Emily Daignault-Salvaggio of Cochranville, PA and Gin Joint won the field hunter division of the Thoroughbred Makeover
When the winners of the Thoroughbred Makeover were named last October at the Kentucky Horse Park, Pennsylvania had three winners to its credit, more than any other state with entrants in the competition.
A program of the non-profit Retired Racehorse Project, the 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover drew 200 Thoroughbreds from 44 states, Canada and England. Horses had to be trained for racing only prior to entry in the first months of the year. From that racetrack start, they were trained and entered in one or two of ten different riding disciplines.
Disciplines ranged from dressage, show jumping, show hunter, eventing, fox hunting and polo to competitive trail, barrel racing, ranch work and freestyle. The top prize in each division was $5,000. Those ten winners then competed for the $10,000 title of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred, awarded to the horse that best demonstrated the trainability and talent of the off-track Thoroughbred.
Pennsylvania’s three discipline winners were Emily Daignault-Salvaggio on Gin Joint in the Field Hunter division; Clovis Crane on Yo Koffy in the Working Ranch Horse division and Nicole Valeri who won the barrel racing on Quantitativeeasing.
Emily Daignault-Salvaggio of Cochranville, Pa., has been riding only Thoroughbreds since she was a teenager, and has ten years’ experience working on the track, so it is not surprising that she would want to take on the Thoroughbred Makeover.
Looking for a horse for the program, she watched videos of a promising horse running at Charleston. “It took me a while to find something that piqued my interest enough,” she said. “His name just popped off the page at me.”
Gin Joint was running in a $5,000 claiming race. “I noticed that, after the race when he came back to be unsaddled, he had that typically huge amazing trot. He was sound, finished well, was grey, and from the live feed I could see he was bigger than I thought.”
Essentially, Daignault-Salvaggio purchased the horse over the phone, and was thrilled with him. “He was a thousand times better in person than what I thought,” she said.
Daignault-Salvaggio’s background with racing influences how she approaches training horses off the track.
“I appreciate just how much Thoroughbreds learn in that lifestyle,” she said. “My program is such that I take what I know is their routine at the track. I think it helps everybody to start with a routine that’s similar. (They) expose them to a lot early on but only in situations where they’re going to win. Don’t over-face them and allow them to end on a positive note.”
For the Makeover, Daignault-Salvaggio initially entered Gin Joint in eventing and show jumping. “I ended up switching to field hunters. I saw it highlighting him better. He has such a calm demeanor. His first couple of experiences with hounds exercising just blew you away.”
Daignault-Salvaggio stayed with show jumping, but excelled in the Field Hunter class. “It was a good idea. It (jumping) ended up taking some of his energy, then he was back to himself.
Daignault-Salvaggio enjoyed the competition. “I think the experience was exactly as it was billed. We all knew it was going to be unique,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing to try and take on.”
Clovis Crane of Lebanon, Pa. reconnected with Yo Koffy after buying and working with him as a yearling and then selling him as a two-year-old. “He won some real nice races, just missed being stakes placing,” Crane said. “When I was breaking him, he was an A level mover.”
Yo Koffy was going down to lower price races, but knowing what the horse could do, Crane claimed him back, let him down and began training for the Makeover and the top overall prize.
“We claimed him with the intention of making him a jump horse for my daughter. Her and I designed a plan trying to win America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred. Our interpretation would be the most versatile, usable horse. The way we thought we could solidify a win in that would be to be in two very different divisions and win both,” he explained. “Her and I thought, if she jumps him, I would do something completely different with him.”
Crane took on and won the Working Ranch Horse class, while his daughter, thirteen-year-old Amara Underwood, entered Yo Koffy in the Jumper class.
“He saw cows only twice before he went to the show. It’s just a testament to how good a guy he is to do anything you want,” Crane said.
In the show jumping class, Amara faced adult riders with much more experience and still managed to place eighth.
“It was a wonderful experience for my daughter and I. It’s something we’ll look forward to for years to come,” said Crane, who plans to do the event each year. “I look forward to going and having fun next year.”
Involved with race horse on a day to day basis, Crane is convinced of the value of the breed at the track and everywhere. “I think you can do anything with a Thoroughbred. The good Thoroughbreds are better than any other breed. Generally you can’t get to the good Thoroughbreds because they’re worth so much as race horses.”
Nicole Valeri from Plum, Pa., who won the Barrel Racing discipline with Quantitativeeasing, is primarily a barrel racer. “I was looking mostly online, I had done a similar competition the year before, so I had some contacts at the track,” Valeri explained. “They said she was really gritty and she had a lot of heart. Her race horse owners were really fond of her.”
Valeri has found that Thoroughbreds can fit in well as barrel racers. “They’re more upcoming in the sport. Most barrel racers are Quarter Horses or other stock breeds, but I have found they can be just as competitive,” she said. “You have to find a horse that is conformationally correct for the job, and (can handle) the pressure of running barrels. They are really able to compete just as fast. They might even have a little more of a work ethic and heart for it. They give you everything they’ve got.”
Having experience working with horses off the track, Valeri addresses their special needs. “When on a race track, they just run fast in a straight line as much as they can, so you have to spend a lot of time going back over the basics with them. You have to teach them how to get really soft and supple in their bridle. That’s a whole new concept for them,” she said. “You have to spend a lot of time on your slow work getting a good foundation before you think about starting them on the pattern. And you have to make sure too, medically, that they’ve had time to let down and all the muscle soreness is gone so they can perform their job.”
Valeri enjoyed her experience in Kentucky. “It was a wonderful event. The people were great. It’s really something to see people from all those disciplines,” she said. “There’s so much hard wok everyone put in this event. It has been making a huge impact in Thoroughbred life. People’s minds are starting to change for the greater good of the breed.”