Makeover trainers evaluate sport horse potential based on conformation shots
The Picking a Prospect column is traditionally dedicated to trainers sharing their thoughts on and assessments of recently retired racehorses based only on conformation photos. For this Makeover wrap-up issue, however, we’ve taken a different angle, inviting two participating trainers from the Makeover Master Class, sponsored by the Thoroughbred Education and Research Foundation (TERF), to analyze the participating horses’ photos and share their observations on how the prospects handled the Master Class atmosphere.
Meet the Trainers
■ Michael Alway
Michael Alway and his wife, Marion, are based out of their farm, Viewpoint Equestrian, in Boyce, Virginia. They specialize in working with young horses, OTTBs and problem horses, as well as putting solid foundations on horses for any discipline with the primary focus of dressage and eventing. In 2011 Michael began a two-year stint studying natural horsemanship under Pat Parelli and Linda Parelli, followed by time in Europe starting jumping and dressage horses before opening his training business in 2014. Michael has competed successfully in Extreme Mustang Makeover events and currently competes in dressage and eventing. He also teaches horsemanship clinics, helping beginners to international competitors improve their horsemanship and better understand their horses.
■ Aubrey Graham
Aubrey Graham is an anthropologist and eventer who focuses on bringing young, challenging and green horses up the levels. She runs Kivu Sporthorses and Training LLC, which has transformed into a predominantly Thoroughbred training facility. At a former Olympic endurance barn just south of Atlanta, Georgia, she trains, coaches an avid eventing team and runs a retraining-to-sales program. Graham and Western Ridge won the People’s Choice Award for the Real Rider Cup, a charity competition designed to showcase OTTBs, in 2021. She has competed through Preliminary but has her sights and personal riding goals set higher.
The Master Class
The TERF Makeover Master Class took place on Friday during Makeover week at the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington, and featured three trainers — Michael Alway, Aubrey Graham and Robin Stang, assisted by Krista Hetrick — plus commentary from Dorothy Crowell and Richard Lamb. The trainers assessed the conformation and demeanor of three horses, then drew names from a hat to break out into individual training sessions, demonstrating to spectators and a livestream audience their unique approaches to first rides. Watch the replay of the Master Class on demand at the Thoroughbred Makeover website.
Meet the Prospects
Something Awesome and Rubus came to the Master Class from Second Stride Inc., in Crestwood, Kentucky. Founded in 2005 by five friends in a racing syndicate who had racing, show and pleasure horse experience, Second Stride helps about 125 horses annually find the next steps in their careers. The organization works with not only retiring Thoroughbred racehorses but also retired broodmares and unstarted young horses that never raced. Both Something Awesome and Rubus have been adopted since the Master Class.
Flashy Escort was provided for the Master Class by the Secretariat Center, based at the Horse Park. The Secretariat Center opened in 2004, thanks to the generosity of many in the Thoroughbred industry. The organization matches each horse with an ideal adopter and typically has 10 to 20 horses in various phases of reschooling available for adoption. While Flashy Escort might no longer be available by press time, the Secretariat Center always has well-started prospects.
Flashy Escort: I might be a little biased, as this is the horse I worked with in the Master Class, but I think this mare has great overall potential and has a very flashy and harmonious look. She is well-proportioned, balanced if not slightly uphill and has nice hindquarters that should allow her plenty of power and engagement. She has a strong back with a nice, soft shape to it. She’s an overall athletic-looking horse. If I were going to pick on anything, it would be that her head might be a little big in proportion (to her body) and her neck could be set slightly higher, but I would take a horse like this in my barn any day. I think she could excel in many disciplines and will make a lovely performance horse. She definitely has a bit of an opinion and a personality, but she is young (3 at the time of this writing); with proper development she’ll make a great partner.
Something Awesome: He has a very beautiful overall shape — slightly uphill in this picture — and seems well-proportioned. My favorite thing is his neck. He has a very good neck angle that comes nicely out of his shoulders. I do note that his pasterns on the front legs are a bit long, especially compared to the hind legs — while this horse is probably nice to ride, he might have a higher chance of soft tissue injury on the front legs. Secondly, I would point out how long the withers are and how the back goes up right from the low spot where the withers end. That could be a weak spot for him and make proper saddle fit a bit tricky. His croup angle looks a little steep from this photo but not too bad. Having seen this guy at the Master Class, he stood out right away as a good-looking horse with a good brain. I would guess he would make a lovely hunter. Overall, this would be a horse that I would enjoy having at my barn.
Rubus: This horse obviously needs to build a topline and put on weight and muscle but, from what we saw at the Master Class, he has a very easy personality and a quiet demeanor. His personality makes up for some of the conformation challenges. To me he looks well-proportioned, (and will be even more so) if he develops more of a neck. I’m not a huge fan of his flat croup, which is going to make it more difficult for him to engage the hindquarters. It puts his hind end a bit far out behind him naturally. I would also notice his shoulder angle and how his overall posture puts his weight out in front over his forelimbs. I would think that his conformation might make life a little more difficult for him as a performance horse, but his personality would make for a great pleasure horse.
Something Awesome: I like his deep shoulder, long neck and the fact that neck comes smoothly up and out of his shoulder. I’d imagine that with his even proportions and build, he ’d have a swinging stride and a tidy, powerful jump. I am also a fan of his look. This photo doesn’t quite do him justice, but he has a solid “look of eagles” in person and the intelligent drive to go with it. I might be biased with this assessment, as this is the horse I drew, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. Something Awesome is very much my type: smart, driven, naturally athletic and very switched-on. In person this horse was all energy and class. He had his opinions about how things should be done but, once he settled in and began to trust, he showed off his self-carriage and experience. He’ll be good at any number of things, but I’d be thrilled to watch him run cross-country at next year’s Makeover.
Rubus: I’ll be interested to see what this horse looks like when he’s in full work — I imagine it will be a pretty impressive glow-up. Predicting what he will look like later might take a bit of creative vision but, with a few hundred pounds and muscle, I think he’ll make a really nice all-around horse. He has a very kind eye and easygoing manner, making him my first choice for an amateur restart. This big shoulder and long back speaks to the potential of a long stride. His ewe neck will improve with work but ideally for dressage and form over fences, I’d like to see his neck come off his shoulder a bit higher. In person, Rubus was extremely sweet and easygoing. He was quiet in the huge atmosphere of the covered arena and seemed very willing to figure out all the new exercises. He might not be my upper-level pick, but he seems so kind and pleasant that I’d be happy to have him in my barn as a student horse any day. Buy the brain, folks, buy the brain.
Flashy Escort: This is a lovely horse whose look screams “hunter” to me. Her thick build, good proportions and 90-degree shoulder and well-built hip speak to certain cattiness and athleticism. Her cute face and chrome would also get that necessary attention both over fences and in the hack. While her build is lovely and I imagine she’d be great in stadium and on the flat, I’d be hesitant to purchase her unless the plan was for her to be a forever horse. What her handlers described as her “chicken” personality comes with dominant expressions of “no.” Michael showed that with patient insistence, she could let her guard down and begin to trust. I can imagine her thriving in a partnership with a knowledgeable human. This one is seriously lovely but, considering I run a training stable where that one-person bond can be challenging to establish, she would be my second choice to compete but my third choice to take home.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 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!