Welcome to Horse Nation, a site designed to allow crazy horsepeople to indulge their obsessions within a community of like-minded crazy horse people. You can count on us to bring you the latest in equestrian news from around the world, as well as interviews with top riders, reader essays, training tips and videos.
Will your pony be getting carrots or coal in their stocking this year? Our sister site, Jumper Nation, asked their readers where they thought their horse would fall, and the responses left us in stitches. Check out what the horses of Jumper Nation have been up to this year and thank the horse gods that your pony hasn’t picked up one of these habits. I think it’s safe to say Santa may be flying right on past these barns this year…
Leslie: “My pony Princess has been a naughty, naughty girl this year when it comes to eating healthy. From fast food (AKA stuffing her face when she’s SUPPOSED to be exercising) to taking off her muzzle at every opportunity (then throwing it in the woods or sinking it to the bottom of the pond unless I intercept her first), she considers life to be her own personal all-you-can-eat buffet.”
Photos by Leslie Wylie
Dominique: “Most horses don’t mind having their legs wrapped after a hard days work. But, of course, my horse Monami is one of the few that hate them. He’ll get bored and start chewing on them trying to find any possible way to take off this trapping monster. Once he unwraps most of it he’ll fling his leg around till it’s completely gone. He hates them so much he’ll dig a hole like a dog and bury them. The next day we’ll either have to dig through shavings or dirt from his run to find the remains of the once pristine white wraps. ”
Jayme: “Turns out it’s hard to keep a 17hh horse wrapped… But he sure deserves to be on the nice list, except on days when he refuses to be caught.”
Photo courtesy of Jayme Rogers
Carrie: “My three-year-old won the ‘hold my hay and watch this/who can get the most burrs in their mane’ contest the other day.”
Photo courtesy of Carrie Dobrin
Meagan: “Flash is the best horse in the entire world 99% of the time. The other 1% he is rolling in whatever he sets his sights on, making it extremely difficult to keep him clean for shows…”
Contributor Allison Howell recently took a clinic with WEG show jumping team gold medalist Devin Ryan, and invited Horse Nation along for the ride.
Allison and Tipsy. All photos by Dr. Jamie Shetzline
Before we get started with this whole thing, I should probably explain that I’m a pretty typical amateur: I work a full-time job, have a side hustle at a winery for show/lesson/vet bill money, and also work off some board one day a week at my barn.
I am also a bad amateur. I don’t really keep up with the rankings lists or where in the world the big jumpers are this week, so I had virtually no clue who Devin Ryan was before I saw the post for his clinic come across my Facebook feed. However, after reading his bio — he’s, you know, a WEG gold medalist for Team USA — and getting the okay from my coach (who has already fled south for the winter) I signed up for the clinic, and I am so glad that I did.
Devin (can I call you Devin? We’re friends now right?) is probably one of the top three clinicians I have ever had the pleasure to watch or ride with, and I was fortunate enough to see Karen Healey teach an EAP clinic one year. I would describe him as firm but not mean, demanding but not demeaning, excellent at conveying the concepts he was trying to get across, and he was certainly willing to acknowledge that each horse is an individual and his program might not work for every horse. He kept a near-constant commentary the entire two days, which was extremely beneficial to the auditors as well as the riders.
Side note: one of the amazing things about this clinic was the facility, Ohana Equestrian Preserve, located in Aldie, Virginia. This place is bonkers: heated viewing area, state-of-the-art sound system piped into both the viewing area AND the arena, and an indoor with footing so nice I briefly wondered if selling a kidney would be enough to finance an indoor of my own.
Back to the clinic: the schedule was formatted so the biggest height went first, and dropped with each following group, so we were able to watch the big jumpers go before we got ready. The schedule was pretty typical for a jumping clinic – flatwork and gymnastics the first day, then course work the second.
