silhouette of horse running on beach with setting sun

Thoroughbred Makeover: Ex-racer to Sports Horse Saves the Breed?

chestnut racehorse and jockey
A Makeover Project?

Before and After: Who Doesn’t Love a Great Makeover Story?

People are addicted to transformation stories: the outdated tear-down house that becomes a showplace, the wallflower Plain Jane who wins a beauty contest and outsmarts everyone, the company that soars to mega-stardom with the right business model. That’s why people are addicted to HGTV shows, why they loved Miss Congeniality, and why they’re glued to Shark Tank and other such programs. We love a good Cinderella story. And that’s probably part of the reason why the Thoroughbred Makeover competition under the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) has become so popular.

silhouette of horse running on beach with setting sun
…to Dream Horse



The Makeover Grows from Humble Beginnings to a Major Equine Event

The RRP Thoroughbred Makeover had its humble beginnings in Maryland around 2009 because of Steuart Pittman’s vision to showcase the versatility of the Thoroughbred in order to advance the cause of finding second careers for ex-racers. The Makeover grew out of the Thoroughbred Trainer Challenge and in 2013 was held at Pimlico. The concept as well as participation grew to such an extent that it was moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 2015 and remains there to this day. The 2022 Makeover has just completed this October with She’s A Bold One named the 2022 Makeover Champion. Although many horses have been sold to new homes, there are still plenty of competitors available–all of whom have been re-started and are on their way to excelling at a new discipline (or two or three). Check them out!

Breaking Through Thoroughbred Breed Prejudice

At one time, Thoroughbreds dominated the sports horse world. The hunter-jumper competition entries were mostly Thoroughbreds, as were eventers. This provided a tried-and-true rehoming stream from racetrack to show ring. However, since the rise of the warmblood in equine competition, I wonder how many more ex-racers are left in limbo. I know there are excellent organizations that strive to catch racers who might fall on hard times, and I know Maryland has instituted After Care programs (read more at: Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance) to assist the transition, but there are still far too many Thoroughbreds washing around after their racing career is over. In May 2015, I interviewed a few outstanding TB rescue organizations for an article in Baltimore magazine entitled Fresh Starts on the fate of ex-racers and was heartened by their efforts, but unfortunately there are not enough people willing to adopt/purchase a Thoroughbred, let alone an ex-racer. The breed has collected and endured some “typecast” baggage it has to unload, such as “all Thoroughbreds are hot or crazy”, “they all have bad feet”, or “they’re only built to run–not (fill in the blank).” The Makeover is taking on these stereotypes by proving TBs can do anything from ranch work to dressage.

What a Thoroughbred Ex-racehorse Brings to the Table

A professional hunter-jumper trainer once told me he loves to take on an ex-racer for a retraining project because they have already “seen everything.” Indeed, a racehorse has been exposed to a lot by a very tender age, when most other breeds are still treated like babies and exposed to very little of the world outside their yard. The Thoroughbred is also known for its heart–a quality difficult to define, but horsemen sure know it when they come across it. A good Thoroughbred is very willing to work hard, gets and stays fit easily, and is intelligent with a keen sense of self-preservation. I owned a second career ex-racer for over eighteen years and we did everything from hunters, to dressage, to eventing, and a bit of pony club at the end of his days. Clearly, an ex-racer does not have to enter and win a Makeover in order to be a winner.

Fictionalized Event in the Novel JUST GODS Inspired by the Thoroughbred Makeover

In the third book of the Maryland Equestrian series, Just Gods, the main character enters an eventing competition that is set up exclusively for rescue horses to showcase their abilities and optimize adoption and placement. I got the idea for this competition from the RRP and its efforts to increase demand for Thoroughbred horses. I hope that in the future more people will give ex-racers a try and also that there will be less horses falling though the cracks into sketchy auction situations or on trucks bound for the borders. These racehorses who have given everything for their owners deserve a second chance.

girl with chestnut horse

Have you owned or ridden an ex-racehorse? What’s your story? Share it in comments please!



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