Picture an early, foggy morning at a racetrack in Ocala, where the sun is only just rising and a group of young Thoroughbreds are being tacked up in preparation to start the day. That’s the routine that a group of Florida eventers known as the “Gallop Girls” have come to enjoy since they started exercising horses for Bryan and Holley Rice at Woodside Ranch.
It’s an adventure that eventers Daisy Trayford, Heather Maytham, Mary Hollis Baird and Alexis Brown have all not only enjoyed immensely, but also one that’s benefitted them greatly, both in helping to expand their knowledge of horse training in general, but also to up their game as event riders.
“I didn’t actually know what to expect when I first started working with the Thoroughbreds,” Daisy said. “I didn’t think I’d be working with young horses on the level that we do. I thought I’d only be taking horses around the track, but we work a lot with them on the ground and doing flatwork in the round pens.”
The current crop of Thoroughbreds Daisy and the other eventers work with are all coming 2-year-olds. Some of them are privately owned, but most will go through the Ocala Breeders’ Sales (OBS) or the Fasig-Tipon sales in Maryland. Daisy and her fellow eventer riders play a critical role in preparing the horses for the sales.
But first it’s up to Bryan and Holley to start each new group of young Thoroughbreds. They’ll ride the horses for the first five days or so — or up to two to three weeks for the “problem children” — before handing them off to the exercise riders to continue the work.
“They are babies, but Bryan and Holley do such a good job with starting them that I feel really safe on every single horse I get on. When we start riding them, we do a lot of schooling and flatwork,” Daisy said.
“All the horses have to bend. We don’t ride them on the bit, but if we take contact, they’re expected to come round, and then we release. At the touch of the leg, they need to go forward. They also learn how to switch leads and rein back. It’s pretty intense what we have to teach them, and Bryan and Holley like the eventers because we know how to teach them those things.”
Bryan and Holley’s son Brandon leases Woodside’s southern division with his wife, Ali de Meric, for their own training business, and he also said it’s been mutually beneficial to have a group of eventers join the regular exercise rider crew.
“I find that the event riders have really good posture and body balance,” Brandon said. “They know their horses will fall apart if they’re sloppy as riders, so they have to ride really well and have good balance.”
Holley said it’s also important that the exercise riders be confident in order to help instill that quality in the young horses, and she’s found that eventers are an ideal match for the job. “They’re very courageous,” Holley said. “The young horses really need that confidence.”
Daisy said exercising the young Thoroughbreds has helped her greatly expand her knowledge base as a rider and trainer. “If you stay in your box all the time as a rider, you never learn anything. Branching out makes you realize what a horse can do,” she said.
“Sometimes when you brand yourself as a certain kind of rider, like an eventer or jumper, you don’t experience other industries. I’ve found it really interesting working with the Thoroughbreds. It gives you an edge. Once you’ve ridden 10 yearlings in a row, you don’t even think about it. Of course, I do get bucked off, but I can usually take the blame for that!”
For eventers looking to exercise Thoroughbreds, Daisy’s top piece of advice is to get involved with good trainers who start their horses the right way. For those of you in Ocala, you’re in luck! Bryan and Holley Rice are currently looking for more exercise riders to join their team. If you’re interested, call Holley at 352-804-9340.
Keep scrolling for an exclusive EN video feature produced by Joel Wiessner that will take you behind the scenes at Woodside Ranch, where you can see what a typical day looks like at the track. Go Thoroughbreds!
‘Gallop Girls’ Upping Their Eventing Game at the TrackPicture an early, foggy morning at a racetrack in Ocala, where the sun is only just rising and a group of young Thoroughbreds are being tacked up in preparation to start the day. That’s the routine that a group of Florida eventers have come to enjoy since they started exercising horses for Bryan and Holley Rice at Woodside Ranch. Click for an EN video exclusive!
Posted by Eventing Nation on Monday, January 18, 2016