Devin watched us warm up at the walk, then called us over to chat leg position. Some memorable takeaways:
Stirrup should sit at the ball of your ankle, and he had riders shorten two holes for jumping
The lower leg is your “seatbelt,” and he drove home the importance of keeping your lower leg straight, not broken at the ankle (either rolled in or rolled out)
And for me – he wanted my leg back approximately three feet, or so it felt. I have a tendency, due to either many years of riding dressage or trying to appease a hot horse, or who knows what reason, to want to put my leg too far forward. Devin had me work on keeping my leg back, and more securely under me, basically for the whole clinic.
After that, he had the riders warmed up in earnest. Takeaways:
Devin starts with a short rein. He does not necessarily ask the horse for flexion or to be on the bit right away, but he started every session by asking the riders to “choke up on the reins” so the reins weren’t too long when you pick up the trot.
A theme that emerged through the clinic was Devin’s focus on correct flatwork and incorporating dressage principles into his jumping. He almost immediately started asking the riders to shape their turns more and ask their horses for some flexion around the corner. Here again, I appreciated his attention to detail, as he explained a horse that is straight or counter-bent through the turn is unable to step under themselves, shortening their stride and losing power before a jump.
He also had the riders come off the rail, explaining that in a competition you do not have the benefit of the rail for the horses to drift to, so he almost never rides his horses on the rail.
High hands! It seems that coaches like it one way or the other, and Devin is in camp “raise ’em up!” – going so far as to say he prefers a broken line from the mouth to the elbow with the hands too high, rather than too low, as low hands create a place for the horse to lean. He also explained that this is to keep the bit on the corners of the horse’s mouth, and not the bars (a point he re-emphasized both days).
Oh man, this guy really likes dressage – “the more you do with your hands, the more you mess with the horse’s frame” and “a shoulder-in is three tracks, not two-and-one-half, not four!”
We moved on to some cavaletti. The first exercise was three very innocuous-looking cavaletti, set to three strides between. Devin offered that in an indoor, a horse will sometimes shorten its stride, so I believe he said they were set a little short. He said he liked this kind of work for a few reasons:
It forces you to achieve something in a certain amount of time
It’s easy enough for horses of all levels
It’s good for flatwork
It develops the horse’s depth perception and the canter needed to find the distance to the jump
I will admit, it was nice to see that even riders who typically show over pee-your-pants-sized fences struggle with the “easy” stuff too. Some of the riders did not have enough canter coming into the exercise, and struggled to get the right number of strides; if they did have enough canter, it was not smooth. That was another of Devin’s big points: he wanted everything to be smooth and consistent. For the more advanced group he had them ask for three strides over the first and four strides to the second, working on rideability. For my group, he just had us work on getting absolutely smooth through the exercise.
And then here, my friends, is where he really made you think. We all, at some point in our jumping career, have probably been told to count the strides between fences. But have you ever, my dear little chickadees, been told to start counting when you’re eight strides out? And not backwards from eight — that’s cheating, because you try to make them fit, for which I was chastised not once but twice. I thought I had been doing this long enough and read enough articles and watched enough George Morris horsemanship clinics and had a million lessons to have seen most everything, but this one was new, and mindboggling.
I think we all basically just picked a distance we really, really, really, hoped was close, and then calibrated from there. He had us repeat this exercise to the fences in between the gymnastic (I’ll explain later) and then on Day Two in our courses. This exercise was extremely beneficial for me: it helps you keep your pace, works on your eye so that you can (eventually) reliably find the distances, and has the added benefit of forcing you not to hold your breath.
Cavaletti at Devin Ryan correctly executed - YouTube
After everyone got their horses through the cavaletti well enough to satisfy Devin, it was time for the gymnastic. It started with trotting into a cross rail, one stride to a vertical, one stride to an oxer, and two strides to an oxer out. One point Devin made here that he stressed multiple times through the clinic was his dislike of round placement poles – he doesn’t mind square or raised poles, but had a horse step on a round pole which rolled, resulting in an injury.
Gymnastic with cavalletti work - YouTube
The gymnastic was pretty typical, but he did have riders halt at the end of the ring for the first few trips. He explained that this was “so the horses know they can go to the end of the arena” and are not tempted to cut in on the turn. He also encouraged riders to maintain their balance in their two-point the whole way through.
