It was only a few days before Christmas 2013 when Jennifer Moore received a phone call that would change her life and that of a three-year-old gelding too slow to race.
“A woman who trades horses called me out of the blue and said she had picked up two horses from Woodbine racetrack and asked if I was interested in a “boring little bay gelding” that she did not want,” remembers Moore, who is from the small Ontario town of Baden.
From a snapshot taken with a phone, Moore liked what she saw. And while she already had several horses of her own, she thought she would get the gelding as a Christmas gift for her husband Keith.
Today, that gelding, Lucky Merv, is far from boring and his talent in the dressage ring is larger than life. As the 2018 Reserve Champions and highest point earners of all disciplines in the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program (TIP), Merv and Moore will represent Canada in the Sept. 8th Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Moore and Lucky Merv collected the most points from placings in qualifying CADORA dressage shows held at London, Glanbrook and Conestoga. They are one of 18 Canadian horse and rider pairings and one of 11 Ontario teams invited to the Championship.
“I knew we had done well but I was flabbergasted,” said Moore. “There are so many amazing horses and gifted riders.”
The 2018 season was actually the second consecutive year that Moore and Merv qualified for the TIP Championships, but financial and family hurdles precluded them from making the trip.
This summer, a fundraiser has been set up to help Moore with the costs for the big trip including microchipping, shows expenses, trailering and hotels. Click here to find out more.
Moore, who calls herself a “dairy farm daughter” from Puslinch, ON, took plenty of time to get Lucky Merv accustomed to life away from the racetrack when she brought him home. The son of fast Ontario stakes winning sire Vibank from the mare Bella Mosella, by Bold ‘n Flashy was well beaten in two career races at Woodbine for owner and breeder Frank Mermenstein and trainer Julia Carey. But that didn’t mean the gelding was totally laid back.
“At first he was super tense and very aware of me on his back,” said Moore who has a 50-acre equestrian centre with 40 stalls “We just we just walked around then I got off and gave him a pat. He looked bewildered, as if to say ‘That’s it?’”
Early lessons over trotting poles with an eye to jumping didn’t work for the gelding, but when Moore introduced music, at first a Coldplay CD, to their flat work, Lucky Merv blossomed. He learned a variety of exercises to build muscle and began to enjoy moving to the different beats.
By late summer of 2014, Moore was taking Lucky Merv to small shows. Meanwhile, Moore’s husband Keith, the original beneficiary of the gelding, got on him and realized western reining riding was not going to work.
“He said to me, ‘You taught him to dance, I can’t ride him’,” laughs Moore.
Lucky Merv must have been born to show in dressage as he has surged to the top of the ranks in the country.
The highlight of last year was when they received awards again from the Thoroughbred Incentive (TIP) Program; Reserve Champion Overall USA/Canada Dressage, Grand Champion Freestyle USA/Canada, and Reserve Champion Introductory USA/Canada.
Moore, who was instrumental in bringing the TIP program to the CADORA shows four years ago, says Lucky Merv performs just as well as her two warmbloods and she is an enthusiastic promoter of retired Thoroughbreds learning new disciplines.
“My 15-year-old daughter rides him and he does lessons. He is gentle with my seven-year-old daughter and yet gets to work when I get on him. I am so fortunate that I got that call, he was a horse I wasn’t expecting and who knows where he would have ended up.”
Mermenstein, Carey plus a host of other horse people from all horse sports have added their good luck messages to Moore through her fundraising link.
“I would love to represent Canada in the Championship, show the big stage that a mighty, little Ontario Thoroughbred can vie for the big awards. I hope to start a blog soon so everyone can experience it with me too.”