Cosequin presents OTTB Showcase: First Tycoon (a.k.a. "Blake") - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Cosequin presents OTTB Showcase: First Tycoon (a.k.a. “Blake”)

Rhonda and Blake competing at second level dressage

Blake is the epitome of “hometown boy makes good.” Bred, born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, he was a moderately successful racehorse, running as a homebred for his breeder's connections exclusively at Hastings Park in Vancouver, Canada.

After a few wins and a few thousand in earnings, He was retired and repurposed as a jumper and showed definitely ability, clearing five foot fences with ease. Unfortunately, he was eventually over-faced and had a fall over a fence, and from then on his eagerness to jump was tempered. Eventually, the decision was made by his owner to put him up for sale. That's when he caught the eye of Rhonda Ennis.

Rhonda had loved horses all of her life and had grown up riding mostly Western and competing on Arabs, Appaloosas and Quarter horses. By age sixteen she had discovered racing and began working at the racetrack for a friend of her parents and began her love affair with Thoroughbreds.

Rhonda rubbed horses at the track for eight years and eventually took out her trainer's license, but while she loved racing and the track, she recognized how difficult the lifestyle can be and made the difficult decision to go back to school and work toward a job with more security.

She never lost her love of riding though, and even once she was well into her career as a realtor, she still made time to ride consistently at a local boarding and show barn.

“I was riding another horse in the barn and saw this beautiful gelding across the aisle,” said Rhonda. “He was for sale as a jumper for way too much money, but he was so lovely and his owner was injured and looking for someone to ride him.”

Rhonda soon learned that Blake, as he was known around the barn, had earned himself the reputation of a hot-headed and high strung horse. His owner was having several different riders, each with a different style, ride him, and he was demonstrating more and more his aversion for jumping.

“After a couple months of me riding him and several price drops, his owner made me an offer to try to get me to buy him,” said Rhonda. “I was really not in the position to have a horse, but I was also afraid of what could happen to him if he ended up in the wrong hands. So, with a bit of financial wrangling and help from my brother, I ended up buying him.”

The road to success for the pair has been equal parts frustrating and gratifying, according to Rhonda. He was a ten-year-old ex-racehorse who'd gone through a number of pilots when Rhonda bought him, yet had never had a rider that he truly trusted.

Rhonda & Blake, shown competing at their first 4th level show
Rhonda & Blake, shown competing at their first 4th level show

“He has a lovely disposition, but he is hot and reactive,” explained Rhonda. “I realized early on that regardless of my abilities, I was going to need to be better for this particular horse if I ever wanted to accomplish anything with him.”

Dressage is the foundation for so many other disciplines, so Rhonda thought that might be the best way to build Blake up, both mentally and physically. She enlisted the help of dressage rider and trainer Alison Martin, and with her help the pair began training and showing.

Eventually, the pair began to sync with one another and started to move up the levels. They won several Championships at local shows and British Columbia Reserve Champion Amateur at 3rd Level in 2009. They also have ridden with clinicians like Olympian Debbie Macdonald and Canadian Dressage Team member and FEI judge Cara Whitham, and Rhonda has taken him to British Columbia Sporthorse Shows where he won championships in both Thoroughbred and open competitions.

“I've heard judges comment as we ride into the ring, 'Oh my, he's a Thoroughbred!' It makes me proud,” said Rhonda. “My goal was to get him to second level, so even to get to third level was beyond anything I had imagined. We have shown fourth level and I still hope to get to Prix St. George. I'm more interested in personal bests, but to be in the ribbons in big classes where you're showing on an ex-racehorse against horses that were bred specifically for dressage is success to me.”

Blake and Rhonda
Blake and Rhonda

While many sport horse enthusiasts knock Thoroughbreds' time at the track as something that can limit their potential in the dressage ring, Rhonda sees many more positives than negatives to racetrack experiences.

“Thoroughbreds are the original sport horses. I think Blake's story really demonstrates that you can take a Thoroughbred of an older age and with dedication, turn his life around,” explained Rhonda. “People shouldn't pass by that older gelding or mare at the rescue or auction because they think he's too old to do anything with. As long as they are sound and you are willing to do the work, you can do anything with them.”

THE DEETS:
Name: First Tycoon (a.k.a. “Blake”)
Born: 1994
Color: dk b/br
Sire: Taylor
Dam: Tuesday Gold
Sale History: none
Race Record: 14-2-3-1
Race Earnings: $11,982

If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos.

Jen Roytz is the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. She also handles the farm's Thoroughbred aftercare efforts. She currently owns two retired Thoroughbreds: Point of Impact (by Point Given; a.k.a. Boomer), who retired from racing in late 2011 and is just starting back under saddle to find his forte as a riding horse, and Shotgun Shine (by Tale of the Cat, a.k.a. Gage), who is in training as a hunter/jumper. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.

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