Last trip though the gymnastic - YouTube
Once all the riders were satisfactorily through the exercise, he had us serpentine over the verticals and bounces dispersed between the jumps in the gymnastic. Here again, he had us count when we felt that we were eight strides away, careful to maintain our pace and track so we would get a good distance. Another point he made here (and several times, sometimes in a slightly raised voice… at me…) was to NOT accelerate the last three strides towards a jump. This all came back to starting and maintaining the appropriate pace at the canter, and not throwing the horse off in the last seconds before a fence. The counting really turned into a source of amusement, as the disappointment in our voices was apparent when we got to the jump at “seven.”
I think everyone finished the day feeling like they had accomplished something, and ready to tackle courses on Day Two.
Allison’s clinic report will continue next week with Day Two!
Allison Howell lives in Virginia with her two dogs, a tolerant fiance and Danish warmblood mare. She is a passionate advocate for OTTBs, and her 2016 Makeover horse is currently leased to a good friend. Mares are the best; don’t @ me.
The inaugural Equestrian Businesswomen Summit, to be held on Jan. 9, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Florida, aims to help nurture a community of support, providing inspiration and information on how to grow as a businesswoman and find success for your business.
Lainey Ashker is among the panelists who will be sharing insights at the 2019 EQBW Summit. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.
Now more than ever, it’s important for women to support one another personally and professionally. The inaugural Equestrian Businesswomen Summit, to be held on Jan. 9, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Florida, aims to help nurture that community of support, providing inspiration and information on how to grow as a businesswoman and find success for your business.
The idea for Equestrian Businesswomen (EQBW) came from Jennifer Wood of Jennifer Wood Media, Inc. and Jump Media, who originally wanted to have an event that would bring like-minded entrepreneurs together for camaraderie, support, and networking.
“I started EQBW after a few years of an idea for a conference and the feeling of wanting something like this that provide resources, mentors, and a community when I started my business almost 10 years ago,” she says. “What was initially an idea for a conference grew into the 2019 EQBW Summit and then we saw the opportunity to really help equestrian businesswomen year-round.”
The mission of EQBW is to connect businesswomen in the equine industry to provide them with resources and community to foster their professional development and business opportunities. In this community, women can harness the network of like-minded individuals, inclusive of various disciplines and skill sets, to educate themselves, become better managers, strengthen relationships, and more, in order to strive for success in whatever business they pursue.
“We will be announcing our membership platform at the Summit and what it will entail, including member networking, expert resources, and online learning video content,” Jennifer says. “I see this as a community for any horsewoman, no matter what type of business they have or what type of horse they ride. I think it can provide a great opportunity for young women out of college and new in the work force to network, as well as more established entrepreneurs to work with peers, get advice, brainstorm, and more.”
The Summit will feature a number of thought-provoking and inspiring speakers talking about timely, relevant topics to help engage, support, and inform equestrian businesswomen. The speakers represent a variety of roles — riders, trainers, entrepreneurs — each offering unique skill sets, and women from all equestrian disciplines are invited to attend.
Keynote speaker Tracey Noonan: Tracey is the CEO and Co-Founder of Wicked Good Cupcakes, Inc. along with daughter, Dani Vilagie. The company, now seven years young, has grown to be a nationally known, multi-million dollar brand thanks in part to an appearance on ABC’s Emmy Award-winning show Shark Tank and subsequent deal with Shark, Kevin O’Leary. Wicked Good Cupcakes is now the largest shipper of cupcakes in the U.S. and has added a host of other products. To date, Wicked Good Cupcakes reports sales upwards of $22,000,000. Tracey was a 2015, 2016 and 2017 Finalist in the prestigious Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition. Tracey has more than two decades of experience with horses in the hunter/jumper, dressage and eventing disciplines and her colt, Quoi De Neuf, competed at Dressage at Devon.
