Catching a Falling Star

Today, I bring you the story of the up-and-coming off track Thoroughbred-turned show horse Constant Star, as told to me by Kimberly Clark:

In December 2009, Constant Star was a 2-year-old filly who had two unplaced efforts at Charles Town and Laurel Park and meager earnings of $280. As the promise of having a successful career on the racetrack quickly faded, her future became uncertain.

In hopes Constant Star could find a new purpose, her trainer contacted a Maryland-based organization called Thoroughbred Placement Resources to try and find her a home. The filly was eventually adopted by an older woman who had considerable experience with retired racehorses and called Constant Star her "dream horse.”

While Star was talented, athletic, and precocious, her spirited temperament proved to be more than her new owner could handle. The mare was loved and cared for, but her training wasn't going well. So, in the fall of 2011, two years after the adoption, her owner contacted TPR again and asked for help in re-homing Star.

Space is always limited at Leighton Farm near Upper Marlboro, Md., the training center for TPR. The average wait list to get into the farm is about 30 horses. Many will never get in and sadly, some will never have a future.

“It's always difficult to decide which horses will come here,” said Kimberly Clark, president and founder of TPR, who accepted Constant Star back into the program due to her special qualities. “Normally it comes down to two classes: horses that can be sold to support TPR since there is no retirement program for Maryland's racehorses, and horses that have special needs. A horse with a training problem is a priority here because they are on the wrong path. Oftentimes horses like that eventually end up in a kill pen as they are passed from one person to another.”

TPR is one of the many organizations that have been developed in recent years to assist Thoroughbreds in finding appropriate and responsible placement after their time on the race track has ended. One thing that sets the organization apart from other placement programs is that it is a vehicle for Thoroughbred horsemen to take responsibility for their own retiring racehorses.

“What is happening is a cooperative effort on the backstretch by owners and trainers to get their horses into the best possible hands," said Clark. "Too many times the responsibility falls on people outside the industry, when it should be borne primarily by us, with their support."

The horses at Leighton Farm enter a training program developed by Clark and Elizabeth Madlener, a grand prix dressage coach, judge, and rider. The program takes advantage of the training and skills a racehorse already possesses.

“Most of the time in ‘problem horses,’ it’s not the horse that is the problem,” explained Clark, who began training Constant Star to jump at the end of last year. “It's the handling and training (or lack thereof) that is creating the issues. In Star's case, it wasn't long before I knew she was very special. She just needed a job and routine on which she could depend."

Constant Star, all photos courtesy of Thoroughbred Placement Resources

Constant Star's pedigree is not all too different from this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner  I’ll Have Another. The little mare, sired by Fantasticat and out of the Diazo mare Risentothestars, was born in Maryland without the intention of ever seeing a jump. Like I’ll Have Another, Constant Star has Northern Dancer on both the sire and dam side of her pedigree. They also share Alydar and Raise A Native as distant relatives.

“I was intrigued by Constant Star not long after I started putting her to the jumps," said Clark. "I decided to take her to David Loman, my hunter/jumper trainer and he agreed this was a special mare. By December, I was also taking her to work with (Olympic rider-turned-trainer) Jim Wofford.”

Star competed in jumper and dressage shows over the next few months and won both classes at her first dressage show. With each new outing, she rose to the challenge and continued to progress.

Constant Star, enjoying a free jump

Due to Star’s advancement, Clark decided to nominate the filly to the Breeder's Bridge Contest and the mare was selected out of 140 entries.

The contest, which is the brain child of John and Beezie Madden, has a goal of cultivating and promoting North American-bred sport horses, including ex-racehorses looking for new careers.

In order to enter the contest, one must submit a video and written description of the nominated horse. Selected horses receive three months of free training and board at John Madden Sales in Cazenovia, N.Y., where they will be ridden and brought along by up-and-coming grand prix rider Callie Schott.

“The Maddens feel we have some spectacular breeders here in North America and there's no reason the next top grand prix horse can't come from one of them,” said Clark.

Pictured left to right - Kimberly Clark (owner), David Loman, Susanna Baskin, Callie Schott, Constant Star, Erin Root, and Maddie the dog.

The Maddens train, sell, and compete prominent equestrian athletes in the sport of show jumping. Accomplishments include two team Olympic Gold medals and an individual Bronze, as well as World Equestrian Games individual silver. They have also conditioned and been instrumental in the development of many current top riders and trainers.

