A few weeks ago, I accompanied a friend to the New Vocations Charity Thoroughbred Horse Show. The experience got me thinking more broadly about how to promote more local, low-stakes horse shows for OTTBs and green horses.
The reality is – the A circuit is becoming increasingly expensive. Furthermore, a green OTTB is unlikely to win any ribbons at an A show, even in the smaller hunter rings. But, the fact remains, that the hunter ring is one of the best places to start a green horse. No matter what direction they are headed in in the future, the hunter ring teaches so many things: pace, straightness, collection, extension, etc. For these reasons, it is so important to make the hunter ring accessible to all greenies, and in particular, OTTBs. AND, it would be nice to win a ribbon or two along the way to make the journey more rewarding. AND, it would be nice to not break the bank.
But it seems to me that local circuits are withering away slowly. The numbers are down, the quality of horse is down, while the entry fees are up. While I know many professionals that don’t find this phenomenon alarming (mostly because it’s their pocketbook that benefits from the push for A circuit clients) I think it’s a crisis.
How does the future of our sport look if the entry point is spending at least $1,500 per weekend? How does the future look for off-the-track horses when it is difficult to win good ribbons immediately at that level? So, a big thank you to New Vocations, for hosting a show at a remarkable venue for the riders and horses that simply aren’t ready to take the deep dive into the A circuit. I hope that in the future, more OTTB charities and local circuits amp up their efforts to offer low stakes horse shows around the country as a clear way to promote our sport and its future.
This particular horse show was a great first show for my friend’s new OTTB, Rocco. Rocco is a four-year-old Curlin descendant that has a bright future ahead of him as a hunter, jumper, event horse, well… whatever he wants to be, really. His athleticism is pretty remarkable. This show was the perfect place for Rocco to get his hooves wet. The show was hosted by the Kentucky Horse Park – a premiere venue for some of the top shows in the country. This allowed Rocco to tour around a venue that, one day, he might be competing at again but for much higher stakes.
While our experience at the New Vocations show was good, there were a few things that certainly didn’t go to plan (which as you know, is simply a reality at horse shows). First, Rocco was supposed to go in the two-foot hunters. However, Saturday morning, the show administration decided to eliminate this division all together. This meant that Rocco had to move up a division.
Not a terrible outcome, but when there’s a plan, it would be nice to be able to stick to it. Second, the hack class had about 30 horses in it. Considering that the vast majority of them were OTTBs (and all the rest were thoroughbreds that never raced), you would think the hack would have been split – at a minimum, for the canter portions. However, the judge did not split the class. This resulted in a bit of blasting around and crowding by some horses. Rocco was great, but with all the stimulus, he started to toss his head a bit (a behavior he never does at home). If it weren’t for the head tossing, I am convinced that he would have pinned well in the hack. Such a brilliant mover!
Even more impressive than Rocco, the rider in the irons. Like so many of us, Carrie grew up horse showing but adulthood and career has taken her out of the show ring for a few years (silly careers). Without professional help she was completely cool and collected. She had Rocco well prepared, and I believe she was confident in their partnership. They put in three trips over fences. After getting some nerves out in the warm-up, they were beautiful.
My favorite thing about this duo is that Carrie totally embraces forward movement. On a green OTTB, the rider can pick a lot of fights by resisting forward movement. But Carrie closes her hip angle and allows Rocco to carry her to the fences, creating a true hunter “look”. A few times on course, I thought she was going to ask him to wait to the tight distance, but instead, following her intuition, she closed her legs and urged him forward to the perfect spot. It was really something to watch.
I think these OTTBs have to learn forward, before they can learn collection. You can’t have one without the other. I have no doubt that as Rocco gets stronger and faces more challenging questions, he will start to back himself up, without Carrie having to ask much. Although I have nothing to do with their success, I couldn’t help but feel proud of a friend and her adorable partner!
Cheers to Carrie and Rocco. And cheers to New Vocations for giving us all a low-stakes opportunity to show our OTTBs.
About Jaclyn Meg Johnson: My name is Jaclyn Johnson (although those that knew me as a kiddo know me as Meg Johnson, which is some cruel joke my parents played on me- making me go by a name that isn’t actually my name at all). I am constantly battling the reality that I can no longer wear bows and jods in the show ring, and I have actual bills to pay. My discipline de préférence is the hunters, although I admire, follow, and dabble in others. You can find my in the Adult Amateur ring counting strides and dreaming of future Derby glory! This post originally appeared on Jaclyn’s website, intothebluegrass.com.