In just a few days, our underdog, "Zipper," heads to Kentucky to prove that he represents what the Thoroughbred industry needs to promote the breed.
The mission to rehabilitate 7-year-old Winforthezipper started in January, 2015, when he was claimed at Penn National Race Course after 43 failed attempts to win on the track.
Standing barely 15.3 hands, this scrawny little guy would get a new lease on life thanks to his owners Katie Sharp and Justin Nicholson, who agreed to do what was best for Zipper by letting him unwind and just be a horse again, instead of a full-time athlete. After a year out in the fields at The Covert Farm in Nottingham, Pennsylvania, Zipper started to come together, and we chose him to be our candidate for the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project.
There wasn't any brilliance in Zipper's overall physique that might recommend him for this competition; he really was just about as average as a horse could be. But I'm a trainer who wants to promote the Thoroughbred as a whole, so that's exactly why I picked him.
I've grown up hearing "We learned to ride on Thoroughbreds" or "Back in my day, that's all we had." Well, I asked myself, why did that change? Many people want to blame the warmbloods or the shows, but I think in reality, we have only ourselves to blame. We didn't as a whole learn to ride crazy Thoroughbreds (haha―I'm sure some people have their stories, but that goes for any breed) and thus become better riders. What horsemen did back in the day was train the Thoroughbred and make it rideable. Good horsemen knew that this took some time off, getting outdoors, good feeding, consistent training and never giving up.
What I think is so great about the mission of the Retired Racehorse Project is that they are holding this event to showcase how, in less than one year, we can transform professional athletes into our best friends. We can take running machines and turn them into treat-loving pets. Although it is very important to bring the Thoroughbred back to the top levels of our sport, it is equally as important to show that an over-raced athlete like Zipper has just as much potential to be a part of our horse society as a top-level show horse.
Our industry needs good everyday mounts just as much as we need horses competing in Nations Cups, and I can guarantee that if you ask any of our top riders who their favorite horses were, they will undoubtedly mention the ones that made them the riders they are today. And those are not usually their top show horses, but the horses that taught them how to ride.
Horses like Zipper have the potential to make riders―not because he is an ex-racehorse but because he's safe, he's reliable, he will take your mistakes, he will always say "yes." That's what is so special about the Thoroughbred; they are the most kind and forgiving horses.
Look at him now!
I know heading down to Kentucky this year that I'm not bringing a future Grand Prix horse; he might never compete above a 1.20m course, but I know for a fact that I'm working with a horse that will change the lives of the riders who will enjoy him after me, by promoting the breed through our training and through his readiness to please.
One well-trained Thoroughbred at a time will create the change we need. I'm looking forward to Kentucky, and I hope that everyone who supports the breed is ready to cheer us on. Winforthezipper really is the embodiment of the Retired Racehorse Project!
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