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McKenna Oxenden

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Thoroughbreds Take Center Stage at the Rolex RRP Hoedown at Hagyard

Tik Maynard faces off against Sally Cousins in Equicizer racing. Photo by McKenna Oxenden.

“Guts and glory” was the name of the game on Rolex Saturday — and not just for the riders who had to jump those four-star monstrosities on the cross country course.

On Saturday evening Hagyard Equine Medical Center hosted the second annual Hoedown to support the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, a training competition and celebration of all things Thoroughbred held the last weekend of October at the Kentucky Horse Park.

It featured live bluegrass music by Steve Norman’s Shades of Grass Band, mouth-watering Red State Barbecue and, of paramount importance to Equicizer racing participants, an open bar with bourbon sponsored by Bourbon Lane Stables.

Photo by McKenna Oxenden.

By all accounts, Equicizer racing required nearly as much courage as four-star cross country itself. The North American Racing Academy sponsored the new “sport” for the event, offering coaching advice here and there to the brave volunteers who decided to put their foot in the (very, very, very short) stirrups and battle their friends for 60 seconds to see who could get the most amount of strides, counted on the a browband pedometer.

It got pretty heated. Nearly everyone at the table I was sitting at participated. We were basically a celebrity table because until the very end of the night, new friend Kris Ziti from Long Island, New York, held the record of 179 strides.

That made my 117 strides seem pretty pathetic.

The author trying her luck at Equicizer racing. Photo courtesy of McKenna Oxenden.

The celebrity race pitted two jockeys, Remi Bellocq and Rosie Napravnik, and two upper level event riders, Sally Cousins and Tik Maynard against each other.

Tik edged out Sally by 11 strides, winning with 131 while Remi took the lead over Rosie with 147-129. The verdict is TBD as it appeared Remi had a bit of a false-start out of the gate, but this allegation is still under investigation.

“That was a lot harder than I thought it would be! It was harder than Rolex cross country!” Sally said after her Equicizer debut.

All of a sudden, I felt better about my 117 strides after seeing a Rolex rider be winded after finishing and finding out from Tik that 30-35 seconds is considered difficult for jockeys on the Equicizer.

Both Sally and Tik were there to show their support for Thoroughbreds and RRP.

“Riding a Thoroughbred at Rolex, they invite you to all of these events,” Sally said. “I’ve believed in this breed for a long time … and I’m trying to participate in part of the community.”

Sally piloted Tsunami to a clear cross country round with just 27.6 time penalties. She attributes her successful ride to “Sue’s” mentality.

“A number of horses got tired out there. And mine did too. But mine didn’t stop,” Sally said. “When they’re Thoroughbreds and they get tired, they don’t think they should give up.”

It’s a large contributing factor to why Sally, who in addition to eventing has experience exercising and racing Thoroughbreds on the track, loves the breed so much. In fact, she is so passionate about them that she is in a process of putting together a specific off-track Thoroughbred syndicate — click here to learn more.

Sally Cousins and Tsunami. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Tik, winner of the 2015 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover, said this program has been incredible not only for the industry, but for him personally and as a trainer.

His success with the project and his stellar writing has led him to write various columns and pieces in Off-Track Thoroughbred magazine and others. His most recent venture involves interviewing different trainers, like show jumper turned racehorse trainer Michael Matz or Anne Kursinski, and then riding with them and reflecting upon the various training styles.

“I’m really involved with Thoroughbreds. If I can help this particular breed of horse through this, great,” Tik said. “These horses need a lot of help.”

Tik Maynard and Dutch Times. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Stuart Pittman, resident emcee for the evening, said this project is one of the most exciting things going on in the horse industry.

“The goal is get more people aware and want to own event horses,” he said, referencing racehorse owners in particular. It’s just as much fun, he argues, although … the monetary payoff might not be quite as plush. “But we won’t tell them that!” Stuart said.

Here are some fast stats about this year’s Rolex Thoroughbred finishers:

  • Ten out of 15 Thoroughbred starters, or 67%, completed the event
  • Average dressage score of finishers: 60.3
  • Cross country jump penalties: four horses had one stop, two horses had two stops and four horses had clear rounds
  • Average cross country time penalties: 21.32
  • Only one Thoroughbred, Mettraise, ridden by Erin Sylvester, had a double clear cross country round. The performance won them Land Rover Best Ride of the Day, awarded to the U.S. rider closest to optimum time, and a 24-month lease on a Land Rover. She was also rider of the highest placed Thoroughbred.
  • Average show jump rail per Thoroughbred: 2.5
  • Average show jump time penalty: 3.8

Go OTTBs. Go Eventing!

 

Rolex Riders Confess Their Competition Superstitions

Horse people are weird. Eventers are even weirder. They are also particular. And on show days, us riders tend to become even more particular– -and for various reasons.

Yes, the horse needs to be turned out well and yes the tack needs to be cleaned. But there are also rituals that need to be followed, because if it is not executed to perfection, you’re risking failure.

Live. Love. Superstitions. Am I right, or am I right? (There’s only one right answer here).

It’s what makes most of us tick during show days. It’s also what makes some people want to strangle us on show days. But hey, whatever helps you sleep at night, right?

Turns out, riders participating in “the big dance” — you know, that thing called Rolex Kentucky — are no different.

Joe Meyer obsesses over equipment, and in particular, his protective vest and helmet cover.

“His superstition is that he has to fall off in it first,” Joe’s wife, Ruthie, said. “His hat cover he is wearing at Rolex is held together by duct tape — – for real! Because he won’t wear a brand new one cross country day.”

Joe Meyer and Clip Clop. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Equipment is also key to Woodge Fulton. She has one piney holder specifically for OTTB Captain Jack. She leaves in all of Captain’s old numbers and empties it at the end of the season.

Just like me and you, 4* riders also have a reliable pair of lucky socks.

Sally Cousins considers herself “quite superstitious.” Her beat-up, broken-in lucky socks are relegated to only big events like Rolex. And Canadian Selena O’Hanlon blames coach Buck Davidson for her lucky sock needs.

Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

The buck doesn’t stop at equipment or clothing. Remember how I said eventers are weird?

Hannah Sue Burnett eats a banana before her cross country ride. Whether it is Beginner Novice, Rolex or representing the United States across seas. She eats a banana. But only one.

“Last year at Rolex I tried eating TWO bananas for extra good luck,” Hannah said. “BIG mistake. I had a frangible pin break. So it’s been tried and true, one banana on cross country day keeps the falls and pins away!”

Next course walk, try touching every jump. Every single rail and every single cross country fence. It’s what Katie Ruppel does for every jumping phase.

“I basically pet the fences when I walk,” Katie said. “It’s strange but somehow touching them makes me feel better? I’m a freak.”

Katie Ruppel and Houdini. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Before every phase, Bunnie Sexton currently in 27 th on a 68.3, recites the Serenity prayer to get out of her head and into the moment, focusing on her horse.

Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

But of course, there are the few odd balls out there that like to look superstitions in the face and laugh.

Many riders, like Joe, refuse to use a new piece of equipment. Not Lillian Heard. Her superstition is to be anti-superstitious.

“ I like to purposefully use something new at a show!” Lillian said. “For some reason I like to look superstition in the eye and say ‘I WON’T LET YOU TELL ME WHAT TO DO!’”

I think after hearing what day one dressage leader Jessica Phoenix’s  superstition is, I will be changing.

Turns out, Jessica doesn’t have any. Looks like the proof is in the pudding folks.

Jessica Phoenix and Pavarotti. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

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