Ali has a deep history with Thoroughbreds, having been passionate about the breed almost since she began riding. It’s no surprise then that her interest was piqued by the Retired Racehorse Project’s $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover, which focuses on off-track Thoroughbreds in successful second careers.
Ali had been taking horses from the track and retraining them into eventing mounts a few at a time before the Makeover launched, so she was on board immediately when she learned that there was a competition specifically for what she was passionate about: giving retired racehorses successful second careers.
This year was Alison’s first year competing at the Makeover (and the third year for the competition); though she had wanted to compete in 2016, like all things horse-related, sometimes things simply don’t go as planned. Ali was not able to compete Zate in the 2016 Makeover as she didn’t want to wait to start him, then discovered he needed to take it slow (the Makeover allows only a set number of “training rides” before the official start to the competition to allow everyone as level of a playing field as possible); she sold Zate to a young rider this past April.
But this year, the stars aligned and Ali was able to compete in both Eventing and Dressage with Deuce. And what a Makeover debut she had! “I had the perfect dream-come-true weekend!” Alison explained. “We won the dressage and got second in eventing.”
The Thoroughbred Makeover is working had to be so much more than a training competition. The team who hosts the show makes a concerted effort to foster a feeling of camaraderie between competitors, whether that means cheering each other on during the competitions or spending time just hanging out together when not riding.
To this end, one of Alison’s favorite memories is spending time with her friends and fellow competitors in the barns. It was so nice to “just enjoy the company of our horses and enjoy the competition,” she explains.
One of her favorite parts of the competition itself, Alison says, is that it was a true trainer’s competition: “I enjoyed the subjectivity of it; you were rewarded by smart riding … and it was nice not to be timed. My horse trotted most of cross-country, but I knew that if we cantered, we wouldn’t have the balance we needed for a successful jump. I gave my horse the best ride I could and, though it was conservative, it was rewarded.”
This confirmed to Alison that she was doing the right thing for her horse. “I wish there were more competitions out there that would promote smart riding!” she says. “The Makeover promotes all the right things; it’s a young horse competition that’s based on the actual training of the horse. The rules state that you have the option to jump higher fences, but that you shouldn’t jump them if you’re not capable of doing them well. If you push your horse beyond its training, you will be penalized.”
Home Court Advantage
So, did living in Lexington give Ali and Deuce a home-court advantage? “I would say it is an advantage to a point,” Ali says. “Deuce had been in those arenas before, which I think gave me as much confidence as him. The only downside of competing in your hometown is you still have work and you still have normal responsibilities surrounding you throughout the competition. Sometimes it’s better to travel to an event because you can focus and get away from daily distractions.”
Another home-court advantage for Alison this year was where she found Deuce. Alison looks for horses she has a personal connection with; she loves to get horses her friends are involved with, whether on the breeding or training side. “My friend Paul Madden was nice enough to inform me about the horse [Deuce] first,” said Alison. “He called me at 6 a.m. and I just remember him saying ‘Hi! I think I found you a horse!’” I picked him up from Keeneland later that day.
He Had "The Look"
Alison has a great eye for horses, as her track record at selling quality eventing mounts proves. So what does she look for? “First, I first take in the overall physical nature of the horse,” she explains. “I like them uphill and they have to have well-set necks. Then I take a look at the feet and legs ... It’s really impossible to know much about the brain of horse until you take it away from the track and spend some time with them. I try to take in the look in their eye, their overall expression and I ask the trainer and handlers what the horse is like.”
Alison is currently on the hunt for her 2018 Makeover horse. If this year was any indication, the duo will be a force to be reckoned with!
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