Skye Liikanen and Sacred Promise, winners of the 2018 dressage discipline finale. Photo by Anne Litz/Courtesy RRP
The Retired Racehorse Project’s (RRP) Thoroughbred Makeover has truly been a gamechanger for retired racehorses. Designed to showcase the trainability and talent of off-track Thoroughbreds, the competition has come a long way since its inaugural Retired Racehorse Training Symposium in 2009.
The brainchild of Steuart Pittman, the organization was founded in 2010 with one focus: educating the public as to just how much these horses had left to give once they retire from the track. Pittman sought to re-establish the Thoroughbred as a premier show mount while also highlighting them in other, non-traditional roles, such as ranch and trail riding.
In 2011, the RRP (then called the Retired Racehorse Training Project) began the journey to what would become the largest Thoroughbred training competition in the nation. The Maryland and Pennsylvania Horse World Expos hosted the first ever Trainer Challenge, drawing thousands of Thoroughbred lovers to each venue.
In addition to showcasing the horses during ridden work, spectators were treated to demonstrations and explanations; a core tenet of the RRP has always been providing education in multiple formats, including online and in person, with educational panels, trade fairs, seminars and more.
The 2012 event capitalized on the momentum the inaugural event garnered, involved four top Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred farms and was dubbed the 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge. The four horses were donated to the Challenge by Jay Em Ess Stable, Sagamore Farm, The Walnut Green Farm and Northview Stallion Station and sent to Pittman’s Dodon Farm for 100 days of training.
Instead of focusing on the methods trainers used, like the 2011 event did, the 100-Day Challenge highlighted the trainability and characteristics of the Thoroughbred as a breed; each horse was trained by the same staff members at Dodon Farm.The Thoroughbred Makeover now offers western disciplines, such as trail, ranch riding and barrels. Photo by Anne Litz/Courtesy RRP
In 2013, the event moved to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., and became a truly national event. Featuring 26 trainers who had four months to train their off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) in one of 10 disciplines, the event drew 800 live spectators.
The event returned to Pimlico in 2014, matching 10 trainers with 10 OTTBs to compete in one of 10 disciplines. The Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) is an organization that raises and distributes funds to approved organizations that assist with Thoroughbred rehoming; they have been an avid supporter of the RRP and the Makeover events since 2013.
The Thoroughbred Makeover in the format we see today came to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., in 2015. Nearly 200 horses competed in 10 disciplines after 10 months of training, vying for $100,000 in prize money. Extensive workshops, panels and educational opportunities were offered, and a world-class trade fair rounded out the weekend.
It’s important to note that the Makeover is not solely geared toward professional riders: juniors, amateurs, professionals and teams all compete together, with specific awards for the highest-placed amateur, junior and team in each division. Amateurs and juniors have won several divisions at previous Makeovers, and junior Charlie Caldwell won the overall 2017 Makeover on a West Virginia-bred polo pony.
The riders will compete in 10 disciplines: barrels, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, field hunters, polo, ranch work, show hunters, show jumpers, and freestyle (a freeform division to demonstrate skills of the trainer’s choice).
For the 2019 event, which will be held Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, 673 trainers from 44 states and four Canadian provinces have been accepted to compete with 723 horses.
The riders will compete in 10 disciplines: barrels, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, field hunters, polo, ranch work, show hunters, show jumpers, and freestyle (a free-form division to demonstrate skills of the trainer’s choice).Rosie Napravnik retired from a highly successful career as a jockey and now retrains off-track Thoroughbreds. Photo by Lou Oms/Creative Commons
Champion jockey Rosie Napravnik is no stranger to competition. A two-time winner of the Kentucky Oaks and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Distaff, Napravnik doesn’t need to be told about the heart of a Thoroughbred, but she’s enjoying showing the world what these horses can do when they retire from racing.
This year, Napravnik has three horses competing: two under her tutelage alone and one that is a team horse. Implemented in 2018, the Makeover’s team competition seeks to involve more riders in the retraining of retired racehorses. A team must have at least three members, with two members presenting the horse in competition.
This format defrays some of the time and cost affiliated with owning a horse by allowing it to be shared among multiple riders and caretakers. Over 40 teams have indicated their intent to compete in 2019, a significant increase from 15 teams in 2018.
My Man Sam is Napravnik’s team horse, who will be competing in show hunters under the team name Rosie Napravnik Off-Track Sporthorses. Sanimo will be an individual mount for Napravnik; she actually galloped the big bay for her husband, racehorse trainer Joe Sharp, during his days on the track.
She loved Sanimo’s trot and gallop, and had always told the owners she wanted him if and when he retired from racing. Napravnik got Sanimo right after he turned 3 and gave him 10 months off.
“He’s immature right now, but in four years he’s going to be a monster,” she says. Sanimo is aiming for the eventing portion of the Thoroughbred Makeover.
Her final mount, Bethel Wildcat, was bred, raced and retired by Stuart Brown, DVM, of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington.
“He’s very fancy and a nice prospect,” says Napravnik. She intends to compete Bethel Wildcat in eventing as well.The Makeover’s hunter/jumper divisions are thriving as interest grows in bringing Thoroughbreds back to the show circuit. Photo by Anne Litz/Courtesy RRP
Eventing is Napravnik’s sweet spot: She competed in the 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover, the 2017 Makeover, and the 2018 Makeover, where she finished with her best placing of 3rd. Napravnik’s 2015 mount was a horse named Dare Me, aka Darren.
“He was really a team effort,” Napravnik explains. “I was pregnant with my son at the time, so Dorothy Crowell put a lot of training on him.”
Crowell is a storied trainer in her own right. She’s long been a Thoroughbred lover, and aboard her beloved Molokai, was the national winner of the inaugural CCI4* at the 1998 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington. Crowell was also an individual silver medalist at the 1994 World Equestrian Games and rode Molokai in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
Crowell also has competed in the Makeover in both 2016 and 2017. She intends to compete two horses in eventing in 2019, Hour’s Truly and Jasmine’s Gem.The freestyle division is always a crowd favorite as trainers choosehow best to show off their horses’ unique skills. Photo by Anne Litz/Courtesy RRP
“The Makeover has grown and developed so much,” says Napravnik. “It’s now an entire community. Everyone knows what the Makeover is. It doesn’t matter what discipline you’re riding: ‘Makeover Eligible’ is a stamp that indicates that horse is quality. It’s been great for sales! I see Thoroughbreds at all stages of training and people are seeking out these horses, whether they have been professionally trained or are straight off the track.”
Napravnik is a shining example of not only increasing the value of the Thoroughbred to potential show homes and to recreational riders, but for showing the racing world just what else these horses can accomplish.
“I have three [racing] clients who are supporting their horses in second careers,” she explains. “I have been blown away [by it]—this is where it really is full circle. I feel very fortunate to be a part of both worlds. It’s been an honor to showcase these horses both on and off the track.”
Also returning for 2019 are Elisa Wallace, a professional five-star eventer and trainer who piloted Reloaded to the title of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred. She intends to bring two horses from her home state of Georgia to compete in eventing: Crafty Charger and Play Big.
Dan James, a champion colt starter who owns of Double Dan Horsemanship, is aiming Samraat at the freestyle discipline, and National Finals Rodeo champion Fallon Taylor has her sights set on barrel racing with her horse Cowboy Swagger.
For more information or to find out how you can livestream the competition, visit www.tbmakeover.org.
This article about the Thoroughbred Makeover originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
Based in Lexington, Ky., Sarah Coleman has a soft spot for chestnuts with chrome, including her off-the-track Thoroughbred, Chisholm. The pair competes in the hunters.
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