Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Introducing Halo Carlos

The author and off-the-track Thoroughbred Halo Carlos. (Courtesy of Lynn Sullivan)

I am honored and very excited to be a part of the Thoroughbred Makeover this year as a trainer! This year is totally different for me since, I chose my horse for all the things he isn’t… and if that seems confusing, let me explain! 

In past years, several of my horses have been to the Makeover with other riders and although it has been fun choosing which horse to use, this year is very different! First of all, I did not choose my 2021 horse because he has obvious talent and good looks. I chose him for all the things he wasn’t: he is not a gorgeous mover, he is not flashy or impressive at all in the way I would normally want. He is a plain chestnut with a short neck and a roman nose that he likes to scrunch into a scowl during most of his training time, but Halo Carlos is the perfect candidate for the job I have in mind for him.

Courtesy of Lynn Sullivan

A little about me… I’ve been providing aftercare and retraining to retired Thoroughbreds for over 10 years in Guthrie, Okla. Before that, I conditioned and trained racehorses in the Oklahoma/Texas area. My only claim to racing fame is that in 2008, one of my trainees broke the track record for a mile at Fair Meadows track in Tulsa, Okla., and we still hold that record 13 years later with Yours Forever.   

 All of my early horse knowledge came from the racetrack. I’ve been a groom, hot walker, exercise rider, pony person, assistant trainer, trainer and sometimes all these at the same time. I’ve worked at countless breeding farms and training centers through the years. I preferred to train from home and haul in for works and racing so my horses could have regular turnout. It’s not conventional, but my horses were happy.

After retiring from training, I founded Thoroughbred Athletes, Inc., an organization developed to assist horsemen with solutions for horses that were retiring from racing. We are the very first Thoroughbred retraining facility to open in Oklahoma. This is our 10-year anniversary and another reason for me to step out of my comfort zone and go public with this journey with Carlos. Ten years is a long time and because I am not getting any younger, I feel it’s a good time to say “it’s now or never!”

Because the Makeover is all about the horse, I will tell you a bit about mine. Carlos is unique in the fact that he is a twin. He had all odds stacked against him way before he was born. Halo Carlos and his twin Custom Pete raced against each other in their only race on Feb. 14, 2020. It doesn’t really matter that they were last and second to last. The fact that they both survived to racing age is a miracle in itself.

This is where Carlos and Pete went separate ways however, as Pete was sold, sustained an injury and unfortunately had to be euthanized.  Before Pete was euthanized, I made him a promise to find his twin brother and make sure he had a chance to be the best he could be. Thanks to some friends and an L.A. connection, Carlos’ owner was found and he agreed to retire him to us. This is how we acquired Halo Carlos.

Training Carlos has started out very slow. Probably due to the fact that he is a suspicious and grumpy partner. Some of the grumpy is going away; I think he realizes this is a much easier job than he had before! He doesn’t even like me yet, but I am happy to say he knows I am his person. I don’t think he’s ever really had “a person” before. He just did what was asked of him. He is hard to connect with but is really smart and curious, so we will build on that and give him small challenges everyday until he starts to trust me more.

Courtesy of Lynn Sullivan

Right now we are working on going slow, and he’s a bit confused by this because he has been asked and prepared to go fast his whole life. I am presently working with a liberty trainer and a ranch horse professional. I knew from the start Carlos would not be an “English” type horse. He has a capped hock on one side and a curb on the other so jumping him is not the best idea for now. He has slightly splayed feet in front and not the best mover, so dressage may not be his forte yet either.

Our options are ranch riding and competitive trail. My goal is to get him to be as slow, broke and quiet as possible. I want him to be dependable, confident and to have smooth transitions. He also needs to be willing and happy. This is a lot to ask of a little horse who is nervous, does not trust easily and only knows how to go fast. He’s handled things pretty well so far though, and he tries hard to understand what I want from him.

Since I work two part-time jobs in addition to running the farm, finding time to train has been a challenge.  Then, of course we have the crazy Oklahoma weather to deal with… so although we have had setbacks, I feel Carlos is right on schedule in his learning, and everyday brings a new opportunity to make him the best he can be! 

This month my focus is to get him comfortable hauling around to different places and riding him in unfamiliar territory. He has a tendency to get nervous, and when he is nervous, he gets pushy. When this happens, I just take him for a walk, starting out in hand before I get in the saddle. It won’t be long before all of this is familiar to him and he won’t be so suspicious of my motives… then maybe he can lose the scowl and at least look a little happier!

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