Retired Racehorse Project Showcase: Considering Conformation, Part II

Our featured Retired Racehorse Project trainers are back with a new report — each trainer looks at the conformation of their horse as well as describes their mindset heading into training!

Need to catch up on our Retired Racehorse Project Showcase series? Click here to view all of our RRP Showcase stories!

As March draws to a close, our second half of our RRP Showcase trainers are well on their way to progress. This month, we asked each of our trainers to break down their horses conformation and explain why they selected their mount based on their conformation and the respective discipline they would be competing in.

Nicole Valeri – Barrel Racing, Professional

As Sligo Girl was a bit of a gamble and a rushed decision, Nicole didn’t get to analyze her conformation before purchasing her. She was just trying to offer the mare a nice home and a place to rest. Now that she has her, however, she isn’t too disappointed with the results of her risky decision. Nicole appreciates the slope of her shoulder, which makes up for a few of her shortcomings and will help balance some weaker areas out. Her neck ties in nicely and her top to bottom ration is likable, all though Nicole admits her back could be a hair shorter. In the field, Sligo is quick and catty and Nicole can’t wait to see progress as a barrel horse.

Sligo enjoying some sunshine. Photo credit: Nicole Valeri.

That being said, Sligo does sport a few flaws that Nicole has made plans to help them work around. She is slightly over at the knee, which can cause undue stress on tendons and ligaments, but Nicole thinks the positives she carries in her shoulder will help keep the stress off of her legs. She is also a little cow-hocked (her hocks turn inward), but she likes the angle of them and feels that Sligo should be able to get under herself and use them effectively while turning a barrel. Lots of proper exercises to strengthen her weak areas will help Sligo stay sound and happy while training to be a barrel horse. Preventative care and ensuring proper care of her legs will go a long way. Nicole is a huge fan of wrapping legs for any type of work and always checking them for heat and swelling before and after a workout. She also includes poultice, cold hosing, and Back on Track therapy with most workouts.

This month, Nicole and Sligo have been working on lots of ground work and teaching Sligo some manners and respect. Sligo really enjoys going to her field and can get anxious while waiting, so Nicole has been taking her for lots of long walks, making sure Sligo stays calm and isn’t trying to run her over in an attempt to get to the gate. Sligo has gotten to spend a lot more time out in her field, which has helped take some of her edge off and polish her personality a bit more. Excitingly enough, Nicole was able to have her first ride on Sligo! They just worked on walk/trot while bareback, but Nicole is happy that it was able to happen. Sligo responded very well and was easy to stop and turn. Nicole is eager to ride her more and really push forward with her training!

Beth Stelzleni – Eventing, Professional

“In a way, his tenseness on the flat has been a good thing because it’s pushed me to become very creative in creating new cavalletti patterns and incorporating them into my dressage schools.

While Beth knows the importance of good conformation while shopping for a horse, she wasn’t going to write the right horse off due to a flaw that can be worked with. She was first drawn to Gift because of his large, well-sloped shoulder which provides him with a beautiful ground-covering trot with an ample amount of reach through his front legs. He also sports a nice, deep heart girth which she seeks out in an event prospect. His proportionate and sizable hip gives him push and power and helps him ‘sit’ in the dressage work. What she loves most about him, however, is his correctness in the conformation of his limbs when looking at him from front to rear.

Handsome as always, Gift really is a good example of a proportionate horse… but that adorable parrot mouth might throw it off a bit! Thankfully, with proper dental work, it gives him no problems eating or grazing. Photo credits to Sarah Davis.

In regards to his conformation, his one quirk is the length of his back which results in some weakness to the loin area. To counteract that, Beth incorporates a lot of work to strengthen his abdominal muscles to better support his back and has scheduled regular chiropractic care for him to ensure his comfort. Training wise, Beth still has to battle his tenseness during flat work. To keep him as calm and comfortable as possible, she likes to include ground poles, cavalletti, and small jumps into every flat school. She has found that when Gift starts to grow tense, if she takes a step back and trots him through some questions he falls into a more relaxed mentality.

This month, Beth has been working on Gift’s strength and loosening up his back. Lots of hill work has become the norm in order to teach him to balance and still give him a strong workout. As every horse needs a break from the hard work every now and then, they have enjoyed some trail rides just to relax and enjoy the view!

Unfortunately, this month Beth had to make the difficult decision to withdraw as a trainer from the Makeover. It was no easy decision, but she managed to find a wonderful trainer, Lauren Turner (who won the title of America’s Favorite Thoroughbred at the Makeover last year with her mount), who will be taking Gift’s training on and carrying him forward to the Makeover. Luckily for us, Lauren is going to take Beth’s place and allow us to continue to follow along with his progress! We thank Beth Stelzleni for her time and commitment to this project and are eager to work with Lauren.

In his spare time, Gift plays “model” and is quite successful if we say so ourselves! Photo credits to Jenrette Romburg

Savannah Ranes – Junior, Dressage

“Under saddle, Bentley is pretty terrific! He tries so hard to please and is really an easy horse to work with.

She may just be 15, but Savannah knows her stuff! When she first saw Bentley, she loved his overall balance and build. She was drawn to nice deep heart girth and short back. His hock angle, pasterns, and shoulder angle are all something she appreciates as well. Savannah loves his good substance and bone throughout and fancies his deep chest. All of these features contribute to his fitness and condition as she brings him along to be a handsome and sporty dressage mount.

