Parklane Hawk (OTTB) winning the 2012 Rolex Kentucky CCI****.
(All pictures kindly supplied by Allie Conrad and used with her permission with thanks)
Like me you may recognize Allie Conrad's name as the author of some great articles in the the Chronicle of the Horse, documenting the OTTB at Rolex for instance, or her struggle to retrain a particular horse. Since reading them, I've been lucky enough to meet Allie at several events (we're usually admiring the same horses too!) and this week I spoke to her about her love for the OTTB and her mission at CANTER Mid-Atlantic for the Eventing Radio Show. Dedicated and driven, passionate and smart but still down to earth and a pleasure to talk to, you can hear our entire conversation on the podcast this week.
It all started when Allie was in her early 20s and her current horse had gone lame. After a little research on the internet where she learned about the New Holland Sales, she saved up a whopping $500, borrowed a trailer and set out, determined to make a difference. "I bought this mess of an animal, but I wanted to bring him home and save his life. The horse I picked up at New Holland is my lifeblood; I still own him. He's 22 now and shuffling around a bit. I built my barn for him, I built my farm for him, and he's the love of my life. He changed my life. He's a bit of an ass, but he can do no wrong. I let him get away with just about everything. His racing name was Clever Ma, so all the horses here that I've bred have been named after him. My farm (Clever Covert Farm) is named after him ... he's like my legacy!"
In the beginning though, Clever Ma's future was still uncertain. Allie detailed her doubts that he might not even be sound — "He had lymphangitis in all four legs and a huge knee!" — but to her surprise and joy, she discovered he had the most beautiful, swinging and sound trot on turning him out in a round pen on arrival at her farm. "He and I did just about everything together. He stayed very sound until just about a year ago, and then his hard life began to catch up with him. But he evented, we did the jumpers, we hunted all over the place, he did hunters, we did hunter paces, we did everything. He was my everything horse and just the absolute horsey love of my life. He's why CANTER Mid-Atlantic exists, and he's saved a lot of horses. I tell him all the time; his ego is huge!"
Clever Ma had come with his papers, so Allie was able to find out a little bit about his background. "I ended up tracking down his old owners, and they were trainers at Charles Town; they had bred and raised this horse, held him in their laps when he was born and when I told them what had happened I just heard silence and then bawling crying. They were so upset."
Unintentionally, Clever Ma's breeders had sent all their horses to the killer buyer having been promised that he would find them a good home. "This guy had them completely fooled, and so all 10 of the horses that they had sent him had been slaughtered and they were dealing with the realization of that. Thank God this one was saved, but it was at that moment that I decided to help both the Thoroughbreds coming off the track, but also people like them who wanted to do the right thing." Thus CANTER Mid Atlantic was born about a dozen years ago, the second CANTER program in the U.S.
"The more I got into it, the more I just realized they're just the coolest animals. They're thankful; they try hard. The only thing that stands in their way is soundness when they're not cared for on the track, and that's another battle I've been fighting: to try and get them cared for better, to change the drug rules and to change their future so they aren't raced past their ability to have a second career."
Doug Payne and Running Order at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** last year
Allie is approaching her fourth decade, which means she has volumes of experience and can speak with some authority on how things are different and how much they have improved for the better since those early days. "Being involved in this for so long has given me a certain perspective, and what's really cool is the change in attitude at the tracks. When I first started and went into Charles Town or other tracks, nobody would talk to us, or they would actually kick us out of the barns. I just kept going back and the more I went back, eventually they began to give me the time of day."
The first time Allie took a horse for a trainer and sold it via CANTER Mid-Atlantic within a day, "It spread like wildfire. The biggest change was that instead of running their horse in those last few races knowing they didn't have a chance but might bring home a little bit of a check, even $100 or $200, those people don't do that anymore. They list them on CANTER where they might sell them for $1,000 instead of risking one last run and possibly their horse breaking down completely. That's been the biggest change, and I think that is influencing the track in a very big way."
Unbelievably, Allie combines her work at CANTER Mid-Atlantic with a career in project management for a software development firm that essentially manages contracts for the government. "The technical term for that is NERD! The CANTER stuff is all just a labour of love. We all do it as volunteers. On a slow week, it's about 30 hours a week. On other weeks, it can be upwards of 50 or 60, depending on how many abcesses we have — literally!"
Will Faudree and Andromaque at the 2012 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI****
In any given week, there will be three or four CANTER Mid-Atlantic volunteers visiting the half a dozen or so tracks in the area that weekend. "We've been very lucky that we've been able to grow an awesome group of volunteers." Depending on the funding level at the time, if people are in a situation where they need to get rid of a horse immediately, then CANTER Mid-Atlantic will take them as donations. Once again, depending on funds, CANTER Mid-Atlantic takes in anywhere from 60 to a 100 horses a year; those horses will be turned out for three to six months depending on what they need, then re-trained and re-homed.
