Every October, hundreds of off-track Thoroughbreds, each with 10 months or less of retraining, compete in 10 different disciplines during three days of the Thoroughbred Makeover & National Symposium in Lexington, Kentucky. The event has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, with trainers and owners vying for a share of over $100,000 in prize money.
By Lisa Lopez Snyder, Kentucky Equestrian Directory 2021 Issue
Sponsored by the nonprofit, Retired Racehorse Project, the symposium’s Makeover has several goals: to showcase the trainability and talent of off-track Thoroughbreds, to inspire good trainers to learn how to transition these horses to second careers, and to educate owners and others in the care and training of these horses.
Dr. Shannon Reed, associate professor at the Ohio State University’s Galbreath Equine Center, makes the 155-mile drive from Columbus, Ohio to Lexington, Kentucky to serve as consulting horse veterinarian for the Makeover. As such, she coordinates examinations of every horse participating in the event. It’s a chance to use her expertise to help trainers and owners improve equine health and welfare.
“I love the heart of the Thoroughbred racehorse and strongly feel that we need to do better to find them a place to go after the racing is done,” she says. “It’s personally fulfilling to have something I can do to make it better.”
Dr. Reed’s involvement began when she groomed for a friend who was participating. “I was a trainer participant for two years,” she says. “That first-hand experience gave me some ideas about how they could incorporate more veterinarians and veterinary care into the process.”
According to Dr. Reed, initial requirements were in place for participating horse health, but there was no formalized process to confirm that. That changed in 2019 with a new equine welfare initiative. “Last year, for the first time, every horse that arrived was required to have had an examination with a veterinarian,” she adds. “They were examined to make sure they had a registered microchip in place, that they had achieved an appropriate body conditions score, and that they were sound at the walk.”
After the success of the 2019 introduction of the veterinary examination, a new element was added for future Makeovers—a Finale Jog for all Thoroughbred Makeover Finale qualifiers, in which the top five finishers of each of the ten disciplines will present before a ground jury of at least two veterinarians and a chief steward. Keeneland Race Course, in Lexington, Kentucky, will sponsor the Arrival Exam and the Finale Jog.
Last year about 500 horses competed. The work entails 18-hour days for the first three days of the full week’s events, a culmination of the educational efforts Dr. Reed conducts throughout the year. In 2019, 12 veterinary students assisted in the exams. Per Dr. Reed, “they were super excited to see what Thoroughbreds can do off the track, so this is also a wonderful way to educate our future veterinarians.”
While the in-person events were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, several virtual offerings took place, including the ASPCA Makeover Marketplace, the TERF Makeover Master Class, webinars, a virtual Vendor Fair, and the Silent Auction.
Also, according to Dr. Reed, the 2021 competition will be a “double makeover,” with an anticipated 700 participants.
Understanding retired racehorse health
Dr. Reed’s latest research project studied 1400 retired Thoroughbred racehorses compared with non-Thoroughbred racehorses to understand any health problems they had in their first non-racing year and whether or not people were happy they had them.
The study found that while Thoroughbred racehorses were as successful as the non-Thoroughbred racehorses, it reported lameness, gastric ulcers, and weight gain or weight loss as issues of concern in the first year post-retirement. Dr. Reed created webinars to help trainers identify these issues and find resources, and also created wellness check-ins with the trainers.
“The biggest thing is the nutritional support—to figure out how to feed them to get them healthy and help them find veterinarians if they need them,” she says.
“The Retired Racehorse Project’s new welfare initiatives have had a significant impact. When I look at the Makeover when it started and where it’s at now, and how good those horses looked last year when they came there, and the education that was provided, I feel like I’ve done something that’s really made a difference. These horses give a lot to us in racing. They deserve a good life afterward.”
For more information: vet.osu.edu/about-us/people/shannon-reedretiredracehorseproject.org
New Thoroughbred Makeover Initiatives
Proof of the following:
Vitals within a normal range
Microchip registration from The Jockey Club
Pass a walking soundness exam
4 or higher score on the Henneke Body Condition Scale
Finale Jog for Makeover Finale qualifiers:
Top five finishers of each of the 10 disciplines present before a ground jury of at least two veterinarians and a chief steward
Source: The Thoroughbred Makeover & National Symposium