“Star's selection as one of the winners is not just an opportunity to show her amazing talent and potential,” said Clark. “It enables Star to represent the incredible potential of ‘Made in America’ horses and emphasizes the athleticism, intelligence, and work ethic of the Thoroughbred.”

Clark said many of the negative discussions she overheard before the contest and after the results were announced illustrated how many people underestimate the talent and athleticism of the Thoroughbred. “I don't understand this, considering all of the successful Thoroughbreds involved in equestrian sports,” she said.

“I know of no other breed that is present and successful in as wide a variety of equine disciplines," she continued. "Thoroughbreds participate in endurance riding, show jumping, hunters, fox hunting, eventing, dressage, polo, stage coach racing, regular racing, trail/pleasure, and more. There are countless registries that seek Thoroughbred blood in their breeds, including most Warmbloods.

“In my experience many of the problems associated with Thoroughbreds are due to misinformation and lack of understanding of the breed. In the case of the off track Thoroughbred (OTTB), its lack of knowledge of their prior training and handling−basically their foundation is the cause of most of the problems encountered by sport and pleasure owners."

Clark noted how Constant Star’s off-the-track achievements are unusual for a Maryland-based Thoroughbred since the state does not have a retirement program.

Thoroughbred Placement Resources
not only facilitates the placement of an average 150 horses per year, most which are Maryland-based racehorses, but also assists if the placement isn't working out.   

“In essence this organization was able to catch this ‘falling star,’ ” said Clark of Constant Star. “Horses that leave the track are filled with potential and have so much to offer the show and pleasure world. As the Maddens are illustrating through this contest, you don't have to look overseas to find your next star; he or she is likely waiting for you on a farm located here in the United States or even at your nearby racetrack.”

“You just never know where your next Olympic horse will come from," added Beezie Madden, a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist. "John and I believe in the greatness of the American Thoroughbred and the breeders here in North America. I applaud all the owners and trainers who have been involved in Constant Star’s short life. They recognized a good horse and she was placed in the right situations when her first career didn’t materialize. She was given the chance to excel at something else."

Added John Madden: “It was important to Beezie and I to do something to showcase and support the strength of pedigrees we have here at home. In the sport of show jumping many athletes forego sourcing prospects here in North America as there is a greater volume of horses in a more condensed area in Europe.” 

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I would love to hear your thoughts on Constant Star's story...What do you think we can do to raise more awareness for the value and potential of ex-racehorses on the show circuit? 

 

Constant Star

13 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Stellar Jayne

This is a wonderful story.  Thank goodness for Clark and Loman recognizing how special she is.  I'm so happy that the Madden's chose her.  Patience and understanding is key for a horse that was trained strictly for racing.  If more people would educate themselves regarding the intense training and restricted lives thoroughbreds must endure and live they'd probably have more success with them. They should visit some of the training facilities to educate themselves as what the weanlings and yearlings must endue while still in their babyhood.  Also, they need down time when they come off the track.

Why does Maryland not have protections for thoroughbreds coming off the track??  

06 Jul 2012 12:59 AM
Cassandra.Says

I've been baffled since I began hearing "scopier" about warmbloods. Does it not take 'scope' to jump the Grand National course? How much scopier can you get? Watching international show jumping on TV, I once saw a horse idly drop a hind leg down in the middle of a spread. "Can't be a TB" was my instant reaction.

It would be helpful to see a top international horse come off the racetrack, and maybe prospects could be found among 2-year-olds being regarded glumly by their trainers and thought "too big to race." It would be nice to get some before they went through the grinder.

Perhaps someone could do articles for horse magazines on talent testing horses for jumping -- for example, how to make and use cavalettis, definition of bascule, how to evaluate a free jump.

A note on pedigree experts: find one who predicted the impact Northern Dancer would have on jumping and chasing. Stumped? Me too.

06 Jul 2012 1:28 AM
Kate Corcoran

Snowbound, Untouchable, Idle Dice, Jet Run, Touch of Class, For the Moment... Constant Star? Maybe! This was an inspiring article and the Maddens are doing a great service to our wonderful Thoroughbreds - the best breed in the world!  It would be great if some of the jumper-focused magazines (like the Chronicle of the Horse) would publish your story and let folks know you don't have to fly to Europe and spend a fortune for a talented, competitive jumper! Great story! Kudos to all involved, and to Ms. Marr for bringing it to us!!!

