Welcome to my blog about retraining my Off Track Thoroughbred, Jaguar Hope. Not only am I retraining him but retraining me, a hunter/jumper trained owner, as we both learn about Dressage. A new challenge for both of us!
Me: I have a completely cool job working in golf. I teach, explain, officiate and write about the Rules of Golf for the ruling body of golf in the United States. I love my job. It takes up much of my life but I don't think I'd have it any other way. The time that I do have for me is filled up with horses - my passion. In my spare time I am a lover of horses, a horse racing fan and advocate for race horse welfare, an equine photographer, as well as a hobbyist in equine competition. I used to compete in the hunter/jumper world for years until I got very involved in golf. You can say I took a 15 yr hiatus from horses. Now I'm out of denial and back in full force!
Jaguar Hope: A Thoroughbred horse - Bred in Illinois by Jaguar On The Run Stables, Jag was born to run. His sire is the Eclipse Award winner Turkoman and he's out of the dam, Enduring Hope. He's a 1998 model that began racing at the age of 3 and raced 71 times, earned $88,983 with a record of 15 - 13 - 9.
Here is a video of one of his races:
How we got here:
In May of 2007, I found myself at Great Lakes Downs one evening with a co-worker. We were both on a business trip in Grand Rapids, MI and decided to spend our evening at the nearby track. Both of us had just returned from a fantastic trip to the Kentucky Derby and we were still in the horse racing mode. We had a great time making our $2 bets and enjoying a good dinner. We were about to leave before the last race but my friend talked me out of it. Thankfully she did because out came the most beautiful horse I'd ever seen. I quickly checked my racing form and saw he was a 9 yr old gelding running in a $4,000 claiming race and had won his last race 2 weeks earlier.
Being a volunteer for CANTER - MI I knew that many horses like Jaguar Hope, didn't have great opportunities once their racing careers were over. However, I didn't let that control my impulse to immediately ask his owner if I could retire him. I felt I needed to check into him a little bit more to see if we would be a good fit. Two weeks later, I was at Great Lakes Downs in the morning to check with the trainers on the backside for horses they wanted to list with CANTER or donate to CANTER. We stopped by the trainer's barn that owned Jaguar Hope. We asked one of the workers if Jaguar Hope was there and he was!!! This was a stroke of luck as this trainer only brings in his horses from his farm to the track when they race. So I got to say hi personally to Jaguar Hope - who was super friendly - gave him a treat as well as saw that his legs looked really really clean (not that that would have changed my mind about owning him).
I wrote a letter to his owner immediately upon my return home. A few weeks later he called and said "sure thing, you can have him if you'd like"! I just happened to be working the U.S. Women's Open at the time and so we made arrangements for me to get him in August once I was done with championship work. He asked me to pay a very agreeable amount to purchase him. Done deal!
I'm not new to Off Track Thoroughbreds (OTTB's) as I already had in my possession an ex racer that was once my niece's hunter/jumper horse. He is my "been there, done that" guy. He was relatively successful as a race horse early in his life and then for some reason it ended during his 4 yr old season - it's a mystery to this day what happened although he has a mark from a broken bone just below his left eye. I'm guessing he had a gate issue... totally a guess! He entered into my niece's life when he was discovered by her trainer in a field in Lansing, MI. He became her hunter/jumper horse in the AA circuit and they did well. My niece ended up having some issues come up in her life and riding came to an end. This is when Toby - her horse - entered my life. There's more to his story but it will have to be the topic for another post.
So I felt I had the patience and understanding of ex race horses and felt I could take the next step of getting a racer straight off the track with the agreed upon help of my friends and trainer.
At this time I was working with a terrific trainer, Karen Maas. Karen knows more about horse psychology than anyone I know. She has played a key role during the time that Jag came off the track and learned life away from the track. She was always there for teaching him regular horse things like treats and going on trail rides along with teaching him some elementary riding basics. It may not sound like much in writing but for a horse that only knew life on the track for 6 of his 9 years it was huge.
Karen is part of a group of friends I refer to as my "team." My team consists of Karen (foremost a good friend and trainer), David Vanderlind my farrier, Tonja Molby my vet and Mark H. my chiropractor (yes mine AND my horse's). I rely on all these people to help me figure out issues with my horses and to come up with a plan to remedy them. They are all very important in my horses health and I trust them implicitly. They are the "A" team!
So now we come to my current situation. I've always noticed that Jag is a beautiful mover and very athletic as well as showy. So I felt he'd be a better fit for Dressage than going into the hunter/jumper world. When Karen came up with some personal health issues, I had to look for someone who is trusted within the local equine community in dressage training. Betsy Van Dyke became our gal to teach us the fine points of dressage. Probably the best trait about Betsy, which attracted me to her as a trainer, is her sympathy and understanding of the horse she is working. She's quick on the praise yet is equally quick to let the horse know they are doing wrong. It always seems to be done in a calm conversational manner which is really cool! They seem to have a constant conversation between them, horse and rider, which is beautiful to watch. Jag loves praise and it's great to see him working hard and trying for Betsy when she rides him. He tries for me as well but I'm sure that my conversational skills through riding are not quite as clear to him as Betsy's. And that's my challenge to learn in riding!
So here we are. Starting out in dressage and wondering where it will take us. I will be blogging about it as we move along so you can tag along with us if you'd like. We are not always perfect but most importantly we are having fun. Afterall, this is my recreation and fun should be first and foremost. We hope you can become part of our support team! Welcome!
Here's a video to demonstrate our ultimate starting point. My very first ride on him: