Career Moves

Thanks in part to programs like the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, well-established routes exist for Thoroughbreds to transition from the racetrack to the show ring or riding trail. Most OTTBs find their ways to second careers through adoption organizations or a thriving direct market, whether that involves racing connections who sell to new owners, listing agents who help bring those worlds together or resellers who handle initial assessments and transitions.

For retiring Thoroughbred broodmares, however, those routes to new homes after their breeding careers come to an end — whether due to breeding unsoundness, lack of productivity or simply readiness to retire from motherhood — isn’t as clear-cut. That’s one of the reasons the RRP added the Former Broodmare division, sponsored by Claiborne Farm, to the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover: to help increase the demand for these horses and educate a new generation of equestrians about the merits of former broodmares as riding horses. That’s also why we spoke with four trainers heading to this year’s broodmare program at the Makeover: to learn how they partnered with their mares and to start the conversation about what we can do to facilitate more retiring broodmares finding great homes and third careers.

Greenwood Drive & Elizabeth Grubbs

William “Billy” Howland Jr. handling Greenwood Drive for owner Elizabeth Grubbs at the Warrenton Horse Show. Courtesy Angie Pappas Photography

Elizabeth Grubbs of Amissville, Virginia, has a type: half-brothers and -sisters of horses she already owns and loves.

“I always keep an eye out for half-siblings to my horses,” she says. A year after completing her first Thoroughbred Makeover in 2018 with New-York-bred Candy Space Center (Sydney’s Candy — Livermore Valley, Mt. Livermore), she acquired Shackforlove (Shackleford — Financial Risk, Not For Love), a half-sister to another horse she owned, Financial Legacy. When a 2018 half-sister to Candy Space Center was registered with The Jockey Club, she added the mare — Greenwood Drive (Twirling Candy — Livermore Valley, Mt. Livermore) — to her Equibase Virtual Stable and followed her career closely.

“I noted her first work, her first race,” Grubbs says. “I saw when she shipped to Florida and trained there and reached out to her trainer to see how it was going.” She continued to follow the filly’s career virtually, connecting with each trainer who took over her conditioning for owner/breeder Robert Hahn. Through her personal network Grubbs eventually connected directly to Hahn, sending him an email in December 2021 to introduce herself and her connection to his horses and let him know she was interested in Greenwood Drive and her younger half-brother should they ever need post-racing homes.

“Mr. Hahn responded and was very excited to hear from me,” Grubbs says. “He let me know that Greenwood Drive would be a broodmare and follow in the footsteps of her dam but to keep in touch, because things can change.”

Things changed faster and more dramatically than expected when Grubbs received a second email in April 2022, wanting to know if she was still interested in owning Greenwood Drive. During a routine breeding palpation check, the mare had gone down and needed an emergency surgery at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky.

“It was essentially a colic surgery in terms of procedure and recovery, and it was pretty touch and go for a little while,” Grubbs says. “Mr. Hahn wanted to give her another shot at a different life after almost losing her and let me know that there was no rush — she would stay at Endeavor Farm in Kentucky as long as she needed to on his dime until I was ready.”

The team at Endeavor Farm handled Greenwood Drive’s initial rehabilitation. When she was fit for travel and for Grubbs to continue the rehab process, Hahn had the mare shipped to Virginia. Grubbs worked with an osteopath to help “Gigi” get back into physical shape after her surgery, provided extensive rehabilitation and also explored training methods, including endotapping (rhythmic tapping of certain body areas to encourage calming and endorphin release), to help the mare heal from her emotional trauma.

To honor Hahn and show her appreciation for everything he had done for the mare, Grubbs entered her in the Warrenton Horse Show in the in-hand division, and she took home Reserve Champion Broodmare from the Virginia Horse Shows Association. It was particularly meaningful for Grubbs, who herself was recovering from a hysterectomy: “We healed together.”

One year to the day after Gigi’s emergency surgery, the pair entered their first ridden show. “We entered a trot poles class, and I got four faults for circling,” Grubbs recalls with a laugh. “We were beaten by all the kids on their ponies. But considering everything she overcame, it was so special just to be there.”

Should the rest of the training process go smoothly, Grubbs and Gigi have the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover in their sights — and they won’t be there alone. “It was actually Laura Haag at Endeavor Farm who told me about the new Former Broodmare division,” she says. “She said, ‘We’re coming, we’re cheering you on — you just tell us when to go and we’re there.’

“I give credit to Mr. Hahn for not forcing a breeding career on her,” she adds. “He decided to give her a chance at a third career.”

Doris’ Diamond & Michelle Knoblauch

Steven Chumney (pictured) wanted the Thoroughbred Makeover to be the next career goal for his retiring broodmare “Doris” and connected her with trainer Michelle Knoblauch. Courtesy Steven Chumney

Michelle Knoblauch of Ranson, West Virginia, has participated in the Thoroughbred Makeover every year since 2018. When the RRP announced its Former Broodmare division, she knew she wanted to find a mare specifically to target the competition. “I like bringing something a little different,” she says. In four competition years’ worth of participation, she had never acquired a horse off a Facebook listing — she usually relied on her personal network. While scrolling the private Makeover trainers’ group, however, the listing for a retiring broodmare named Doris’ Diamond caught her eye.

Steven Chumney of Smokin C Thoroughbreds, in Ohio, describes Doris’ Diamond (Monarchos — High in the Park, Ascot Knight) as his first big investment in the world of Thoroughbred breeding. A half-sister to Grade 1 winner Divine Park and by a Kentucky Derby winner, the mare boasted a pedigree that promised broodmare potential. She produced a string of winners for Chumney, including several multiple winners. “She had been a great broodmare for me,” he says. “Not only in her production but as a sweet girl that was always a farm favorite.”

