Racehorses-Turned Hunter/Jumpers Show Off Their Skills

I know I just featured New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program a couple weeks ago, but I wanted to bring to attention the fact that the organization hosted its final Thoroughbred event last weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park, and it was, once again, a success.

Nearly 40 Thoroughbreds gathered July 11 at the Lexington-based facility to compete in two Thoroughbred restricted Hunter/Jumper classes.

New Vocations Racehorse partnered with the Robert Murphy Horse Show and put on the event, where Thoroughbreds from many of the Midwest and East Coast states traveled to participate.

“If you build it they will come right?” said New Vocations Program director Anna Ford in a release. “If we create venues where horses leaving the track can show and compete against other Thoroughbreds, the classes are sure to be full.”

This was definitely true for the New Vocations Thoroughbred Hunter Classic sponsored by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, as well as the New Vocations Mini Prix, sponsored by Castleton Lyons, when 38 Thoroughbreds competed for a total of $5,000 in prize money.

The event drew many spectators as the announcer read a brief history on each horse as it entered the arena to be judged over a course of fences. Their histories ranged from graded stakes winners with earnings more than $100,000 to horses that only raced a couple times earning next to nothing.

Sarah Reilly with her 5-year-old gelding Paris Review won the $2,500 New Vocations Hunter Classic sponsored by the National HBPA and NTRA. Paris Review, a son of Commendable, was bred with the intentions to be sold at one of Keeneland’s sales by Mill Ridge Farm and Joe Dodgen.

When it became clear that he would not be very marketable at auction, however, Reilly and her husband, Sean, privately purchased the colt and developed him into a show horse.

Sarah Reilly and Paris Review

“We loved the colt so much that we actually went back and purchased his dam Chosen Ticket,” said Reilly in a statement. “I think many people have forgotten how good a Thoroughbred can be in the show ring. I personally prefer a Thoroughbred over any other breed and I would love to see more opportunities for them to compete.”

Allison Davidson with 16-year-old Sweet William (show name) won the $2,500 New Vocations Mini Prix sponsored by Castleton Lyons. Although the gelding’s tattoo is now unreadable and race record unknown, he clearly did race in his younger years.

Allison Davidson and Sweet William

What is known of Sweet William's history is that following his racing career he became a very successful eventer. Now owned and trained by Elaine Schott from River Mountain Farm and shown by Davidson, he has excelled as a jumper.

“The Thoroughbreds have great heart, and they always try so hard to please their rider,” explained Schott in a release. “I think these types of classes help showcase the versatility of this breed.”

“It’s truly touching to see so many Thoroughbreds who spent the first part of their life going around a racetrack now enjoying the second half going around a show arena,” said Ford in a statement at the conclusion of the event. “This is just the beginning to something that I know will grow into a much larger and hopefully, trend setting event.”

Here’s a short Q&A that I conducted with Anna Ford following the event:

EM: What do you love most about the work that you do?

AF: That is a hard question. I love so much of what I do. Every week we have trailers pull in and it's like Christmas for all of us here. We can't wait to see who is coming in next. It is very rewarding to see how in just a couple weeks each horse starts to adjust and learn more about their new life and career. All and all the highlight of everyday is when one of our horses gets adopted and is put back on the trailer to go on to their new home. It's like a revolving door around here. Each day is a new day with new horses, new challenges, but new joys too.

EM: Why do you think it's important for Thoroughbred racehorses to have a second career if they can?

AF: Most of these horses love having a job. Many have been at the racetrack for a couple years or more. Every day they have a job to do and they do it. When you take that away from some of them and just turn them out, they really don't know what to do.

It's like taking a business man who works 70 hours a week and dropping him off in the wilderness. The lack of structure alone would be unbearable for him. So here at New Vocations we keep their daily life very structured. We slowly adjust them to turn out, socializing with other horses, and being ridden in an arena. Everything is very new to them so we just take it slow and adjust at the pace they feel comfortable with. Most of them excel with the structure and love having something to do. Even if it is just trail riding or arena work for 15 minutes, they love having a job.

EM: What can we do to try and promote more of these shows?

AF: I would like to see the United States Equestrian or the United States Hunter Jumper Association create some Thoroughbred divisions. If we are able to make changes at the top, then both the rated and unrated shows will add the divisions to their current prize list. To me it seems very simple. We need to get rid of the non-Thoroughbred division and change it to the Thoroughbred Division.

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