Motivational Speaker Béatrice de Lavalette: Béatrice will tell her story of courage, perseverance, and focus as she recovered from a catastrophic injury, and how her horse played an exceptional role in her recovery. She will talk about how amazing things can happen and a new path in life can be found in the outcome of a critical situation. Béatrice de Lavalette is the most critically injured survivor of the Brussels Airport terrorist bombing. The now double-amputee Bea has been riding ponies and horses since the age of three and never one to give up, she was back on her horse for the first time five months after the bombing. Bea received Pentagon approval for one year of intensive rehabilitation at the Naval Medical Center-San Diego. While in San Diego, she met and began training with Shayna Simon at Arroyo Del Mar, with the goal of representing the United States at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. Bea is now attending the University of San Diego where she was granted the status of Scholar-Athlete. Bea will be competing in her first CPEDI*** January 17-20, 2019 during the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.
Informational Panels, to include:
“Building a Successful Equestrian Business” – in partnership with the US Equestrian Annual Meeting
Lisa Roskens from International Omaha
Lisa Lourie from Spy Coast Farm
Alexandra Cherubini from EquiFit, inc.
Noel Asmar from Asmar Equestrian
Dressage Olympian Ashley Holzer
Jobs Panel — “So You’re Not a Pro Rider. Job searches off the saddle.”
Donna Brothers from StarLadies Racing and NBC Sports
Nicole Lakin from BarnManager and the Equine Tech Collaboration
Equine physiotherapist Janus Marquis
Veterinarian and pharmaceutical expert Dr. Torri Maxwell
Social Media Panel – “Do You Really Need Snapchat? What’s your social strategy?”
Eventing rider Laine Ashker
Shona Rosenblum from Grand Slam Social
Patricia da Silva from Heels Down Media and Magazine
Social influencer Bethany Lee from My Equestrian Style
Work/Life Balance Panel – “Put the Phone Down. Finding balance in a connected world.”
Sarah Appel from Horse & Style magazine
Eliane van Reesema from Hylofit
Reiner and Quarter horse breeder Mandy McCutcheon
Lisa Davis Engel from A Wynning Advantage and Sidelines magazine
With Moderator Julie Saillant from Motivation-Addict.com
An additional presentation from Alexa Anthony of StableGuard on market research is on the schedule, as is “The Power of Media & Membership” Panel held at the US Equestrian Annual Meeting, which is taking place Jan. 9-12 at the Hilton West Palm Beach.
A presentation about the upcoming launch of a year-round membership program for EQBW, which will include member networking, expert resources, and online video learning content, will be given and a special introductory membership price announced.
There will be a networking lunch where attendees and panelists can meet and chat with women from across the equine industry while enjoying the complimentary lunch at the Hilton West Palm Beach in the Florida sunshine. Compare notes, show pictures of your horses (or kids), talk best practices, and share contact information.
We all need to feel a connection, and the EQBW Summit can provide ways to learn as well as motivational moments.
“I really think the idea and the company has so much potential and we really see the opportunity for tremendous growth and a way to help so many people,” Jennifer says.
The 2019 EQBW Summit will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Tickets are $50. To learn more, visit www.EqBusinesswomen.com and follow EQBW on Facebook and Instagram.
‘Tis the season of giving. Some folks give socks. Some folks give cars. Some folks get gift cards. Some folks regift their gifts. My journey towards being happier, healthier, and horsier has brought me down a quasi-minimalist path. By that I mean I would much rather give, and receive, non-tangible gifts.
Recently, a friend and I spent a couple of hours relaxing and chatting at a new coffee shop. (You can also get tats there – just sayin’.) My friend’s time was a fabulous gift. We trust each other so much we can literally talk about anything. Any.Thing. That trust is an amazing gift and one I cherish.
This week, another friend gifted me with time. And on this occasion, his gift of time was one of great healing for me. This friend, Kyle, who also happens to be my horses’ farrier, is a military guy, so his personality is a great combination of no-nonsense and wicked-fast humor. I trust Kyle like a brother – indeed, I think of him as a brother (right down to chastising him and offering advice in true big-sis fashion when I think he needs it).
