Apr 16, 2019

OTTB Critique Presented by Athletux: Mr. Popps

By Mikaela Kantorowski - Athletux Equine
Mr. Popps (Fusaichi Pegasus x Westlake), an 11-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barber.

In this series, the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is partnering with Athletux to critique your off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) eventing prospects. Professional riders and trainers will share their insights into each OTTB's pedigree, racing history, and conformation. Would you like to have your off-the-track Thoroughbred featured in the next edition of OTTB Critique presented by Athletux? We are looking for our next horse! Email your tips to [email protected].

One of the best resources for sourcing off-the-track Thoroughbreds is CANTER USA, and this month's featured OTTB, Mr. Popps, came through one of the most popular CANTER groups, CANTER Pennsylvania. Mr. Popps is the epitome of a classic OTTB: brave, talented, and a quick learner. Rebecca Barber fondly remembers the day Lacey of Fidelia Stables showed him to her. “My mentor, Kiki Osbourne, and I had been searching for horses at Penn National all day and it was getting so late that we actually almost didn’t go see him. But once I met him there was something about him that I loved. I had him vetted basically in the dark and purchased him that day,” she explained.

Before Mr. Popps, Barber had competed a plethora of young horses but had only ever gone Training level. Together, the pair progressed up through the Preliminary level and ran a CCI2*-L together. When an injury sidelined him in the process of their Intermediate move up, Barber decided that for his long term soundness it would be beneficial to retire him to the lower levels.

Olivia Ramos Photography Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barber.

It only seemed fitting that one of her students, Caleb Meyer, took over the ride. Barber is thrilled to have Meyer lease her beloved partner she is looking forward to watching Meyer tackle his first Novice level event this summer on “Popps.” Barber added, “Popps came into my life when I needed him the most and opened numerous doors for me - he kept me sane through college, introduced me to many of mentors including Kim and Buck, and is likely the reason that I am now teaching and training professionally.”

It is evident that Mr. Popps is a very special OTTB and we are excited to have Lainey Ashker with us to critique him this month. With her vast knowledge and experience both working with and sourcing OTTBs, we couldn’t think of a more perfect person to lend her eye to this column this month.

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barber.

First, Ashker immediately pointed out that, “Popps looks to be a very lovely athletic stamp of a Thoroughbred.” In regards to his conformation, Ashker added, “The very slight 'hog' back he has is a trait that always makes for a very strong jumper and he has a lovely hip and slope of the shoulder.” She also noticed the angle of the shoulder and the low set hocks which Ashker stated leads her to think that he is a lovely sweepy mover with a better canter than trot, which for Ashker is always more important from a trainer’s standpoint as the trot can always be improved whereas the canter is much for difficult to train. While you can only tell so much from photos, overall Ashker was impressed by her first impression of Popp’s conformation.

Moving to his under-saddle photos, Ashker was quick to point out that, “He has a super athletic jump and is absolutely MADE for eventing. He will be super fast across the country too as he’s bred for speed!” While it is hard to tell solely based on photos, Popps seems to check all the boxes for Ashker! She is very fond of OTTBs and thinks the world of the breed. There truly is nothing better than an OTTB that loves their new career. Popps sure seems to love his from the looks of his photos!

Brant Gamma Photo courtesy of Rebecca Barber.

Ashker also gave us a few tips on what she and her mom Valerie Ashker, who is renowned for her work with OTTBs, look for in addition to everything she mentioned about Popps. “When searching for the right OTTB, my mom has always taught me to never base an OTTB off a jogging video or a ride. Instead, we ask for a small area or round pen for turn out to see the horse trot naturally, stretch down, and use its back,” she said. They also always take into account their mental aptitude. Some questions they ask themselves are, “Does he calm down over time (relatively speaking depending on how “race fit” he or she is)?" and, "How athletic does the trot and push seem to appear?”

Finally, Ashker emphasized that it’s important to note that the fitter the horse the more difficult it is to “see” the natural canter as they’re normally pretty tense in the back. Instead, “We base our choosing off conformation, mental aptitude, and overall 'feel' and connection with the horse. Straight legs, shorter back, and longer neck with higher placement on shoulders are ideal as well,” she said. OTTBs are very special and there are so many amazing horses out there just waiting to start their new careers and Ashker is excited to continue to advocate for the breed and keep her eye on Popps as well! Judging by the photos, he looks fantastic and she wishes he and his rider nothing but the best.

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