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]
Digger is an expressive bay gelding who was bred by dressage rider Judy McGaughan. Born in 1990, Digger was purchased by Katie Wherley at the age of four from coach Patrick McGaughan. Katie and Digger’s relationship didn’t get off on the best foot. “He was a bit of a handful at first, and I wasn’t too thrilled with the new partnership,” Katie recalled. “But after our first winter of ‘airs above the ground,’ we started to come to an understanding.” Katie and Digger shared a love of jumping and a general dislike of dressage, so their partnership began to progress.
Digger was bottle fed as a foal, so as an adult he tended to be a bit on the mouthy side. “He doesn’t bite; he’d just lick you — a lot!” Katie said. Under saddle, Digger loved to work. He knew and loved his job, especially when it came to cross country. “I knew cross country would be good if we left the start box on only two feet.”
Digger went on to carry Katie through her first Intermediate, her first two-star and first Advanced. “Many of those firsts weren’t pretty, but he always kept me safe, and our first Advanced as awesome,” Katie said. “We were in the start box with 10 seconds to go when two falls happened on course, causing a hold. Talk about nerve overload! With a little calming advice from Bruce Davidson, we rocked the course after about a 30-minute hold.”
Katie also was able to attain her A rating in Pony Club with Digger, but, unfortunately, he began to have soundness issues, preventing him from heavily campaigning at the upper levels. Katie was satisfied, though, saying that getting to Advanced with her horse was important and a huge accomplishment.
Digger was retired in 2004 at the Seneca Valley HT, his and Katie’s home field. After his retirement, Digger went on to do some lower-level competitions, but has primarily spent his days teaching Novice riders the basics. “Even in retirement, he still prefers to work over sitting in a field,” Katie said.
Katie is thankful for the time she was able to have competing her Thoroughbred legend. “He taught me the benefits of hard work and the balance between determination and fun. I also learned that attention to detail in both actions and emotions can make or break goals. Success in this sport comes in many forms and at many levels.”