Many Thoroughbreds make excellent dressage mounts when properly schooled. Any career change requires some reeducation, however, and the key to success is helping the off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) make the transition from racetrack to dressage ring with as little stress as possible for both horse and human. Read the complete article "From Racetrack to Dressage Ring" about retraining an OTTB for dressage in the March 2006 issue of Dressage Today magazine.
Riding a Jockey Club registered Thoroughbred can be exceptionally rewarding. There are a number of organizations and individuals, both at the regional and national level, who promote the Thoroughbred as a sport horse.
After 20 years away from horses, Anita Adamski became connected with Thoroughbreds when a terminally ill friend asked her to take a 4-year-old Storm Cat colt, fresh off the Belmont racetrack. Adamski noticed that there were over 50 breeds in the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) All-Breed Awards program, but none of them exclusively promoted the full-bred Thoroughbred. So she founded the North American Thoroughbred Society (NATBS), which sponsors awards for Thoroughbreds competing in national, regional and local events throughout the United States and Canada. To be eligible for NATBS awards, horses must be Jockey Club registered.
As for Adamski's Storm Cat colt, he long ago polished up his Intermediaire I musical freestyle and is now enthusiastically schooling Grand Prix under the guidance of trainer/rider and U.S. Equestrian Federation "R" judge Sara Schmitt.
Former racehorses now competing in shows sanctioned by the East Coast Regional Dressage Association (ECRDA) may try to qualify for the interestingly named "Hell's Angel Thoroughbred Rescue Award." Offered by Lisa Rasmuson in honor of her Thoroughbred gelding, Hell's Angel, it is strictly for former racehorses. The purpose of this award is to honor those who put the time, effort and money into rehabilitating horses that might otherwise have ended up sold to slaughter.
Hell's Angel, also known as "Bobbie," had 30 starts in a racing career that ended when he was nearly 6 years old. A year and a half later, after he passed through two new homes, Rasmuson rescued him on his way to auction. Bobbie, whose lineage traces back to Bold Ruler and Kentucky Derby winner Honest Pleasure, had to be nursed through suspensory injuries, back problems and ulcers. He and Rasmuson now compete at Training Level.
Rasmuson wants others to see that a former racehorse can indeed be an appropriate mount for the amateur owner. In order to qualify for the Hell's Angel Award, riders must submit their mounts' race records along with scores from three different ECRDA sanctioned shows. The minimum qualifying score is 55 percent. The 2005 winner was Sharon Lutgen and her Seattle Slew grandson, True Slew (shown as In Unison), who competed at First Level. For further information, email Rasmuson.
U.S.-bred Thoroughbreds (and their riders) competing at the New England Dressage Association's Fall Dressage Festival have the opportunity to win special leather lead shanks with brass plates, thanks to Elaine Donoghue, who has lived around and competed with the horses most of her life.
"My grandfather bred and raced them. One of my grandfather's horses, Las Olas, held the nine-furlong record at Churchill Downs for 40 years," Donoghue remembers. "Growing up, I was active in Pony Club, riding many a Thoroughbred, including those off the track."
Donoghue, who has Multiple Sclerosis, currently owns seven Thoroughbreds and rides a 17.2-hand OTTB, whom she describes as "not an easy ride, but athletic and full of talent." An active member of the dressage community, she competes as a "competitive dressage rider with disabilities," is a USDF Region 8 delegate and a member of the CDRD committee. Donoghue explains, "It is rewarding to see Thoroughbreds in dressage competition. In my opinion, the Thoroughbred is a universally talented horse, and I believe it is time to showcase these wonderful animals in the dressage world."
In addition, sisters Lyn Tully and Sheila T. Woerth sponsor a $1,000 cash prize for a Thoroughbred weighted percentage class at the Kentucky Dressage Association Annual Dressage show held in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.