There are very nice people in the world who refer to me as a "horse expert." Of course, I'm not a horse expert in my eyes, I'm a person who has spent most of my life learning as much as I possibly can about horses, and that makes me an active enthusiast at best. Yes I can saddle-break a baby and inseminate a mare and remove eyelid stitches and jump a preliminary cross-country course and perform reasonable tempi changes on a well-trained horse and yes, teach a young racehorse to break from the gate.
An expert to most folks, maybe. But to the most of the readers of this blog I'm probably just... maybe a slightly above-average horsewoman? (You can tell me in the comments, if you promise to be nice.)
I got an email a few weeks ago from a reader at my site, Retired Racehorse, asking me to write about Gate to Great and Off-Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) who are being retrained as Western horses.
It went something to the effect of: You write a lot about OTTBs competing in English disciplines, what about Western ones? They excel at everything.
|At Gate to Great, they know Western OTTBs are totally a thing. Photo: Gate to Great/gatetogreat.com|
And while Thoroughbreds do, obviously, excel at everything, because sheer athleticism, curiosity, drive, and intelligence are traits wanted in every discipline, I really had nothing to write about. Because I just don't know much about Western riding.
I've been in a Western saddle maybe four or five times in my life, and that probably includes pony rides as a small child. The last time I was in a Western saddle, on an Appaloosa mare, she reared up and flipped over on me. Accustomed to the relative ease of dismounting from a flat saddle (I was an exercise rider at the time, riding about ten two-year-old Thoroughbreds every morning on the racetrack) I floundered in the Western saddle's high horn and cantle, got whacked in the forehead with her solid-rock poll, and eventually found myself on the ground, out cold.
A good craftsman never blames her tools, to be sure, but in this case this wasn't my tool, it was the owner's tool, and I owed her money, so I got on her damn horse and... I guess I am a little angsty about that saddle.
I also knew a Thoroughbred who was a very successful barrel racer. His name was, fittingly, Rocket. And my first OTTB, Amarillo, learned about the Real World outside the racetrack by moving cattle from pasture to pasture in rural Florida. (One of my very few Western rides was my test ride on Amarillo. He was so awesome, despite my complete discomfort in the saddle, that I just galloped him around the arena and then told my mom he was the one. He was.)
So I looked up Gate to Great finally, because their name is starting to crop up everywhere, and I was starting to feel distinctly inexpert about the whole situation, which isn't great for a person who runs a blog called Retired Racehorse and ostensibly knows a whole lot about retired racehorses.
And you know what? It's kind of amazing. I'm starting to feel very left out of the whole Western Thoroughbred Revolution.
In this fantastic video, you get an introduction to Thoroughbreds working with cattle, and the one word that springs to my mind is fun. These horses are having so much fun. I want to be one of these horses and have as much fun as they're having. It's ridiculous.
The Gate to Great folks are even sending horses to the Retired Racehorse Training Project's Thoroughbred Makeover in October, and you won't believe what they have planned:
I can't even believe that this is an actual thing. I also can't believe I'm not going to be there. The event, held on October 5-6 at Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland, is going to be amazing. I just have other plans I can't change! Oh the humanity!The event, named “Who Let the Cows Out?”, will pair celebrity jockeys with retired Thoroughbred racehorses from the Gate to Great training program of Newell, South Dakota to compete on the Pimlico track in a “team sorting” event. Each team of two horses and riders will have a maximum of two minutes to sort a small herd of numbered cattle into a corral in numeric order. The team with the fastest time and correct sorting order wins the competition. The event requires cow sense, teamwork and fast thinking on the part of both the horses and riders. - Press Release from Retired Racehorse Training Project
So there you have it. From racehorse to ranch horse, and apparently having a blast doing it. I apologize to my original reader for having to send that letter and get my attention out of the English world and into the Western one. What can I say? For a "horse expert," I reckon I have a lot to learn.
What about you? Do you consider yourself a well-rounded equestrian, or are there elements of riding and training out there that have simply escaped you over the years? I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of -- we all know the saying "Jack of all trades, master of none," right? But then again, I'm starting to think there are some horses out there who might laugh at that phrase. It's looking like some horses can literally do everything, and do it well!
Visit Gate to Great and see their wonderful videos and training stories at GatetoGreat.com