Retired Racehorse Project Spotlight

The journey draws to a close.

After months of preparation, the four remaining spotlighted horses and trainers all made it safely to the Kentucky Horse Park for a week jam-packed with OTTBs, competitions and memories to be made. All of our horse and rider combos put in stellar performances and were successful in showing off the versatility of the retired racehorse. We caught up with them as they traveled home to share their final stories at the RRP.

Savannah Ranes: Junior, Dressage

“My goal for our test was to score a 60.00% and I’m happy to say that we did just that.”

After traveling three days from California, Savannah and Bentley made it to the Kentucky Horse Park last Wednesday and managed to squeeze in an afternoon ride to prepare for competition the following day. Thankfully, Bentley made himself right at home in Kentucky and stayed relaxed the whole weekend! When Thursday rolled around, Savannah and Bentley entered the ring ready to shine down the centerline and Savannah was more than impressed with how Bentley went during their tests, despite only ever having attended one schooling show prior to competing at the RRP.

“He was very mature and respectful for our test on Thursday even though he was a bit nervous in the beginning of it,” Savannah shared. The pair scored a 60.577% and were 50th out of 78 horses.

Screenshot by Savannah Ranes

Savannah loved the atmosphere at the Retired Racehorse Project and found that everyone was very welcoming and supportive. “Even though we were competing against each other it really felt like we’re all on the same team,” said Savannah as she reflected on her week in Kentucky. “I met the most amazing people and made some really good friends.” She felt as if every person there shared the same intentions: to increase OTTB awareness in their post-track careers.

For now, Savannah plans to keep Bentley and show him through 2018 with the goal of showing him First Level next summer. She would be willing to sell the handsome gray gelding to the right home if it came along, but if not, he is sticking around for a while so she can continue to grow with him. While she would love to participate in the RRP again next year, she was accepted as an entrant in the New Vocations Pony Club Challenge and is making that her main focus at the moment. While in Kentucky, she picked up her New Vocations mount Jackson Square. We cannot wait to see where this talented and ambitious young Junior goes in the upcoming years!

Heather Louisiana: Working Ranch, Professional

At first I just didn’t know what to think! Regardless of our placing, I was so thrilled with Henry’s performance.”

Four days and over 2,000 miles one way wasn’t going to hold Heather and Henry back from putting their whole heart into the Makeover. The pair arrived at the park on Monday to give Henry plenty of time to wind down from his trip and settle in. This was Heather’s first ever cross-country haul, so it was most important to her that she have a sound and healthy horse at the end of the road.

On Tuesday, one of Heather’s friends arrived with her horse so the pair tacked up and went off on a hack around the grounds to let the horses acclimate. Luckily, Heather was able to get Henry into the arena to practice some of their pattern and even had the opportunity to let him adjust to the cattle they would be working in their class. That Thursday morning the team competed in the preliminary round. Henry went in ready to work and his calm nature put Heather at ease. She was really impressed with his performance, but never expected to look up and see they ended the day in second place which would allow them to ride in the Finals!

Photo by Patty Louisiana

“I just rode my pattern like I would’ve back home. The larger arena helped Henry with his lead changes. I was so happy with his performance,” she shared. On Friday, Henry was cross-entered into Competitive Trail. Unfortunately, the commotion of the park and the combined driving event near some of the obstacles got to Henry and he blew his mind a little bit when asked to enter the water complex or go near the carts. Heather felt a little bit of anxiety growing after seeing how he reacted on Friday, but closed the day out with a PEMF session to help him relax.

The next morning was Finals day, but Working Ranch was the last class of the day so Heather had plenty of time to let Henry chill and enjoy a demo session with an Accuhorsemat. “Going in, my plan was to just ride my pattern like I did my first one,” Heather said. Henry was a bit anxious to enter the arena without his friends, but Heather coaxed him in and the pair did excellent placing third overall!

Photo by Patty Louisiana

Heather felt the environment at the Makeover was great. “There were so many people from different backgrounds and they were all rooting for everyone else!” She described the show as filled with support and the best competition she has ever been too. She was so impressed that she is already making plans to attend again next year and has even had a few of her local connections reach out regarding eligible mounts for her to ride.

“Henry is definitely staying with me,” she said matter-of-factly. “I got lucky with how great he is!” Henry will continue to do some ranch work and even dabble a bit in some jumping; Heather feels his personality will allow him to do whatever he puts his mind too. While Heather may not be able to make the trip to Kentucky for the RRP a yearly endeavor, she is inspired to return again next year with another mount entered in Working Ranch.

Photo by Patty Louisiana

Kallie Zeinstra: Competitive Trail, Professional

I have already started looking for my next OTTB and am planning to compete at the Makeover in 2018.”

