Steuart Pittman talking at the 2013 Thoroughbreds For All event that the Retired Racehorse Project co-hosts with New Vocations every year. (Photo by Melissa Buaer-Herzog)
When Steuart Pittman and a group of his friends organized the Retired Racehorse Training Symposium in 2009, they were thrilled with its popularity and moved to do more.
With a background in the Thoroughbred industry and recognizing that the breed was being left behind when it came to promotion, Pittman formed the Retired Racehorse Training Project (now known as the Retired Racehorse Project) with that same group of friends a year later in order to educate fans about retired racehorse retraining and aftercare.
“I came at this from the perspective of a trainer and instructor on the riding side of the horse world. I grew up on Thoroughbreds, and after decades of training, teaching and breeding with all kinds of horses, [I] came to the conclusion that Thoroughbreds ex-racehorses were being devalued and denigrated while other breeds were being marketed and promoted,” Pittman said.
“My most successful students were riding [off-the-track Thoroughbreds] and my most successful horses were off the track. I had a background as a community organizer and decided to employ those skills to bring the riding community back to Thoroughbreds. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
The project already had a successful base for its marketing by using the same strategy the founders used to bring people to the symposium, and while the marketing efforts grew with the project, the strategy behind it did not change.
THE 2014 THOROUGHBREDS FOR ALL EVENT
One of the major moves the project has made is to allow fans to get to know the horses involved in the various training competitions it holds via blogs and videos. This allows fans to vote on their favorites and makes the competition more interactive.
Due to this and other factors, the project has been so successful that it has been able to add people to the marketing team. With the marketing team’s help, the project has gained more than 26,000 Facebook fans since the first of the year.
As the program evolved, it turned into more than just a training project and recently program changed its name to the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP).
However, that isn’t the only change the program made.
“We launched a new website this month that allows us to offer much more educational content and a resource directory that maps racetracks, nonprofit placement organizations, and service providers that move horses into second careers,” Pittman said. “Entry portals for racing owners, horse shoppers and OTTB owners sort the mass of information so that each group finds what they need quickly. The resource directory content will be growing during the coming six weeks, and then 10,000 spiral-bound copies will be printed and distributed through racetracks and equestrian venues throughout North America.”
The program currently is preparing for its 2014 National Symposium at Pimlico Race Course on October 4-5. While attendees will see some of the same things as previous years, there will also be some additions.
RRP 100-DAY THOROUGHBRED CHALLENGE PARTICIPANT GUNPOINT
Photo by Sarah Andrew
The symposium’s main feature this year will be the “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred” with 10 different teams showing off Thoroughbreds trained in 10 different disciplines. The symposium will also have a marketplace where horses will be available for sale and adoption.
“The marketplace will include 50-100 horses presented by nonprofit and private sellers, some with second-career training and others still racing fit. Each will be catalogued online, be evaluated by a veterinarian upon arrival, and appear for a brief demonstration in the arena. Buyers and adopters can visit the horses all weekend and make deals without the pressure of an auction.” Pittman said.
“America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred will feature 10 teams representing 10 riding disciplines and 10 racing partners. Each team will be covered on the RRP website with videos, photos and blogs, and all will appear at Pimlico. The weekend is truly a national gathering of the people who transition these horses. The sponsor fair will be expanded and the stabling area will include its own series of educational sessions. There is no better place to be on October 4-5 if you love Thoroughbred horses.”
Pittman has seen the popularity of Thoroughbreds grow since the Retired Racehorse Project started. In 2011, Pittman presented a report at the NTRA Educational Seminar at Keeneland titled “Expanding The Market For Ex-Racehorses”. Looking back on that report, he is thrilled with how far the industry has come with different organizations jumping in to help the popularity of the breed.
AKINDALE'S STUD MUFFIN AND HIS FAN CLUB AT THE 2013 RRP MAKEOVER
Photo by the Retired Racehorse Project
Additionally, the racing industry and those outside of the industry have embraced RRP and assisted in providing a lot of the program’s funding.
“The racing industry does more for its horses after they retire than any other breed or horse sport, and The Jockey Club, NTRA, Maryland Horse Breeders Association and others have been very receptive to our work. Thoroughbred Charities of America recognized the value of RRP’s work from the beginning and awarded us its Industry Service Award this year. Many Thoroughbred farms and partnerships have also supported us,” he said.
“Much of RRPs financial support comes from sponsors outside racing. … We have also found that the associations representing the sports where Thoroughbreds excel are very supportive. They want these Thoroughbred owners to choose their sports. Our website has a new second careers menu where news from each sport is found.”
For those wondering if the Thoroughbred is the breed for them, Pittman sees many perks for any owner who wants to learn more about riding and have a horse who is easy to train.
“The flight instinct bred into them is the foundation of their trainability. They respond to pressure and their minds are quick,” he said. “Good riders learn tact, and Thoroughbreds teach it. No other breed has excelled in so many riding disciplines. Thoroughbreds that raced successfully have proven that they can stay sound under the pressure of speed [and] they tend to be sounder horses than the heavier European warmblood breeds.”
PITTMAN LECTURING AT THE 2013 VIRGINIA HORSE EXPO DURING THE RRP'S SEGMENT
Photo by the Retired Racehorse Project
The new Retired Racehorse Project website makes it easy for those looking to buy Thoroughbreds to locate the right horse. It features new aftercare organization listings and classified ads where owners can post Thoroughbreds for sale.
But even after all the big changes that RRP has made over the past few months, Pittman is already looking ahead to the future of RRP.
“I personally would like RRP to affiliate with The Jockey Club or [Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association] so that I could get back to my real job of training more horses at Dodon Farm Training Center. I love this work but know that there are people with more resources who could do a better job of it,” he said. “Assuming that does not happen soon, however, I hope that RRP will expand to better serve and connect racing folks and riding folks while continuing to educate the public about the magic of these horses. The resource directory will be a huge boost to these efforts, and someday I hope that every racetrack will have agents working to place horses into the networks of farms, trainers, and organizations that surround them.”
While RRP only uses volunteers for the symposium, the program is always open to monetary donations and is always looking for items for online auctions.
“Our greatest need is financial. We need to raise $250,000 to pull off everything we have planned this year, and we are only halfway there,” Pittman said. “We have an online and silent auction, that needs items, just getting underway, and we have lots of ways to recognize corporate sponsors on our website, in publications and at the makeover. Private donations are also very welcome and can be made from our website through PayPal.”
To learn more about the Retired Racehorse Project, fans can go to http://www.retiredracehorseproject.org.
If you know of a Thoroughbred Aftercare program that you think should be covered in America’s Best Racing’s Aftercare Program Spotlight, email Melissa Bauer-Herzog (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the program’s name and website.