Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Unicorn Training Club's Journey with Dizzy

Unicorn Training Club with Dizzy, who will participate in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Ryan)

This year, America’s Best Racing and the Retired Racehorse Project will be sharing diaries from several trainers preparing for the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover competition, scheduled for Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park. This diary's first entry introduces us to the four-woman strong Unicorn Training Club and their Makeover horse, Dizzy.

So, you’ve heard of the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, maybe seen the insane happiness on Feb. 1 of each year when the trainer acceptance letters go out. But do you know what it takes to actually do the makeover?

For us, it takes a team — a team of unicorns, to be exact. We are known as the Unicorn Training Club: four women — Sarah Hepler, Skye-Anna Nye-Smith, Shannon Ryan-Dinmore, and Katie Conway — all from different walks of life and different riding educations and backgrounds.

Oh yeah, and one very special little horse, Daring Destiny. The team format is a relatively new addition to the Thoroughbred Makeover, and allows a group of riders to share the process of training together.

Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard these stories: friends, colleagues, students get together for a journey of a lifetime; to share these experiences (and let’s be honest, expenses) with good friends makes it that much better.

How do we stand out? What makes us different?

We purchased our makeover hopeful from Conway Racing. Does that name ring a bell? Katie, our teammate, is a race owner herself, and her father, Daniel Conway, was our horse’s trainer.

All four of us live in central/western New York, and our track of choice is Finger Lakes Gaming and Racing. So, when the idea to take a team horse to the makeover began to develop, naturally we set out to the backside of Finger Lakes to find a mount.

We all had our criteria: Skye, being a vet assistant, was concerned with soundness (we all were, but that was her primary focus); Shannon in resale potential; and me, well, I need exceptional ground manners, having only one arm.

Our first stop, because of their reputation, was Conway Racing. Katie was there to show us the horses they had available in their barn. Daring Destiny, aka Dizzy, caught my eye right away with his stellar ground manners and adorable face. He was flashy enough that he met Shannon’s requirements. After flexion tests, he met Skye’s soundness requirements as well. So we had a horse … and now we needed a fourth team member.

We had all known Katie through social media and brief meetings at the track, and we knew she’d been dying to go to the makeover, so it seemed only natural that we ask her.

Outside of racing, Katie had been involved with horses her entire life. She’d ridden hunters, jumpers, eventing, and dressage. We all had similar paths in riding, all having started as children and remaining horse-crazy into adulthood.

Because of our backgrounds, we are aiming our sweet Dizzy for eventing and dressage at the Thoroughbred Makeover. Skye and Shannon, both experienced over fences, will share him in the phases of eventing; Katie and I will split the competition in dressage. 

Dizzy had a rough start to post-racetrack life, enduring every horse owner’s worst nightmare: impaction colic with a very bleak outlook. Dizzy was given round-the-clock care including hand walks hourly and a strict, vet-supervised re-feeding plan. With heroic effort, Dizzy pulled through but had lost a fair amount of weight.

Now that Dizzy is getting back to his plumper self, we are focusing on classical dressage principals to give him a solid foundation. He will be for sale after the Thoroughbred Makeover, so we’d like him to have the best possible start for any direction that a future owner may want to go in.

We are excited to have you join us on this journey with our very own unicorn!

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!