Thoroughbred racehorses that go on to second careers are unique in that they have two retirements in their lifetimes: the first from the track and the second from the show ring. Thoroughbred Legends, a new EN series presented by Cosequin, seeks to honor off-track Thoroughbreds that went on to accomplish great things as upper-level eventers and now enjoy a second retirement in their golden years. If you know of a great Thoroughbred for this series, email [email protected]
Born in 2000 by the South African stallion called Horse Chestnut, Shahaadi was an awkward looking baby, and his breeder thought that perhaps he was too slow a developer to go to the race track. Julia Steinburg bought him as a three year old, and gave him some more time to mature before sending him to Boyd Martin to compete through the Novice level. Topping out at 15.3, George was small in stature but thrived in the sport horse world.
Shortly into the beginning of his career, George found Christa Gandolfo, who was a working student for Phillip Dutton at the time, and searching for a young project horse. Boyd convinced her to look at the horse, who he was sure was world class. Christa immediately fell in love, and bought him on the spot, not knowing how much he would teach her about upper level Eventing.
While George was incredibly sweet on the ground, he was nothing if not quirky and naughty under saddle. “He would spook at a rock on the ground, but jump anything you’d put in front of him,” remembers Christa. “Despite everything, I quickly became ‘his’ person, and he gave me his all”.
In their first attempt at competition together, Christa recalls that it was an unmitigated disaster, as George reared sharply in front of the third fence on cross country and spun her off, only to go galloping home without her. After that, however, things began clicking and the two were second at their next event at Maryland HT.
The habit of rearing continued however, and it got to the point where Christa and her family had him examined, finally discovering that he had kissing spine, which was causing him discomfort. Through expert care, George went on to move up to Preliminary, where he was rarely out of the top three, and finished his first year at that level in the USEA Top Ten at Preliminary.
“If he hadn’t had kissing spine, he would have easily moved up to Advanced and could have been something truly amazing,” says Christa. “We had this special bond, and he was a fantastic mover with a huge jump, and just the biggest heart”. As it was, they completed three CIC2* competitions together, and won a few Mini Prix competitions in New Jersey.
Both Christa and George preferred cross country. “He naturally had a very high head carriage, and his ears were always perked forward and flopping around the whole course,” says Christa. “Even though he was challenging and he really made me ride well, it was always that much better crossing the finish flags”. On the flat, George had these amazing trot extensions, which really made him fun to ride in the dressage as well.
After several years at the Intermediate level, George was diagnosed with EPM in the winter of 2012. At the same time, it was becoming apparent that his back pain was increasing. “When we looked at the new x-rays of his back, my vet told me that he must truly have loved his job to have done that level,” says Christa. Directly after learning this, she retired George and has not sat on him since. He has been enjoying the good life, turned out with her other retired horse, Thalia Light, in a back field at Christa’s farm.
“George taught me about patience and partnership,” she remembers. “He taught me to be a confident and bold cross country rider, and definitely how to hold my upper body, as he was 15.3 and I am 5’9! He looks like a brood mare now, and will be with me until the day he dies”.