A handsome dark grey thoroughbred catches my eye as I scurry in from the rain and into Skyland stables. The wet weather might have deterred me from riding Mr.Tease, but not from venturing off to Bradford to meet a four-year-old grey gelding by the name of Philanthropy. Off the track, he is simply known as Phil.
At Skyland he goes by the nickname Ever After.
Watching him standing calmly in the crossties I hear his owner Jenna Rogerson call out to me from the other end of the barn. I pat Phil and walk over to meet her. As we walk back towards him she notices one of her other horses lying down in the stalls. She pauses at his stall door. “Are you okay?” she asks him and waits for the horse’s head and torso to lift from the floor before moving along towards Phil. She mentions that he’s one of her older horses. Nonetheless, you know right from the get-go that these are Rogerson’s four-legged fur babies.
An accomplished rider and coach, Rogerson is also the head trainer at Skyland. Additionally, she also runs Skyland's Second Chance program; which helps off the tracks thoroughbreds (OTTBs) transition into new careers as hunters and jumpers on the “A” circuit. Over the last ten years she has worked with around two dozen thoroughbreds coming off the track and looking for their next second start in life.
Curious as to how Rogerson came across Phil, I ask her about his second chance story. “I had posted wanted ads online for a thoroughbred, on Facebook and also on different social media sites like Instagram…and a friend of mine, who has also taken thoroughbreds off the track knew a trainer who was looking for a home for him,” said Rogerson.
Usually the next step would be to go out and meet the horse. However, this was not the case for Rogerson who decided to give him a chance without even going to meet him. I’m a little surprised, but not shocked since I bought my second horse (Gemini’s Frost) without meeting him in person.
Rogerson and Philanthropy had their first meet and greet when he arrived at her barn in late January. When he was unloaded from the trailer she admits that he looked pretty rough.
“He was really skinny, his mane was a foot long, he had bites and chunks missing out of him everywhere. He was just really underfed I guess because he was living in a field with a bunch of other horses and he was at the bottom of the totum pole, or the bottom pecking order, so he didn’t really get a lot of feed,” said Rogerson.
Lightly raced at Woodbine, Rogerson had learnt (from his previous owners) that Philanthropy had suffered a tear to his left front tendon and was taken out of training in October 2014. The vet said he would need five months or so to recuperate before starting back to work.
When he arrived at Skyland, Rogerson knew that she would have to do a solid 30 days of groundwork before he could be ridden. “He learned to lunge in side reins, with tack and stuff like that calmly before we even considered putting a rider on him. He also had no top line either so we didn’t want to ride him,” said Rogerson.
Moreover, she also wanted Phil to pack on some groceries (i.e. weight) before they began more intensive training.
Although Rogerson was eager to give Phil a chance, she wasn’t sure if he would make the cut for the Thoroughbred Makeover challenge later this year. Launched by the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) in January 2015, the makeover challenge is open to thoroughbreds with less than nine months of training (off the track). The horses that do make the cut for the challenge are trained to compete in one of ten equestrian disciplines with the opportunity to win $100,000 in cash and prizes.
“I was looking for a horse to do the challenge with. I didn’t know if he was going to be able to do it because the first few times we free jumped him – it was a disaster. He literally went through (the jumps) rather than over. So we were thinking a low level dressage career for awhile but now he’s figured it out,” laughed Rogerson.
After a month or so of ground training Rogerson put rider Charlotte Henderson in the saddle. The coach and rider have also put a schedule together about how many times Phil is working a week, what he is doing and how he is progressing.
With Henderson on board, Phil has started to find his groove. “He is actually building really quickly. He’s very smart and he picks up on things immediately. He’s already doing walk, trot, canter nicely under saddle. He does flying changes and he’s jumping a small course,” said Rogerson.
Owning six show horses of her own she knows how much time and effort it takes for horses to transition into a new career. With only several months of training under his belt Rogerson is impressed with Phil’s progress. “I didn’t anticipate him coming along this quickly. Most of the time with my thoroughbreds I get in it takes anywhere from three to six months before they are even ready to start jumping. And he was like ‘meh I got this, this is easy’…” admitted Rogerson.
Although he is finding it easy, Rogerson is taking it slow and steady with the young horse. She realizes he needs time to grow not only into a show horse but also into his own body.
“We’ve had a couple of times where you can tell he is going through a growth spurt and we have to lay him off for a week or so, let him just chill and then start back again just because its hard on their bodies,” said Rogerson.
Easing him into his second career, Rogerson intends to take Philanthropy to shows beginning next month. “He’s going to go to Palgrave in May and do the ticketed schooling rings and see how he handles it. If he does well and it’s not too much for him then we are going to put him in the 2’6’ thoroughbred classic.”
Phil was meant to be Rogerson’s long term project horse for the next year or so but she didn’t anticipate him coming along so quickly in his training. As a result she has decided to sell him. “He is going to be fairly easy to sell right now and its at the beginning of show season so if somebody else wants to take him on and kinda get him going then it leaves me freed up to get another project (horse) in, or to focus on my show horses that just starting their season.”
Even though Skyland is not his forever home, Rogerson continues to give Phil a huge dose of philanthropy, not only to boost his confidence as a jumper, but more importantly to make his own happily ever after story become a reality.
Note: Phil did get accepted into the thoroughbred makeover challenge!!
If he does not sell over the summer Rogerson plans to take him to Kentucky to compete in the challenge.