And so I asked my brother to give me a little time, because I needed a human I trust implicitly, both with respect to his care and concern for me, and with respect to his understanding of horses. Kyle used to ride professionally, currently competes some really fine reining horses, and is, in sum, a “top hand.” He’s also not gonna coddle me or put up with any B.S. Nor would he ever push me beyond my comfort zone, nor ridicule me.
And all those elements were important, because this week, Kaliwohi and I gave each other the gift of trust.
Back in the saddle. All photos by Kyle Hancock.
Getting injured in a fall off a horse is no laughing matter, especially when you’re not young, not thin, and not especially confident. I’ve discussed my injuries, and fears, here in prior columns as honestly as I can. I’ve also received tremendous support from this readership and my editors while I was grounded and healing. And I’m deeply grateful to each of you for your support. I’m even grateful for the few snide comments that came my way – because those negative comments, while mildly hurtful, helped me learn to give myself the gifts of time and trust.
I had to trust my body to tell me when it was healed and ready to return to the saddle. I had to trust my mind, and my heart, too, to tell me when I was ready to be able to give Kaliwohi the gift of trust I knew he would need from me so we would both be relaxed and focused again as a riding partnership whenever I climbed aboard again.
I did not know what I would feel when I stepped back into the irons.
Would I feel like an excited 9-year old getting on her first pony?
Would I feel like a middle-aged “has-been” whose fears would rise right back up and demonize my mind forever?
Would I feel like a successful “overcomer” who had just toppled a major foe?
Would I break down and weep with gratitude for being completely healed and back in the saddle, doing the one thing I enjoy above all others?
I had no idea, and told Kyle so, just in case some emo outburst occured and caught both of us unawares. #NoTearsPlease #CowgirlUp
I worked Kaliwohi at liberty in the round pen for a few minutes, and he was – ahem – full of pi$$ and vinegar, as the saying goes. And as I watched him, with his tail flagged and running wide open, I wondered if I were really ready to get back on my mustang.
I waited for my gut to contract in fear.
But it didn’t.
I kept watching Kaliwohi as he ran and snorted like the wild animal he was born to be.
As he finally slowed to a walk around the perimeter of the round pen, I turned my back to him and slowly walked away.
And the most marvelous thing happened.
Kaliwohi hooked on, of his own accord, and followed me.
The gift of trust.
At that moment I knew we would be okay.
When I stopped walking, he stopped.
When I turned to take his reins, he followed me to the mounting block.
Kyle encouraged me to relax and breathe deep, and, for a little extra boost of confidence, he came and held Kaliwohi while I mounted up.
And as I settled in the saddle I’ve ridden in for decades, on a horse I’ve not been on in months, I did not weep. I didn’t feel overwhelming excitement. I didn’t feel those demonizing fears I had battled earlier this year, right after the “great fall.” Nor did I feel like an “overcomer” heroine in my own story. What did I feel?
I felt like a horsewoman.
As I gathered the reins, my brain went straight to the matters at hand. What’s my horse doing? Are my signals clear enough? Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. Transitions are the key to suppleness. Turn. Halt. Turn the other direction. Halt. Walk. Halt. Back-up. Forward. Walk. Bend. Flex. Is he listening well enough? Breathe deep. Relax your legs. Wrap around and lift the horse to the trot. Trot? Yes, you’re ready. All is well. Trust him. Trust you. Trust us. Trot. Walk. Trot. Bend him around your inside leg. Walk. Halt. Walk. Trot. Walk. Halt.
Working like we’d never missed a day.
And before I knew it, the session was over and both Kaliwohi and I had worked, and worked well, together.
Even a fairly square final halt! Woo hoo!
As riders, our very lives depend upon the mutual trust we build with our riding partner. How fast, or how slowly, we get there is really not an issue. The only thing that matters is that the foundation of trust be built, and built well.
Every Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse world. Today, we recognize Bowman Second Chance Thoroughbred Adoption.
Bowman Second Chance Thoroughbred Adoption (BSCTA) is based in Rhame, North Dakota, helping to rehome off-track Thoroughbreds whose racing days are over.
