Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Arktikos, An Unexpected Gift

Arktikos, a 6-year-old gelding, is in training for the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover competition. (Courtesy of Bonnie Stetson)

I didn’t go looking for a horse for the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. He came to me.

I have loved the Thoroughbred as long as I can remember. Certainly since early morning breakfasts watching workouts at Saratoga as a teenager and watching the incredible journey of Secretariat earning the Triple Crown. There was something magical about those misty Saratoga mornings, hearing the hoofbeats come down the track before the horses emerged and galloped past the clubhouse. They were strong, beautiful, graceful and inspiring. My upper level Pony Club mount was a Thoroughbred and I have worked with several since then. I am a USPC Graduate A with a strong background in Eventing and Dressage and am the Executive Director of the White Horse Community Center in White Haven, Pa. where I teach and train.

Bonnie with Arktikos. (Courtesy of Bonnie Stetson)

My 2020 Makeover entry came to me from his race trainer, Bobby Manchio of Manchio Racing in Oxford, Pa.  I had previously adopted a very challenging horse through New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program who had also come from Bobby. Bobby sought me out through his concern for the future of that horse and we struck up a friendship. We had many telephone conversations discussing this horse’s background and behavior that had developed through no fault of his own. I am grateful that Bobby reached out. His experience and insights were invaluable in helping me work successfully with that first horse. When Bobby called me about Arktikos, a Maryland-bred son of Great Notion, of course I went to see him. At the time he had been resting from a slight injury and Bobby and Arktikos’ owner had decided not to return him to race training even though the injury never resulted in lameness.

Bobby is a down-to-earth, old school horseman who cares deeply about the welfare of his horses and appreciates their efforts on the track. I am honored that he trusted me enough to offer a direct adoption of Arktikos under the New Vocations umbrella. I feel it is very important to remember that we would not have these incredible athletes without the racing industry. Much time and great care goes into breeding, raising and training them for a very demanding job. Bobby is currently standing Greatbullsoffire at stud, a horse with similar breeding, conformation and temperament to Arktikos.

Arktikos, affectionately known as R2D2 in the barn, came to me in August of 2019 as a 4-year-old, three weeks after being gelded, walking off the trailer and into his new surroundings without a care. He is a big blood bay sweetheart and moves like a dream. Arktikos is very much a baby and loves his friends and attention. He happily lives outside 24/7 with two other OTTBs. He has a very high plaintive whinny when he wants his buddies and a deep throaty nicker when he wants human attention. He will stay at my shoulder when we do liberty work waiting expectantly for the next activity. He had to learn how to eat an apple when he first arrived. (Now he is a pro!) It did require quite a bit of time to balance his front feet and get him comfortable barefoot. With the work of Jen Farley, a very talented barefoot trimmer and farrier, we accomplished that goal and he is now barefoot, sound and solid.

I started investigating the Makeover in the Fall of 2019 when I realized that Arktikos was eligible. I applied because of his eligibility and because I decided I wanted to participate in this remarkable event to showcase the Thoroughbred as the American Sport Horse. I had no great expectations that I would be accepted as a trainer but I got all my ducks in a row and sent the application. Then I waited. When Feb. 15, 2020 arrived I was surprised and thrilled to see the words – “Congratulations! You have been accepted!”  

We began preparing for October 2020 but then the COVID-19 pandemic put the whole thing on hold for a year. I retained my entry for the 2020 Class in the 2021 RRP “MegaMakeover” in October 2021. Right now the last of the snow is melting and temperatures are warming. I am looking forward to continuing my journey with Arktikos to Kentucky in October. We will definitely be entering the Dressage discipline and I am seriously considering Competitive Trail as a second discipline. This horse is a solid citizen with a great brain and just an all-around cool horse. As I have found with my other OTTBs, he learns fast and remembers what he learns even when there are breaks between training sessions. He has a good work ethic and a calm, curious temperament. He lunges well and has learned to long line. In his introductory long line lesson, he learned to leg yield and was so proud of what he learned that he just kept leg yielding over and over as if to say, “Look what I can do!” He has even graciously served as a school horse for a few lessons.

We are working on going forward in balance and he is beginning to carry himself on contact in walk and trot. He is now 6 but still growing and figuring himself out. We are working with Alexa Derr who is a wonderful young dressage professional in Reinholds, Pa. Alexa has experience through the Grand Prix level and holds her USDF Gold Medal. I greatly appreciate her very considered and insightful teaching as well as her tireless advocacy for the horse. My goal is to have Arktikos schooling at First Level by the time we head to Kentucky so the Training Level work will be confirmed for the competition. We will be showing this Spring and Summer. I am also experimenting with trail obstacles to see if we want to pursue that discipline as well.

I am very excited about taking Arktikos to compete in Kentucky in October in the 2020 Class of the RRP Makeover. I look forward to sharing our progress as we continue our journey over the next six months.

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