Jimmy Wofford joked that it was a shame that he hadn’t brought a horse trailer to the final of the Retired Racehorse Training Project Trainer Challenge. “I wish I could back my truck up right to this door and take all four of them home!” he said about the horses involved.
Wofford, the legendary eventing trainer who helped judge the final, wasn’t alone in those thoughts—I think everyone watching secretly chose their favorite and pictured them settling down to their evening feed in their own barn. I know I was!
Eric Dierks might have been declared the official winner of the inaugural Retired Racehorse Retraining Project Trainer’s Challenge, but the unanimous general consensus among all involved was that off-the-track Thoroughbreds themselves were the real winners of the day. The four horses, Brazilian Wedding, Four X The Trouble, Solidify and High Level, all handled a bit of a chaotic atmosphere with aplomb and showed a remarkable level of development in the six weeks since the RRTP Challenge began. Read Lisa Slade's report of the kick-off of the challenge for all the details.
“Each of these trainers has done an amazing job,” said Allie Conrad, the executive director of CANTER Mid-Atlantic, who also judged the challenge final. “They started with very typical retired racehorses and turned them into lovely rides.” All three trainers involved in the challenge—Dierks, Tiffany Catledge and Kerry Blackmer—were grinning non-stop and were thrilled with the horses’ performances.
The brainchild of event trainer Steuart Pitttman, the RRTP Challenge gathered amazing momentum as it went on, with huge numbers of fans checking in every time one of the trainers posted a video or a blog. The project turned into quite an educational affair as well, with the challenge trainers demonstrating in clear detail how they approached introducing their charges to their new jobs.
Fans chose their favorite horse and trainer, and quite a few came to the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg, Pa., on Feb. 25 for the final to cheer on their picks. The stands of the Equine Arena were packed, and while the crowd kept applause to a minimum to avoid getting the hairy eyeball from the horses, they were intent on the action. Fans were also able to vote for their top choice American Idol-style on the RRTP website, and the results of those votes factored into the judges’ ultimate decision.
In The Middle Of The Action
The challenge final was held on Saturday afternoon of the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo, and the facility was swarming with people. The equine attendees—there for demonstrations and lectures—represented all breeds and were outfitted in all kinds of different garb and costumes. It was an electric atmosphere, to say the least. The horses had all been at the Expo since the day before, when they participated in a lecture given by Pittman and were able to familiarize themselves with the surroundings.
Pittman took the microphone and introduced the horses and trainers to the crowd and explained the RRTP challenge as Dierks, Catledge and Blackmer warmed up Brazilian Wedding, High Level and Four X The Trouble. Solidify, Catledge’s other RRTP challenge horse, was hand-walked around the arena. Brazilian Wedding was a hot favorite of the crowd after Dierks’ wonderfully educational video blogs, but she seemed the most undone by the atmosphere. She was tense and fussy with her head, and Dierks was patient. High Level and Four X The Trouble, or “Tempyst,” both took a few opportunities to check out the crowd but in general were focused and settled.
After Pittman’s introduction, each trainer went solo to show off their horse’s progress in just six weeks of training, discussing their horses with the crowd via a headset microphone. There were a few small jumps set up—an 18” crossrail, an 18” crossrail oxer and a one-stride combination of 18” crossrails. Pittman adjusted the jumps whenever a rider requested.
Look! No Hands!
Catledge went first on High Level, since she’d have to switch to Solidify and go again. High Level (Mutakddim—Maria’s Crown, Marias Mon) was Catledge’s original choice at the start of the challenge, but he developed an abscess right at the start, so she took both him and Solidify home from the Maryland Horse Expo. High Level, 7, spent the first four weeks of his time with Catledge getting doctored for the abscess, so at the time of the final, he’d really only been in work for two weeks. Read all about High Level's time with Catledge at her RRTP blog.
Catledge noted that High Level was a bit rude and unmannerly at first, but that all the handling he got while soaking his feet seemed to improve his attitude. “Then, once he started working, he really took to it,” she said. “He seems happy to have a job.” While the other three horses came into the RRTP challenge having raced in the past few months, High Level retired from the track two years ago and had been living in a field. Catledge noted that he had lost some muscling in the time off, but he quickly got back in condition.
Pittman pointed out to the crowd that Catledge was actually kicking High Level on quite a bit. The big chestnut had a tendency to get low with his head, but Catledge just kept pushing him forward and encouraging him to accept the contact with a consistent rein.