Selecting a Horse for the 100-Day Trainer Challenge

The Prodigious Fund did a fantastic job of finding a cross-section of ex-racehorses for the 5 trainers to select from in the inaugural 100-Day Trainer Challenge. There were 11 horses of both genders represented ranging from 3 to 9 years old and heights from 15.2 to 17 hands. Half the horses are in active race training; the rest have been turned out to pasture for some period of time. Many thanks to the owners who elected to participate in this one-of-a-kind event here in the Pacific NW, and to everyone who volunteered their time to help–vets, photographers, officials, etc.

It was a new experience for me choosing a horse based only on a standing photo, a 30 second trot clip, and some vet and race history notes. Nevertheless, I consulted with trusted horsepeople in my life and created a top 6 pick for the random draw on Wednesday, June 26.

The main criteria I used for assessing the horses:

  1. Is this horse sound of mind and body, and therefore ready for immediate training?
  2. Would an amateur intermediate rider be able to handle this horse after 100-days of training?
  3. Could I successfully market and place this horse in a new home “as is”?

Top 6 pick list breakdown:

Pick #1 – SOLAR. This gelding was easily my top pick for this competition, and he caught the attention of the other trainers as well. He looked great on paper–at age 7, he’s had a full 3 years of R&R since his last race, and he sports a spotless vet report. He looked even better in the videos–relaxed, obedient, good mover, with adorable facial markings to boot. I liked that he was patient nearly to the point of lazy during his trot-ups, and he moved cleanly in his footfall. He’s a well-built 16 hands (I could imagine a wide variety of riders fitting his frame) and was shiny and of good weight, indicating good general health and care from his owners. The overall impression I got from Solar is that he looks comfortable in his own skin and is ready for a trainer to “get on and go”–he can go many different directions with his training. The only potential negative I noted is that he is a little heavy at the base of his neck. * I was beyond excited to get to first pick of the horses; I had to keep myself from screaming SOLAR!!!!!!!!! too loudly. Hopefully his name came out of my mouth in an appropriate speaking voice. This horse is exactly the kind of horse I hoped I would have the opportunity to work with in the Challenge.

White thoroughbred horsePick #2 – SUMMER SNOW. This horse made a great first impression on me; he was the only horse I saw and immediately thought “I want to ride that horse!” I could imagine myself cantering through the fields with a smile or trotting confidently down centerline in a dressage test. He has excellent freedom in his trot, especially considering he’s a veteran racehorse in active training. His length of stride, attractive face, and height will be appealing to sporthorse enthusiasts. The “less than great” about this horse was simply his extensive race history with no down time before the start of the Challenge, and the potential physical wear and tear that can come with 41 starts at the racetrack. * I’m looking forward to seeing what trainer Devin Robel does with this guy, and especially how he jumps!

Pick #3 – SANDIA WARRIOR. My friend hit the nail on the head when she described this horse as an “Average Joe.” This somewhat chubby fellow is easily overlooked as he lacks the “wow factor,” but for the average rider, the wow factor is overrated. I love this horse’s expression. He’s in a new environment yet is very comfortable and obedient. He looks kind and pleasant to be around. It’s great that he needed a little coaxing to get trotting; for the average rider who can’t ride 5 days a week, a slightly laid back horse is more manageable than a sensitive, forward-thinking horse: “lazy, not crazy.” I also like that he’s barefoot. At the time of the video he had an old abscess spot on the left hind, and you may see some slight favoring there, but this is a superficial injury and he looks to have great hooves. I could imagine someone walking happily down the trail on this horse on a long rein, even without 100-days of professional training.

* You’ll note that my first 3 picks were geldings, and that was intentional. In my experience, there’s a slightly wider market of potential buyers interested in geldings. Though I believe the bias against mares is unwarranted, it has been my experience that more people prefer owning geldings than mares. Since the ultimate goal of the Trainer Challenge is to find the horse a new owner, I wanted to pick a horse that maximized my chance of being able to sell them in the future. I have worked with many mares who were just as talented and easy to be around as geldings or more so; you’ll see that my next three picks were all fillies.

Pick #4 – STORM IN THE HARBOR. This was the first filly to make my list, despite what I perceive as a disadvantage for resale due to her gender. What she has going for her is chrome (4 white socks and a blaze) and height. Although superficial, these are desirable characteristics in a show horse. This filly also had a pretty solid vet report, and looks to be in wonderful health. I especially liked how even in active race training she has maintained a healthy weight and shine to her coat. In terms of negatives, I did notice that she toes out in the front, which might predispose her to soundness trouble down the road in an active sporthorse discipline. That said, she is a clean mover and sound now. The other negative was her age of 3 years. Young horses can actually be easier to work with mentally as they may have less baggage and retraining to sort through, but I do think it would be more difficult to showcase a 3 year old to full advantage after only 100-days in English riding disciplines. I don’t make 3 year olds carry a contact for extended periods of time or jump at all, as they are not physically mature. It would be harder for me to “put on a good show” with a youngster.

