LOCALS COMPETE IN THOROUGHBRED MAKEOVER
If you want to compete in horse shows, you’d better get used to road trips and hauling horse trailers. For each minute of competition, there normally are several hours spent on highways en route to competitions throughout the region.
Shelby Ahrens and Ashtan Lucenti took things to a higher level last month. Their road trip extended all the way to Lexington, KY., for the third annual TCA Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park. An extension of the Retired Racehorse Project, the October 24 to 26 competition featured over 200 ex racehorses from throughout the United States and Canada in 10 different disciplines.
Ahrens, a professional horse trainer who operates a 12-acre spread in Yelm with his wife Amanda, was aboard Tekela Reserve in the Freestyle competition. Lucenti, a registered nurse from Issaquah who also works as a veterinarian’s assistant for Dr. Mark Babcock at Emerald Downs, competed in Dressage aboard Indagreenandbeyond.
Neither Tekela Reserve nor Indagreenandbeyond were stars at Emerald Downs: a 6-year-old Kela gelding, Tekela Reserve won three times in 17 starts, and Indagreenandbeyond, a 4-year-old Raise the Bluff filly, was winless in four starts. Both, however, perfectly demonstrate the spirit of the Retired Racehorse Project, which is that Thoroughbreds can succeed at many different vocations and disciplines.
Says Ahrens, who has trained practically every breed of horse, “I think (Thoroughbreds) have a better work ethic than other horses, they’re bred to be ridden.”
To be eligible for the TCA Thoroughbred Makeover, a horse could only be ridden 15 times in its new vocation prior to selection; the idea is to have a new group of horses competing every year in Kentucky. Lucenti acquired Indagreenandbeyond from Jody Peetz, one of Emerald Downs’ top owners with a long history of placing her retired runners in good hands, while Ahrens was loaned Tekela Reserve from a woman in Poulsbo, who had been reticent to ride the big 17-hand gelding and turned to Ahrens. Ahrens is renowned for working with strong-headed horses, and said a key is to earn trust.
“I want my horses to understand mentally what’s being asked of them,” Ahrens says.
For Ahrens and Lucenti, the trip to Kentucky was a whirlwind. They qualified for the national event with top-three finishes at the Prodigious Fund Thoroughbred and Half-Thoroughbred Horse Show on October 3 at Donida Farm. They then had only three weeks to prepare for Kentucky, and although the Prodigious Fund covered shipping expenses for the horses, Ahrens and Lucenti were responsible for their own expenses.
Ashtan Lucenti and Indagreenandbeyond. Photo courtesy Megan Stapley
Ahrens and his wife used their four-horse trailer to van Tekela Reserve and Indagreenandbeyond to Kentucky, a four-day trip that covered 3,000 miles and detoured through Michigan to avoid inclement weather. Lucenti, meanwhile, caught a flight to Lexington and met up with the Ahrens’ in Kentucky.
To say they had a great time would be an understatement. In fact, both would like to return in 2016, especially since they have the lay of the land.
“It was a great learning experience,” said Lucenti, a life-long horse enthusiast. “It was a great advertisement for the Thoroughbred industry and the re-homing and training of Thoroughbreds.”
Both Ahrens and Lucenti raved about the facilities at Kentucky Horse Park and the general enthusiasm and atmosphere at the event.
“The Horse Park and the people there were great,” Ahrens said. “It was people who had been in the trenches with horses, and could appreciate the work that went into getting them there.”
Neither Ahrens nor Lucenti placed in their respective events—Ahrens finished tied for 14th in Freestyle and Lucenti finished 25th in Dressage—they were pleased with Tekela Reserve and Indagreenandbeyond. It’s worth noting that their horses were the event’s most distant travelers and had less than 48 hours to acclimate to their new surroundings before performing.
The No. 1 finisher in each of the disciplines earned $5,000, and Lindsay Partridge and 8-year-old Ontario-bred Soar won the overall title as America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred and a $10,000 first prize.
Sophia McKee, Vice President of Marketing at Emerald Downs, the driving force behind the Prodigious Fund and the architect of the Thoroughbred and Half-Thoroughbred Horse Show, said she was excited that her contingent fared well.
“We were proud to have Shelby and Ashtan represent the Prodigious Fund in Kentucky,” McKee said. “The future of the retired Thoroughbred lies in the capable hands of professional and amateur trainers like them, and this training is crucial to the development of the racehorse in new careers.”