After weaning her 2022 foal, a filly Chumney calls “Pearl,” he intended to give Doris a well-deserved year off after producing four foals. “Doris loved being a mom, but after weaning Pearl she really came back to her younger years,” Chumney says. “She was running through the pastures and feeling great. It seemed like retirement from breeding would be the optimum plan for Doris.”

Chumney had attended the Thoroughbred Makeover in 2021, and with the recent announcement of the Former Broodmare division, he decided the Makeover would be the ultimate goal for the now 18-year-old mare: “I decided that I would donate Doris to a good home if the Makeover was a possibility for her future.” He worked through several inquiries, and after a few conversations with Knoblauch felt they would make a great match.

Knoblauch keeps Chumney updated on Doris’ training progress, which so far has been enjoyable for both horse and rider. “She’s really balanced,” Knoblauch says. “She could go in so many different directions! She just understands everything so quickly.”

Doris has also become a trusted pasture companion for Knoblauch’s other Makeover hopeful, whom she describes as a bit of a nervous filly. “Doris just showed her around, and her presence has helped to calm that filly down. She’s really taught her how to be a horse.”

That mothering instinct seems to come natural to experienced broodmares like Doris’ Diamond, and Knoblauch has no regrets about adding an aged mare to her program. “She does everything I’ve asked of her,” she says. “I’ve never found a horse like her.”

Fondtastic & Kayla Robinson

While not a stranger to OTTBs, Kayla Robinson is embarking on her first Thoroughbred Makeover — and she’s partnering with a former broodmare to do so. Based in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, Robinson has been a longtime fan of After the Races, an aftercare organization based in Elkton, Maryland, through which she has sourced many OTTBs for her lesson program.

When Fondtastic (Keyed Entry — Fond, Old Trieste) popped up on her news feed in a post from After the Races in December 2022, Robinson was immediately smitten. “I have a soft spot for red bays, and she looked kind of beefy — she wasn’t track fit,” she says. The 10-year-old was a former broodmare: She had aborted one foal and produced three others, the most recent in 2022, but none had started on the track yet. The After the Races team, which had taken the mare in via Aftercare Charles Town in West Virginia, said the owner had seen the RRP’s announcement of the upcoming Former Broodmare division and decided it was time to retire her.

“I wanted this mare either way,” Robinson says. “But it worked out that she was going to be eligible for the Makeover, and it will be my first time competing, too.” The Makeover has been on Robinson’s bucket list for several years, but the timing never worked out for horses she had in her barn.

While Robinson typically acquires horses she can use to teach students, Fondtastic, whom she affectionately calls “Fondue,” is likely going to remain her personal competition horse. She’s taken the mare to a few casual events and hopes to move her up the lower levels of eventing. “If it turns out she doesn’t like that, then we can focus maybe on just dressage.”

Compared to the right-off-the-track horses Robinson has retrained in the past, she feels broodmares might prove to be better options for the less-experienced adult amateur or non-pro trainer that might be intimidated by a fresh OTTB. “She’s a lot mellower,” she says. “The ones right off the track can sometimes be a little tougher.”

While she’s an experienced trainer herself, Robinson is looking forward to her first Makeover and enjoying the camaraderie between trainers united for a common cause — whether that’s with a retiring racehorse or a former broodmare.

Neyami & Kimberly Crowell

Kimberly Crowell, who has retrained several broodmares, is particularly smitten with Neyami. Courtesy Bobby Flock

As the broodmare manager at Merryland Farm, the sister farm to Maryland’s well-known Country Life Farm, Kimberly Crowell crosses paths with many Thoroughbreds at all stages of their careers, from foal to retiree and everything between. But when a filly named Neyami was at Merryland for layup over the winter from 2017 to 2018, she made quite an impression. “She was working in the shed row, and she had her head tucked and she was flicking her toes, and everyone was saying she would be a good dressage horse,” Crowell recalls. “That stuck with me.”

Neyami (Discreet Cat — Kissimmee, Kissin Kris) returned to the track after her layup but crossed paths with Crowell again in 2020 when she returned to the farm to be bred as a maiden mare. She successfully raised her 2021 foal, but her next foal was born with severe wry nose — a congenital syndrome that in this case could not be corrected, leading to the loss of the foal. Her next breeding attempt resulted in triplets, which meant two embryos had to be pinched, and she lost the third. “The owner, Nick Beaver of Bell Gable Stable, at that point said, ‘She’s trying to tell us something,’ ” says Crowell.

While he considered putting the mare into the Fasig-Tipton sale at Timonium, ultimately Beaver offered Neyami to Crowell to see if she could restart and rehome her — just in time to join the 2023 Former Broodmare division at the Thoroughbred Makeover. Crowell, a Makeover veteran, is excited to see the division come to fruition.

“We have maybe five to 10 mares a year that we help find homes for,” she says. “We have an established route for smaller mares and retiring racehorses to be placed with a polo trainer, and a few other paths for other types of horses.” Crowell’s own experience with retired broodmares goes back to childhood: Her first OTTB was a retired broodmare, and she’s retrained two others since.

“Some of the issues you have with Thoroughbreds coming right off the track aren’t issues with the retiring broodmares due to the way they live,” Crowell says. “They’re typically barefoot, they already know how to live in a herd on turnout, the body soreness you might have with a racehorse is already out — if you can take the time to figure them out, they can be so gritty, and they’ll do anything for you.”

As far as Neyami goes, Crowell hasn’t forgotten that first impression — she’s been getting the mare out to dressage schooling shows this spring and putting those toes to work. “All of my Thoroughbreds are technically resale projects,” she says, “but if she stays with me, that’s OK, too.”

Find all of the Former Broodmare hopefuls for the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover at