When Allison Bortz first heard of warhorse Art Series, she had no idea she would end up owning the mare. But it just took one look at Art Series for Bortz to know she belonged in her barn.
“A friend of mine was looking at purchasing Art Series for herself,” Bortz said. “However, she thought Art Series would be a better fit for me. She bought her out of a cow field and had her on her farm for a month before I went to see her. I fell in love with her instantly and brought her to my barn two weeks later!”
Making 61 starts during six seasons of racing, Art Series won four of her races and finished in the top three in eight others for $79,512 in earnings. Retired in January 2017, she was in need of a new career and soon after found Bortz, whose first order of business was finding her new mount a barn name.
While her first thought was to give the mare an art-inspired barn name, Bortz went a more humorous route.
“I wanted a barn name that involved art based on her [Jockey Club] name, however ‘Mona’ did not seem to fit her. She’s a very free spirit mare, so we came up with ‘Nellie’ as most people say ‘whoaaaaa, Nellie,’ ” she said.
Aiming Nellie at a career as a barrel racing horse, Bortz took everything slowly to make sure the mare had all the tools she needed to succeed at her new career. While the mare has a bit of sass, she was happy to learn new tasks and caught on quickly.
“Nellie and I started everything from square one,” Bortz said. “We worked a lot on the ground and lounge line before we rode. We started off riding in only half the arena and slowly worked our way up. We work a lot of circles and figure 8s right now. I’ve been barrel racing for 10 years now and it’s always been my passion. Nellie is quick and had a great mind so she will be successful once fully trained! We ride on the trails a lot as well.”
Entering her mare in the 2018 Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) Thoroughbred Makeover, Bortz nearly scratched Nellie due to not getting a chance to go to as many outings as she’d planned. Still, even with just one barrel race under her belt, Bortz decided to take a chance.
“Our biggest accomplishment so far would definitely be training, competing, and success at RRP,” she said. “In my eyes, we rocked RRP! I actually considering scratching because we did not get to go out and expose to multiple shows beforehand, only one. I am so glad I didn’t! We ran a 22.3 on our first run but unfortunately knocked [a barrel over] our second run. We were just outside the Top 10 after our first run.”
The pair finished 26th in the class but even more importantly, Nellie also taught Bortz an important lesson about OTTBs.
“The most important thing she has taught me so far is that Thoroughbreds aren’t as crazy and uncontrollable as some people view them as. She is very well rounded! She definitely can do anything we set our minds to doing,” Bortz said. “While some may be fresh coming right from the track, people don’t realize that they’ve been in a routine the entire time they’re on the track and removing them from that is switching that up on them. Some handle change better than others. I think that RRP and all of the other OTTB organizations promoting OTTBs and their abilities will help this stereotype diminish.”
Bortz also credits the breed’s versatility as a reason she likes them. And the warhorses’ desire to learn even more after their time on the racetrack is the reason she loves those who have raced for many seasons.
While Bortz was just introduced to riding off-track Thoroughbreds once she became an adult, her one tip for anyone out there — both adults and younger riders — is to take every chance you can to ride them.
“If you’ve never had the opportunity to ride or own an OTTB definitely go for it! Growing up I was never allowed, and I was totally missing out!”