BY LINDY GUTMAN
I am like many of you. I’d posted those ads that said 15.2 – 16.2 hand gelding between 5 and 10 years of age. Versatility is a must, prefer hunter type movement and disposition. Does not need to be a perfect physical specimen, but will do basic PPE. Under 10K. NO THOROUGHBREDS.
I never thought that I could ride an Off the Track Thoroughbred. A lifelong horse racing enthusiast and rider, I am a timid adult amateur. I’m an “amateur’s amateur.” My brain is my worst enemy. I’d been casually riding a Quarter Horse for years with a dream of heading back to the hunter ring and being able to reliably jump 2’6”. I’d always wanted to foxhunt, but was just too afraid.
Like most things, there’s a story here. In March, 2015. I was in Aiken, SC with a group of friends and our horses to play around in the warmer weather for a couple of weeks. My friends and I love everything about horses and horse racing (except the risk to the horses), and that includes betting on the horses. On a warm and rainy Aiken day, we decided to go to the Aiken Trials with lots of one dollar bills and some adult beverages. As the day ended, we headed back to the truck when my husband, Adam, spotted the jockey of the winning race and asked if we could all take a picture with her.
Upon walking away, as I later learned, the jockey’s mom asked “Do you know those people?”
At the time, the answer was “No.” Little did we know that we were destined to become family.
This story should have ended there. In almost all cases, it would have ended there. This story, however, was just beginning.
A few weeks later, I got a friend request on Facebook from the jockey we met at the Aiken trials. She’d been looking over her competition for the 2015 Retired Racehorse Thoroughbred Makeover, and admired a big grey horse entered in dressage. On his page, she spotted herself at the Trials and reached out to all of us.
She’d been so impressed with the trainer of the big gray horse that she brought her 2015 Makeover hopeful, Fullback, to Maryland and moved here to train. Unlike many makeover projects, Fullback wasn’t for sale.
The Makeover came and went and we all went to watch. Jordan, our jockey from the trials, and Fullback finished second overall in Dressage. It was a great performance, and, if not for a minor meltdown in the indoor in the finale, they would have won the whole division. But back to Maryland we went, Jordan and Fullback, too.
After the show, the group of us grew close and spent a lot of time together doing horse things. My Quarter Horse, Abe, was aging, and so was I. I had just gotten it in my head that it was getting to be time to look for another horse so that Abe would still be sound and able to help me train it to be a good trail horse. So, I set out with the ISO post above, specifically NO OTTBs.
Talking to Jordan one day, I explained why I didn’t want an OTTB. I wasn’t brave enough, couldn’t handle it, etc.“Unless I could have Fullback…” I joked, since I knew he wasn’t for sale.
But when she responded, “To you, I’d consider selling him.” I knew trouble was brewing.
The next day, I went to try him and was in love. He was kind, easy, lazy and forgiving. I jumped little stuff the first day. I took a few lessons, and Jordan even brought him over so that I could try him on a trail ride. Even as a three-year-old, he checked so many of my boxes. I vetted him, made a plan to handle the things that showed up, and he came home permanently the next day.
Fullback has changed my life, and not in a small way. He’s an ambassador for Thoroughbreds. He’s a blue blood. He was bred to be the best. He’s by the best, Bernardini, out of the best, Stellar Jayne. Those parents won a combined $4.5 million dollars on the racetrack. They are both multiple grade 1 stakes winners. He was bred by Godolphin racing for the sheik’s own personal racing stable. He was never sold at auction. They had high hopes for Fullback as a 2 year old and they sent him to Saratoga, where they only send the best.
Jordan met him as a yearling. She worked for Darley, the racing arm of Godolphin, at the Aiken Training track. She broke yearlings and was an exercise rider for them. In 2013 Fullback, then unnamed and called Stellar after his mom, arrived. Jordan was instantly in love.
She made it known that, if he couldn’t run or wasn’t fast, she’d like to have him as a personal horse. Turns out, he wasn’t fast, and was gelded while at the track as a 2 year old. When you are bred like he is and owned by Godolphin and you’re gelded, that means one thing—claiming races. Jordan made the official request for him and he was shipped to her before Christmas of his 2 year old season.
Their journey began, and, unbeknownst to me, so, in a way, did mine. This horse has taken me places that I never thought I’d go. Never dreamed of going.
We did a lot of trail riding and started to horse show. I went back to my dream of doing the show hunters again, and had such fun in the Thoroughbred divisions. We were invited to foxhunt, and found we both loved it. Now, we do the show hunters during the show season and foxhunt during hunt season.
We got to show in the Dixon Oval at Devon. We qualified for the Colonial Classic at Harrisburg. We went back to the KY Horse Park and showed in the New Vocations Charity Horse show and the TIP Championships. We won souvenir ribbons at all of them. We do Paper Chases and Hunter Paces, we belong to a local hunt club. We have nearly 800 hours in the TIP Recreational Riding Program.
Because of Fullback, I’ve recently acquired my first OTTB restart project, Talk Show Man, and am hoping to head to the Makeover in October as a first time trainer. I’d always viewed participating in the Makeover as a pipe dream. It wasn’t something that I was competent to do… until I was. I’m determined to do it myself, as much as I can, and it’s not easy.
Off Track Thoroughbreds are great, but the people that surround them may be even better. They are so much fun. So supportive, and want the best for the breed.
If you’re reading this and thinking you can’t handle an OTTB, here’s what I want you to know. I am you. I’m almost 52. I’m an amateur. I’m basically a timid rider. If I can do this, you can, too. Find good trainers, take lessons, explore, be patient. There’s an OTTB for everyone. I want everyone to ride a Thoroughbred.