It’s much more than just an event. The Thoroughbred Makeover helps transition retired horses into second careers, while offering education and outreach for the care, training and sale of these athletes to responsible owners.
Once a year, hundreds of retired horses, trainers and spectators travel from near and far to attend one of the largest non-profit events in the country – the Thoroughbred Makeover. The three-day competition features off-track Thoroughbreds – each with no more than ten months of retraining – who compete for their share of $100,000 in prize money and the title of “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred”. But the cash isn’t the best reward, nor is the prestigious title. For many horses, participating in the competition means finding a new home, a second career, or both – and that’s the prize of a lifetime.
A brief history of the Makeover
The Thoroughbred Makeover is a competition organized by the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), a charitable organization dedicated to transitioning Thoroughbred ex-racehorses into successful second careers. The idea for the makeover was conceived in 2010 by RRP’s founder, Steuart Pittman. He noticed that Thoroughbreds often fell out of favor with equestrians as they opted for Warmbloods or other breeds for the show ring – a frustrating observation, since he knew firsthand the value and versatility that Thoroughbreds offered.
After a few years of planning, the first competition was held in 2013 on the Pimlico Race Track. Nearly 800 spectators were in attendance, and invited to participate in a variety of seminars, demonstrations and a sponsor fair. “The inaugural Thoroughbred Makeover was widely hailed as a landmark event for the Thoroughbred industry, and the RRP was honored with the Thoroughbred Charities of America Industry Service Award that year,” says Jen Roytz, RRP’s Executive Director.
In the five years since its official launch, the Thoroughbred Makeover has gained remarkable momentum. There has been a 152% increase in the number of horses entered since 2015, and 7,000 people tuned in to watch the live stream finale last year. In fact, the event grew so quickly, that it had to be relocated to a larger venue – the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington – where it has been held for the last four years.
2018 Thoroughbred Makeover stats*
Disciplines: Ten different disciplines are offered at the Makeover. Horses can compete in up to two.
Height: A full two-thirds of horses entered in the Makeover fall between 16 and 16.3 hands. The shortest entries (there are three) are 14.3 hands; the tallest (four) are 17.3 hands.
Color: Two out of every three horses you’ll see at the Makeover will be bays. Riders on chestnuts and grays are easy to pick out in a crowd!
Gender: Almost three-quarters of the entries are geldings, with five stallions also entered.
Where entrants were bred: Kentucky tops the list of states/provinces where Makeover entrants were bred, representing one-third of the entire field. Twenty-nine states are represented along with four Canadian provinces, as well as Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Mexico.
Auction prices paid for entrants: About 36% of Makeover entrants were sold at public auction, at an average price of $12,153.
*Stats based on the 2018 competition, provided by the Thoroughbred Makeover.
This year’s event and winner
The fifth annual Thoroughbred Makeover ran October 4 to 7, 2018. The event was a smashing success. After multiple years of competing, Elisa Wallace and her equine partner, Reloaded, were crowned this year’s “most wanted”. Elisa, a professional event rider and trainer who also competes in Mustang training competitions, has been a close contender to winning the competition in the past. This year, she doubled her chances of winning by qualifying two horses for the finale – and it paid off!
Elisa was first asked to judge the freestyle division in 2015, but decided she had to participate. “I think it’s a great place to train,” she says. “On top of that, people like to watch the transformation from racehorse to sport horse, and it gets the word out about Thoroughbreds.”
Reloaded, who competes under the show name Sniper, belongs to Michelle Chisholm. But Elisa grew to love the horse as her own during the training process – a bond that came easy, given her love of Thoroughbreds. When she’s not training for the annual Thoroughbred Makeover, Elisa competes with her own off-track Thoroughbred, Simply Priceless. “Thoroughbreds are amazing horses; my four-star horse will do anything for me,” she says. “Give them something to go do, and they take that deep breath and do it.”
What happens after the competition?
Thoroughbreds are incredible athletes with an aptitude that stretches far beyond racing. “So much consideration and effort goes into every aspect of these horses’ lives, from the planning and research behind the mating of a stallion and mare, to how they are raised, cared for, handled and trained at the track,” says Jen. “Everything is done with the mindset of creating an elite equine athlete.” While every horse is different, most Thoroughbreds love to train and learn new skills. In fact, they thrive on it. And one of the Makeover’s goals is to harvest those natural abilities.
Another goal, of course, is to build bridges for the equine competitors, enabling them to start second careers. Many trainers attending the event are inspired by the potential they see, and end up taking on off-track Thoroughbreds as resale projects. After this year’s completion, for instance, approximately 200 of the 500 horses competing were offered for sale through the ASPCA Makeover Marketplace. As part of the Makeover, a sale catalog is produced and an arena is set aside for horses to be test ridden, inspected and vetted. All sale contracts are private but are required to include no-slaughter and notification of resale restrictions.
A wonderful opportunity for Thoroughbreds, trainers, owners and horse lovers everywhere, the Thoroughbred Makeover is changing the narrative that paints Thoroughbreds as strictly race horses. It demonstrates their continued value on and off the track, and reminds us that these horses, just like us, have colorful pasts and bright futures. According to Jen, one of the most heart-warming parts of the competition is seeing so many people from the racing industry come to cheer on the horses they once owned, bred, groomed or rode. “Pat Chapman, who bred and owns Kentucky Derby winner, Smarty Jones, came out to cheer on a son of Smarty Jones that was competing in the Thoroughbred Makeover,” she says with a smile. Without a doubt, these horses are well-loved, well-trained – and well-deserving of a second chance.
Thoroughbreds might be a challenge to train, but the payoff is well worth it. They’re smart, talented horses with a strong work ethic – and the Thoroughbred Makeover is proof of that.
For complete results from the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover, visit TBMakeover.org.