This story was originally written in 2017 and has been re-published with an update on Mak (see below).
When Carleigh Fedorka agreed to ride a friend’s horse for a video advertising him for sale in 2012 she didn’t expect that she’d be the one buying him. But that’s exactly what happened.
“I went home that night and lamented to my boyfriend about this horse,” Fedorka said. “About how he was so ‘my type’ and yet I wasn't sure if I was ready to commit to horse ownership as I had just started a Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky. Both my boyfriend and my mother were quick to point out that a horse was good for my mental health and was just the stress release I needed during my education process. I made an offer the next day and picked him up two days later!”
By 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, Dynamaker (“Mak”) was never a big fan of racing and retired after only three starts, though he hit the board once and earned $6,040 in that short career. Mak’s dislike of speed transferred over to his second career with Fedorka describing him as more of a horse you have to convince to go fast than a horse you constantly have to convince to go slow.
For months after she bought him, she spent most of her time taking him on trail rides and teaching him that going a little quicker wasn’t so bad. That work paid off as she says Mak is more forward now but he still isn’t the speedster that some horses like to be.
“Mak has definitely gotten more forward in the four years I have owned him - but in a good way,” she said. “He will always be more of a kick ride, but he has actually improved his gallop and his forward motion since he retired from racing. He only ran three times, and retired for being too slow, so this isn't surprising. But now he is the perfect, happy medium of having a Thoroughbred’s stride without the heat of pulling. He is a LOT of fun to run around cross country because of this.”
While Fedorka has taught Mak a lot, the gelding reciprocated the favor. Fedorka was able to advance to training level eventing thanks to him, going around her first training level course when he was 7. Two years later, Fedorka is eying a preliminary level event in their near future.
“Going training level on him was a huge moment for me,” she said. “I had never ridden to that level, although I had tried to get there my entire life. So to come off of the cross country course having gone clean at our move up to that level on a horse that I made myself was a very rewarding thing. Now, at the age of 9, we are plotting another move up to the preliminary level, which is very exciting. But on top of that, it’s more so exciting with how much he has progressed in just athleticism. His scope has improved, his rideability is vastly greater, and now even his flat work has improved immensely. He was always a great jumper but not so fancy on the flat, and recently that has shifted strongly to the flat. His future is really exciting.”
While she admits competing at the Kentucky Three-Day Event (formerly known as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day event, an event held at the top level of eventing) probably isn’t in Mak’s future, he has already taken part in the event in another role.
In April, Fedorka was asked to help prepare the Pony Club horses that would be carrying the flags during the opening ceremonies before the stadium jumping phase of the Kentucky Three-Day Event. She was braiding one of the ponies when she was informed another horse had been injured and the team needed a horse to carry the United States flag. Her mind immediately went to Mak, who was only a few miles down the road.
“The young lady that was riding him was quite a capable rider and would fit him well. Within an hour we had him bathed, braided, and at the Kentucky Horse Park to meet his rider Keely Bechtol,” said Fedorka. “Like any true Pony Clubber, she took everything in stride. We had her on him to get her comfortable with him within minutes of meeting him, had her desensitize him to the flag in only a few more, and then they were off to the Rolex Arena for their big moment. He had never carried a flag, he had never been in that large of an arena, and he had never heard a standing ovation of tens of thousands of people, but he took it all in stride. It was one of my proudest moments as a horse ‘mom,’ and all he did was walk.”
While dealing with a situation like that as well as Mak did is challenging for any horse, Fedorka says off-track Thoroughbreds with Mak’s temperament aren’t that hard to find.
“Mak is the definition of what is out there if you are only willing to look,” she said. “He may never go to Rolex, but the majority of riders don't need Rolex horses. They need horses that are safe, sane, and enjoyable to work with [when jumping] 3' or 3'6”. He has brought me so much confidence, and I owe him a lot for that. A lot of his good sense and amazing temperament are a testament to his breeder Dr. John Chandler and the farm he was raised on at Mill Ridge. Both Mill Ridge and Dr. Chandler still follow every step of this journey, and that makes all of the success all that more sweet.”
Mak has a busy year ahead with a schedule of events at training level over the coming months with the Hagyard MidSouth Three-Day Event as his ultimate goal for the year. Fedorka is eying a move up to the preliminary level after that goal is accomplished.
It’s safe to say she never imagined she’d be making these kinds of plans for Mak when she said “yes” to riding him in a sales video all those years ago.
Update from Carleigh Fedorka (March 2019):
“Over the past year, Mak competed in his first P/T level in eventing, and did the 3’6 jumpers at The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program championships. He is still carting around anyone who wants to ride him or jump him and will be carrying the American flag again at the Land Rover Three Day Event this year.”