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