Thursday, January 26, 2012

Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge: Day Two

- Sarah Andrew

You can read about Day One on the TDN Blog (click here).

Day Two of the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge at last weekend’s Maryland Horse World Expo drew a much larger crowd than the first day. Three Thoroughbreds were led, tacked up, into the brightly lit Cow Palace Arena. Four X The Trouble regarded the bleachers, food stands, sound system, and running children carefully with a cocked head and bright eyes.

For the benefit of the folks who were not able to attend Friday’s evaluation and introduction to the Retired Racehorse Training Program (RRTP) and the Trainer Challenge, president Steuart Pittman went over the rules and introduced the participating trainers and horses.

Noticeably absent from Saturday’s activities was High Level, the versatile chestnut chosen by trainer Tiffany Catledge. Steuart Pittman announced that High Level had developed a stone bruise. While he healed, Catledge would work with the alternate, Solidify, the tall dark bay gelding from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue.

In order to maintain an authentic training experience, none of the horses in the Challenge were allowed to be ridden since they retired from the track. With the exception of one brief under-saddle evaluation to check for physical issues, these horses had been turned out since their retirement.

At the Expo, Pittman explained, “I told [the trainers] they could sleep in the stalls with the horses if they wanted to, to bond with them, but they couldn’t get on them. Tiffany asked, ‘Can we just get on them once just to make sure it’s OK?’ and I said, ‘No, I want this to be as real as possible.’ ”

And real it was. Eric Dierks was in the saddle on the dapple grey mare, Brazilian Wedding, before Pittman completed his introduction. Bitted in a loose-ring snaffle with no martingale and wearing brushing boots on her legs, the mare walked around the ring in both directions, with one ear on her rider and one ear on the crowd.

Tiffany Catledge let Solidify feel the weight of a rider by standing in the left stirrup and leaning on the saddle before she swung her right leg over his back. True to his Fonzie-esque attitude, the 6-year-old gelding was just as cool on Saturday as he was on Friday. Catledge settled lightly into the saddle and walked on. Solidify was fitted with a D-ring snaffle, brushing boots, training yoke (minus the martingale attachment), and a smart-looking bridle, generously donated by the folks at Five Star Tack.

Once Kerry Blackmer gently mounted up, Four X The Trouble prowled the arena, neck still turned toward the crowd. He sported a baucher bit, polo wraps, and a simple breastplate. Blackmer allowed him to check out his surroundings while she maintained soft contact on the reins.

The riders asked their horses to trot, and the horses responded with sensitivity and intelligence. Brazilian Wedding was the first to relax into a soft, huntery trot. While she was understandably tense through the back and neck, her responsiveness and trust in her rider was impressive. With training and suppling exercises, her gaits will only get better.

Four X The Trouble seemed to improve with work. Once he was given a task, he looked less at the crowd and focused more on his rider. Solidify was tense at the beginning of his trot work, but he lengthened his stride and relaxed his topline a bit after a short amount of time.

The arena was small, less than 60’ x 120’. Pittman upped the ante when he asked the trainers to canter their horses. One by one, each horse cantered around the arena. The stereotype that an ex-racehorse is unable to pick up both leads was put to rest by all three of these versatile equine athletes, who each picked up left and right leads on the first attempt.

My favorite part of the session was seeing the grins of the riders and the crowd. With each challenge, the riders beamed at their game horses. The skill and talent of these riders was inspiring. Each rider struck a delicate balance with hand and leg. Some of the horses were more comfortable with a little more rein contact and leg, and some were happier with less. Blackmer’s balance in the saddle helped her with Four X The Trouble’s canter. She sat in a half seat, heels flexed, and maintained contact with his mouth for guidance. Catledge used a little more leg on Solidify and let him have a little slack in the rein. Brazilian Wedding struck up a nice rhythm with her canter as Dierks grinned from ear to ear.

The session was a tremendous success for all the horses and trainers. The riders dismounted, gave their horses pats on the necks, and walked them in hand for a few minutes as the judges asked questions about their rides. Trainers, owners, judges, and spectators were all delighted, and I for one can’t wait to see the progress these horses will have made in five weeks.

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1 comment:

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