To Kallie’s relief, Jacob handled the seven and a half hour haul to the Kentucky Horse Park like a pro and arrived calm and collected, ready to tackle the week ahead. The pair had a blast exploring the park together, enjoying sights such as the Rolex Stadium and the legendary cross country fields. It didn’t hurt that Jacob has his “girlfriend” Arya along for the journey, as he prefers to travel with a friend.

Friday afternoon was competition day for this duo and Jacob started his day a hair nervous and had a little bit of difficulty focusing on the task at hand. When the horses in their trail group got ahead of Jacob, he began to lose confidence. This whole experience was much more than the competition for Kallie, so after the competition was over that day Kallie took Jacob back out on the cross country course in hand to help him regain his self-confidence. That was just the ticket to get him back in the right mindset and Jacob grew braver and even enjoyed a little swim with Kallie!

Saturday, the pair joined up with one of their new friends from the competition for a walk around the grounds together and Jacob quite enjoyed getting to be around new buddies. “Jacob didn’t make the finals but I honestly couldn’t be happier with how our week went,” Kallie said. The pair made it home safely and Jacob was more than excited to see all of his pals again.

Photo by Kerri Zeinstra

“The atmosphere at the Makeover was for the most part very positive and supportive. It was amazing to see and meet so many people who enjoy working with OTTBs!” On top of hosting the Retired Racehorse Project that weekend, the Kentucky Horse Park was also home to a combined driving competition which was very exciting for everyone there. Getting to watch the single and team driving horses around the park was quite a treat and Jacob found it all very fascinating. Kallie was thoroughly pleased with the trail obstacles in their competition and all of the hard work that was put into the course; however, she did have one suggestion for the coming years. “I believe that there should be some type of judging between obstacles to keep the level of sportsmanship up,” she shared.

In addition to all of the excitement, Kallie also had the opportunity to work as a scribe for one of the Field Hunter judges, which allowed her to learn a lot about the discipline and she hopes to compete in the event in the future.

Photo by Kerri Zeinstra

Jacob has a forever home with Kallie and with her newfound appreciation for field hunting, she hopes to pursue a new career with him with the help of several local hunt clubs. She aims to continue with trail riding as much as possible with Jacob and even do some mounted archery together. “Despite our struggles over the last ten months, I couldn’t imagine having gone on this adventure with any other horse. Jacob and I have taught each other so much and I can’t wait to continue our journey together!” Kallie has already begun the horse-hunting process for her next OTTB in hopes of attending the 2018 Makeover.

Victoria Gomez: Show Hunter, Amateur

“It was uplifting seeing so many horses that were racing not long ago excelling at their new careers and you could see that they were truly enjoying their new jobs.”

Victoria and Ally arrived at the park on Tuesday and despite having to stay stalled for six days straight and the commotion of golf carts, crowds, and heavy machinery, Ally never once lost her cool. To help keep her mind at ease, Victoria utilized a company called NightWatch to check on Ally every few hours throughout the night and providing her with water or hay as needed. With her mind clear, Victoria went into schooling on Wednesday with a positive attitude and was happy with how Ally went around.

On Thursday, the pair showed in the hunters where they placed 53rd out of 101 entries. “I was very impressed with how Ally handled herself and the busy environment. She also got her first left to right lead change in our second hunter trip!” Victoria said. Even though she got a bit nervous one her flat, Victoria couldn’t have been more proud of her sweet mare. Friday, the pair showed in the jumpers and Victoria found that Ally was more relaxed after an additional day to settle in. They had a few hiccups, but the pair managed to place 38th out of 90 jumpers! Not bad for a pair who have only been under saddle for a few months.

Photo credit to GRC Photo

“The atmosphere was definitely unlike any other show I have been to or competed at,” said Victoria of the Retired Racehorse Project. She found the crowds were supportive and even understanding when small issues arose. Most of the horses handled the hustle and bustle of the show very well, despite being green, and Victoria was more than thrilled to see that no one lost their composure when a horse had a baby moment. She was more than pleased with the way the classes were run. “The hunter classes were split to where there were only eight horses per under-saddle which I thought was very considerate of these horses as it lowered the stress level of them having to flat with too many others.”

Photo by Molly Worek

Victoria is excited to keep Ally in her family and see what the future holds. Ally will be getting a few weeks off and then Victoria will bring her back into work, focusing on her flat work throughout the winter and reintroducing jumps in the spring. She hopes to show Ally next year in the 2’6” hunters and jumpers and maybe even let her daughter do a few leadline classes on her as well. For now, she does plan to enter the Makeover again in 2018, all though she has yet to make any decisions regarding disciplines or if her new mount will be a resale project or another family member. “Competing next year will also depend largely on my support system and if they are up for the challenge again– I hope they are!”

All of our Horse Nation family are so proud of each of these talented riders and horses for their own individual successes both at the RRP and along the way. We have watched these horses blossom over time and it has been a true joy seeing their developments along the way. We want to thank these riders for sharing their stories and letting us follow along with the ups and downs of the retraining process. What a ride it has been — but boy, it was a good one!

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