Ex-racehorses commonly find a second career in eventing. Their athleticism, tremendous heart and incredible work ethic makes the Thoroughbred an ideal breed for the sport, but it’s not often that the switch is made early enough for them to participate in the USEA Future Event Horse Series (FEH).
Off-the-track Thoroughbred Slim and Trim left the starting gate for the last time in early July of 2016, and three short months later found herself named the USEA East Coast FEH Reserve Champion with her previous track exercise rider and current owner, Sabrina Morris, as her handler. While Morris is an avid evener, she is also an exercise rider at Laurel Park, which is where she met “Slimmy.”
By Jump Start and out of Buff Girl, Slimmy was bred by racing-enthusiast Ellen Charles. Under the watchful eye of trainer Rodney Jenkins, Morris galloped Slim for the majority of the young Thoroughbred’s racing career. The mare initially seemed to be a perfect fit for racing. “Slimmy was always a classy girl at the track. She was extremely well behaved even for a young fit racehorse. She would go out to the track for training and stand perfectly still, I could even lay on her neck and drop the reins, for as long as I wanted” Morris explained. In addition to her laid back disposition, she also boasted light expressive movements, and she was jokingly dubbed, “a dressage horse who goes fast.”
Slim and Trim on the track. Photo by Joseph Miller, and courtesy of Sabrina Morris.
Despite promising speed work, she didn’t find any success in her first races. “She understood her job and was always a professional. She did everything right. She just seemed to lack real speed when it came time to race,” Morris said. “She ran twice as a 2-year-old and disappointed her connections with last place finishes.” After some time off, they decided to try again with turf racing in mind in her 3-year-old year, but a third lackluster performance proved to be her last on the track, and Jenkins offered Morris the ride as a sport horse.
Originally bought as a resale project, Morris entered Slimmy in her first and only FEH qualifier on a whim. “I entered her at Seneca when my friends who run the horse trial told me they didn’t have enough entries,” she said. “I knew she was nice, but I wasn’t sure how she would measure up to the purpose-bred eventers.” Much to her surprise, her sweet mare won the class, and Morris was encouraged by the judge to enter Slim and Trim in the upcoming Championship.
With only one month until the East Coast Championship, the jump chute was the only hurdle in the 3-year-old’s path. “When she won that class, I was encouraged by many people, including the judge, to take her to the Championship. It was about a month away, and I was concerned she wouldn’t have enough time to understand the jump chute, but she’s a smart learner,” Morris explained.
Having already ridden the mare numerous times, Morris started to introduce her to the basics of jumping under saddle. “I go very slow with my green horses. I knew I was under a deadline when I entered the Championship, so I started trotting and cantering single poles on the ground. As I expected she was very willing and eager to please, so in the first week I trotted a few small cross rails,” she said.
Next came introducing her jumping in the chute on her own. “I spent one Sunday afternoon leading her through an easy grid. I didn’t have any help, so I couldn’t exactly get her to go through on her own. After replacing the poles several times, I gave up and ran and jumped next to her,” Morris smiled. “The light bulb went off then I believe. She began to understand better when to do with her feet.”
Slim and Trim jumps to the maximum height at the 2016 Championships. USEA/Shelby Allen Photo.
After success leading her through the chute, Morris entered her in a jump chute clinic with Klaus Schengber the day before the championship at Loch Moy Farm. “When I went for the jump chute practice I was nervous because we weren't able to actually practice her doing it alone, but she proved she understood the concept and the handlers were very complimentary. She probably had 10 times jumping, from poles on the ground to the jump chute practice the day before the championship. I think her quiet willing demeanor was probably why she was able to take so much information in a short amount of time,” Morris added.
Championship judges Phyllis Dawson and Robin Walker whole heartedly agreed that Slim and Trim is well suited for evening. They gave her an in hand score of 81.25 and a jump score of 86.33 for a total score of 83.79 (out of 100) to be the highest placing 3-year-old filly, and the overall reserve champion.
USEA/Shelby Allen Photo.
“What I love about a good Thoroughbred is their canter. I am very fortunate to understand what the racehorse will learn and how they use themselves, to help me determine which ones I see being successful on cross-country,” Morris said of her tendency to favor Thoroughbreds. “I love how racehorses can think very quickly – both good and bad thoughts. And most of them really like training and being brave.”
“I was very lucky to find success with a horse I had the chance of riding for most of her racing career. My plan now is to continue to develop her and look forward to competing her next year, hopefully with success in the [USEA Young Event Horse] Series. Her racing connections are very supportive of her new life and so excited that a Thoroughbred was able to prove they are worth of attention in the sport horse world.”
Keep an eye out for Slim and Trim at horse trials and YEH Competitions in 2017!