Thoroughbred Logic, Presented by OTTB United: Horses That Inspire Community

“Those who own Thoroughbreds at some point or another, struggle with their feet, their condition, their brains, and their post-track bodies. But somehow, with this breed, the struggle is collective… communal.”

Welcome to the next installment of Thoroughbred Logic. In this weekly series, Anthropologist and trainer Aubrey Graham, of Kivu Sport Horses, offers insight and training experience when it comes to working with Thoroughbreds (although much will apply to all breeds). This week ride along as Aubrey discusses how there’s something about Thoroughbreds that inspire community.

The concept of “it takes a community/village” is one that is familiar to anyone who has horses or children or the like. The fact that these horses — these often challenging, goofy, sensitive Thoroughbreds — don’t just require community, but inspire it is perhaps something all together more powerful.

The other day, after a tough lesson on her young Thoroughbred, a friend asked me, “Can I do this on my own?” (Implying “Am I in over my head?”) And my response was some version of, “Yes, you absolutely can, but you don’t have to.” Comically, my stubborn, ridiculously Yankee-independent self, is still learning that same lesson.

Lauren Schuster is a super example of that community. This past week, she played key roles at the Makeover as groom and photographer and friend and sanity. I am beyond grateful. Photo by Pamela Graham.

Maybe it is the same for other breeds… maybe not? Maybe Thoroughbreds just attract the happy crazies out there… or at least weed out the others who don’t have time, energy, or vet bill money for their shenanigans. Those who own Thoroughbreds at some point or another, struggle with their feet, their condition, their brains, and their post-track bodies. But somehow, with this breed, the struggle is collective…communal. And to sound sappy but damn accurate, a win for one Thoroughbred horse and rider somehow feels like a win for the rest of us.

Monk (Sydster) shows off his stack wrap after getting kicked and developing cellulitis in the first week of being here. Worry not, he’s fine now. Goober. Photo by author.

Perhaps this is not the case for everyone — perhaps I am just sentimental right now. But after the last two weeks, I suppose that would be expected. When I rushed Mountain Holiday (one of my Makeover horses… but also far more than that) to the University of Georgia for emergency colic surgery two Tuesdays ago, and when we lost him the following Sunday morning, it was my team and the Thoroughbred and broader horse community that was able to channel an understanding of that heartbreak and loss into kind words, support, barn help, and dinner. I still don’t have good words for this — so that processing and writing will come later.

The next morning, I drove silently to Kentucky for the Retired Racehorse Project’s Makeover. When I blew a tire north of Atlanta, I got a text from another Thoroughbred person: “Was that you on the side of the road? Do you need help? I can come back.” It was okay — a man with a floor jack and car knowledge paired up with a policeman who had neither of those things to get the spare on and get us back on the road.

Helpful humans got us back on the road. Photo by author.

The Thoroughbred Makeover — known colloquially as the happiest horse show on earth — was exactly what it has grown to be: a wonderfully supportive space for those happy crazies who love these horses. Competition is there, certainly. But it has grown to be more than the rides and the ability to aim for a win and prize money; it is a community of amazing, huge-hearted staff, volunteers, and trainers who have crafted the positivity and the pride that supports these quirky beasts. And in that space, friendships are forged, networks made, education is offered and a quietly amazing community sneaks on up and folds in new members and their horses.

Louis checks out the Rolex arena for the first time while I catch up with folks at the in-gate. Photo by Lauren Schuster.

Without Mountain, this year might not have been the happiest Makeover on my end, despite Louis (Unbridled Bayou) being the absolute best baby horse and successfully tackling all the the challenges I threw at him. But it was a year when I realized that community is often built in the background and you only recognize that it exists when tragedy or hardship drops you to your knees. Then it is like a light projected into the sky with a bat (or a racehorse?) and the folks who have so long been there, get to finally do something.

And for all of that — the being there when there is no bat sign (no help needed) and when there suddenly is — I love and have so much gratitude for this community. The tight knit one at home and the broader one that connects across the country. And I’m grateful to the Retired Racehorse Project as well as the broader network of track connections, re-homers, trainers and riders for somehow shaping and cultivating so much of that.

Stellar pic of Louis tackling his ditch fears over the faux-ditch on the Eventing Cross Country Course at the Makeover. Photo by Bethany P Photography.

So to the community inspired by these horses, thank you. The horse world is hard. Humans can be tough, horses are fragile and making ends meet is always complicated. But these people, these Thoroughbred people … there’s something different about them; something different in the love of these odd-ball horses first and the win second. Something in that turn of phrase that transforms the idea from “it takes a community” to “it inspires one…”

Hug your horses a little tighter, folks, this life we have with them is one wild ride.

Thoroughbred Logic is proud to be supported by OTTB United, the premier virtual marketplace for retired racehorses built by equestrians, for equestrians. The OTTB United app unites organizations, buyers, sellers, and trainers in one interface. Download the app and give it a whirl by clicking/tapping the banner below!