ALLENTOWN, N.J. — Although everybody was declared a winner at the third annual Standardbred Makeover, some won the ultimate prize — a new home.
Among the big winners was Sears Tower, a.k.a. Korra, trained by Brielle Roman, of Allentown, N.J. She was named "Best English Pleasure Potential," although she had already had a new home waiting for her. The adopter agreed to let Roman keep the 15-year-old mare through the event. The Makeover, sponsored by Horse Lovers United Inc. took place at Pairadice Equestrian LLC in Milton, Del. in mid September. Korra has since gone on to her new home where she will be a trail horse.
Roman, also showed off the jumping skills of her own, Shakebabyshake, a.k.a. Baby in a demonstration.
Korra and Baby are just two of Roman’s project horses. As the trainer at the Standardbred Retirement Foundation, her job is to transition former race horses into show and pleasure mounts.
“I’ve always loved horses since I was born. I don’t know where I get it from, seeing as my family has no history of the ‘horse-bug’ in it,” she said
She begged, and at age 8, got her first riding lesson at small backyard barn. “When I was around 11, I started riding the green sales horses for the trainer there, specifically a lot of off track thoroughbred racehorses. When I was 15, I broke my first horse to ride completely from scratch, my now retired mare, Cruise, who I went on to have success in the hunter ring with. Afterwards, I dabbled in freelance training of others’ horses, particularly starting young horses to saddle,” she said.
Her first experience with Standardbreds was in the late fall of 2016, when she acquired a Standardbred/Quarter Horse foal, the product of a nurse mare, from one of the major Standardbred breeding farms. “She was completely unhandled except for having a halter on her, but I was amazed at how gentle and intelligent she was. Hazel, as I call her, learned very quickly, and is easily one of the best behaved horses I’ve ever dealt with now.”
Inspired by that first experience with a Standardbred, she applied for a part time barn help position at the Standardbred Retirement Foundation in Cream Ridge. In just a few months, her work ethic and skills paid off and soon she was the barn manager and head trainer.
“Some of the horses have come from kill pens and have been abused, so they need a gentle hand and patience. Overall, their willingness to still try for humans and learn new things amazes me,” Roman said.
Korra, raced as a trotter, starting 128 times and winning $168,000. She then had three foals between 2011 and 2013. Although records show she was bred, no foals were registered over the next three years. ”She came to me in mid-June from Delaware, completely unbroken to ride. Korra is very gentle and took well to having a rider on her back. She is incredibly intelligent and was going walk, trot, canter and jumping in a matter of weeks,” Roman said.
However, Korra started to get sore from the work so Roman backed off and focused on something a bit lower impact. “I cut out cantering and jumper and stared training her for dressage, learning collection and extension and pole work, and introduced western riding and trails as well. Korra loves the trails, and has conquered obstacles like flags, tarps, and even water! She loves bareback riding as well.”
Busy show rings make Korra nervous, but Roman still took her to The National Standardbred Show in August at the Horse Park of New Jersey. She showed in the adoptable horses classes and despite her nervousness, she won two second place ribbons. Giving the horses some show experience makes them more desirable to adopters, and is also a great way to advertise them. Roman would like to get sponsors to help pay show expenses which would help more horses get homes.
While Korra is settling into her new home, Baby won’t be going anywhere.
The 6-year-old pacer attempted to qualify once, but he proved to be too unruly for the racetrack, Roman said. He was sent to the Standardbred Retirement Foundation in October, 2017. “My first impression was that he was a very athletic horse, but also very temperamental. The first time I rode him he would rear anytime I touched his mouth!” Roman said.
Although Baby is gelded, he still acts much like a stallion. “You can’t force him to do anything, and he doesn’t tolerate mistakes very well either, which made it difficult to have other people ride him. He would often run away with them and scare them. I think he found it amusing,” Roman said.
“I was the only person who he would tolerate to ride, and he started to come along a bit, learning to trot and canter. He really enjoyed pole work and when I introduced jumping, he absolutely loved it. He would jump little things like they were 4 feet,” she said. His jumping prowess drew a lot of attention from potential adopters, “but he still was too temperamental for them, and anytime someone besides me would ride him I’d have to spend weeks repairing the damage.”
Roman decided to foster Baby over the winter and try to get him to a point where maybe somebody else could sit on him. “This is where our relationship really developed. I rode him in the snow, bareback, and even through the fields to check the other horses in snowstorms. He started to become very sweet (towards me only) and actually started helping me out if we got in a sticky spot instead of having a tantrum. I decided to keep him to develop his talents more. I just felt if he went to the wrong hands he could so easily be wasted and become a monster,” she said.
So now, Baby serves as an ambassador of the breed with Roman. “In the spring I started taking Baby to horse shows and showing as a jumper. His trust in me became evident as he jumped scary jumps he’d never seen before and did difficult turns and courses for a horse who’d only been under saddle and trotting and cantering just a few short months. His personality really came out as he got comfortable. Baby has a very big ego, and he isn’t afraid to show it. He enjoys attention (anything that feeds his ego) but is very picky over his people and doesn’t like other horses, unless they are girls. He enjoys showing off, so as he wins more ribbons and fans his ego only grows,” she said.
Baby competes in open breed classes, against thoroughbreds and warmbloods and other horses that are bred and trained specifically for riding. “And he holds his own, even winning! Many people can’t believe he’s actually a Standardbred cantering and jumping. And, boy is he fast and scopey,” Roman said.
Baby also competed at the National Standardbred Show, where he rode in western games for the first time and also competed in jumpers. “I had injured my back the night before, and on the first jump of our jump off, threw my back out again, so I was literally dead weight on Baby’s back. But in a true testament to our partnership, he jumped the whole course practically on his own doing, and we managed third place. If that was the Baby of only a few months ago, he would’ve ditched me so quickly. But Baby has really developed a great heart. He gives me his all every ride and will do anything I ask of him,” she said.
The Standardbred Retirement Foundation (SRF) has many other horses looking for new homes and is offering an adoption special through Oct. 15, 2018.
The fee for all horses is $350 and companion horses have no fee at all.
There are more than 100 to choose from, most are not on the SRF website yet because they come and go so quickly. Potential adopted can describe what they are looking for on the application.
Regardless of their success or lack of, on the racetrack, horses adopted through SRF are eligible for the National Standardbred Show. The 2018 show featured a Hambletonian winner along with horses that never even saw a track.
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