The extensive retraining is what probably stands CANTER Mid-Atlantic apart from a lot of other OTTB programs. "You can't truly evaluate a horse in one or two rides; you can only evaluate those two rides. We started insisting on 30 to 60 days of re-training so that we could really go about re-training and evaluating them in a very thorough, systematic way. Our success rate in placing them in new homes is at about 99 percent. I think we've had two horses come back ever that were not the right match."
Obviously this makes the process extremely costly. "It's much more expensive, but our service has to be to the horses and not the bank account, and we're not doing the horses the right service if we're placing them in a home that has unrealistic expectations of them, both mentally or soundness wise. We are extremely transparent in our re-training process. We write extensive blogs about each horse, and we document everything. I call it 'The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Really Ugly!'"
Funded by donations and grants — a very generous grant from ASPCA enabled them to double their efforts — most of their funding comes from donations and the sale price of the nicer horses, although "for every horse we sell for $3,000 or $4,000 or sometimes even $5,000 if it's been to a few shows, we'll probably give 10 away for a dollar or a couple hundred."
At Southern Pines, CANTER gave an award for the highest placed Jockey Club registered TB, and for the last three years they've also highlighted and rewarded the best placed OTTB at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Allie started that award after being told by someone at Rolex who should have known better that she might be disappointed to find that there just weren't any OTTBs at the the top of the sport, and oh, has Allie proved her wrong!
Michael Pollard and Wonderful Will
Allie also enjoys going to events as much as time allows to take pictures of the OTTBs competing and to highlight how prolific they are at every level. "The thing that they have at the end of the day that other horses don't is more heart than anything. In my opinion, that's what wins in eventing. You can have a 10 trot all day long, but the fact is you have to go cross country and you have to be sound on the third day, and I think that's what they're good for."
You can hear Allie's entire conversation on the Eventing Radio Show this week, and please be sure to check out the CANTER Mid-Atlantic website. Thank you for reading, and thank you to Allie for chatting but especially for all her great work to help the OTTB. Go CANTER Mid-Atlantic and Go OTTBs Eventing!
Komik on her way to a clear xc at her first prelim at Rocking Horse Winter II
It's been far too long since we caught up with Allie Knowles and her two, now six-year-old mares Komik and Roxy. Since our last installment Allie has spent a couple of weeks down in Ocala training with Buck Davidson, and competed at the Ocala Horse Park and Rocking Horse Winter II. There's almost too much to catch up on in one go, so I visited her barn on a blustery day and watched her do some fittening work with both horses before we had a brief chat, and promised to catch up again and get more competition footage at Southern Pines.
The horses going up the hill.
Allie mentioned that it's been a huge adjustment moving from California to Kentucky and getting used to the tracks over here, the weather and consequently making allowances for the footing, and also taking her mares' temperaments into account as she gets them fit for competitions.
My greedy gannet of a black labrador (four-legged rubbish bin) can attest to how delicious the Triple Crown feed is as you can see him in the background of the video hoovering up every last crumb from the ground, I can't watch that clip now without wanting to throttle him! Allie and I are both refreshingly ignorant geography-wise but we reckon it's about nine hours drive or so to Southern Pines from Kentucky and she'll be taking a full trailer load, with Last Call running in the Advanced and Juicy Couture in the Open Intermediate. If you have any particular training questions you'd like Allie to tackle please leave them in the comments section below, and we'd be happy to address them in the next edition. Thank you of course to Allie, and thank you as always for reading. Go Allie and Go Eventing!
Eventing Nation just spoke exclusively to Peter Atkins from a hospital in Westchester County in New York where he awaits surgery on his broken leg, "I broke the bottom off the tibia and the fibia, so they have to pin and plate it to get it all back together". In a cruel twist of appalling timing, a delayed, and then cancelled flight meant that had Peter, Henny and Firedrake, his Badminton entry, and his exciting young horse, all left for England on their originally scheduled flight on 2am monday morning, they would have been safely en route to London at the time of the accident, and be settling in to English digs as I write this.
In another almost unbelievable case of terrible timing, this is first instance that Peter has ever broken a bone in his life. In his third attempt to make it to Badminton, the two previous times something went wrong with his horses, and now having come so close this time, he told me he's heartbroken, and incredulous, but keeps telling himself that thank God it's him and not Henry,
"Henny's good, he's fine. He was looking at me laying on the ground, and wondering what the hell had happened and what he could do to help. I've never fallen off him, and this was just a stupid, stupid accident. I'm still not sure what he shied at, and how he hooked a back foot in the rock wall and got tangled up, and the next thing I knew he was on top of me."
Peter said the doctors and nurses were well impressed with his home made cast, and it sounds like he's bearing up stoically, in fact it sounds like he's being a true Aussie-stye hero!
