Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman
Pittman and Alluring Punch
   As a horse owner, a TDN staffer, and an advocate for horses in need, I follow the story of America’s Thoroughbreds in all disciplines with great interest. With all of the debate and negative media that we face each day, it is a delight to meet people who have original ideas and are out there making a positive difference in the horse world; Retired Racehorse Training Project (RRTP) President Steuart Pittman is one of those people. From his tireless promotion of the retired Thoroughbred racehorse as a sporthorse, to the hours he spends in the saddle expertly putting a foundation on greenies, to the positive impact he’s making on the racing world, Pittman walks the walk.

   The mission of the RRTP is to increase demand for retired Thoroughbred racehorses as pleasure and sporthorses through public events, clinics, training publications, videos and internet tools. On December 1, 2012, four horses (including one former Eclipse Champion) representing four Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred farms embarked on the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s (RRTP) 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge at Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, MD. At the end of their 100-day training period, the horses will be judged by guest riders, judges, and online fans. Please enjoy part 2 of my series about the 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge, an interview with Steuart Pittman.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman
Pittman (left) aboard Alluring Punch and assistant trainer Michelle Warro (right) aboard Suave Jazz
TDN: You had a very busy 2012. What are some of the things that RRTP has done since last year's Trainer Challenge?
   Pittman: We had a Thoroughbreds For All Kentucky event in collaboration with New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program during the Rolex CCI**** in April. Bruce Davidson and Chris McCarron were the top attractions. We also held the Thoroughbreds For All event at Fair Hill, combining a marketplace of horses with education in collaboration with trainers, vets, exercise riders at Fair Hill Training Center and New Bolton Center. We received our first grants from Thoroughbred Charities of America and Maryland Horse Breeders Foundation. Our website had 310,000 page views, our YouTube Channel had 125,000 views, and we have close to 6,000 Facebook fans. Online databases of Trainers, Sources for Horses, Horse Listings, and Bloodline Brag are growing every month. We’ve been covered some 50 times in racing and equestrian media, as well as TV and print mainstream media.

TDN: What are your goals for the RRTP 100-Day Challenge?
   Pittman: To demonstrate to the public that the Thoroughbred racing industry continues to create outstanding riding horses, and to give equestrians a realistic picture of what it looks like to train and ride Thoroughbreds off the track. We want to continue increasing demand for these horses but also give people the tools that they need to succeed with them.

TDN: How is it different from the 2012 RRTP Trainer Challenge?
   Pittman: The Trainer Challenge focused on the methods used by the trainers. The 100 Day Challenge puts the spotlight on the characteristics and trainability of the horses. It was important for us to have each horse represent a major MD or PA Thoroughbred farm. We want the public to associate these great horses with the farms that produced them. Each of these horses has an amazing background that tells a story about an industry that is incredibly valuable to our states.
   The other difference is that all four horses are in one location being trained by the same staff. That allows the public to see just how unique each horse is, even when given the same opportunities. People stereotype ex-racehorses, but the four in this Challenge remind us how each horse is an individual.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman
RRTP's newest stars- from left: Suave Jazz, Gunport, Alluring Punch
TDN: What kind of feedback have you received from the racing world and from the sporthorse world about RRTP?
   Pittman: RRTP does not tell racing people what they should do about their retiring horses. It tells equestrians that they should get over the obsession with warmbloods and rediscover Thoroughbreds who have raced. That is a message that has to come from sporthorse trainers, but it has been fantastic that the racing industry is starting to recognize the value of this strategy. We have presented our programs as models at national conferences hosted by NTRA, The Jockey Club, and the University of Arizona's Global Symposium on Racing and Gaming. The Maryland racing industry has very generously supported our work and helped launch this organization.
   Within the sporthorse world, we get excellent media coverage and have obviously attracted huge numbers of people who are passionate about Thoroughbreds. These people have lacked an organization to rally around and the enthusiasm has amazed me.

TDN: What can racehorse owners do to help their horses successfully transition into a second career?
   Pittman: I know enough people struggling to make it on the backsides of Maryland tracks that I would never preach to them about what they should do. At the same time, it is pretty obvious that if a horse can be sold directly into a second career for at least a few thousand dollars, the pressure to keep running them when they've lost the desire or the soundness to win is less. Owners and trainers need better access to buyers outside of racing so that they can be rewarded financially for retiring their horses sound.
   In some cases, I believe that investing in some second career training is a wise move for owners. A couple thousand dollars of training often translates into a sale price of $5,000 to $10,000 more than for a horse straight off the track. It's hard to stomach investing money in a horse who has already broken your bank, but if the horse is sound and sane, the payback is often there. Make sure that it's a good trainer. Try the RRTP Trainer Directory.
   The best of the nonprofit placement organizations are excellent. You can donate the horse for a tax write-off and some of them have access to trainers who can give the horse the help it needs. To some degree these organizations have stepped in where "horse dealers" walked away from Thoroughbreds. There are, however, still thousands of people who buy, train, and sell horses off the track effectively who are independent of any organization. Accessing them is the problem.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman
Pittman at the PA Horse World Expo in 2012
TDN:  What can we expect in 2013 from RRTP?
   Pittman: We expect to bring our Thoroughbreds For All events to some racetracks. They combine education with a marketplace of retiring horses in a way that can benefit horsemen and create goodwill for the tracks. We also expect to announce a new version of the Trainer Challenge that allows for a much larger number of horses and trainers to participate. And finally, we expect to appear at more of the major horse expos in 2013, starting with the Delaware Horse Expo April 6 and 7.

TDN: Have you noticed any recent trends in Thoroughbred sporthorse pedigrees/breeding?
   Pittman: I used to believe that the industry was breeding fewer big-moving, sound sporthorse types than in the past. I thought that the decline in distances and the pressure to breed two year old winners was shifting the product to smaller, quicker horses who would be less successful for jumping and dressage. I have changed my mind. I keep seeing horses coming off the tracks that I wish I could say I bred for sport. Declan's Moon proves the point. He was the champion of his time and if I were looking for a sporthorse sire to replace my Salutely son, I would clone him.

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