Fullback, aka Stellar, at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event demonstration. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog)
When looking for an example of how unpredictable breeding the perfect racehorse is, one doesn’t have to go any farther than Fullback.
By Preakness winner and champion Bernardini and out of multiple Grade 1 winner Stellar Jayne, Fullback should have been a racing superstar. Hopes were high when he was shipped to Darley’s training center at the Aiken Training Track in September of his year where he met Jordan Pruiksma, who would be the person to give him his early lessons under saddle and gave him the nickname “Stellar” since he wasn’t yet named.
“Stellar caught my eye the second I saw his head poke out of the stall,” Pruiksma said. “How could that handsome face not? I had not dealt with any Stellar Jayne offspring before but knew I wanted him. Luckily in Aiken we are allowed to pick most of our horses. He was my first pick. He had the kindest eye and easiest way about him. It was hard to know he was a stud and only a yearling at the time. He never put a foot wrong and I trusted him with everything.”
Getting to know Stellar, Pruiksma quickly fell in love and let Darley know that she would take him if his racing career didn’t work out. After a short stint in Saratoga after leaving Aiken, the then-2-year-old colt was shipped to Eoin Harty at Arlington Park.
STELLAR AND JORDAN PRUIKSMA
Photo courtesy Jordan Pruiksma/Demojas Photography
Luckily for both Pruiksma and Stellar, Pruiksma’s exercise rider friend was assigned the colt so she was given updates on how he was doing. It was because of that friend that Pruiksma learned Stellar had been gelded after finishing off the board in his second race late last year and her boss stepped in and emailed Darley’s main office to find out what was going on with the horse.
“My boss, Tim Jones, immediately emailed the office asking if they were getting ready to retire Stellar and if so, that I was ready for him,” said Pruiksma. “After many emails back and forth, I finally got the one I had been waiting for, ‘Fullback is scheduled to be on the next van heading to Aiken.’ As the happy tears poured down my face I gave Tim a hug and thanked him for all that he did to get me the horse of my dreams. Stellar arrived just a few days before Christmas 2014. BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!”
Since then, Pruiksma has been on the ride of her life with Stellar.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog
After about a month of no work while he adjusted to life away from the track, he let Pruiksma know he was ready for a new job. It wasn’t long after that she heard about the Thoroughbred Makeover, being held by the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) at the Kentucky Horse Park in October and she sent in her entry. Soon, she was doing demonstrations for RRP at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and the Thoroughbreds For All event in Lexington, Ky.
It wasn’t until after that weekend’s events that she officially chose to compete in dressage at the Thoroughbred Makeover thanks to advice from people she trusted.
“It was a decision that I had not made until getting back from Rolex and talking with a few people I really look up to,” she said. “Pam Eckelbarger of Equus-Soma & Soft Tissue Bodywork for the Equine who does all of Fullback’s bodywork suggested that because of his age and the way his body is still developing flatwork might be the best thing for him. Joanne Holmberg of JH Marketing who has been with us on this journey since he arrived also felt like flatwork would be best not only for his age but also to show the kind of trainer I am and that is a trainer that does not push horses too fast. Stellar loves to jump and showed everyone that in Kentucky but he is 3 and to put the pressure of having to show in jumping come October I decided would be too much. There will be plenty of time for that next year when he has a solid dressage foundation.”
STELLAR PRACTICES DRESSAGE
Photo courtesy of Jordan Pruiksma/Equestrian Calendar Aiken
A few weeks after their journey to Lexington, the pair showed in a small dressage show. But Pruiksma noticed that even though Stellar looked like he had proper muscle development, his back end was weak. Pruiksma decided to step back from doing so much ring work while focusing more on building those muscles with her long-term goals for Stellar in mind.
“We have spent the last month trail riding and doing hill work so that his hind end could start to develop properly and he would get rid of some of the racing muscling. As a 3-year-old I need to make sure he develops his muscles in the proper way and over the proper amount of time. Stellar loves to trail ride so he was just as happy doing that as he would have been doing anything else,” she said. “We have only recently started pushing the dressage training in the last few weeks. Most recently we had a flat lesson with Doug Payne, who confirmed he was ready for the real work of being ready for October. Just that one lesson was proof that I had made the right decision to show Stellar in dressage, he looks and feels right at home.”
Pruiksma and Stellar have become very popular in the lead up to the Thoroughbred Makeover, which is something Pruiksma is extremely grateful for. While Stellar is out of a popular mare, Pruiksma didn’t expect his popularity to take off quite like it did.
STELLAR AT THE ROLEX DEMONSTRATION
Photo courtesy of Jordan Pruiksma/John Pruiksma
“I had no idea he would become such a star. Of course to me he is but to people all across the world I don’t even know? For us to be as popular as we are is something I am truly thankful for. He is a special, special horse and to be able to share this journey with everyone is such an honor,” Pruiksma said.
Between owning her own off-the-track Thoroughbred and riding future racehorses for Darley, Pruiksma loves the breed and says that if people are willing to learn, Thoroughbreds will teach them as much as they teach the horse.
“Thoroughbreds to me are dedicated, eager to please, smart and very trainable. They also are some of the best teachers. If you can get one and let them teach you as much as you teach them then you are in for a real treat because you will never find a more loyal partnership,” she said.
But she also warns that just because people want a Thoroughbred from off the track doesn’t mean they should jump on the first horse that comes along if the purchase doesn’t feel right.
“For anyone getting a horse straight off the track I would suggest doing your research on the horse you are looking at, the track it is coming from and if you can, the trainer it is with. Always, always, always do a pre-purchase exam and never be afraid to turn down a horse that isn’t the right one for you,” she recommends. “When you get the horse, allow them to have down time and enjoy being a horse for a little while. Always start them as if they might not know anything this way you go slow and really get to know your horse.”
If you are in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. on August 4, you can see Stellar and Pruiksma in action at the Thoroughbreds For All Saratoga event. You can learn more about the event here.