(L-R) Tiffany Catledge and Solidify, Kerry Blackmer and Four X The Trouble, Eric Dierks and Brazillian Wedding are ready for their first ride in front of the Maryland Horse World Expo audience.
Retired racehorses need new jobs, and the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge is doing its part to help them find them.
The Challenge, which teams three off the track thoroughbreds with three experienced trainers, began at the Maryland Horse World Expo January 20-21, and will conclude at the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo February 25. Between the expos, the trainers will have had five weeks to nudge their horse toward a new career.
Retired Racehorse Training Project president Steuart Pittman first selected three trainers--Kerry Blackmer, Adamstown, MD, Tiffany Catledge, Middleburg, VA, and Eric Dierks, Tyron, NC—and four horses. The trainers were allowed to examine each, ask questions of the owners, and watch each horse work at liberty. The order of go was decided by correct answers to OTTB trivia questions. Brazilian Wedding, a six year old grey mare who won her final race on December 22, was selected by Dierks. High Level, a 7 year old gelding who last raced in 2009, and who has been turned out since, was chosen by Catledge. (High Level came up a little lame from a stone bruise overnight, so Catledge rode the unchosen horse, Solidify, in Saturday’s segment, and took both home with her.) Blackmer chose the horse she’d wanted from the start – Four X The Trouble, a four year old winner of four races who last raced in December.
After choosing their horses on Friday, the trainers were allowed to spend as much time as they liked with them, but not to ride them. “We wanted this to be as real as possible,” Pittman said, explaining why the first ride would be in front of an audience.
Saturday, the trainers brought the horses and their own equipment into the arena. They allowed the horses to explore the arena, and Pittman asked for “test applause,” which proved to be too much for the horses in their first time in the arena. The audience was asked to hold all applause.
The riders mounted slowly and carefully while the horses were held by handlers. Four X The Trouble was the most visibly nervous, trotting sideways and peering at the audience, before settling down. Solidify and Brazilian Wedding got right to work, trotting, cantering and even doing small circles. “Look at the huge grin each of them has the first time they canter their new horses!” Pittman said.
The three trainers were selected by the RRTP Board of Directors from the RRTP's online Trainer Directory.
"We wanted trainers who not only have proven themselves in high-level competition with Thoroughbred ex-racehorses, but who also have outstanding reputations in their communities for effective work both with horses and with people," said Pittman. "All three of these trainers are consummate professionals with excellent communication skills and a burning passion for retired racehorses. All three owe their professional success to these horses and are thrilled to be part of this event."
Kerry Blackmer operates her Miles Ahead Farm at Loch Moy Farm near Frederick, Maryland. She currently has eight ex-racehorses in her barn that she is training for sale, and teaches students of all ages who compete in dressage, hunters, jumpers, equitation, and eventing. Under the tutelage of Buck Davidson, Kerry herself has evented through the advanced level. "Every great horse I've had the honor of riding has been off the track. These horses made me who I am. I owe them everything."
Tiffany Cattledge operates Allforit Farm at Fox Chase Farm in Middleburg, Virginia. She is truly multi-discipline and can be found at A-rated hunter shows, dressage shows, and horse trials on most weekends. While Tiffany's training, sales, and lesson business involves young horses of all breeds, "I particularly love OTTB's. They are balanced, forward-thinking, forgiving, and have a great work ethic. You can't beat a good Thoroughbred."
Eric Dierks runs Eric Dierks Equestrian out of Renovatio Farm in Tryon, North Carolina. With a strong foundation as the son of a dressage trainer, Eric grew up in Pony Club and worked his way to the top in the sport of eventing where he has taken multiple ex-racehorses to the advanced level. In addition to running an active training, sales, and lesson business that prepares horses and riders for multiple disciplines, Eric teaches clinics throughout the country, serves on the Board of Governors of the United States Eventing Association, and shares his knowledge and opinions on a blog at ericdierksequestrian.com. "I love what the Retired Racehorse Training Project is doing and want to be a part of it," he says.
Each week the trainers will update their fans with blogs and videos on the RRTP web site. Fans will be invited to comment, to vote for their favorite trainer, and to express interest in owning their favorite horse. Horses will be available for sale after the Challenge at prices determined by their owners.
On Saturday, February 25, the trainers will present their horses at the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo to the audience and to a second panel of judges. Trainers will demonstrate only what their horses are comfortable doing and be evaluated not on what they can do, but how well they are prepared for the next phase of their education. Trainers will describe what they have done in the past five weeks and the moderator will ask questions.
The judges, which include Olympian Jim Wofford and Allie Conrad from CANTER, a national thoroughbred rescue, will comment and educate the audience rather than decide a winner. The winner will be chosen by online vote. The Pennsylvania Horse World Expo Challenge will be livestreamed on the RRTP website, www.retiredracehorsetraining.org. Grand prize is a portrait by acclaimed artist Leland Neff of the ex-racehorse that most affected the winner’s career.