Re-Track Thoroughbreds is a facility dedicated to re-training OTTBs with a lot of patience. In fact, their motto is “Rehoming off track Thoroughbreds through time and preparation”.
Carla Christofferson and Don Hunter are the people behind Re-Track. Both have thoroughbred racing in their blood and between them have been hotwalker, groom, exercise rider, jockey, pony person, trainer, owner, started colts, prepped young horses and have sold horses to new homes. They have lived their lives at the racetrack, are incredibly passionate about thoroughbreds and are now focused on transitioning former racehorses to their second careers. They both believe very strongly in the process they are developing to take horses from the racetrack and develop them into breed ambassadors.
Both Carla and Don are devoted to the retraining and aftercare of former racehorses. They know there is a need to take OTTBs and give them a foundation from which they can go do just about any competitive discipline.
Re-Track starts with an evaluation process. “Personality, conformation, and temperament are big factors for all horses and the process is no different when you take one home from the racetrack. Each horse is going to have different strengths and weaknesses, so we start with the fundamentals.”
Horses arrive at Re-Track and get immediate downtime. “We like to let them have some turnout time and mentally and physically relax. They are all different and some might need more time than others, but we think they need to just wander a paddock and ‘be a horse’ before we start the next steps on their career.”
Step two is the training process to get the horses ready for a second career. The focus initially is on going back to the basics. “We work on some ground handling to get started. It’s nice to spend some time grooming the horses and getting to know them,” says Carla, “as soon as they realize there is no pressure they relax. And then we work with them at their speed. When we ride out for the first few lessons we do flat work, work on transitions, and let the horses discover how to move across the ground that’s not a groomed racetrack oval!” Thoroughbreds can be very fast learners, so Carla and Don are willing to switch gears for a horse, or even vary the discipline from lesson to lesson.
The training process has started for a couple of horses in the program. Big in the Game and Rocky Topper have both begun their introductions to their second careers. Don has been riding the two in dressage lessons and doing flat work with them. Before their more serious group lessons, he lets the horses take the edge off by riding them around by themselves to get their nerves out. During lessons, they work on flat work and take a lot of time to get things right. “You have to park your ego at the door. The OTTBs take in a lot of new skills with every lesson and they might be in a class with older horses who’ve been doing dressage or taking jumps for years. Don lets the horses figure out what the skill is until they get it right.”
Rocky Topper is a 4-year-old Alberta bred gelding who had 8 starts and 1 win. Trainer Craig Smith offered him to Re-Track at the end of his 3-year-old season. “He’s got great extension, he’s very showy and clean,” says Carla, “he’s pretty tough mentally and very willing. He’s a really fast learner and kind of gritty, so he’s going to progress quickly and will be a very competitive horse someday.” Rocky Topper and Don did a simple dressage test recently and they were supple and relaxed and he’s shown that he has a lot of potential to go in any direction.
Big in the Game is a 6-year-old mare who had 16 starts and 5 wins. “She’s really sweet, very friendly and just a lovely mare. She has no fear and no hesitation over low jumps, and she really likes jumping. She has the temperament to be suitable for a youth or amateur rider once she’s ready to move to a new home.” Big in the Game stands quietly in her group lessons and lets her sweet personality shine through.
Carla is a fan of the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program. She is also a member of the Retired Racehorse Project and is watching the Off Track Thoroughbred Challenge in Saskatchewan. She encourages everyone with an OTTB to apply for their horse’s TIP number and collect points.
Carla and Don are going to put on lots more miles and take in a few shows in 2018 to give the horses some show experience. Carla has already applied for Rocky’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program number with the Jockey Club and she is eager to take him to the Shamrock show series at Killerney Farm. Overall, Carla and Don’s goal is to have a couple of horses in their program at a time and to turn out ambassadors for the breed. Eventually, they would like Re-Track to be accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
For more information, or to follow along with Big in the Game and Rocky Topper check out Re-Track Thoroughbreds on Facebook.