"It got a little shaky there for a while, and they put a temporary cast on. The inflammation caused some pain so they gave me some morphine and we'll see how that goes. I work with horses, I'm used to it. Your feet get trodden on, I get kicked and knocked around all the time so it doesn't bother me."
With classic Peter Atkins understatement, he explains that he can't make any major decisions or go anywhere for the next couple of days, "At some stage a bit of bone poked out and it became compound, so I have to be here for 48 hours for the antibiotics and to make sure there's no infection".
The plan going forward depends a lot on how the surgery goes this afternoon, "Of course I'd like to say I'll be back riding in three or four weeks - the doctors say six weeks but I don't believe them, and I'd like to go to Luhmuhlen, but I can't plan on that yet until I know how I'm feeling in the next few days."
Luckily, Henny and Firedrake are at a lovely facility in New York, "it's a wonderful place, it's got a really good feeling, really good management so he's happy there." Having just shipped to New York from Ocala on Friday Peter is reluctant to move Henny yet. Peter's first choice to ride Henny while he himself is out of commission would be Dressage rider (and one time eventer) Jim Koford, based in Wellington, Florida, who's been helping Peter a lot this winter, "He's not that easy to ride, so that's my biggest concern".
Both Peter and Henny are already qualified to ride at the London 2012 Olympics, now they face a race against time for Peter to heal in time to compete at Luhmuhlen and sufficiently impress the selectors to make the team, "the only chance I have is Luhmuhlen, presuming I can actually get there. If I can keep him in training, get there and have a good run at Luhmuhlen then that's my only hope, but it's still not Badminton. Not a very happy day."
Eventing nation would like to send Peter, and all his connections very best wishes for a fast recovery and the very best of luck going forward. We will continue to keep you updated on all the Run Henny Run news, and hope the surgery goes well. When I asked Peter if there was anything at all we could do to help, I could practically hear him shrugging in his hospital bed, "Get me a new leg?!? " Go and get better as fast as you can, and Go Eventing!
Although the Keeneland September Yearling Sale began a fortnight ago, it's hardly surprising that David Ingordo, one of the most sought after and successful bloodstock agents in the business has not had time to see me until the penultimate day. Traditionally the latter days of the Sale are quiet, the emptier barns and seats reflecting the dip in quality and price of stock as the sale days go by, but today there's still a healthy buzz which bodes well for the business, as David explains,
After a decade working for William Fox-Pitt, arguably the most successful eventer in recent times, Alex Van Tuyll has struck out on her own and has been working as a freelance groom for almost three years. As is so often the case in life, especially with people at the top of their game, Alex's career path wasn't so much a chosen one, as much as it seemed to just happen to her. Living close to William when he was based in Oxfordshire, and eventing herself led to lessons with William, which led to her helping out at weekends, then meeting him at the gallops to ride, and eventually a job for a year, which turned into running the yard with head girl Jackie Potts for nine more...!
You could be forgiven for thinking that Bruce Davidson had perhaps finally settled into a comfy chair to enjoy watching his son, Buck carry the torch in those famous red and yellow colours; after all with a fistful of medals from every major Championship in almost each colour, a Badminton & Burghley win to his credit, having been a mainstay on the US leading rider list for many years, and now a member of the US Eventing Hall of Fame there wouldn't seem to be much left to achieve. You would be forgiven, but you would be wrong! I made just this mistake and Bruce very kindly described to me exactly how busy he is, what excites him these days, and why we most definitely shouldn't discount seeing him back at the very top of the game again. I'm incredibly honoured and grateful to Bruce for his time, and also completely bowled over by his utter lack of ego, willingness to talk, love of the game and, above all else, of course - the horse.
Check back Wednesday for part 2 of my interview with Bruce, where he discusses Buck, his legacy, and enjoying life. Thank you so much to Bruce for the interview and Go Eventing!
Laura Collett is certainly not one to rest on her laurels; fresh off an impressive top ten finish at her first Badminton, ( 8th - and the one pole down in the show-jumping still irks her!), she barely had time to celebrate before she packed her trunks again, and took Ginger May Killinghurst to the CCI 3* in Saumur, France, where they finished 12th. Laura also finished 12th this weekend in the U25 CCI3* at Bramham with Noble Bestman.
This weekend will mark a month since Port Authority, fondly known as Ollie, arrived back in Virginia from England, where he contested Badminton with his rider, Steph Rhodes-Bosch. After a fantastic campaign last year - 5th at Rolex, and a silver medal and 9th individually at the WEG, and a solid spring prep this season culminating in a second place at The Fork CIC 3*, no one could have blamed the Canadian camp for having high expectations of this pair. A lacklustre dressage on Friday however, was followed up by a cross country that ended just shy of the official finish, after a rider fall at fence 27 out of 30, the quarry, having had just the one stop coming out of the Hunstman's Close at fence 24.