One racing barn in Southern California is using the principles of dressage to improve their horses’ performance on the track–and one of their trainees might look familiar.
Top: Ebby “dancing” like her big sister in the post parade
She is big, nearly black and oh, so beautiful. She dances in the post parade, scorches the track and enjoys the tender loving care of trainer John Shirreffs. If you think we are talking about Zenyatta, you are close. We’re talking about her baby half-sister Eblouissante, and like her sister, she dances, but her moves come with a few more technical components.
Eblouissante has been making headlines since she first went into training. A foal of 2009, she was born just as her famous big sister was ascended to new heights (Zenyatta was 2008-2010 Champion Older Female and also the 2010 Horse of the Year in American racing). Through her breeder and owner (who also bred Zenyatta before selling her as a yearling), Eblouissante was placed in race training with John Shirreffs at age three (both Zenyatta and “Ebby) are big–over 17 hands and both started their careers late, for racehorses.
As luck would have it, right about the time that Eblouissante showed up in Shirreff’s barn, so did another lady possessing an exceptional set of skills, Jacqueline Kandalaft-Gomez. According to an article in The Blood-Horse, Jacqueline, who is a native of the UK, was working in the music industry in Southern California when she decided to go back to her roots riding racehorses. Her background included starting steeplechasers in Britain and several years of dressage lessons under a Grand Prix rider.
“I started getting into dressage and having regular lessons,” Kandalaft-Gomez said. “I loved the challenge because I found it so hard, trying to develop the seat, leg and hands, after I’d been galloping (steeplechasers).”
After riding for several other Southern California trainers, she landed in Shirreff’s barn in 2011 after he noticed the exceptional connection she made with horses on the track. “I see how she keeps the horses up under themselves, always thinking about the horse’s well-being. Because the rider is like the pilot of an airplane, you want them to bring it home safely,” shared Shirreff’s in the interview with The Blood-Horse.
Ebby galloping under Jacqueline.
And so it was that Zenyatta’s baby sister learned the classical art of dressage, while still working full-time as a racehorse. As stated in The Blood-Horse interview, Jacqueline works to impart “the basic dressage tenets of lightness, acceptance, balance, straightness, and impulsion to all of the young Thoroughbreds she exercises.” The filly thrived under the training and went on to have two wins before being sidelined late last year. Her owner, Eric Kronfeld, also passed away in 2013 and the filly was offered at public auction in November. Sold for $2.1 million, she somehow made her way back to Shirreff’s barn once more when long-time Shirreff’s client, St. George Farm, bought her and sent her back into training.
Eblouissante took some time off in late 2013 after breaking two front teeth in a starting gate incident but 2014 promises to be a big year for the big mare. And who knows, if racing turns out to not be “her thing,” maybe we’ll see her competing in the dressage arena next!
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