"Some days I get off and I’m smiling from ear to ear and I think ‘oh, that was great from start to finish’ and then there’s other days he comes out and he gives me a cheeky attitude and I have to ride for every moment, and you think ‘okay, I’m exhausted but I have to make this breakthrough and he always gives me the breakthrough, but it’s the continuous challenge because he’s a big personality.”
Straight from the rider’s mouth, those were the sentiments said by Sara Jones as we chatted about her four-legged man who goes by the name Sir Glacken.
Jones, a long time horse lover and riding instructor at Big C Stables up in Frere Pilgrim, Christ Church has been working with the handsome grey thoroughbred (who now simply goes by ‘Glacken’) for the last six years.
She crossed paths with the former racehorse when local horse trainer Roger Parravicino and his son Bruce were looking to rehome him back in the 2010. Glacken, who was purchased at a horse sale in Ocala was brought to Barbados to race at the Garrison Savannah. Unfortunately, it was a very short-lived career for the young colt who only had one career start before being retired.
“Bruce brought him home in the middle of Tomas, which was the big hurricane that passed (through) Barbados. The Garrison roof was coming off over his stable and Bruce in the middle of it all rode him home. We thought if he came home in the middle of the storm he might be quiet enough for the riding school,” said Jones as she watches the now nine-year-old thoroughbred enjoy his evening gallop around the grass arena of Big C.
Shortly thereafter he was brought over to the riding school owned and operated by Sara’s mom, Di Clarke. Glacken is not the first thoroughbred to walk through the bright white gates of Big C, as both mom and daughter have taken on numerous off the track thoroughbreds to help out where they can.
“Our racing industry is very large for a small island and for so many of them their career is finished very early on in life. Most of them are done by two or three-years-old, so there is a huge need for thoroughbreds to be rehomed,” said Jones.
Many of the ones they’ve taken on have become horses for their students to learn on. “Over the years I’ve had Hidden Glance, Happy Hour, Vladamir (Short Stuff). There’s been Jeblar’s Hero, he was a super good horse and was really good for the riding school. He taught a lot of kids how to ride. Before Glacken I had Emanuel who Adriana (an accomplished Big C rider) has competed with.”
Jones notes that all of these off-the-track thoroughbreds (OTTBS) have made excellent horses for youngsters training at a higher level and for kids who compete overseas and want to be in the competition arena.
“These are all horses that I got up to 1.25 metre. And then a lot of them get thrown back in for the riding school so that you better the stock for the riding level, so that kids have a good schoolmaster. When I start winning on them at the higher level and they become seasoned horses, they know what their job is and they will get little children out of trouble. Then it’s time to throw them back into the riding school and start working with another young one.”
That next young one to come along was of course Glacken who Jones sensed from early on would be for one rider and one rider only.
“We very quickly realized that he wasn’t riding school material at all. He was what we call a swimmer, there’s a lot going on and it took me a few months to get him on a straight line – just to keep him moving and balanced.”
Jones continued to face an uphill battle with Glacken for the next little while.
“The first year he spent more time unsound than he spent sound. He had (hoof) wall abscesses, which often happens with grey horses and he would be on for a month and off for two. So there really wasn’t a whole lot of progress in the first year. We finally figured out that it helped hugely if we had him shod with fine little nails. And, once we got him sound then our training was very positive.”
Schooling him on the flat for a good chunk of time, Jones continued to exercise patience with her four-legged counterpart. Riding for too many years to count, she knows that patience plays an important in the process of schooling and re-starting racehorses.
With that said, the seasoned rider and coach soon found herself being questioned by her own mom on where Glacken’s second career would take him.
“For the longest time Di said, ‘Are you ever going to jump this horse?’ and I would say ‘patience Di, this a lot of engine I have here. I want to be able to contain it before I start jumping him.’”
So in 2014, the two finally made their debut in the jumper ring at Whitehall in St.Peter. “We jumped the 0.85 metre to 0.95 metre in the first round. In the second round we jumped a metre to 1.10 metre and he jumped really well and it was a very successful show.”
Unlike his racing career, Glacken finally found his sweet spot soaring over the jumps with Jones. “Within the first year of us competing him we went from the 0.85 to 1.20 metres.”
Aside from her training with Glacken she coaches her students on everything from basic grid work to teaching them how to jump courses on property and for the show ring. In 2015, she passed her Level 2 FEI training in the Cayman Islands.
Jones’ new training means she can bring horses farther along in the dressage ring by teaching them specific elements such as the counter canter, the shoulder-ins, the half-pass as well as half-pirouettes. Jones can also now coach her students to jump up to a 1.20 metre course.
“The discipline like every sport evolves over time and we’ve learnt a heck of a lot over the years. We’ve all furthered our education. We’ve gone through lots of coaching programs but we’ve also now stuck by our guns and really followed the FEI, which is the umbrella worldwide body for the equestrian sport and they do courses all around the world.”
With her extensive knowledge base and ongoing commitment to the sport Jones now has her eyes set on Glacken jumping in the 1.30 metre division by the end of this year.
While they work toward that goal together, Jones will also continue to help retrain several other ex-racehorses at the riding school, not only for new careers, or for her students to learn on, but most importantly to give her four-legged friends a second lease on life.