Escape-Artist OTTB Sneaky Kitten Thriving in Barrel Racing

Crystal Rutten and Sneaky Kitten barrel racing. (Courtesy of Crystal Rutten)

Sneaky Kitten has a history of living up to his name. After contacting his previous connections, Sneaky Kitten’s owner, Crystal Rutten, learned the gelding has been a memorable horse for many of those who have worked with him.

“Sneaky came to me from a trainer down at Gulfstream [Park] whom I have connections with,” she said. “I’ve gotten many horses from him in the past that I have restarted. I’ve also been in contact with a few other trainers and grooms who knew of or worked with Sneaky. Apparently, he’s a pretty memorable guy.”

Crystal Rutten with Sneaky Kitten. (Courtesy of Crystal Rutten)

Born on April 1, 2009, Sneaky Kitten raced 47 times and earned four victories and 18 other top-three finishes, including a stakes placing, while amassing $258,263 in purse earnings. But perhaps what he’s even better known for is being able to escape from his stalls and halter.

While he never ventures too far off, Sneaky Kitten seems to enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to open gates or slip out from his halter.

“I had to have a special [halter] made that he couldn’t get out of and sometimes he still manages it,” Rutten said. “I’ve come back to the trailer at a show to find him eating grass a few feet away. He never goes far. He just wants to be free and eat grass, I guess.

“He also can open certain kinds of gates and stalls, so I have to be careful with that as well. He can get out of fly masks and blankets, too … also get his buddies out of them!”

When Sneaky isn’t trying to figure out how to escape, he spends his time doing an “untraditional” career for off-the-track Thoroughbreds: barrel racing.

“I knew he was a good candidate for barrels since he is more compactly built than your average Thoroughbred,” Rutten said. “It made it easier for him do the things I asked of him and he picked up on it quickly. He is also very intelligent and has a very high work ethic, which I think most OTTBs do.”

Restarted in January 2017, Sneaky and Rutten targeted barrel racing in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. Rutten took her time with him, not entering Sneaky into his first barrel race until a month before the makeover, once she was sure he was ready and confident in his new career.

Sneaky Kitten (Courtesy of Crystal Rutten)

A hurricane subsequently interrupted their preparation, but Sneaky showed his willingness at the makeover, placing seventh in barrel racing and also in the top 20 in trail.

“All in all, the makeover was a great experience for him, but he has come so far since then,” Rutten said. “I just took him to his first, big super-show, which is overwhelming for any horse. There are lots of things to see, also the stress of hauling and staying overnight and running several days in a row. He handled it great.”

For Rutten, her favorite thing about Thoroughbreds is how versatile they are. Sneaky has proved to be a perfect case of that in succeeding not only at barrel racing but also easily adapting to trail riding.

“I also ran him at the Georgia National Fair this past year, which was a great and interesting experience for him considering we were warming up during the fireworks show!” Rutten said. “I’ve taken him on overnight camping trips — he is an awesome trail horse. He will go through anything you put in front of him.”

For those thinking about buying an OTTB off the track for the first time, Rutten recommends finding a someone with experience to help you get the horse started in his next career.

“Have a mentor, someone who has experience with OTTBs and don’t go through it alone,” she said. “The first few stages are the most critical and hardest. Remember, these horses are tended to 24/7 on the track. Make sure you have everything in order before your OTTB steps off the trailer at his new home.

“Be kind and patient with them. They are sensitive animals with hearts of gold. Each one has something special in them, you just have to know how to unlock it.”

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