2023 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium Raises Bar for Thoroughbred Second Careers

October 18, 2023

Jocelyn Brooks and Maryland Pride enjoy a moment in the Show Jumper arena. Photo by Rachel Milewski

Returning to the Kentucky Horse Park for the eighth time since 2015, the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, took place on October 11-14 and welcomed 320 Thoroughbreds taking their first foray into new careers. The banner event of the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing demand for Thoroughbreds beyond racing, the Thoroughbred Makeover is the most visible aspect of the organization’s work and is meant to inspire more equestrians to get involved with the breed.

Showcasing the trainability and versatility of former racehorses, the Thoroughbred Makeover offered competition across ten riding sports, with entrants selecting one or two disciplines in which to compete. All competitors participated in preliminary rounds of competition across two days, with the five top-placed horses invited back to compete in the Finale Championships for top honors and a share of $100,000 in prize money. The Finale Championship welcomed spectators as well as live streamed to a global audience.

New for 2023, the Thoroughbred Makeover offered a pilot Former Broodmare division, sponsored by Claiborne Farm, which welcomed over 20 recently-retired Thoroughbred broodmares transitioning into third careers. Broodmares in the pilot program competed alongside the traditional retiring racehorse entries, and were awarded their own pot of prize money. The inaugural class of trainers in this pilot program were enthusiastic about participation with their former broodmares, and industry-wide reception was widely positive.

“The Thoroughbred Makeover continues to play a vital role in aftercare in this country and represents a confluence of the RRP’s mission and core tenets,” said RRP executive director Kirsten Green. “Whether it’s expending service by offering a retirement outlet for broodmares, educating new owners by providing direct support throughout the transition and offering hands-on learning opportunities at the Makeover, or simply inspiring riders by proving there’s a Thoroughbred for everyone, the event’s influence on positive aftercare outcomes is undeniable.”

Dr. Shannon Reed talks vet students through the soundness check. Photo by Captivation Photography

Before competition began on October 11, all horses underwent an Arrival Exam, sponsored by Keeneland with additional support from After the Finish Line and official veterinary partner Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. The Arrival Exam set a benchmark for the basic health of equine competitors at the Makeover, requiring competitors to show necessary health paperwork including vaccination records before veterinary teams recorded vital signs, looked horses over for blemishes and swellings, noted body condition, and assessed basic soundness at the walk to ensure horses could move about the Horse Park comfortably. This year’s Arrival Exam was led by RRP board member and consulting veterinarian Dr. Shannon Reed, DACVS-LA of Texas A&M, with support from veterinarians from Hagyard and Boehringer Ingelheim. The Arrival Exam has also become a mentorship experience for vet students, facilitated by Dr. Reed to welcome 30 students selected from over 300 applicants to participate in the exam process.

Horses and their trainers could compete in one or two of ten riding disciplines offered at the Makeover, including barrel racing, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, field hunter, polo, ranch work, show hunter, show jumper, and freestyle (a free-form discipline in which trainers can demonstrate skills of their choosing). Preliminary competition took place over two days at various venues around the Horse Park, with rankings announced at Friday night’s Awards Party. Winners of each discipline, as well as the first place juniors, amateurs, teams and broodmares were honored, as well as special award winners, sponsored by individuals and organizations to support their own causes and initiatives.

The top five in each discipline qualified for the Finale championship: horses presented on Friday for a jog-up, with a panel of veterinarians ensuring that they were fit to compete. The Finale itself took place on Saturday, October 14 with all ten disciplines performing in the TCA Covered Arena for an in-person audience as well as a global live stream audience. Judges from all ten disciplines ranked discipline champions to select the overall Thoroughbred Makeover Champion, sponsored by Churchill Downs. That honor went to Knockemdown (American Pharoah – Ancient Goddess [FR], by Iffraaj [GB]), trained for dressage by Alison O’Dwyer. A text-in vote determined the People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Achieve Equine; the 2023 People’s Choice winner was multiple graded stakes winner Arklow (Arch – Unbridled Empire, by Empire Maker), trained for field hunter by Gina Gans.

Knockemdown and Alison O’Dwyer in Dressage. Photo by Sara Farrell

The ASPCA Makeover Marketplace and ASPCA Right Horse Adoption Barn welcomed horse shoppers and adopters all week long; the RRP marketed the event as a horse shopping opportunity for both buyers and adopters to watch horses perform, take trial rides on property, and easily vet horses with veterinarians from Hagyard on call for pre-purchase exams. The Marketplace was reserved for Makeover graduates competing that week, while the Adoption Barn was for all Right Horse partner organizations with adoptable Thoroughbreds available from any life stage. With these combined efforts, the Thoroughbred Makeover remains a horse shopping or adoption destination for individuals seeking Thoroughbreds as their next partner for recreation or sport.

Educational opportunities continued to be a key draw to the Makeover as well: a revamped seminar series designed to be interactive and hands-on welcomed participating Makeover trainers as well as spectators to learn more about a variety of topics. Wednesday’s seminar, Neurological Exam Demo & Discussion, was sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim and featured Dr. Sarah Reuss of Boehringer Ingelheim and Dr. Steve Reed of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. Thursday’s seminar, Body Condition Hands-On Demo, was sponsored by Rood & Riddle and featured Dr. David Alexander, also of Rood & Riddle.

Dr. SteveReed and Dr. Sarah Reuss present Neurological Exam Demo & Discussion. Photo by Captivation Photography

Formal event dates for 2024 as well as the release of the 2024 rule book will be announced later this fall at TheRRP.org.

