Retired racehorses have plenty of life to live following their days on the track. From dressage to jumping, pleasure riding, eventing and beyond, these animals still have a purpose in life. Thoroughbreds have become quite popular lately, partially because of heightened awareness stemming from organizations such as New Vocations and the Retired Racehorse Challenge. Prior to thoroughbreds’ spike in popularity, warmbloods dominated the scene.
How Horse Aftercare is Changing
The conventional approach to horse retirement is undergoing some changes. The horse enthusiasts at Mosaic Racing Stable, located by Saratoga NY and founded by Monica Driver, are no longer waiting for horse retirement to commence to start the retraining process. The horses at Mosaic enjoy a seamless segue into their second career. Driver’s team uses an array of schooling exercises in race training, creating a comprehensive before-care regimen.
Mosaic’s ethos is doing right by horses, even after their racing careers have ended. The group sets aside 15% of every single horse’s career race earnings for retirement funding. You will be hard-pressed to find a group that plans that far ahead for young horses. Though the approach employed at Mosaic is unique, it was preceded by the strategy used by Seattle Slew’s handlers. The Triple Crown victor had initial dressage in unison with race training to help improve balance and coordination.
The main difference between Driver’s team and other horse trainers is their use of cross-training with concern for the animal’s future. The overarching aim is not to simply build a faster horse to win races; rather, it is to raise an animal that proves happy and purposeful across the entirety of its life. One might think this alternative approach to training racehorses would ruffle some feathers amongst industry brass. Thankfully, Driver’s group has received considerable support for their idiosyncratic approach, especially amongst top horse trainers.
An Example of Success
It appears as though the approach employed by the masterminds at Mosaic Racing Stable is working quite well. One of Driver’s horses, Analysis, recently spent some time with the one and only H. Allen Jerkens. Analysis will work under Jerkens’ tutelage and also benefit from the guidance of Jerkens’ son, Jimmy. Driver initially worked for Jerkens as a hot-walker back in the 70s. Driver notes Jerkens would turn out the pens, ride the horses in the day, steer them the opposite direction on the track and keep them jogging. Everyone agrees Jerkens is an expert at turning sour horses around.
Aside from Jerkens, numerous other industry stalwarts are in favor of cross-training horses. Some argue horses enjoy this approach to training as it is much more interesting than the conventional style. Horses, just like people and other animals, grow tired of engaging in the same routine over and over again.
Horses in the Winter
Driver shies away from referring to her approach as cross-training as she fears the word invokes unnecessary implications. She prefers to describe her approach as freshening, fun and useful. Driver’s team insists their training approach benefits horses’ minds, bodies and futures. Driver is particularly adamant horses require downtime, especially when the temperatures dip. These animals need some time to hang out, graze and simply exist as regular horses as opposed to competitive racehorses. Keep in mind the winter will prove both physically and mentally stressful on horses. Three is no reason to race your horse throughout the entirety of the year.
The Mosaic team winters their horses in South Carolina. This approach ensures the before-care approach works to perfection. Aiken, South Carolina is rife with elite horse trainers across an array of disciplines. Driver’s horses commence their winter downtime with about a month and a half of turn-out time. The animals are then taught to extend and shorten their strides, perfect cavaletti, bend in each direction, walk with a loose rein and jump. Once the horses emerge from the track, they are well-trained and that much better-prepared for what awaits. Though the training atmosphere can prove intense, horses provided with breaks make it through these sessions without a problem.
Preparing Horses the Right Way
Driver has also teamed up with Suzy Haslup, a fellow horse trainer with a background in OTTB and racing. Haslup makes it a point to expose her horses to an array of environments and situations. Though some other trainers have insinuated Haslup breaks horses similar to how show horses are treated, her animals have proven uber-successful. Her overarching aim is to break horses as though they will perform a variety of activities in the future. Haslup insists the extra effort at the outset of the process facilitates everything once the horse is back. This strategic approach makes it easier to retrain the animals, turn them into something else and ultimately make a sizable profit.
Horses in Action
Mosaic used one of its stunning grey mares, Vicarious, in the before-care program’s initial run. The horse was transported to Haslup in the winter of her second year. Vicarious trained at the Aiken Training Track before racing under the guidance of Jerkens at Belmont months later. The horse’s daily workouts included balancing exercises on the hind end along the track. By the time the second winter rolled around, vicarious had graduated to jumps. Everyone agrees the horse had an absolute blast in the before-care program. All in all, Vicarious earned more than $114,000 in her career. She passed away from colic after retiring at the age of five.
Mosaic has two horses coming through the ranks to follow the path taken by Vicarious. Each horse is attempting to learn how to race and also prepare for additional roles for life after the racetrack. The aim of this nuanced approach to raising a competitive horse is not to emerge with a string of Kentucky Derby winners; though a few winners would certainly be nice, the goal is to have fun as horse owners, trainers and jockeys – and also for the horses themselves to have fun. If the experience proves mutually beneficial to the horse enthusiasts and the horses, it can be considered a success.
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