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The Road to Kentucky: Part I

In a competition of 794 trainers and $100,000 of prize money up for grabs, horse-rider teams need to be en pointe to get a piece of the pie. The challenge is heightened by the fact that the competing horses all have 10 months of training or less, and are recently retired from their careers as racehorses. This isn’t just any competition: it’s a training competition that was designed with the intent, “to showcase the trainability and talent of off-track Thoroughbreds.” It’s called the Thoroughbred Makeover.

The Makeover is being held October 4-7 this year, and it takes place at the Kentucky Horse Park. It will be the second time that I will be participating in the The Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover.* The first time I competed was in 2016, when there were just 480 trainers accepted. While more trainers means more OTTBs adopted, and more spotlight on the breed, it also means more competition for the spotlight and the prize money – 65% more competition in fact! The unique structure of the Makeover and the increased number of trainers makes the horse selection process an even more critical component.

With 10 different disciplines to choose from, the desirable attributes of a prospective Makeover horse can vary greatly. I consider two predominant categories when evaluating potential Makeover partners: conformation/movement and personality. While conformation is something that historically has been discussed at length with regard to effect on performance, there’s no denying that ideal conformation can contribute to success – or conversely, poor conformation can pose a challenge to success. For example, in the jumper ring, a longer length from the hip to the point of the buttock can translate to more torque and power in the rear, therefore better ability to clear jumps and make good time. A shorter hip-to-buttock length does not necessarily mean the horse could not be successful in the jumper ring, but the physics alone is less favorable for the latter horse. Conformation alone doesn’t necessarily mean much though; the horse’s overall balance and how that translates to its quality of movement are the key factors for which I look.

The personality, or the heart and head, of a horse is the other main defining quality of a horse in my opinion. The carefulness, bravery, willingness, and work ethic of a horse can make a huge difference in their success, no matter the discipline. I haven’t selected an equine partner for the Makeover yet, but my background is in hunter/jumpers, so I will likely compete in one or both of those disciplines in Kentucky (you don’t have to choose your discipline until August). In my search for my Makeover horse, I am looking for overall balance in build, good angles in shoulders and haunches, good feet, and a good brain. By good brain, I mean a horse who is brave but scopey, mature (especially considering that most of the eligible horses are quite young!), and kind – because considering the relatively short training timescale, kindness makes the whole experience much more pleasant!

There are a lot of variables that go into a prospective horse-rider partnership, so this is innately an oversimplified view of it, but this is the foundation for the process – a beginning for the journey to come!

*Note: The Retired Racehorse Project is a 501(c)3 charitable organization.

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