“He likes to play with me when I have him in the arena. I will start running and he’ll chase me and we’ll have races. I’ll be like ‘ready, set, go’ and he’ll race me,” laughed Jacqueline Anne Cavalier as we chatted about her horse, Dreamer.
The tall dark bay quarter horse (who raced under the name Caraways Nativedream) eyes me with suspicion as Cavalier chats about his quirks and things she’s come to love about him.
Dreamer, as she likes to call him, has been part of Cavalier’s life for the last eleven years. She came across the gelding in 2003 at a friend’s farm in Schomberg. “It was one of those things where you just walk out and that’s the horse that you love. He was just so beautiful and he was just one of those big dark horses that I just fell in love with,” said Cavalier. She took lessons on the four-year-old until the following year when Cavalier’s mom bought Dreamer for her fourteenth birthday.
Glancing over at the handsome and very solid lad I was curious to know how Dreamer had fared in the racing world before joining forces with Cavalier. It turns out the quarter horse, (like my horse Mr.Tease) wasn’t a big fan of track life. He made his racing debut at Picov Downs (now known as Ajax Downs) in July 2001 and had his last start there in July 2002. He raced a total of ten times but only placed twice in the money.
Even though Cavalier has been riding since she was five years old and taking lessons on Dreamer before he became hers, she admits being uncertain about what the young duo would be doing at the start of their partnership. “We really didn’t know anything about him or what the heck we were doing… and that he was a very large horse for a small person.”
And small she is, standing at 5' 3" next to Dreamer who stands at 16.2 hands (around 5’ 6"). Despite my limited knowledge of quarter horses, his unusual height and size for the breed is not lost on me. Cavalier also makes a point of noting the gelding’s interesting body dynamics, first pointing out his quarter horse like-bum, then his warmblood mid-section and thoroughbred looking neckline. To be honest, he looks more thoroughbred than my own thoroughbred.
Leaving the racing world behind, Cavalier started Dreamer on a western style discipline known as Western Pleasure. Working calmly in that discipline, Cavalier decided to give Dreamer a go at jumping since she had a hunter/jumper background. As much as the partnership began to develop as they worked through several different disciplines, Cavalier admits that his spooky personality (and several falls) had her nervous about riding him. “Honestly, he used to be so spooky that he always kind of made me afraid. I was up in that arena one time and somebody came up with an umbrella and he just freaked and he threw me into the fence and I got a concussion,” admitted Cavalier.
In 2010, Cavalier moved Dreamer to Triple S Stables in Stouffville. Knowing that groundwork and flatwork would be important elements in regaining her trust with Dreamer, Cavalier began working with dressage coach Susan Downs-Saunders. “Dressage is really helpful because you have to be with the horse and you have to know what you’re doing and just have that connection with them -- because I was basically training him from the start. He had no dressage background whatsoever.”
Dreamer, whose been listening to our whole conversation is waiting patiently for Cavalier to finish tacking him up. Once he’s ready to go I follow her into the indoor arena to get a glimpse of the duo’s afternoon ride. Warming him up and working out his stiffness Cavalier seems at home in the saddle. She takes him through his paces at the walk, trot, canter and also does some lateral movements while other riders come and go.
Watching him closely, I notice him spook slightly as the side door shakes with the wind blowing through the arena. His petite blonde rider isn’t phased by it and continues riding him down the long side of the arena at an easy trot, getting his brain focused back on their work.
Cavalier admits that it’s a challenge to do dressage with a quarter horse. “Not going to lie, quarter horses aren’t built to do dressage,” said Cavalier whose ridden breeds of horses such as warmbloods that are built to do specific movements required in dressage.
Moreover, Dreamer has suffered a couple of injuries that also pose a challenge to getting him in the correct frame. “He was in the field one time and he kicked the back of a fence, and so he ripped open his tendon on his right (back) leg. Another time at a different barn he got kicked. So his other hock has damage to it. So that’s why it’s really hard for him to do dressage because he needs to get on his hind-end and it’s difficult for him because he’s got some scar tissue in his hocks.”
In order to keep the sixteen year-old gelding in his prime and perform at his best (regardless of previous injuries), Cavalier currently rides Dreamer five to six times a week. She also gets a coaching lesson once a week, or may have her coach ride him to work on certain elements of their training. A fourth-year student at Trent University and sales associate at a familiar tack store down the road, her quarter horse still remains one of her top priorities.
Like any good horsewoman, she has learnt over the last decade or so that building that trust and getting over her fears involves working with Dreamer on a regular basis. “It’s basically consistency, just like being here everyday with him and just knowing everything about him makes it easier to trust him. Before, when I was in my teens I wouldn’t come up as much, because you know you have a different life, you’re in high school and you’re going to parties and stuff, and it was the inconsistency that was making me scared,” said Cavalier.
Showing him in the dressage ring over the last three years, Cavalier is excited to begin showing Dreamer next month at RCRA. In June, she is also planning to take him to a combination show (dressage/jumping). Although he may not be built for a discipline like dressage, Cavalier is pleased with how far they’ve come and how much heart Dreamer continues to put into his work. “We may never get past third level or anything, but he’s my whole world,” said Cavalier.
Dreamer may not have been destined to win races, but it’s evident (even in the short time I spent with both horse & rider) that he’s won the heart of his leading lady.
Fast forward to December 2015:
Since writing about the duo in April they have gone onto compete in both the jumper ring and dressage ring. They have also been doing some extreme cowboy racing.
Although Dreamer did hurt his hind right (superficial flexor tendon) in the fall, he is now back to his healthy and happy self.
The duo will be training over the winter to prepare for their next venture into second level dressage. They will also be doing some more extreme cowboy races and trying a little western dressage.
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.