Life after Racing

‘Melded into One’

Retired pacer becomes promising jumper prospect

Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s riding or driving, for show or for pleasure. Hoof Beats is happy to share stories from readers about their favorite Standardbreds. This month, Lara Kuhns writes about adopting retired pacer Art Of The West with the hopes of turning him into a jumper.

 

JUMP HOW HIGH: Retired pacer, Art Of The West, or “Artie,” and the author have been taking part in shows, clinics and trail rides this year, working toward amateur-owner jumper classes and perhaps even the Washington International Horse Show. Photo by author

Last spring, I unexpectedly found myself looking for a new horse after having lost the mare I had trained from a baby.  I knew that I wanted a Standardbred for my next horse.  My trainer in New Jersey had also been a Standardbred trainer earlier in her career, and we had a couple of ex-racehorses in our barn that turned out to be fabulous jumpers.  I loved their personalities and work ethic, and their durability, so I decided to start an internet search to find a “Standy” for my new jumper prospect.

I began my search at the New Vocations website: horseadoption.com.  As soon as I went to the page and clicked on the link for available Standardbreds, “Artie,” registered as Art Of The West was the first horse pictured.  I was instantly smitten!

Two things caught my eye immediately: the way his neck was set on his shoulder told me he’d be scopey over fences, and the look in his eye told me he would be something very, very special.  I wrote to Jennifer Daniels, not daring to hope that I could be considered to adopt this stunning guy.

Jenn surprised me by writing me back almost immediately. I was delighted to learn more about Artie and to discover that I was just the type of human that she was looking for as his new owner. The more she told me about him, the more I knew he was the right horse for me. I didn’t need to try him under saddle, or even see him in person – I just knew.  If I needed a sign, it was that things came together so effortlessly and so quickly that, lo and behold, I was approved and awaiting Artie’s arrival a mere three weeks after my initial e-mail!

From the moment he stepped off the trailer last July, I knew my instincts were right about Artie. He stood there surveying his new domain with those kind, intelligent eyes, and his whole demeanor said, “I’ve arrived – let’s get started!”

The next day I sat on him for the first time. My current trainer, Tiffany Clemons with Infinity Equines; Missy Levanti, my former trainer from New Jersey; and many of my barn family were there to witness it. Everyone commented that it looked as though we had been together forever. We just melded into one so effortlessly.

Every day I spend with Artie is magical. He impresses me daily with how intelligent and willing he is. He never ceases to amaze me with how quickly he learns new things.

By September, we were at our first show – a huge indoor affair at the Harrisburg (Pa.) Farm Show Complex. Artie saw spangled, sequin-covered western pleasure riders, people in golf carts shouting into bullhorns, humans and horses in Halloween costumes – all for the first time – and took it all in stride with the ease of a veteran. I could not have been more pleased.

Photo by author.

Almost a full year into our journey, I would not trade Artie for anything. He is my friend, my companion and my partner. He never fails to make me smile and laugh; he is such a ham and is always making silly faces and doing little things to get attention. He is a joy to be around and everyone at the barn loves him.

There have been challenges along the way, as you would expect when transitioning a horse who was a pacer into a jumper. He is still figuring out the canter under saddle; that is probably the toughest thing to convey to him – that it’s OK to canter now. He is so hyper-conscious of pleasing me, and I can tell that it “worries” him because he wants to canter, but can’t quite get over feeling that it’s “wrong” or a bad thing. He’ll give me a couple strides here and there under saddle, and then tear off at a flat-out gallop when I turn him out in the field.

We have just begun our jumping career – it’s only been within the last couple of weeks that he has been approaching cross rails with some confidence and starting to round over the fences, and he jumped his very first vertical last week! I know the cantering will come with the fences, so I’m just letting him take his time and figure it out in his own way.

This past fall I purchased my own truck and trailer, and we began to trailer out to shows in the spring and will continue to go anywhere and everywhere we can together – shows, clinics and even trail rides.

While my goal with him for now is to really get him going over fences and cantering comfortably under saddle, my dream for us is to do amateur-owner jumpers and maybe even get to the Washington International Horse Show one day.  I know Artie can do it – I just hope by the time he’s jumping four feet that I am still brave enough to go along with him.

I would also like for Artie to become an ambassador horse for the Standardbred breed. They are truly wonderful horses that have so much to offer outside of trotting and pacing on the track. I am looking forward to many exciting adventures with Artie in the years to come. He is everything I had hoped he would be–and more. He is everything.

Story by Lara Kuhns

To see more from the August issue of Hoof Beats, click here.

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