Makeover trainers evaluate sport horse potential based on conformation shots
Social media has enabled potential OTTB owners to review a large number of retiring Thoroughbred racehorse listings at any given time. Newcomers to the breed might find it challenging to assess a prospect right off the track and decide if it’s a match for their desired purpose.
That’s why we launched this column, in which past Thoroughbred Makeover trainers — professionals, juniors and amateurs alike — share their thoughts about assessing prospects and evaluate example horses based only on their conformation photos. We feature trainers from two disciplines in each issue.
Professional, winner of Show Hunter at the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover with Seeking Fame
Charlotte grew up in Virginia galloping racehorses and retraining OTTBs for showing and fox-hunting. She currently trains primarily off-track Thoroughbreds professionally for show hunters and fox-hunting, coaches riders and trains all-around stock horses with her husband. She enjoys focusing on relaxation and confidence-building for both horses and riders in her program, working with cues and movement to change the way the brain reacts.
Professional, winner of Eventing and 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover Champion with Reloaded
Elisa has made a name for herself in all her areas of experience. As an international eventer, she has competed at the five-star level with OTTB Simply Priceless and was listed as an alternate for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Eventing Team. She has worked with unhandled Mustangs and enjoyed success at several Mustang Makeovers. As a veteran Makeover trainer, she earned the title of Thoroughbred Makeover Champion in 2018 with Reloaded; her second horse, Sharp Johnny, finished in the top five in Eventing. Elisa has been a longtime advocate for off-track Thoroughbreds.
Choosing a Horse
Both trainers say they’re happy to work with horses that don’t match their “ideal” body type and have several types of OTTBs in their barns — but there are a few things both Charlotte and Elisa like to see.
Charlotte looks for a level topline and matching feet, which she says indicate a lack of compensation for discomfort elsewhere in the body. She wants to see low-set hocks accompanying a pelvis that’s already rotated under the body for good balance as a show hunter, along with a high back that demonstrates a connection from back to front.
She also prefers particular personality traits, which she can look for in conformation and jog videos. “A long neck goes with a relaxed horse, and a good mind in the jog video often indicates a good mind in general,” she says.
Charlotte says she typically looks through many horses before finding the combination of characteristics she wants — that usually means scrolling through a lot of Facebook photos and videos. “I want a tested mind and body,” she says. “Soundness of both after racing makes me believe that I won’t break them!”
Elisa also seeks correct feet, as well as straight legs, in her eventing prospects. She looks for a more uphill build and balance, including the set of the neck. A strong hind end to serve as an engine completes the package.
“Generally, I like to source my horses through the ‘middle guy,’ such as Amy Paulus, Jessica Redman, Brookwood Sporthorses, CANTER or Finger Lakes Finest,” she adds.
Meet the Prospects
Our model horses all come from Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center (MMSC), based at the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington. The MMSC opened in 2004, thanks to the generosity of many in the Thoroughbred industry. Donated horses are thoroughly assessed for soundness, temperament and learning style, then progress through training in the MMSC’s Horse Centered Reschooling Program, including groundwork, long-lining and longeing, under saddle work, jumping and trail rides. The MMSC matches each horse with an ideal adopter.
The MMSC typically has 10 to 20 horses in various phases of reschooling available for adoption. While these three horses may no longer be adoptable by press time, the MMSC always has well-started prospects available.
Horse 2 I feel this horse would suit me and my program the best. I love his overall look of relaxation and how his weight is already shifted back on his hocks. He has a great, well-developed hip. His chest is out in front of the body to give him room to use the front end at the jumps like a hunter. His shoulder, pastern and hoof angle all match; I like a little angle to the pastern to absorb concussion. This horse is a tiny bit thick and gives an overall impression of good sense.
Horse 1 If I were doing the jumpers or eventing, I would love this horse. That pretty, refined head and keen ears make me think he might have a bit more sensitivity to him. He also has a matching shoulder, pastern and hoof angle that’s more moderate and textbook correct. His uphill build and high, strong back make him appear super athletic. His hip and good hind leg suggest excellent follow-through behind while jumping. He may have a bit more athleticism than an old lady like me needs!
Horse 3 This is a darling boy. I think if I were going to do the Western disciplines, I’d choose him. He looks like he has good sense. His neck is set a little lower, which should help him in watching things closer to the ground. He’s got a good, short, strong back; his hocks are set nicely under him, and his balance appears grounded. His slightly sloping but matching shoulder, pastern and hoof angles suggest he would be comfortable for a long day in the saddle.
Horse 1 My eye is drawn to this horse’s long lines. He just looks like an event horse type! He has a good shoulder, his neck comes out nicely, and he has a shorter cannon bone than forearm. His feet look like they have a decent heel. He does have a little bit of a flatter topline, which might make it a little tougher at times to get him to sit and rotate his pelvis underneath him. He does have a good length to his hip, so he should have plenty of power. He has a nice uphill, rangy look to him.
Horse 2 This is a bit of a different type; I went back and forth between him and Horse No. 1. He’s a more compact picture than the first horse. He, too, has a nice neck and shoulder, and his legs have good ratios and angles. He appears to be a smidge bum-high, but he has a very powerful hind end, and he looks like he might be able to step under himself, maybe even a tad easier than the first horse. I think this boy could easily be an event type as well as a show jumper type.
Horse 3 This horse is similar to Horse No. 2 in that he’s more compact. His shoulder, from elbow to point of shoulder, is a little less angled than the other two, and he appears to have a bit of an upright front left, so that would be something I would want to look into further. He has a big, powerful hind end and a strong back and looks to be a powerful horse.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine, the only publication dedicated to the Thoroughbred ex-racehorse in second careers. Want four information-packed issues a year delivered to your door or your favorite digital device? Subscribe now!