In Other News

April 11, 2024

Erin Gilmore Photography Announced as Official Show Photographer of 2024 Thoroughbred Makeover

Erin Gilmore Photography covers internationally rated equestrian events as official photographer in the Northeast USA and beyond.…
Read More
Featured image for “Erin Gilmore Photography Announced as Official Show Photographer of 2024 Thoroughbred Makeover”
April 5, 2024

Save in the RRP Store in the Spring Fling Sale!

Score seasonal savings in the RRP Store and wear your OTTB pride.…
Read More
Featured image for “Save in the RRP Store in the Spring Fling Sale!”
March 25, 2024

Ask a Trainer: Introducing Lateral Work

Alison O’Dwyer shares her tried and true method to introduce lateral work to the green OTTB.…
Read More
Featured image for “Ask a Trainer: Introducing Lateral Work”
March 14, 2024

RRP Launches 2024 Thoroughbred Makeover Fundraising Initiatives

Learn more about the Make the Makeover and Fund-a-Need campaigns!…
Read More
Featured image for “RRP Launches 2024 Thoroughbred Makeover Fundraising Initiatives”
March 11, 2024

Building a Nutrition Plan for Your OTTB

How to feed your retired racehorse: Start with high-quality pasture and hay, then look to grain to shore up any deficiencies, consulting experts whenever possible.…
Read More
Featured image for “Building a Nutrition Plan for Your OTTB”
March 7, 2024

2024 Thoroughbred Makeover Vendor Fair Applications Now Open

Reserve your space by April 30 to secure early bird pricing!…
Read More
Featured image for “2024 Thoroughbred Makeover Vendor Fair Applications Now Open”
February 28, 2024

Tendon Injuries in Off-Track Thoroughbreds

If you give an OTTB with a tendon injury the time necessary to recover fully and are diligent about preventing re-injury, the horse can have a long, healthy second career.…
Read More
Featured image for “Tendon Injuries in Off-Track Thoroughbreds”
February 26, 2024

February Trainer Newsletter: Trainer Fundraiser, Marketing Opportunities, & Educational Resources

Earn a refund on your 2024 entry fees by participating in the new “Make the Makeover” fundraiser, find your audience in sharing your horse’s retraining journey, and start the process off right by utilizing RRP’s educational resources! Read the entirety…
Read More
Featured image for “February Trainer Newsletter: Trainer Fundraiser, Marketing Opportunities, & Educational Resources”
February 15, 2024

2024 Trainer Acceptance Letter

Congratulations! You are one of nearly 400 talented trainers and team members who are on track to show the world what a Thoroughbred ex-racehorse can do at this year’s Makeover. Would you like to announce your acceptance on social media?…
Read More
Featured image for “2024 Trainer Acceptance Letter”
February 15, 2024

396 Trainers Accepted to 2024 Thoroughbred Makeover

Accepted trainers have signed up to bring a total of 416 horses.…
Read More
Featured image for “396 Trainers Accepted to 2024 Thoroughbred Makeover”
February 12, 2024

Picking Prospects: Spring 2024

Makeover trainers evaluate sport horse potential based on conformation shots.…
Read More
Featured image for “Picking Prospects: Spring 2024”
January 23, 2024

Strong to the Core: Under Saddle

Apply these techniques to build your OTTB’s second-career strength and agility…
Read More
Featured image for “Strong to the Core: Under Saddle”
January 12, 2024

Budgeting For an OTTB

Breaking down the costs associated with OTTB ownership…
Read More
Featured image for “Budgeting For an OTTB”
January 12, 2024

RRP to Host Aftercare Industry Month Virtual Conference

Aftercare Industry Month is coming in February!…
Read More
Featured image for “RRP to Host Aftercare Industry Month Virtual Conference”
January 12, 2024

Developing the Perfect Foxhunter

Are you inspired to try your hand at hunting? We’ll walk you through the process of finding a hunt and preparing your off-track Thoroughbred for his first outings.…
Read More
Featured image for “Developing the Perfect Foxhunter”
January 12, 2024

First Rides

Confidence, planning and flexibility can set you up for success when retraining a horse directly off the track…
Read More
Featured image for “First Rides”
January 12, 2024

The Rewards of Rehab

Even OTTBs with major injuries can return to the top levels of sport with careful, customized rehabilitation plans…
Read More
Featured image for “The Rewards of Rehab”
January 10, 2024

More Than Fast

Whether dominating professional and high school rodeo or local jackpots, OTTBs are proving they have the athleticism and trainability to excel in barrel racing.…
Read More
Featured image for “More Than Fast”
January 10, 2024

Navigating Thoroughbred Sales

If you know how Thoroughbred sales work, you might just find your next sport horse superstar at one.…
Read More
Featured image for “Navigating Thoroughbred Sales”
January 5, 2024

Training Steeplechase Horses

Learn how these horses’ routines differ from those of flat racers…
Read More
Featured image for “Training Steeplechase Horses”
January 5, 2024

Castrating Male Horses

Many male racehorses retire from the track intact; here’s what to expect if you acquire a colt or stallion and decide to geld him.…
Read More
Featured image for “Castrating Male Horses”
January 5, 2024

Forage-Focused Diets

An increasing number of owners are exploring the benefits of forage-focused — if not forage-only — diets for their retired Thoroughbred racehorses.…
Read More
Featured image for “Forage-Focused Diets”
January 5, 2024

Picking Prospects: Winter 2024

Makeover trainers evaluate sport horse potential based on conformation shots.…
Read More
Featured image for “Picking Prospects: Winter 2024”
January 4, 2024

Picking Prospects: Fall 2023

Makeover trainers evaluate sport horse potential based on conformation shots.…
Read More
Featured image for “Picking Prospects: Fall 2023”