Thoroughbred Makeover Diaries Presented By Excel Equine: Do You Love Your Racehorse? Show Them - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Thoroughbred Makeover Diaries Presented By Excel Equine: Do You Love Your Racehorse? Show Them

There is no word in the English language as deep or mysterious as “love.” Love is explored in songs, poems, and books. There's a Greek god and goddess of love, Cupid and Aphrodite. There's an entire holiday devoted to expressing our love for others.

I love a good picture of a jockey, trainer, or owner kissing their horse after a hard-fought race as much as the next person, but the “We love our horses!” rallying cry in response to when outside pressures have questioned the sport's safety is not enough.

Saying “We love our horses!” serves a purpose, but the horse racing industry needs to show it.

Love can be expressed in many ways. Gary Chapman's book The 5 Love Languages that has sold more than 12 million copies and been a New York Times bestseller for a decade discusses five: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Understanding these “love languages” and how they express love in different ways unlocks “the secret to love that lasts,” as Chapman claims as the subtitle to his book.

So, I'd like to introduce “The 5 Love Languages for Racehorses” and share how one racehorse trainer I admire has fluency in all of them. In no way am I suggesting that this is a comprehensive list or that I am an effective love linguist like Chapman. However, love for the horse drives my equine broadcasting career, my work with OTTBs, and my aspirations as an eventer.

Meet Kim Oliver

Kim Oliver is a fifth-generation horse trainer.

“I have many memories of my grandparents and great grandparents racing,” she said.

However, Oliver initially chose a different career path for herself. She received a bachelor of science in exercise physiology from Arizona State University and a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Northern Colorado. She became a registered nurse in intensive care units and in homes and started a non-profit to assist her community in western Colorado.

All the while, Oliver would help her family's racing stable from ponying on the track to hauling horses from the family farm to the racetrack. In 2012, she decided to get her trainer's license.

Oliver has trained racehorses around the country, from Arapahoe Park in her home state to the Southern California circuit to Turf Paradise in Arizona to Canterbury Park in Minnesota to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

She has also become an advocate for Thoroughbred welfare. She started an aftercare committee within the Colorado Horseracing Association and serves on the board of CANTER USA.

“Aftercare, especially in the last decade, has gained legitimacy that it never experienced before, and a big part of that is people like Kim taking an active role in their horses' aftercare and well-being and being a vocal advocate for those horses,” said Jen Roytz, executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project.

Kim Oliver with Mr Wild Kitty at Arapahoe Park in Colorado on the day she donated the horse to CANTER USA.

Racing Love Language #1: Showing Affection

This is the easiest form of love that racing connections can express. Oliver always has a tub of Mrs. Pastures horse treats on hand. Her horses look happy and have good manners in return. Like politicians kissing babies, it serves its purpose, but it's just a starting point toward having a lasting impact on the welfare of horses and the horse racing industry.

Racing Love Language #2: Preparing for the Future

The market for retired racehorses has grown, as organizations like Retired Racehorse Project and events like the Thoroughbred Makeover shine a spotlight on the potential of Thoroughbred sport horses across a variety of disciplines.

“People always think of the Thoroughbred industry as the breeding, sales, and racing sectors, and I really feel like in the last 10 years, more and more, aftercare is becoming one of those sectors,” Roytz said. “The industry is taking the welfare of its athletes much more seriously.”

Retraining a horse straight off the track is not easy and not for the faint of heart. However, Oliver makes that process more accessible by instilling manners and skills for her horses that are not necessarily needed for life on the track but are must-haves for off it. They're simple things like standing while mounting or responding to leg cues, but they go a long way.

“We train them knowing that they're going to have a career after we finish racing them,” she said.

My wife, Ashley Horowitz, rode the 2015 grey gelding Mr. Frosty that Oliver trained on the track in the 2020 Makeover Master Class, and the horse's first ride off the track exceeded expectations because Frosty already had an off-track education while on-track.

“Kim's horses come with tools that make it so much easier for them to transition off the track,” she said.

Racing Love Language #3: Knowing When to Retire Your Horse

In addition to planning what races to compete in and what her horse's goals on the track will be when a race meet starts, Oliver also thinks about her horses' futures after the season.

“This will be his last season, and then we'd like him to find him a new home,” Oliver said to me about the 2011 chestnut gelding Mr Wild Kitty at the start of the 2019 season at Arapahoe Park.

She had also said the same thing about Mr. Frosty.

Mr Wild Kitty ran twice that season, both sixth-place finishes, in a Colorado-bred stake and in an allowance race. Rather than dropping the classy stakes winner that had made $127,258 over a 48-race career into claiming company or pushing for “one more race,” Oliver donated the son of Kitten's Joy to CANTER USA, the aftercare organization that I've been president of for two years.

The horse came to our farm and became the star of a video about the organization. It's easy to see Oliver's love for one of her stable stars.

Racing Love Language #4: Giving Back

There are many great aftercare organizations like Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance whose work racetracks and horsemen's associations will support through donation of starter fees and other fundraising efforts. Oliver helped the Colorado Horseracing Association launch the committee Retired Racehorses of Arapahoe Park that directly supports the horses that raced at the track.

RR of ARP shares stories about former racehorses on social media. The committee coordinated for the racetrack to sponsor a special award for the top-finishing former racehorse from Arapahoe at the Thoroughbred Makeover. The committee sponsored the 2020 Makeover Master Class that showcased Mr. Frosty's first ride off the track. Start fees were donated to local events like the Spring Gulch Horse Trials and the Arapahoe Hunt.

“We want to help the people that are caring for our horses,” Oliver said. “We want to support the places where our horses now compete. Thankfully, we get great support from the racetrack and other horsemen to do this.”

In response to creating an award recognizing the top-finishing Arapahoe Park racehorse at each level at the Spring Gulch Horse Trials in August 2020, the horse show posted on its Facebook page, “We love this! Arapahoe Park wants to acknowledge all the horses who go on to new careers after racing in Colorado!”

Efforts like these bring the racehorse and sport horse worlds together.

Trainer Kim Oliver celebrates with jockey Scott Stevens after victory in the 2017 Aspen Stakes at Arapahoe Park in Colorado.

Racing Love Language #5: Staying Involved

More recently, Oliver has taken a more direct personal responsibility for the training of her horses after they retire. She sent Olivia the Star, a half-sister to Mr Wild Kitty, and Pink Chablis, a half-sister to Mr. Frosty, to our farm in October 2020 to be retrained. She's retained ownership of those horses since they've retired and invested in their development off the track so that they can find good homes.

Oliver checks in with us regularly about her horses. She tells us how special those horses were to her stable and backs up her words by staying involved in their lives once they've left.

“She's the kind of person the industry needs to spotlight,” Roytz said.

Jonathan Horowitz is a long-time fan of racing who went from announcer to eventer with the help of off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs). See more of his columns in this series here.

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