Well, the time has come to vote for the winner of the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, which I find distressing on two counts. One, the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge is coming to an end, and that’s like when a really great band breaks up right after their first album and you’re just bereft because you never got to see them on tour because you were out of town when they came to your city and you thought “Well, I’ll catch them next time,”… yeah, it’s that bad. And second, you have to choose a winner. And that’s just… that’s just impossible.
You know those expensive preschools where every child gets to play the lead in the play, or those soccer teams whre there aren’t any try-outs and there aren’t any play-offs because everyone’s a winner? Yeah, it’s like that.
Or maybe it’s like a lead-line class and everyone should get a blue ribbon at the end.
I have been watching videos all morning and I can honestly say, it’s exactly like that. Yes, you are all winners!
Okay, if I were going to give an award for Amazing, Sympathetic Hands, I would give it to Tiffany Catledge. She really demonstrates beautifully how to give a tucked-under horse some comfort as he learns to move forward and stretch into the bit. This tends to come up with nearly every OTTB. Horses that are taught to put their head down and grind against the bit are naturally suspicious when you give them some loops in the rein and say “Here’s some space!” They generally reply, “OH, I’m quite happy with my nose near my chest, and since you are not giving me anything to pull against, I will just jog along until you ready to move out.” That’s when you get those little, mincing trots and slow-motion canters.
Solidify, Catledge’s Trainer Challenge ride, can be seen in this video taking a good ten minutes to warm up out of his short strided trot and into something that actually uses his shoulder. He has the nose-to-the-chest worry in spades. But Catledge has the hands to get him moving forward and stretching. By the end, he has his ears pricked and there is a definite strut to his stride… the beginnings of brilliance?
Solidify has a powerful jump, besides; I enjoyed watching him jump Catledge right out of the tack and the way he tried to burst into a powerful canter in that crowded little arena! Solidify (and High Level) are wonderful illustrations of just how much most Thoroughbreds love jumping!
Erik Dierks has a different style, and so the rides are interesting to contrast. He is more insistent with his hands; he has Brazilian Wedding on contact and moving forward, and when she says ‘no’ he says ‘yes.’ At 20:00 in this video, he’s asking for walk-to-canter transitions and a working canter with a little collection. His hands are a good example of how to move from your elbow and not from your wrist; his slightly more demanding training style means that Brazilian Wedding gets into a few arguments with him, but he rides her through them with leg and a firm hand. I think this is a pretty common look for rides on green OTTBs… pushing the horse into contact does not give such a smooth look to early training rides, but these are lessons that have to be learned, and since Brazilian Wedding looks thoughtful and like she’s learning, and not like she’s over-faced by what he’s asking her, you can see a real progression and learning arc in Dierk’s videos.
My biggest impression of Brazilian Wedding is that she’s a mare who needs a job. She looks perfectly happy, even when she is challenging Dierk’s instructions, when she is learning. On the ground, she is always looking at the horizon and trying to stay in motion. I think if she can continue to relax so that a showground setting doesn’t set her off, she’ll be ready for Baby Greens in no time. Dierks is a perfectionist; she seems to thrive on that.
Of course, Four X The Trouble has been a Retired Racehorse Blog favorite since the beginning and I can’t conceal my partiality to him, or you’ll all call me out for being a faker. But let’s face it, he looks like a fun ride, he has a springy, forward trot (especially in the video below) and isn’t afraid to move into the bit. Kerry Blackmer also has very soft, forgiving hands that she keeps wide open, with lovely springy elbows to give him lots of room to move as he seeks contact. Horses at this stage play hide-and-seek with contact, testing it out… “Oops, I’ve got it! Whoops, I’ve let it go again! Oh, here’s your hand, I like it! Never mind, I’m sticking my nose up again!” Also, Four X The Trouble has a canter to die for. Can we all agree on that, at least?
This video has it all: flat-work, cross-country jumps, grazing, and, of course, Justin Beiber.
So there you have it. How can you possibly choose a winner out of this triple-espresso of awesomeness? Three Off Track Thoroughbreds. Three trainers. Three horses that are going to go places in life, thanks to the people who recognize the absolute wonders of athleticism that retired racehorses truly are. Good luck picking just one winner out of this group; everyone from the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge has gone above and beyond.