All those dapples make us swoon. Beautiful Bentley showing off his great shape. Photo credits to Christina Ranes

While Savannah thinks his neck is a bit on the short side, she loves where it ties in and states it hasn’t caused them any problems. He is able to travel nicely on the bit without being behind the vertical. He also toes out a bit, causing some interference in his movement but Savannah is actively working with her farrier to make the proper adjustments and is noticing some gradual improvement. To keep him happy and healthy, she works him in boots so that he doesn’t hurt himself. Personality wise, Bentley has been a dream to work with and so far Savannah hasn’t run into any major issues that she has had to implement alternative training techniques to correct.

Bentley had some great breakthroughs so far for the month of March! He is now moving forward on the bit and learning to push through behind. His steering has improved dramatically, and he is finally starting to understand the concept of moving off of the leg. Last month’s weak points are now his strong points! He seems to really enjoy working with contact and is even loosening up his back and become soft through his entire body. Savannah was able to take Bentley to a show while she showed her upper level mount and Bentley got to just hang around and soak up the atmosphere. After she finished her classes, she took Bentley and rode him in the warmup ring and he was terrific! He was the only green horse there and was really relaxed. Despite a scary situation with another horse kicking out from a lead change, Bentley didn’t even bat an eye. Way to go, baby Bentley!

Finally coming into his own, Bentley shows off his stuff and look at that connection! Photo credits to Cassidy Ranes.

Lindsy Behrend – Hunter, Professional

“Balance is the key to getting the most movement out of every horse.

As Fergie was a rescue, conformation was not judged initially upon purchase. Lindsy was just going to work with what she got and boy oh boy did she luck out! Fergie sports nice square front feet with beautiful shoulder lines. She has a strong top line with a nice balance and evenness overall. As she is just four, she still is a bit spidery in her legs, but Lindsy knows she will grow into herself with time.

For a horse that was formerly skin and bones, Fergie sure has filled out to be a beautiful and balanced horse! Photo by Lindsy Behrend

Conformation wise, Fergie does have a low front right heel but Lindsy has her farrier applying wedges temporarily to allow the angle of the right to match the left. As far as her training goes, Fergie LOVES to jump — and she lets you know with how excited she gets. She isn’t so much a rusher as she is an adder — she tends to want to go forward for the add resulting in a rabbit hop rather than a jump. To curb that habit, Lindsy has her take long quiet steps to each fence and they do lots of gymnastics and grid work. Single fences always have a pole before them and after them to really keep her focused and in check. In fact, overall Lindsy does more pole work than over fences work as she finds pole work just as effective and less strenuous on the horse. On the flat, Fergie is a bit slow and choppy, so Lindsy does lots of sitting trot with transitions, using hand and seat to shape and balance her. She focuses on getting Fergie to balance and put all of her power in her hind end and be soft with her front.

We are so excited to share that our first ever Makeover baby was born in early March (congratulations Lindsy, he is BEAUTIFUL!) That being said, Fergie got a nice mini vacation for the first three weeks of March while Lindsy recovered from her emergency c-section. While recovery was a bit longer than what Lindsy had hoped, she is taking it easy to allow herself time to heal. Fergie recently just had her shoes put back on and they will be slowly going back into work soon with their first schooling shows scheduled for next month!

It’s not our normal horse photo, but who can’t fall in love with this sweet new addition? Welcome to the Horse Nation RRP Showcase family, Brayden Everett Behrend! Photo courtesy of Lindsy Behrend.

Oliver Keithly – Polo, Amateur

“Mentally, I want this job to be no different for him than playing in a paddock as a two year old with his friends. I want him to enjoy it that much.

Oliver knew what traditional polo players look for in regards to conformation in a horse and he knew what he needed. Ideally, he wanted a horse that has a straight back with a Quarter Horse-type build. Most polo players are looking for the more petite horses, but as he is a bigger guy he was shopping for something that was big boned and in the 15.2-15.3h range. He was willing to compromise the typical conformation for a horse that would match well with him in the long run. As he was looking for a long term partner, he wanted more of a connection with his mount. He asked himself, “what major conformation flaw would stop a horse at this level?” and started searching from there. Thankfully, he found all of that and more in Fitzy!

Oliver and Fitzy make a perfect pair! Photo by Mellissa Keithly

Fitzy doesn’t sport any major conformational issues that need addressing; however, the pair is still in a bit of an adjustment period right now. Snow still has them a little set back and so Fitzy has enjoyed a nice extended vacation. The biggest thing they will work on is manners brought into his new career from track life. In order to address those issues, Oliver knows he is going to have to have a certain level of trust and patience with Fitzy so that he can guide him to the right path. Habits can change, but it may not necessarily be at the speed you would initially like it to be. Oliver plans on leading Fitzy down the path to what is and is not accepted at his farm. Fitzy has really adjusted to the downtime and has come to just be a horse. Track horses are so used to go, go, go, work, work, work, that the extended downtime and time by himself in his stall has really helped him come into his own.

As spring rounded the corner, Oliver and Fitzy both feel a bit pent up. While Fitzy has enjoyed his vacation, Oliver thinks he is getting to the point now where he is ready to work — which is an exciting point at which to start their training. Fitzy is now properly desensitized to the mallet that has become his best friend, hanging in his stall. Oliver’s first order of business with under saddle work is to get Fitzy adjusted to having the mallet swing around his head and to have a ball at his feet. With Fitzy’s history racing on turf, Oliver thinks he will have little to no adjustment time cantering around the polo field and just wants to focus on helping Fitzy love his job!

Fitzy celebrated St. Patricks day as any true Irish should — with a shamrock nearby! Photo by Mellissa Keithly

We knew this process would be a difficult one, but thankfully despite some changes and bumps along the road our trainers and their mounts are acclimating to each other. Every day that passes puts us another day closer! Countdown to the RRP: seven months!

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