06 Jul 2012 6:57 AM
smartydeb

Great story!  I've seen Beezie Madden ride at Devon many times and never knew she was involved in this type of work.  Stories like this one need to be sent to mainstream media, like the NY Times, which has been trashing thoroughbred racing on a pretty regular basis.  Yes, there are problems, but there are good stories too.  This girl is stunning and it is great that she found a new job that she loves!

06 Jul 2012 7:48 AM
TripleCrownKaren

BRAVO!  To Miss Clark and the Maddens for unveiling a NEW show ring star!   I am in my 50's and wehn I had just started riding back in my home state of NJ in the '70's it was a common practice for show trainers to seek out OTTB's for retraining for the show ring.   Then all of a sudden we (Americans) became enamored of the EUROPEAN horses.   Well guess what!   The United States has horses the rest of the world WISHES they had!   A large part of the unsuccessful Race horse could be solved by more trainers with regular show ring and lesson clients going BACK to the way it was!   The OTTB's are WAY more affordable than importing another country's "culls"....becasue if you think they are selling us their BEST horses you are living in a fantasy land.   The average OTTB is within reach of the average rider's pocketbook.    And right now the fastest growing segment of the Riding population is the Baby Boomer who now has the TIME & the money to chase that childhood dream of "their own" horse.    I started my riding career on TB's and they are HARD workers and have more TRY than alot of the Warmbloods that current "fashion".  The fact that they are more sensitive is a plus, since you are on a horse that can CARRY itself as opposed to the rider feeling like they are constantly pushing the horse to go forward.    For Dressage and/or Jumping .....I'll take a well trained Thoroughbred every time.     Let's STOP this nonsense of always thinking Europe has better horses.....it's time we support the AMERICAN breeders and give these horses a SECOND chnace at LIFE!

06 Jul 2012 8:34 AM
Tory Chapman

There is a huge educational gap between dealing with racehorses as opposed to show horses. The vast majority of today's recreational riders have neither the open mind or courage to even consider the thoroughbred.  People who have experience in both disciplines are the real hope for these horses to have success.

06 Jul 2012 12:32 PM
chryal

Hello,

Love this story, when I was growing up on the east coast it was a given that thoroughbreds were extremely athletic. They reigned in jumpers and hunters, ALL of my show horses were ex-racehorses. Yes, the warmblood community uses thoroughbred stock that pass their testing criteria to improve the breeds.

I have 2 rescues I'm interested in now, for upper level dressage and some eventing (they really shine here)one is off the track the other is 1/2 thoroughbred. Please keep up the good work!

07 Jul 2012 2:55 AM
JoyJackson21

What an inspirational story!  I am now officially a fan of Constant Star.  She was very fortunate that she had owners and people who loved her and wanted to help her as much as possible find a new niche in which she could excel.  Thank you Kimberly Clark, and to the Maddens, for opening the horizons for this wonderful horse.  The course of Constant Star's life has been completely changed for the better.  

I found it interesting how many common relatives Constant Star has with my favorite champion 3 year old thoroughbred, I'll Have Another.  Sadly, there seems to be a prejudice against horses with their type of breeding.  I'll Have Another is a ringing endorsement against such prejudice in thoroughbred racing (and eventually in the breeding arena as well), and Constant Star is becoming a ringing endorsement against such prejudice in the equestrian world.  Go Constant Star!

Thoroughbred Placement Resources is a wonderful organization, and I thank the author of this article for bringing my attention to their worthy endeavors.  And good luck to the Maddens and Constant Star.  I support each of you.

In answer to your question about how to get the word out about this cause, I believe you should run this article in all of the top show jumping and dressage magazines.  You might want to get a widely-read powerhouse to run a story on Constant Star as well, highlighting the need to help thoroughbreds find new careers.  Time Magazine, major newspapers like the New York and Los Angeles Times, or the Chicago Tribune would be of great help.  Using social media to spread the word would help as well.  Set up Facebook and Twitter pages for Constant Star, tell her story over these venues through constant tweeting/messaging, then put out information on how the thoroughbred is perfect for these new careers and how the public can help this to happen.  Also put up a couple of videos of Constant Star in competition and telling her story on YouTube, then use social media to send out clips of her videos.  Television can be used by tying in her story to the Olympics coming up.  That would generate special interest pieces on evening news programs, Good Morning America, Today, etc., and on smaller entities, like Inside Edition.  You might try talk shows like Ellen or Live With Kelly.  Kelly Ripa is always discussing special interest items on her show.  This story might be a natural fit for her audience.

