Monday, February 25, 2013

Retired Racehorse Training Project's 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Finale in Photos

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. Fans had the opportunity to see the horses in person at the Maryland Horse World Expo in January and also at the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo in February. At the end of their 100-day training period, the horses were judged on conformation, movement, jumping ability, and trainability by guest riders, judges, and online fans. As the Thoroughbred Challenge unfolded, Sarah Andrew chronicled the horses’ progress. Please enjoy part 9 of this series. 
Suave Jazz and young fans at the PA Horse World Expo
The wait is over, and so is the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo. Hooves were polished, manes were braided, and tack was cleaned. Fans cast their votes, and judges tallied their scores. A standing-room-only crowd of about 2,500 cheered them on. Here are the results of the 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge:

Best suited for dressage: Declan's Moon
Best suited for foxhunter and trail: Suave Jazz
Best suited for show hunter: Gunport
Best suited for show jumper: Alluring Punch
Best suited for eventer: Alluring Punch
The horse you'd most like to own: Alluring Punch

In an attempt to cover some of the excitement of the weekend, here is a photo gallery of he horses and some of the humans who played a part in the success of the weekend in Harrisburg:
Katie Klenk and Suave Jazz at the PA Horse World Expo
I'll let you in on a secret... my vote for horse I'd like to own went to Suave Jazz. I voted for him because he seems like the kind of horse you can take anywhere and would be game for any adventure, from a horse show to a trail ride to sorting cattle. 

Suave Jazz showed intelligence, trainability, and nerves of steel all weekend long. He negotiated the "hockey rink" Large Arena and noisy Equine Arena, navigated the maze of corridors and stalls behind the scenes, handled the large crowd on Saturday, and also played the role of lead pony in all the sessions. 

More than once, I heard riders say, "Where's Suave Jazz?" and "Bring him over to Suave Jazz," and "Suave Jazz will help them settle." Gunport, Alluring Punch, and Declan's Moon all settled in the company of their cool, calm, collected friend, Suave Jazz. But when it was time to perform, he was all heart, nimbly cantering through grids and showing off his lovely flatwork. Rider Katie Klenk handled her role as leader with style, and they were always the first to enter an arena, jump a line, or meet a new challenge.
Suave Jazz plays the role of lead pony and helps Gunport settle her nerves at the PA Horse World ExpoSuave Jazz and Katie Klenk at the PA Horse World Expo
Suave Jazz and Katie Klenk at the PA Horse World Expo
Knees up, neck arched, pretty little Gunport overcame her jitters and settled into her routine on Friday during a jumping session hosted by Steuart Pittman. Michelle Warro handled the mare with surgical precision and her instincts were perfect; she knew just when to encourage her to go forward and when to let her relax. Most importantly, Warro kept the mare moving and helped her focus on tasks, from flatwork to jumping.
Gunport and Michelle Warro at the PA Horse World Expo
On Saturday, Gunport was more nervous than she was in her Friday session. None of the horses had seen the Equine Arena before then, and they did their first-ever warmups in that ring in front of 2,500 people. Before she had a rider in the saddle, Gunport jigged and sweated. Her pal Suave Jazz and her excellent rider helped her to focus. The tempo of her gaits slowed as she settled, she remembered all her stretching exercises, and reached for the bit. By the end of the session, she was still hot and keyed up, but she was focused and forward. She attacked every jump with enthusiasm and style. And that canter of hers! It's lovely... round, light, and rhythmic.

Gunport got my vote for her suitability as an eventer. With a trainer like Warro, she will learn how to handle her jitters and slow down her feet, and I really like how she jumps. She is a generous horse, and her catlike agility could easily get her out of a tight spot to a fence.
Gunport and Michelle Warro at the PA Horse World Expo
Gunport and Michelle Warro at the PA Horse World Expo
Michelle Warro and Gunport at the PA Horse World Expo
Like Gunport, Declan's Moon was visibly rattled by Saturday's atmosphere. In their former careers on the track, Gunport and Alluring Punch never raced at tracks with huge crowds, but Suave Jazz and Declan's Moon both raced in front of thousands on their biggest days.

In his braids and white polo wraps, Declan's Moon looked every bit the part of a dressage horse. As he warmed up and listened to his rider, Steuart Pittman, he lost the nervous edge and began to show off a little of his spectacular gaits for the audience. Pittman also rode with calculated brilliance, and was able to engage the crowd with insightful training details while handling a powerful and opinionated horse at the same time.   
Steuart Pittman and Declan's Moon at the PA Horse World Expo
Declan's Moon at the PA Horse World Expo
Declan's Moon and Steuart Pittman at the PA Horse World Expo
Declan's Moon at the PA Horse World Expo
Steuart Pittman and Declan's Moon at the PA Horse World Expo
I should change Alluring Punch's TDN nickname from "The Kid" to "Mr. Popularity." He won three voting categories, and had an enthusiastic fan club and cheering section during Saturday's session. Each time I visited this year's RRTP class of horses, I ended up with a new favorite, and I saw Alluring Punch's appeal at the Maryland Horse World Expo, when he was unsure of what to do, but gamely listened to his rider and handlers. And watching how he handled his free jumping only made me like him more. 
Steuart Pittman and Alluring Punch at the PA Horse World Expo
I saw some uncertainty this weekend in Harrisburg, and "Punchy's" outstanding support team helped him figure things out. Chiantel Beaumont gave him confidence when she worked with him in the arenas and in the barn- his concern changed to curiosity and relaxation.
Alluring Punch and Chiantel Beaumont
In Harrisburg, I saw a new focus in the way Alluring Punch worked. He was more sure of his abilities.  Under saddle, Steuart Pittman showed him how to use that lofty canter and powerful hind end to jump a line of fences. The tall chestnut has blossomed in just a few months, and the sky is the limit with him. 
Steuart Pittman and Alluring Punch at the PA Horse World Expo
Steuart Pittman and Alluring Punch at the PA Horse World Expo
Alluring Punch and Steuart Pittman at the PA Horse World Expo
On Saturday evening, I got to see Solidify, an RRTP graduate of last year's Trainer Challenge. I recognized his beautiful canter and jump, which has only improved with the quality training and riding he has received for the past year.  He and his talented rider have a bright future ahead of them.
RRTP Alum Solidify at the PA Horse World Expo
Pictured below are Donnan Jones, Steuart Pittman, Nick Karazissis, and Bev Strauss. Thank you to all the judges, volunteers, fans, staff, trainers, and horses for making this year's challenge a huge success. If you'd like to support this effort and meet the horses, you can buy tickets for the graduation ceremony on March 9 in Maryland at Caves Farm. Click here for details:
Donnan Jones, Steuart Pittman, Nick Karazissis, and Bev Strauss

- Sarah Andrew

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