For thousands of equestrians around North America, competing at the Kentucky Horse Park is a lifelong goal. In 2017, the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) is giving equestrians another chance to fulfill that goal while helping retired racehorses by bringing its annual Thoroughbred Makeover back to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington next October.
Applications opened last week for the 2017 training competition, with RRP’s President Steuart Pittman, Jr. saying between 500 and 600 applicants will be chosen to take part in the 10-month training project. It is estimated that about two-thirds of the horses and trainers will compete at the Horse Park in early October.
However, joining the competition isn’t as easy as just filling out the application. With hundreds of applications received in the first few days after they opened and more coming in daily, RRP asks for a résumé of sorts to make sure each rider has the skills needed to retrain a racehorse.
“We want evidence that the trainer has the experience and the skills to do this well,” he said. “We ask in the application for competition history, references, and even links to videos of them riding in their sport. We also want a good mix of accomplished professionals, juniors, and amateurs, geographic diversity, and representation from all 10 disciplines [in the RRP contest].”
While the application can be daunting for those applying for the first time, regular Makeover contestant Jordan Pruiksma highly recommends applying to the Makeover for the training experience and friendships created.
“What I like about competing at the Makeover is that everyone that is competing is there for one common denominator – for the love of the Thoroughbred,” she said. “The trainers become their own community in the horse world, and I have gained so many friends and mentors through my experiences in competing. That to me is invaluable.”
Pruiksma finished second in Dressage in 2015 with her gelding Fullback, and competed again in Dressage last year with Coordinate where she finished 15th. But she tells people not to focus solely on winning the competition, and to instead welcome all of the lessons learned from retraining the off-the-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) and watching others.
“I would recommend others apply for the Makeover for the experience,” Pruiksma said. “There is so much to be said about spending nine months or less retraining an OTTB, watching their transformation from racehorse to show horse and then meeting up with hundreds of people who have done the same. There is something to be learned by everyone who competes – whether it is from experiences, training methods and even the different disciplines. Don't do it because you want to win. If you do win, great, but don't make it a priority. There are many amazing trainers that come from all over – let watching them be what you win.”
As word has spread about the Makeover experience, it has become a must-attend event for both spectators and riders who are fans of the breed. It has also increased the demand for OTTBs with many sellers advertising to see if their horses are eligible for the Makeover.
“I was afraid to admit that our work was having an impact for the first few years,” Pittman said. “We started in 2010 and we knew we were affecting the market in Maryland and Pennsylvania where we did popular events at large horse expos, but to say we were impacting the whole country was a stretch. Now a lot of people all over the U.S. and Canada who rehome these horses are telling us that the Makeover and all of the other educational and promotional work we do is working.”
This growing popularity has been good for the breed overall, with more people willing to look at retired racehorses when buying new mounts. This was evident in the weeks before the applications opened, when many people on social media groups were asking about purchasing horses for the 2017 Makeover.
“One of the great impacts of increased demand is that more people are stepping up to help with the transition from racing to rehoming,” Pittman said. “Some are private trainers and resellers like most of the Makeover trainers. Some are on-track programs funded by the horsemen. And then there are farms that operate as non-profit aftercare facilities. The two parts to the RRP tag line are ‘Building bridges to second careers,’ and ‘Increasing demand for Thoroughbreds.’ To see both of these things happening all over North America is incredibly exciting.”
But for a new group of horse buyers looking at retired racehorses for their next horses, especially those thinking of applying for the Makeover in 2017 and beyond, Jordan Pruiksma has some advice.
“A few tips I can give for people looking into this for the first time is to be aware of the costs beyond the entry fee, because you will need to stay committed for the nine months, and they add up quickly! Also do your due diligence on a proper pre-purchase exam (PPE). I see time and time again people getting horses only to find out a few months down the road they won't be able to compete due to unsoundness that could have been prevented with a PPE. And finally, do it for the experience and the love of the breed,” she said.
For those interested in applying for this year’s Retired Racehorse Project Makeover, you can find the competition rules, disciplines and application at http://www.retiredracehorseproject.org/2017-thoroughbred-makeover. The 2017 Makeover is scheduled to take place Oct. 5 - 8 at the Kentucky Horse Park.