Who: BSCTA was founded by Dr. Richard Bowman in 1998 when he saw a need in the racing industry to help transition horses from racing to second careers. Bowman is a track veterinarian at Canterbury Park in Minnesota for half of the year and brings home horses unsuitable for racing for downtime, basic retraining and adoption.
What: Thoroughbreds that can no longer run for a variety of reasons come to BSCTA, where they’re given every opportunity to help find a new home and a second career: groundwork, under-saddle training, ranch work and more.
Adoption process: All adoptions start with an approved adoption application, which includes sections about horse experience, where the horse will live, OTTB experience and more. Adoption fees range from $300-$600.
Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post.Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.
There’s nothing prettier than a winter sunset over the barn — if you need convincing, check out this week’s reader-submitted photo gallery!
People either love or hate winter, but it’s hard to deny that a winter landscape has its own unique, stark beauty. And of course, we think that adding a horse or a barn to any landscape instantly makes it better. Without further ado, here are this week’s reader-submitted photos!
Photo by Kevin Stephens
The view over one of our many outdoor arenas taken by Emily Nelson
Lindsay Johnson: My brother Joe Johnson took this one years ago
We teamed up with Kids Draw Free to present a National Day of the Horse drawing contest! The winners have been selected.
Happy National Day of the Horse! On this day, we remember the many contributions of the horse in American history, from the workhorses who plowed the fields to the cavalry horses who carried us into war, to the ranch horses who helped settle the West to the sport and racing horses who inspired us. While not a central part of the lives of many Americans, horses continue to inspire dreamers to this day — and we wanted to celebrate that inspiration with the next generation!
We teamed up with Kids Draw Free to present the first annual National Day of the Horse drawing contest for budding young artists. Artist Beth Wolfe selected and presented the winners via video:
THANK YOU Horse Nation for sponsoring and THANK YOU Beth Wolfe at www.wolfefineart.com (also wolfefineart on Instagram) for judging the the "DRAW A HORSE" Kids Draw Free Drawing Contest: https://www.facebook.com/kidsdrawfree/photos/a.746481678709978/2308100152548115/?type=3&theaterand… and of course… THANKS to the kid artists that created the wonderful Horse art!!
… but if this is what happens at this party, I definitely want an invitation.
Imagine this: you’re sitting at the dinner table for the annual company Christmas banquet, making small talk with Susan from accounting and Jeff from shipping, when the double-doors bust open and in marches… this thing.
It appears to be a Friesian-esque kind of horse, ridden by a guy in one of those creepy body socks, totally bedecked in some kind of battery-powered Christmas lights. You know what? The “what” is not important… nor is the “why” or the “how” or the “who.” All that’s really important is that THIS FREAKING HAPPENED.
Le cheval de lumière de Mario Luraschi à l'intérieur de la Rotonde, moment féerique.
“‘Why should we spend so much money and time getting these horses out of Puerto Rico when there are so many that need homes here in the US?’ Well, these horses are from the States originally — they deserve to come back.”
A sweet little mare named Run Binky Run first opened Kyle Rothfus’ eyes to the racing scene in Puerto Rico.
Kyle and Binky at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover. Photo by Susan Palmer
A bay with a dainty blaze, “Binky,” as she became known, was a 2008 Kentucky-bred by Songandaprayer who made 16 starts in the United States before the end of her three-year-old career. Fairly noncompetitive, she changed hands, shipped to Puerto Rico, and made another 80 starts for her connections through mid-2017.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico in September of 2017, with the latter now recognized as the worst natural disaster to strike Puerto Rico on record. The horses at Hipódromo Camerero, Puerto Rico’s only racetrack, were not immune to the power of the storm and the widespread destruction; in the weeks following Maria, horses were left exposed to the elements — the walls on the backside remained intact, but about 90% of the barns lost their roofs, leaving metal strewn about and horses often standing in deep muck after downpours of rain. Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare (CTA) provided boots-on-the-ground assistance as much as possible, with eventual support from US mainland-based aftercare charities when shipments of feed and supplies could be flown in.
