

Oh, the internet makes it so easy for you. A hot weekend morning, too sticky to bother going out for a walk, too sunny to bother making any plans that don’t involve a slow stroll to the pool and back, why not just sit and watch horses on your television? Can’t hurt to look in on the old sport.

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break.

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Photo: Boyd Martin, Rolex 2011. Photo: Flickr/FiveFurlongs

Kentucky isn’t just beautiful, it’s stupid-beautiful. Look at those black-board fences weaving meticulously through emerald-green hills! Look at the bright new leaves sprouting from the tops of those massive, mysterious trees! (What are those trees?) Look at the horses, horses, horses, horses everywhere! The palm trees are waving outside your window, the blue sky is sparkling and suggesting you slip on your swimsuit and take a dip, but you’re remembering the feel of hot horse under your hand and the slick of dirt left behind when you take your palm away doesn’t sound distasteful at all.

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break. Remember going to events with advanced riders and knowing everyone there? Remember driving home on I-75, your horses behind you pulling at their hay, while your colleagues drove all around you? Oh there’s the Carter horse van — shouldn’t we get a horse van someday, they’re so much better than horse trailers — oh there’s the O’Connor jeep, haha look at her license plate frame: Make Way For The Princess. We should get one of those, hahaha. There was a time when you were part of this spectacle, and on your way, remember when you were that groom, catching that horse, towel streaming from your back pocket and Gatorade in hand, ready to pass it off to your rider, knowing that some day you’d be that rider, passing off your horse in turn.

Emma Winter in 2005. A ghost from my eventing past, found on Flickr. Photo: flickr/katnetzler

Emma Winter in 2005. A ghost from my eventing past, found on Flickr. Photo: flickr/katnetzler

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break. The early morning alarm that was contemptible then be remembered as a shrill reminder of just how lucky you are, to spring out of bed at six in the morning so you can be dragged around the property by fit horses and drive a rattling golf-cart around a pot-holed road as the sun rises, bits and spurs and feed buckets littering the ground so you have to stop after every turn you took too sharply to pick up your mess. The spring rituals of one final clip, and show-ring ready bridle paths and fetlocks and plucking tails and pulling manes, and sweeping up piles of errant hair before a priceless foolish horse lipped it up like indigestible hay. All the things that annoyed you will slip away — memory is kind and cruel like that. Faced with the gleaming beauties of eventing’s elite, you’ll only remember that you loved every minute, and all those tears will be forgotten.

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break. You’ll swan around the apartment adding up numbers in your head and plotting out the years to come and considering the exact wording of the Yard and Groom listing you ought to place. You’ll come up with a rational explanation for uprooting your entire life and know that it’s completely irrational but hey, I’m only dreaming, haha but just for a moment, or a morning, you believed it, you know you did.

Never watch Rolex if you’re on a horse break. Or maybe do, and once you get past the initial flush of excitement, and you’ve had time to think, you’ll just have a clearer idea in your head of who you are, and what you want, and the map in your mind’s eye, however long and far the road might have to be, will get a little more clear.

 

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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.

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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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