Life after an all-consuming sports career can be a tough adjustment. A study in Australia found that Olympic athletes — touted for their determination and discipline during training and competition — can experience problems like “disorientation, depression, and self-doubt” when the time comes to move on.
Racehorses are no different. Life outside the oval takes some getting used to.
“On the race track,” says trainer Lynn Sullivan, “it’s imperative that they maintain some of their flight instinct. That’s what makes them a good racehorse.”
Off the track, Sullivan says, those instincts can get a horse in trouble.
“They don’t turn that on and off because they know situations are different. Anything that excites them is going to spark that instinct. We just try to take that out of them a little and give them a different way of looking at things. It makes them more adoptable.”
Creating new lives for retired racehorses is now Sullivan’s labor of love. She is the founder of Thoroughbred Athletes, Inc., whose non-profit work will be showcased this weekend at Remington Park in the “Sport of Kings Challenge,” a multi-breed, multi-discipline event featuring retired racehorses.
There will be two days of competition including dressage, show jumping, Western pleasure, and barrel racing — all on the track in front of the grandstand. Barrel racing begins at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, followed by Western and English flat classes.
“We are very, very excited to host this event,” says Alexis Zeigler, Remington’s Sponsorship Sales Manager. “We cannot wait to have everybody in the community come out and make it a fun-filled festival.”
Among the retired racehorses competing this weekend are eight that have been through Sullivan’s re-training program at Thoroughbred Athletes, Inc. Two are names many racing fans will remember: Oklahoma-bred stars Zee Oh Six and Strategic Leader. Both multiple stakes champions will be spotlighted in their new lives as show horses.
Sullivan says Zee Oh Six, who was not known for a pleasant disposition as a racehorse, is proof that with time and patience, these horses can make the transition to life in the slower lane.
“Zee Oh has turned out to be the best horse ever,” she says. “They can learn how to do other things, and they will learn, and they’re so willing to please.”