Retired horses get main stage at thoroughbred symposium

By Erynn Landherr

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Thoroughbred horses often lose the limelight when they retire, but this weekend was different.

The Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium at the Kentucky Horse Park gathered farms, organizations and individuals from 44 states, Canada and Europe who transitioned about 350 off-track Thoroughbreds into potential second careers.

The event aimed to show off the “new tricks” of retired racehorses and showcase the usefulness of thoroughbreds who otherwise would have been underappreciated.

Emma Burch, a junior nursing major, member of the United States Pony Club and owner of an adopted off-the-track racehorse, said the makeover was important because of horse racing’s significance in the Bluegrass.

“Kentucky’s main industry is thoroughbreds and racing,” Burch said. “It is important to note that many of these horses do not go on to complete successful careers, as ‘failures’ they are simply thought of as a waste of space and money at a racing stable.”

This makeover event was a way to raise awareness and debut the pure Thoroughbred talent.

The attendees watched and learned more about the increased demand for and the value of off-track Thoroughbreds as recreational mounts and sport horses.

“This event should be something all equine enthusiasts, Kentuckians, and UK students should’ve attended because thoroughbreds are such a huge part of our culture and they are right here in our backyard,” Burch said.

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The makeover was an official Breeders’ Cup Festival event presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America.

It rehabilitated retired racehorses to compete in up to two of 10 disciplines for an allotted $100,000 in cash prize.

Isabela de Sousa, a 14-year-old junior rider with Liftoff Equestrian, rode her horse Dewey Square this past weekend in the show hunter and show jumper categories.

“The makeover event was beneficial because it was an opportunity to show how many different skills these horses have,” Sousa said. “The owners, trainers and riders are taking a racehorse and turning it into a discipline horse  ­— not many breeds are capable of adapting to that change.”

The event also featured a variety of seminars, a sponsor fair with 80 vendor booths, a makeover marketplace with horses for sale, as well as a launch party.

“The makeover was all about education: what goes into a horse’s training at the track, the best way to retrain them for these disciplines, what to look for in shopping for new prospects, training tips and more,” said Jen Roytz, board member of the Retired Racehorse Project.

Aisling Carroll, a marketing junior and member of the UK Dressage and Eventing Team, said she felt personally connected to this event as her own family adopts and competes retired racehorses.

“The people that came and supported the show helped more thoroughbred owners realize the further potential these horses have off the race track,” Carroll said. “This was a way to showcase that the thoroughbred breed is capable of more than running, it was an event that potentially helped the racing industry restore its integrity.”

To become a Thoroughbred Charities of America donor, click here. For more information on supporting the Retired Racehorse Project and the Thoroughbred makeover event, click here.