And it would be nice if Maryland started a retirement program for their thoroughbred horses.  It saddened me to learn that Maryland bred and raced horse don't have another option available to them once their racing careers have ended.  That is a shame.  That oversight needs to be addressed and taken care of as soon as possible.  Not all horses are as lucky as Constant Star has been.  These horses need a chance for a good life once their racing days are over as well.  Maryland, get cracking on solving this problem!

07 Jul 2012 12:28 PM
Linda in Texas

Esther - your latest co written article about the mares from Asmussen's Farm represent the reason i read everything i can. I have been to Round Rock. I drive by it on the way to San Antonio for visits with my sister in law.  

I know well the dearth of mankind that frequents that place that is well known. I would never have expected Steve Asmussen to knowingly allow his mares to go there. But you cannot tell me that arriving with papers,

someone did not know where they were steering the wheel of the transport van to. And where it was going. Where else would they have been going? In the front door out of the back. Just accidentally got discovered or they would have been gone. Regardless of where his families other farm is near the Mexican border.

12 Jul 2012 3:04 PM
Linda in Texas

The Kill Buyers end up with the papers when they buy the horses.

And I believe that horses have to have papers when they cross into Mexico now. Don't quote me. But nevertheless kill buyers end up with thoroughbred horses and they tell the rescue people that they have identifiable tatoos in their mouths and then produce the papers. That happens all the time.

A daughter of Seattle Slew, with an unborn foal. And others in foal by Intimidator.  

If i am a bleeding heart i am proud of it. This rescue group needs to be on the donation list.

I will reserve the right to be corrected if i am wrong. I sure as heck hope i am.

There is a sale everyday in Texas someplace. Just in my 15 to 20 county area, i can tell you the sale day of every county. If you want to get involved, check the sale days in your surrounding counties.

Thank you Esther Marr and Mr. Mitchell.

There are racetracks that will not allow trainers to race thorough bred horses if it is found out they are sending them to slaughter.

No these are not racing. But they are thoroughbreds. I would say that Seattle Slew's 17 year old daughter Luxury of Time and all of the other's are Thoroughbreds or they wouldn't be broodmares. It does not matter, what matters is that they don't deserve to be served on dinner plates. Deborah Jones and Donna Keen's are the unsung heroes of the sport along with Mr. John R. Murrell who put up

the $4,355 to save them. Thank you all.

Linda

12 Jul 2012 8:36 PM
Cassandra.Says

That's not fair, Linda. Asmussen didn't say he didn't know where they were going, he said he didn't know it was frequented by meat buyers.

He was likely trying to increase the number of foals on the ground and on the racetrack sired by his stallion. Many small breeders who are not getting outside mares buy extra mares and resell after breeding to their stud.

It seems more likely than a buyer selling well-bred healthy in-foal mares for meat. What would he gain? He'd lose the promotional value of those foals.

12 Jul 2012 9:30 PM
Cassandra.Says

Further to the above, I have looked around and find that the stallion to which most of these mares were bred has a $1500 stud fee and seems to be worth it, but also is, as I speculated, hurting for numbers, having had a total of 27 foals in his first two crops, several of which are stakes horses. He has a world class pedigree, being by great sire of sires Gone West from a top race mare from a spectacular family.

Nobody would expect a decent mare in foal to him to go at meat prices. Old empty mares two years or more barren . . . maybe.

Before you make ugly accusations you might want to pin it down a bit better. Meat buyers attend the Keeneland sales. Their attendance at a sale does not make it the equivalent of the front gate of a slaugherhouse. Were meat buyers the underbidders on these mares? Were the mares purchased in open bidding at the sale? What is the price that meat buyers pay for a broodmare?

I have no philosophical objection to horses being eaten -- the horse sports place heavy footprints on a hungry planet. The problem is the barbaric conditions of their slaughter and I hope TB rescuers devotes some energy to rules for transport and slaughter, on behalf of TBs and their less pedigreed cousins as well.

The first thing that springs to my mind at the word slaughterhouse is a once-loved, outgrown pony with neglected feet.

12 Jul 2012 10:46 PM
graciegirl

OMG!!! After all of our great horses? Man o' War, Secretariat? Come on, these thoroughbreds are a miracle! We have the stock, give them a chance, they served and deserve! We all should be ashamed to not be proactive in helping this fine animals find productive lives and not land on a Japanese dinner plate. Great story!!! We need more TV, more promotion and more people supporting the industry. The unscrupulous need not apply!

28 Jul 2012 3:28 PM

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