Post-hurricane conditions at Camerero in Puerto Rico. Photo by Kelley Stobie
It was in these conditions that Binky foundered, as well as developed a raging case of scratches. It was believed that she would likely never be riding sound, and in fact was near death. Through the hard work of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare, Binky recovered and got her second chance, flying out of Puerto Rico back to the mainland United States to RVR Horse Rescue in Florida. Rothfus adopted her and competed with her in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, using the competition as a platform to raise awareness among OTTB enthusiasts about the horses of Puerto Rico, many of which started their careers just like Binky in the US.
Because Binky’s story, while an amazing triumph, is not an isolated tale — every year, as many as 150 horses ship from the mainland to Puerto Rico to race. In and of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing, describes Kelley Stobie of Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare.
“We have good owners and good horsemen here,” Stobie describes. “They buy good horses at the US sales and bring them here to run. We do breed some on the island as well, and all of the native-bred horses are registered through the Jockey Club.” But what breaks Stobie’s heart are the horses that should have retired in the States and never been run again — the so-called “warhorses” with more than 50 starts, horses who weren’t competitive at the lowest levels of US racing, and even horses on the vet list at various tracks. She’s seen all of these come through the track in Puerto Rico.
“I’m not opposed to horses shipping here to race,” Stobie adds. “What I have a problem with are the old or unsound horses coming here that should have been retired.” Buyers from Puerto Rico work several angles to get trainers to sell their horses into Caribbean careers, from describing the beautiful warm weather to playing up loyalties: “With a lot of track workers originally from Puerto Rico, the buyers tell them it’s their responsibility to help the racing industry at home.”
“We don’t slaughter horses here,” Stobie is quick to point out. “But so many need to be euthanized. There’s nowhere for them to go when they’re not competitive here, and CTA simply cannot handle the numbers with limited capacity and limited funding.” Puerto Rico is only 3,500 square miles with about a 40% poverty rate, which makes placing horses within the US Caribbean difficult. “Some horses will go run in the US Virgin Islands,” Stobie continues, “but we just don’t have that much room to retire horses here. It’s an island — resources are limited.”
Worthy of Wings, back in the US mainland. Photo courtesy of Kyle Rothfus
Part of the problem is the expense of bringing horses back into the United States from Puerto Rico. Going into Puerto Rico, there is no quarantine requirement, but coming back into the States, horses must quarantine. It costs upwards of $3,300 to get a horse out of Puerto Rico and back into the US. Factor in that many of the horses that CTA is trying to place have health problems or limitations, combined with the number of younger, sounder horses coming off the tracks in the US ready for second careers, and the issue is compounded.
“We’ve taken a lot of negative comments,” Stobie details. “They say, ‘why should we spend so much money and time getting these horses out of Puerto Rico when there are so many that need homes here in the US?’ Well, these horses are from the States originally — they deserve to come back. Connections failed them along the way — that’s not the horses’ fault.”
Worthy of Wings unloading on the mainland:
Live Video as Worthy Of Wings, Charlie Bull & Barlovento Tiger leave travel stall and load trailer for Ocala!
Rothfus too has had to field his share of questions about why he’s not helping more local horses — and he refers them to his 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover hopeful, Worthy of Wings. “She was bred right here in Ohio,” Rothfus, himself based in Ohio, points out. “She ran about 90 starts in the United States and 72 of those were in Ohio.” “Worthy,” as Rothfus calls her, has more than earned her warhorse status, retiring with 138 career starts. “We owe it to these horses to bring them home.”
Worthy settling in back in Ohio. Photo by Kyle Rothfus
Rothfus again hopes to raise more awareness of Caribbean horses with Worthy. “If I can help inspire more people to choose the warhorses or the ones that might need a little rehab, fewer horses might end up needing help like Binky and Worthy. By not choosing these horses here in the United States, they were able to slip through the cracks and continue running in Puerto Rico. There’s a bigger picture I’m hoping to help people to see.”