Chestnut thoroughbred fillyPick #5 – UNDERFUNDED FUN. Lovely overall impression on this mare with her uphill build and well set neck. I noted that many folks on social media had her in their top pick list, and I can see why. She’s a good height for a resale project at 16.1 hands, and she moves clean. She also has “presence,” which is a plus in a show horse. Kuddos to the owner for her nice presentation–those braids look great! Also, at 4 years old, this mare is ready for more demanding work than the 3 year olds–she could be started over jumps and work for more “push” and collection in dressage. As for my “cons” with her, she looks more mentally stressed than some of the other horses as demonstrated by her nervous mouth action and some tension in her face. I thought she and the previous filly were about equal for different reasons, but I preferred Storm’s vet report slightly. * I’m not surprised that this mare was the second horse chosen with her classy type. It’s going to be exciting to see her style over jumps under Ruel’s tutelage!

dakota-demon-thoroughbredPick #6 – DAKOTA DEMON. This is a quality filly who looks intelligent and fun. She also had a solid vet report. I might have had her higher on the list except for her age/height/gender combination. She’s more my type than Storm, but I feared she would be a harder resale for me at only 15.2 hands–some sporthorse folks have a bias against “short horses” (I don’t personally prescribe  to that–my primary competition horse is a 14 hand pony and I’m 5’9″). My cons for this filly were that she’s not as physically mature as some of the others, she’s in need of some groceries, and she’d have to transition directly from racing into a retraining program with no down time. * I have a feeling that Mark is going to hit it out of the park with this filly. I think an energetic, smart filly like her will love having a job doing extreme trail–a great sport to focus young horses and provide them with confidence-building exposure without the physical demands of jumping or galloping.

My impressions of the other horses, in no particular order:

TWILIGHT CRUISER – Nice overall look to this horse; even lacking any white markings he has the “cute factor.”  At 5 years old he’s the perfect age for retraining as a sporthorse–most jumpers or eventers begin jumping horses at ages 4 or 5. Unfortunately, I see unevenness behind in the video.

OUR EAGLE BOY – I wanted to be sold on this horse more than I was, because a 5 year old, 16.1 hand, chestnut gelding is right up my alley for a resale project. I loved this horse’s back story–Google him. He was a big winner on the track, and I think Emerald Downs fans would be excited to see this horse selected. All that said, there is just a tenseness to this horse that made me hesitate. I think with some mental and physical down time from racing he will be better prepared for training for his second career.

SUPERSYMMETRY – This is an athletic looking filly who will certainly mature into a nice sporthorse type. Again, my hesitations with her were solely based on age, gender, and lack of down time from racing. She is under 16 hands but looks to have room to grow.

Bay thoroughbred mare standingTHE LAST SAY – She was one of my favorites when comparing the mares. She has a fabulous face, a big butt, and she’s a good mover. I’m a supporter of barefoot horsekeeping, and it was a plus to see her moving freely without shoes on the hard surface. Also, at 6 years old, this mare is ready for retraining, including jump training. I did not put her on the top 6 list simply by weighing various factors collectively: height, vet history, gender, lack of tail… * I can see why Meika picked this mare for eventing. She reminds me of some of the Irish bred horses I worked with abroad–great solid type. Looking forward to seeing her out at some events this summer!

BUFFALO PHILLY – If I were shopping for a prospect for myself, this mare would have been my pick. I love that she is spirited, forward thinking, and comfortable moving barefoot–great hooves are a must in my book. At age 7 with time away from the track, she’s ready for work. Yes, she’s a plain old bay, and she’s shorter, and she’s a mare–but those superficial things don’t matter to me personally. I like a horse for who they are–their temperament and athletic ability–and I think I would hit it off with this girl. Wait, you might say… If she was my personal pick, then why not pick her for the competition? This mare looks like “more horse” than the average person needs. I think with training she will make a super partner, but this 100-Day training format culminating in a very stimulating show environment might not be ideal for her.

Which horses were your top picks? Do you agree with my observations or see differently? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

4 Responses to “Selecting a Horse for the 100-Day Trainer Challenge”

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  1. Emily says:

    Thank you so much for posting your thoughts on each horse. It can’t have been easy to pick. Best of luck and we will see you in October!

  2. Kristy says:

    Summer Snow jumped out to me too…back in the early 90s there was a Team USA horse named Partly Cloudy they were an underdog team I loved cheering for them so that fella just pulled my heartstrings.

    I laughed so hard when you spoke of the gender bias…guilty as charged. I do it for safety though, I have a really big Percheron who (all though a gelding) is 100% sure he is part of a world class sport horse breeding program. Just bring ladies by and he is good to go and so are they. He is handsome so I can see the attraction but he could also kill them so we steer clear of the ladies.

  3. Chesna Kimek says:

    You’re totally right Emily, it was hard to pick! All nice horses that were presented and so tricky to have to pick without meeting them in person. I have honestly chosen or walked away from horses based on factors like the look in their eye; that’s not something you can readily assess in videos.

    Kristy I didn’t know Lucky was so studly! Perhaps he fancies himself to be the Black Stallion.

  4. Linda DuPertuis says:

    I had Dakota picked out because of her sweet face and gentle eye – and because she’s short like a horse should be! I think 14.2hh is about right. You were there when I got Chaco at 15.2hh, which is a lot higher than I thought. Luckily, with you and Kelsey providing adult supervision in my horse selection, I’m likely to stay on him.

    You have a wonderful eye; you were spot-on when you helped select Spike, and right again with Chaco, totally different horses. I’d trust your judgment 100% on horse evaluation, and your ability as a trainer, so I know Solar is going to be splendid.

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