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.
Amateur, fourth place in Ranch Work at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover with Affogato
Travis got his start in the saddle on Arabians, riding and showing in Michigan as a child and continuing into adulthood. He worked as the assistant trainer for Encore Equestrian Centre, in Michigan, before moving south to Florida, where he now works as a licensed veterinary technician on the surgical staff at Ocala Equine Hospital.
Through his job, Travis has developed a passion for OTTBs and the transformation process from racehorse to ranch horse. Travis and his partner now compete on the ranch horse circuit in Florida with their OTTBs and own Cherry Creek Farm South, in Anthony, where they live with their four horses, four cats and two dogs.
Professional, three-time Makeover veteran with six Top 10 finishes, including winning Competitive Trail and Freestyle at the 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover with Trivia Time, and winning the overall title at the 2015 Makeover with Soar.
Lindsey is a rising star in the horsemanship world. Video of her winning 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover Freestyle performance with the bridleless Trivia Time, featuring a giant blue tarp, went viral on social media. She is the founder of Harmony Horsemanship, as well as a Level 2 Centered Riding instructor.
Lindsey travels North America as a clinician and instructor with Harmony Horsemanship and competes with her horses in jumpers and Extreme Cowboy racing. Her horses have also been featured in films. She has shown at the Thoroughbred Makeover in Competitive Trail, Freestyle and Field Hunter and served as the Freestyle judge for the 2018 Makeover.
Choosing a Horse
Lindsey has traditionally selected her Makeover horses based on conformation photos, sometimes along with jog videos. When she assesses conformation she looks for a few key factors.
“If I’m looking for a horse for myself, I want to see a more compact horse with an uphill build for the jumpers,” she says. “If I’m looking for a resale, then I’ll look for something that’s a bit flashy.”
As a veteran Makeover trainer, she also looks for horses that might be eligible for additional special awards through state-bred associations or aftercare organizations.
Overall, Lindsey is most concerned with soundness and a horse’s ability to work. “I’m not worried about personality or temperament because I’m extremely confident in my Harmony Horsemanship for retraining,” she says.
Travis tends to agree: “Attitude and demeanor are important, but many ‘difficult’ horses can be rewired.”
For a ranch horse, however, there’s one thing Travis does not compromise on. “A ranch horse needs to be curious,” he says. “Curiosity leads to bravery. A totally checked-out horse is not going to be advantageous in the ranch pen.”
Travis wants to see a few specific conformation points in an ideal ranch horse: a short, level back that will produce fast movement and a tight turning radius; a big open shoulder that allows a horse to cover ground quickly; a long hip with a bit of drop to the croup to allow the horse’s hind end to get under himself; and a short, strong leg for agility.
He says he’ll forgive a horse for having longer-than-desirable legs, however, if it has a solid temperament. Similarly, he’ll pass on a ranch prospect with nice, short legs and a long hip if it’s timid and reactionary.
“I always want to see a horse work at liberty first to get a good idea of how he moves without interference from the rider,” Travis adds.
Meet the Prospects
Our horses for this edition come from After the Races, in Elkton, Maryland, which specializes in rehabilitation. This set of horses are all rehabbing from injuries: Awesome Times Two from torn sesamoidal ligaments in both front legs; Our Wild Wives from a coffin bone fracture; and Mr. Tilch from a mild bowed tendon. As of press time, all three horses are expected to make full recoveries with no limitations for flatwork and few to no limitations for jumping. The horses retired from Laurel Park, in Maryland, and came to After the Races through partnering Maryland organization Beyond the Wire.
After the Races keeps 20 Thoroughbreds at its facility at a time and is nearly always full. Horses come from private owners and trainers who are willing to make a one-time donation toward their horses’ care. The organization also partners with Second Call, of New Jersey, and New Start for Horses, of Pennsylvania. After the Races is accredited through the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and is a Right Horse Initiative partner. After the Races is currently fundraising for a EuroXciser for its rehabbing horses.
Horse 2 We see a square shoulder and hip. The shoulder is well-balanced with a medium-set neck. She has a bit more length of leg in the hind end compared to the front but does seem balanced overall. She has a short-coupled appearance with great length of back and a deep barrel. This horse should find it easy to cover ground quickly but gear down to the agility of working livestock or navigating terrain.
Horse 1 This horse sports an even shoulder and hip. His shoulder is open and strong, leading to powerful forearms. Short cannon bones provide an excellent length of leg. However, his short neck ties in high, and the long gaskin gives a slightly downhill appearance.
Horse 3 This horse has the longest back and legs of all three. He has a very upright shoulder, but his neck ties in well. He’s got the shortest hip and most level croup of the three. With a long body this horse may find it difficult to be as agile as the others in this group.
Horse 3 This horse is very flashy with the four white socks and a blaze, so right off the bat this horse would catch my eye because it is always easier to sell a horse with chrome.
The reality of doing the Thoroughbred Makeover multiple years is that you simply can’t keep all the horses you retrain, so you do need to think about reselling. Of course the horse being sound and able to work is more important than color, but if you can have some chrome in the mix it always helps! If I was looking for a horse for myself for jumpers, then this horse would catch my eye because it appears more compact and relatively balanced, although a little weak in the hind end.
Horse 2 This horse seems a bit long and ever-so-slightly croup-high. It wouldn’t necessarily deter me from purchasing, but typically this type of conformation would be more of a hunter look, which is not a discipline I do. As far as the Makeover goes, I usually purchase one horse for selling and one horse for myself. But there isn’t anything screaming out at me that would make me pounce on this one for resale.
Horse 1 Although this little gray appears to be cute, this is probably my least favorite of the three. He is a little croup-high. This throws horses’ balance off, and they often carry their head a little higher to try to counterbalance their high croup; in this case you can see the overdeveloped muscle on the underside of his neck. Although this is nothing too serious, I still prefer to get a horse that is more naturally balanced because it makes life so much easier for retraining.
This article was originally published in the Summer 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!