Two young women from Saskatoon and their retired racehorses were off on a journey of a lifetime to the annual Thoroughbred Makeover Competition at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Jody Busch, a professional riding and horse training instructor and her fellow Johann’s Warrior (Zach) will enter ranch riding and freestyle classes while Colleen O’Hagan and Midst of Chaos (Joe) are tackling dressage and eventing.
Busch has been training horses for most of her adult life and worked at nearby Marquis Downs as a ponyrider while attending university. She teaches at O’Hagan’s Rivers Edge Stable close to Marquis Downs and came across Johann’s Warrior not long after the gelding had won for the second time in late summer 2017.
“He ended up at Colleen’s and I started playing around with him in the paddock,” said Busch. “He was interested in following me around and I really took to him.”
Jody ended up buying ‘Zach’ and training him for western riding, taking him through obstacle courses both mounted and just letting him follow, an exercise to prepare him for ‘liberty’ work in the freestyle event.
Liberty work is where the rider takes off the horse’s bridle and does any type of exercises with the horse, “freestyle”.
“I never thought of going to the Makeover; I just didn’t think it was logistically possible, but when Colleen decided to enter Joe, we thought we could do it together.”
O’Hagan, who trains a stable of racehorses at Marquis and runs Rivers Edge, has re-homed some 100 retired racehorses in the last half-dozen years and is always on the lookout for a horse who is ready to embark on a new career.
Midst of Chaos, an Alberta-bred son of Rosetti, had a crack in a knee as an unraced 3-year-old when Colleen bought him in 2015. She worked on rehabilitating the gelding to the point where he was ready to race as a 4-year-old.
‘Joe’ came out flying as he won his first two career races by a total of 19 lengths. The pair traveled to many tracks in Canada and the U.S. before the gelding was claimed from a race at Turf Paradise late in 2017. O’Hagan quickly got on the phone and bought the horse back.
“I don’t usually let myself get too attached, but he was my favourite. I galloped him at the track and he won some $30,000 for me.”
Joe was retired and has been transitioning from runner to dressage horse to jumper.
“He was a bit ‘hot’ for a time,” said O’Hagan. “But he is really enjoying the jumping now.”
The journey from Saskatoon to Kentucky may not be a jaunt across the track, they expect it will take them three days to travel the 3,000 km, but both Zach and Joe love traveling, and their owners are excited about their prospects.
“They are going so well we thought we would give a shot,’ said O’Hagan. “I think they will both perform well.”
Bush and O’Hagan are also keen on making connections with the hundreds of other participants from all over North America to share ideas and contacts to boost the Off-Track Thoroughbred movement.
“We are going to be part of a similar event in Saskatoon in February,” said Busch. “It’s an Off Track Challenge like the Makeover and being on the committee it will be good to see the Kentucky one.”
Zach and Joe will compete for cash prizes over three days. The Thoroughbred Makeover Competitions are put on by the Retired Racehorse Project, formed eight years ago to heighten awareness for retiring thoroughbreds and finding them second careers and loving homes.
“Anytime I can find a horse that I can give a better career to, I take it,” said O’Hagan. “I think it’s important to make sure to retire a horse, give him away or sell him rather than to risk injury on the track.”