Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Meet Mr. Park

Brit Vegas aboard Mr. Park, with her foot in a cast.
Brit Vegas aboard Mr. Park, with her foot in a cast. (Courtesy Brit Vegas)

Today, I get to introduce you all to my second entry to the 2020 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. This is an extra-special introduction, as I have decided to add this talented guy into my personal string of performance horses. I have been searching for just the right horse for about two years. I sell approximately 50-70 Thoroughbreds a year for sport horse careers, so you can understand just how picky I have been. When Mr. Park walked out of his stall at the racetrack, I knew immediately. It was eerie.

Conformation photo of Mr. Park (Courtesy Brit Vegas)

First off, I would like to talk just a little bit about his connections, Stetson and Ramsye Mitchell. I have been working with these trainers for a few years and am always so impressed with the horses that come from their barn. They all come with manners, are well-broke, and come in great physical shape. Mr. Park broke his maiden with them for his one and only win. These horses adjust well to second careers, as they winter the horses in pastures in Oklahoma and the horses get the opportunity to have let down and just be horses in small herds. I cannot emphasize how much this helps their mental and physical growth, as well as sets them up for an easy transition to life after the track. If you ever get your hands on one of their horses from my barn, I assure you that you will be smitten.

Why have I been searching for a second competition horse?  My 2018 makeover entry, Slew the Zodiac, is my personal competition horse. He was in a bad trailer accident just a week before the competition in 2018 and he lost the vision in his left eye. This horse is my heart and soul, and I was crushed as I knew he may never jump again. Depth perception is greatly altered when vision in one eye is lost, and although many go on to adjust, some do not. Zodi has never ceased to take my breath away, and true to his form, he adjusted, and you’d never know he cannot see out of his left eye. He finished in the top 10 at the makeover that year and won the “Best Turned Out” award in our discipline. He has successfully completed four preliminary-level horse trials and was ready to step up to the 2* level this spring until COVID-19 changed those plans. 

Courtesy Brit Vegas/Coady Photography

So why the second horse? Zodi does not like to haul alone since his accident. He is not destructive in the trailer, but will arrive very tense through his back and exhausted. We travel four to 12 hours for each recognized horse trial, so it is not a short drive. So for the last two seasons, a baby in my program has always gotten to go on the field trips with him to keep him relaxed in the trailer. Now that he is a pretty-dang solid event horse, I feel comfortable adding a second horse to the string to dedicate a large portion of time to. If you are a horse trainer, you can certainly understand how having two horses that are “not for sale” can be.  You must give the training horses and sale horses consistent time, so sometimes personal horses get the back burner. I have made sure that does not happen to Zodi and that he is always consistently ridden. I have made the decision that I can dedicate that as well to another horse.

Now, what about Mr. Park after two years and hundreds of horses made me want to keep him? It’s funny but I knew before I even watched him take a single jog step. I had met him in his stall a few times prior, and liked how he was built, but until you see them walk and prove that it all comes together, you really do not know. This horse was kind and has this gentle but inquisitive eye. He’s not the most innately brave horse I’ve met, but you could tell he was very willing and sensitive. He is by a stallion named Divine Park, who I have had several babies from. He stamps them all and the ones I’ve had so far have been incredibly willing and talented horse that made successful upper-level horses in a variety of rings. They’re my favorite horses to own; they make fierce competitors when brought along properly.

To my delight, we jogged Mr. Park off and he moved just exactly as his shoulder, hip, and hocks told us he would. I knew. The disadvantage? I had just broken my foot badly four days prior and would be unable to get in the saddle for at least two months. I had surgery scheduled to repair the bad break two days after buying Mr. Park. I told myself that I could not make the call to keep him until I could sit on him, even though my heart was already there.

Insert a good friend named Kim. Kim came out to help transport a few horses to their new homes and put some first rides on several of the new track babies. I feel one of my strongest suits as a trainer/reseller is the ability to match the right horse with the right rider. It is impossible to do that without being able to sit on them … well, unless of course you can have Kim come sit on them. The Mitchell horses are always such a pleasure to ride, I asked (or rather begged) her to throw a leg over.

He was simply brilliant to watch go: big, sweeping stride with a powerful hind end. It was done. He stays. I was reminded what all those people that seek new partners feel like. I was giddy, and excited to get to work with him — if only this dumb foot would heal. I knew he would be worth the wait.

Now we add a wonderful surgeon. Three weeks post-break, two weeks post-op, he tells me I am healing wonderfully and that he is putting on a cast … which sounds a bit depressing, but it was EXCITING because this surgeon put a cast on that completely protected the bone if I were to fall, and the cast is shorter, exposing my calf. Why is this important?  Because I am able to ride a horse without stirrups with it! I’ve never been one to let an injury slow me down, but the bones broken in my foot control the balance in the stirrups so it’s important to make sure it’s fully healed before weight is added. I have a 4.5-inch screw in my fifth metatarsal holding the fracture together. The intense feeling of claustrophobia I feel at night trying to sleep with a cast that I cannot take off is most definitely worth it if it means I can sit on my horses again. 

Brit's foot X-ray (Courtesy Brit Vegas)

So now Mr. Park and I are developing our relationship further and can continue to build confidence and skills. We have been doing lots of in-hand (crutch) work and he is getting used to seeing things that can startle a young horse. We’re working with tarps, lunging, and ground poles. I have spent a lot of time just fiddling with him and building on the great foundation the Mitchells have already given him. He will have his first rides moving forward this weekend and the rest will be history.

I have learned over all these years that a little extra work or having to be a bit creative at times with training really produces a super-brave horse and a lifelong bond with them. It’s always worth the wait. I cannot wait to showcase this horse in October if COVID-19 allows it with the Thoroughbred Makeover.

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