By Susan Friedland-Smith
What could be a better way to end an exciting day of watching Rolex Kentucky CCI**** dressage at the Kentucky Horse Park than heading to an idyllic horse farm in Lexington for a celebration of Thoroughbreds?
I went to Rolex with the Sidelines crew in April and had the chance to do just that by attending the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program and Retired Racehorse Project’s annual Thoroughbreds For All event — an ex-racehorse showcase held to celebrate the athletic ability of Thoroughbreds in second careers.
The two ex-racehorse organizations threw a country-style barbeque party at West Wind Farm with hundreds of Thoroughbred fans in attendance to enjoy a perfect spring evening in the bluegrass with horse talk around the tables on the lawn, and demonstrations featuring off-the-track Thoroughbreds in the arena.
As the owner of an ex-racehorse, Tiz A Knight, it was fun spending the evening mingling with like-minded horse folk. Although I found Knight last summer through word of mouth, he’d been featured on the Retired Racehorse Project’s sales listing website. In addition, since “liking” New Vocations’ Facebook page a couple of years ago, there has been a steady stream of equine eye candy greeting me on social media. The April event was a chance to connect in person with two groups of which I was already a fan.
Once the guests had eaten and socialized, the showcase began. First, Reese Koffler-Stanfield, a United States Dressage Federation Certified Instructor/Trainer and co-host of Horses in the Morning’s dressage radio show, gave a mini-clinic to New Vocations’ “graduates.” Dr. Jill Stowe rode her strapping dark bay gelding, Dundee, and Julie Hall rode Monopolize. Julie is training her bay gelding, Monopolize, for eventing; the pair will participate in the Thoroughbred Makeover competition at the Kentucky Horse Park October 23–25.
Next, Rolex competitor Laine Ashker and her mom, Valerie Ashker, coached two more Thoroughbred Makeover participants both on the flat and over a gymnastic. Emily Daignault-Salvaggio rode Gin Joint, her dapple gray gelding, and Jordan Pruiksma rode Fullback, her bay gelding. Because of Laine’s partnership and accomplishments with her off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding and Rolex horse, Anthony Patch, she received special recognition from the Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program during the evening’s festivities.
The grand finale — and clinician with the best accent — Dan James demonstrated his liberty training techniques with a pair of palominos. The 2014 Kentucky Reining Cup winner and natural horsemanship trainer from Australia jokingly referred to his golden horses with wavy flaxen tails as the only blondes who would pay any attention to him. With the flick of a whip in the air, he had the matching team literally trotting circles around him and then changing direction. The most adorable maneuver was when he had one of the horses sit like a dog while he leaned onto its back as if he were reclining in a comfy chair.
Afterwards, the cowboy worked with New Vocations’ adoptable bay gelding, One Brave Warrior, whose name proved true. In the span of just a few minutes, Dan had trained the horse to stand quietly and not fuss while a lunge whip was swung and snapped nearby. Those of us in the audience got to be part of the training by clapping on a cue so that One Brave Warrior learned the loud noise of a crowd was nothing to be concerned about.
Attendees could get up close and personal with the potential Thoroughbred of their dreams during the event and talk to various trainers to have their questions answered. Since I already had my ex-racehorse waiting for me back home in California, I settled on buying a T-shirt, visor and zip-up jacket to support the cause. There’s just no way I could’ve squeezed one of the handsome geldings into my suitcase, and I wasn’t sure how Knight and my husband would feel about that anyway.
About the writer: Susan Friedland-Smith, a middle school history teacher who has been horse-crazy since girlhood, lives in North Tustin, California, with her budding equestrian husband, golden retriever and Doberman. Knight, the ex-racehorse, has recently joined the family and is the main character of Susan’s blog, Saddle Seeks Horse, which chronicles her amateur adventures of balancing a green rider hubby and green horse. Follow her blog at susanfriedlandsmith.com for all things OTTB, or see what’s up on Twitter and Instagram @susanwordlover.
Photos by Trinity Allan