Sunday, Oct. 25, concluded the third annual Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, which made its Bluegrass debut at the Kentucky Horse Park this past week. No one really knew what the turnout or fanfare would be like, but after spending the better part of three days at the event, I’d wager it was a huge success.

Makeover horses competed in 10 disciplines ranging from show jumping to ranch work.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

For those unfamiliar with the Makeover, it’s styled after the Mustang Makeover and is open to registered Thoroughbreds that have recently retired off the track or only had a certain limited amount of training. Competitors compete for a total purse of $100,000 in one of 10 disciplines: show hunter, show jumper, dressage, eventing, fox hunting, polo, barrel racing, competitive trail, ranch work, and freestyle. The overall winner earns the title of “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred” as well as big paycheck.

Now, if you’ve read my blogs, you know I own Warmbloods. Other than an Appendix Quarter Horse named Snickers that I had when I was 12, I’ve never owned or sought out a Thoroughbred. Nothing against them – they’re beautiful animals – it’s just how my horse ownership has played out. But I can’t emphasize enough how cool it was to see one breed performing all these different disciplines at one venue. Watching recently retired racehorses wrangling cattle and executing barrel patterns was particularly fascinating for an English rider like me!


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This Thoroughbred picked up barrel racing quickly!

What I really found interesting, however, was the judging and scoring process. Because none of these horses have a full year of non-race training on them and most are 4, 5, and 6 years old, it's not quite fair to judge them completely on their performance that one day in that one class. So the judges handed out scores based partly on the one performance and partly on the horse’s potential ability to succeed in that discipline.

In show jumping, for instance, one rider noticeably “missed” her distance to a fence, causing her horse to have to jump from an uncomfortably tight spot. The judges commented, however, that they were impressed with how the horse handled the situation and how well he maintained his form over the jump. So, they couldn’t fault him there.

Not all the Thoroughbreds sported English tack. In fact, America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred was a competitive trail horse.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

The one caveat to this system, in my opinion, is that the judges (there were two to four for each discipline) didn’t always seem to agree on what constituted good performance or potential. On the hunter, jumper, and dressage scorecards, for example, I noticed a consistent 10- to 20-point spread between some judges’ scores. Personal preference for horses and types obviously plays a part, and the judging is ultimately subjective.

That being said, some pretty impressive Thoroughbreds came out on top in each division. In the Finale on Sunday, the top three placing TBs from each discipline returned to the ring and performed one more time to secure their final standings. It was pretty obvious that the horses that made it this far had the brains and bodies for their intended disciplines.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

Since I’m currently horseless (more on that in a future blog post), it was pretty tempting to want to take a few of these well-started young Thoroughbreds home with me. (Did I mention a good chunk of them are for sale?) I think this event is truly an effective outlet for homing and training off-track Thoroughbreds and a great place to go horse-shopping if you’re in the market. I ran into a couple of trainers who were like kids in a candy store with long lists of prospects they wanted to try. The owner of one of the winning horses said she’d received 20 to 30 offers on her horse, even though he isn’t for sale. If I attend many more of these, maybe I, too, will be the proud owner of a Thoroughbred.

If you have any off-track Thoroughbred stories, we'd love to hear them!