Once upon a time, ridden racehorses were not recognized by the horse show establishment in Europe or in the United States and Canada. They were lumped in with the purpose-bred warmbloods and crossbreds.
While there were year-end awards for specific breeds and even national recognition for sport horses and warmbloods, no one gave much thought to the horses who had survived a complete career change, overcome racing's rocky road of longterm soundness threats, and beaten the behavior problems that gave ex-racehorses a black eye in the public view.
"Well, he's off the track, what do you expect?"
How many times have you heard that?
The past five years have seen a seismic perception change of the ex-racehorse. And nowhere is the ex-racehorse more celebrated in grand style than at one of the world's penultimate horse events, the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show.
Held each August at the Royal Dublin Society's showgrounds, the "Racehorse to Riding Horse" class attracts thousands of onlookers. Why? Because they might see someone they remember. Someone who helped them earn a few euros from the bookie...or lose a few.
They might also see a showhorse or field hunter prospect they'd like to buy.
At this class, the remembered racehorse and the future sport horse are one and the same.
The class, held in its elegant setting, looks too easy. The immaculately groomed showhorses bear little resemblance to their lean former selves. There is a mix of flat racers, hurdlers and National Hunt champions but you'd barely recognize them, plump as they are. Their tails and manes are immaculate, their stride transitions perfected and--oh wait, was that a little buck? Hmm, that one seems to pull.
When the judges ask for the gallop, will they take off or will they stay in hand?
If you happen to find yourself ringside at Dublin tomorrow, you'll see 18 ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds under the judge's--not the starter's--orders for the popular class. Before you think that this has a connotation of charity or welfare to it, consider this: the entry fee is close to US$400 per horse. There are rules that the horse needs to be Irish-bred or have been trained in Ireland; there's plenty of fine print. For the most part, these are not "rescued" racehorses like we'd see in the USA.
And they're not just any racehorses, either: you'll see dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner, Moscow Flyer, closely followed by chasing hero Beef or Salmon. Cheltenham Gold Cup and King George IV Chase winner, Kicking King will be hot on their heels, along with?Champion Chaser Newmill. Here comes Mossbank and?Mansony who will be ridden by his old race trainer, Arthur Moore.
Two Aintree Grand National winners, Numbersixvalverde and Silver Birch, have met before at Beechers Brook but this time their battle takes place in RDS Ring 1.?Hurdlers Hardy Eustace, Harchibald, Dom Fontenail and Accordian Etoile will take on flat racers like Snaefell and Sabadilla.
The attractive gray Firecatcher, and polished accomplices Beau de Turgeon, Horseface Jack and Marche Militaire are proven winners in the show ring, each having won an Open Racehorse to Riding Horse class to secure an invitational place at this year's class.
Sponsored by Irish?Thoroughbred Marketing, the "Ridden to Riding Horse" event promises to be spectacular and a big feature of the 2012 show. Since horses are a big export for Ireland, it is not too far a stretch to suggest that this horsey nation may have a scheme up its sleeve to launch a new cash crop from its retiring runners and jumpers. The show also features a parade of Thoroughbred stallions from all over Ireland. At this show, riding and racing are not held at an arm's length from each other.
To celebrate Dublin's Racehorse to Riding Horse annual super-spectacle, The Jurga Report has a treat for you. Over the next few days, you'll go undercover and as the blog profiles one horse's story of what it takes to make it to Dublin, where champion and unknown ex-racehorses will meet to walk, trot, canter, reverse, back and yes! gallop for the judges and crowd.
Except this horse started with a definite handicap. He was rough, rainscalded and wormy. But his new owners thought he just might have what it takes to put a spin on the public perception of the recycled Thoroughbred.
Check the next few entries on the blog to begin the adventure. And don't be discouraged by a buck here and there. It's all part of the show, and the fun!
Special thanks to Fiona Sheridan of the Royal Dublin Society for providing names of the horses entered in this year's class.
Note: Shows exclusively for ex-racehorses have begun to crop up in the United States (hooray!) and ex-racehorse classes and awards are well-established elsewhere. The Dublin class is different in that it features horses that are household names in Ireland and for the publicity it brings to ex-racehorses: the Dublin show attracts an audience of 80,000 and is televised all over Ireland and (for some events) all over the world.
From Racehorse to Showhorse: Wendy Wooley's blog detailing her retraining of the beautiful ex-racehorse, Jaguar Hope, offers some American-style insight into the process.
Off-Track Thoroughbreds blog by Susan Salk reports on the growing culture of re-training, owning and riding ex-racehorses in the United States.
Retraining of Racehorses is the mother ship web site for the vision and organization of the British program dedicated to responsible ownership, committed trainers and a proud new tradition in almost every horse sport for the ex-racehorse in Britain.