It’s been awhile since I’ve done a retired Thoroughbred spotlight, and when I heard the story of Nikki Egyed’s Flying Cayman, I thought he was a perfect candidate.
Egyed owns and operates a successful riding stable called Silver Shadow Training Services in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Flying Cayman, a 9-year-old chestnut gelding by Fly So Free she acquired off the track at Fairmount Park, is the star of her facility.
Although only 21, Egyed has had many years of experience with off-the-track Thoroughbreds. She grew up in Northern Indiana, where her mother worked on a horse farm. Together, the mother and daughter rescued numerous horses out of “kill pens” in Shipshewana, Ind.
“We lived in an area where (the horses) didn’t have a chance,” said Egyed. “There were always tons of of-the- track Thoroughbreds in the kill pen. So we would retrain and rehab those horses. I had a couple that I showed and then sold and my mom still has some of them.”
After high school, Egyed moved to St. Louis, Mo., where she started a small business training show horses and heard about Fairmount Park’s program for retired Thoroughbreds.
“I decided to pick out two horses from the program and Flying Cayman just stood out to me; he was an overall very attractive horse,” said Egyed. “He takes after his father…he’s very thick. I was looking for a Western horse, and a lot of the horses they had were all hunter types. So I picked him out on a whim, even though he was a little underweight and he has the most horrendous overbite you could ever imagine.”
On the track, Flying Cayman had competed mostly in claiming races and retired from racing with a respectable record of 7-8-8 from 23 starts, for earnings of $49,325. But Egyed soon discovered the gelding had some health issues. He wasn’t up-to-date on vaccinations or veterinary care, and he was slightly malnourished.
After some medical attention, good nutrition, and a little TLC, however, he seemed as good as new. Not long after Egyed acquired Flying Cayman, she decided to move to California with her boyfriend and take the gelding with her.
“We started getting weight on him, and everything just came very easy,” she said. “I never had to go through a huge retraining process. The first night I had him off the track, we drove him an hour west into Missouri, took him into an indoor arena, put a Western saddle on him, and rode him around, and he was very level headed.”
It wasn’t long before Egyed began showing Flying Cayman.
“I thought he might be a nice trail horse because he has a really nice hip on him, which is really hard to find in a Thoroughbred; they’re all shoulder,” she said. “His back legs are too long, though so I thought maybe I’d try him as a hunter. Two weeks into me really starting to ride him, we were in the public arena and they had a sign about a horse show the next day.
“I hadn’t shown in a half a year, and he had no show experience—all he knew was the track and trail riding. He had only trotted a barrel pattern once. We just went in there one day, dove into it head first…we didn’t know what we were doing, but we started winning and by his second show he had a couple of high points (in barrel racing). So he kind of liked that. He liked the running, but it wasn’t such hard work as the track. I watched some of his (racing) videos, and he did have a decent amount of success, but you just knew he wasn’t passionate. But he loved to run and be rewarded, and he got really into (barrel racing).”
Cayman and Nikki Egyed garner many awards at the AQHA open show
Flying Cayman won collective high point (barrel racing) for hunter/jumpers in his first hunter show, and garnered awards for other such disciplines as halter showmanship and barrels and poles. It seemed the gelding’s only weak point was jumping. He had a willing attitude, but didn’t seem to enjoy it, so Egyed decided to focus instead on barrel racing and the other disciplines that involved intense running, Flying Cayman’s favorite activity. “That’s where his heart is,” she explained.
When asked why she preferred Thoroughbreds over other breeds, Egyed said it was largely due to their intelligence.
“I like a horse that can be very athletic, but still has a good mind and is easy to work with,” she said. “(Flying Cayman) isn’t like a horse to me…we get along like best friends; I communicate with him almost like he’s a person.
“I also like the fact (Thoroughbreds) are not the same for every person. There are times I get on Cayman and he’s a hot head lunatic and just wants to run and we have to fight to get things to come together and get his mind in the right place.
“But if I put a kid on his back, he turns into a lazy, forgiving, bum of a horse that drags his feet around the arena. I use him during the week for lessons and I put children as young as 2 on him. Last week we had a child that was autistic come and ride him three days out of the week. He’s an absolute angel for children."
Cayman with a student at Silver Shadow Training Center
Egyed had some valuable advice for others interested in adopting off-the-track Thoroughbreds: “The first thing a person should do is hook up with a reputable trainer,” she said. “I’ve never deterred a beginner away from a Thoroughbred, because I realized when they’re off the track, they’re all different. Some require a lot of retraining. But they can be suitable for a beginner, as long as he or she is under the guidance of someone that can help them.
A student at Silver Shadow Training gives Flying Cayman a bath
“I sold another one of my former racehorses to one of my students, and she wasn’t experienced with off-the-track Thoroughbreds," said Egyed. "But I knew she was going to give him the proper training and take lessons with him, so I felt comfortable selling him to her, because I knew they could learn together. Thoroughbreds are really eager to partner up. This particular gelding was fresh off the track—he was 4, but while she was getting him rehabbed, they built a wonderful relationship, and now they’re training together and learning together.”
Cayman pole bending at a show
Egyed’s goals for the future with Flying Cayman include continuing to move forward in his preferred discipline of barrel racing.
“Last winter, we went head first into everything, but we didn’t have a chance to go about it and do it right…we were just winging it,” she explained. “This year, I moved into a place where I have a bigger facility for training, and I’d just like to see him excel at barrel racing…that seems to be what he likes.
“There’s an excitement about him when he gets out there and I’ve had a lot of people say when they see him running for home after a barrel run, his face shows that this is what he wants to do. If he doesn’t turn out to be a big money barrel horse, that’s okay. We’ll just stay local and have fun and trail ride.”
Visit the website of Egyed’s stable, Silver Shadow Training Services, at www.silvershadowtraining.com.