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Makeover Watchlist: [Western] Dressage

The Dressage division at the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium includes Western Dressage as an option this year. Competitors will complete their choice of USEF Training Level Test 2 or Western Dressage Association of America Basic Level Test 1 and perform a five-minute demonstration ride to showcase their horse’s training progress. The top five scoring horses will come back on Finale Saturday to determine final placings. The winner will be in contention for the $10,000 grand prize awarded to America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.

We interviewed three Western Dressage competitors to gain insight on their training process for the Thoroughbred Makeover.

Ann Marie Avansino and Southern Keys

Ann Marie Avansino is a professional from California. She grew up riding and showing 4-H and has deep roots in the Thoroughbred industry. Her great uncle used to train racehorses at Bay Meadows, Golden Gate, and Pleasanton. Anne Marie began instructing at Far West Farms for former AQHA president Sandy Arledge. From there, she went to Del Mar and worked the yearling and two-year-olds in training sales. She later started retraining Thoroughbreds in San Diego and created a racehorse adoption program. Anne Marie currently lives in Northern California and runs a lesson and training facility at Wild Wine Farm. She always has at least one Thoroughbred in her barn.

Anne Marie and Westley

Anne Marie is entered in the Thoroughbred Makeover with Southern Keys, also known as “Westley.” Westley is a Florida bred gelding by multiple graded stakes winner Keyed Entry and out of Dixie Image, by Halo’s Image. He sold for $130,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. He made eight starts, won one race, and earned $26,320 on the track. His one win was at Santa Anita and his final start was at Del Mar in November of 2017. In addition to Dressage, Anne Marie and Westley will also be competing in Ranch Work. You can find Westley’s profile and ride times at https://www.tbmakeover.org/horse-profile-19?horse=221

OTTBwestern: What inspired you to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover?

Anne Marie: I decided to apply when they added Western Dressage as an option.

OTTBwestern: How did you acquire your Makeover horse?

Anne Marie: My very good friend at San Luis Rey Downs put me in contact with the trainer from Santa Anita who was retiring Westley.

Anne Marie and Westley

OTTBwestern: What have been your biggest challenges and greatest accomplishments in your Makeover journey thus far?

Anne Marie: Time is the biggest challenge. The pressure of competition adds another element to the training. I usually have the luxury of time to develop a horse slowly. Our accomplishments include competing at the Western Dressage in the Rockies Show at the Colorado Horse Park. He got his first USEF points. It was thrilling. He traveled so well and learned that he might even like this showing business. I found out that this horse is a true professional!

OTTBwestern: What are your plans for your horse after the Makeover?

Anne Marie: He is for sale. It will be super difficult to part with him, because I’d like to finish him and continue schooling him in Western Dressage, but I feel he would be so great for a junior or an amateur. He would take them very far.

Anne Marie and Westley

OTTBwestern: What advice would you offer to other trainers that are interested in competing in the Makeover?

Anne Marie: As we say in Western Dressage, coined from Larry Mahan: “It’s about the Journey.” As a trainer it is our job to help others see the talent in these great equine athletes. Train them for the Makeover, not to win, but to highlight the horse. Be respectful of the horse, be patient, and find the right pace.

Ashley Francese and Harper Valley

Ashley Francese is a professional from Pennsylvania. She grew up riding Hunter/Jumpers before a brief foray into Eventing as a teen introduced her to Dressage. She rode Dressage until her horse retired, and then realized that there was a lot to do outside of the arena. Trail riding opened the doors to other western events such as Working Equitation and Western Dressage. Ashley started working with horses with behavioral problems and found that she really enjoyed horses with quirks. She recently became an Ambassador for The Western Thoroughbred. You can follow Ashley at https://theeruditeequestrian.wordpress.com

Ashley and Riley

Ashley is entered in the Thoroughbred Makeover with Harper Valley, also known as “Riley.” Riley is a Kentucky bred gelding by multiple graded stakes winner Shanghai Bobby and out of Force de la Nature, by Scatt Daddy. He sold for just $3,500 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Riley started eleven times, won one race, and earned $8,448 on the track, His one win was at Belterra Park and his final start was in August of 2018. In addition to Dressage, Ashley and Riley will also be competing in Freestyle. You can view Riley’s profile and ride times at https://www.tbmakeover.org/horse-profile-19?horse=266

OTTBwestern: What inspired you to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover?

Ashley: In 2015, I was working with an OTTB who I thought was eligible. The Makeover seemed like an excellent goal. She ended up not being eligible and I ended up being sidelined with a concussion, but I signed up again the following year.

Riley

OTTBwestern: How did you acquire your Makeover horse?

Ashley: Through Amy Lynn Paulus. She was super honest about his behavioral problems and made sure he got to a professional.

OTTBwestern: Did you choose your horse for your intended discipline or did you let him decide what he wanted to do?

Ashley: I let him pick. I had not done Dressage in years. After I retired my heart horse, it just didn’t feel right. But taking Riley out and showing him has made me enjoy Dressage all over again.

OTTBwestern: What have been your biggest challenges and greatest accomplishments in your Makeover journey thus far?

Ashley: The biggest challenge was overcoming Riley’s way of dealing with things he didn’t want to handle. He would attack until the thing ran away. I had to go back to basics and teach him how to move his feet and obey without attacking. My greatest accomplishment is that I have a horse that I love to ride. He’s game for anything and he’s an excellent partner.

Ashley and Riley

OTTBwestern: What are your plans for your horse after the Makeover?

Ashley: He’s staying with me. We’re hoping to go to St. Louis for the National Dressage Small Horse Championships. And we’re going to trail ride the heck out of our first fall together!

OTTBwestern: What advice would you offer to other trainers that are interested in competing in the Makeover?

Ashley: Go for it! You get to meet new people and work with an amazing breed of horses in the process.

Lauren Burke and Frank’s Gift

Lauren Burke is a professional from Kentucky. She came to Kentucky for college, graduated with a degree in Equine Studies, and decided to stay! She has spent the last ten years retraining and rehoming Thoroughbreds in a variety of disciplines. She currently manages the equine program for a non-profit and teaches resilience-building experiential education programs for disadvantaged youth. The programs include riding, vaulting, and equine therapy. Lauren first participated in the Thoroughbred Makeover in 2017. She tried Western Dressage for the first time last year to help prepare her horse Street Jersey for the competition. They finished ninth in Ranch Work and twelfth in Freestyle! You can follow Lauren at https://www.facebook.com/woodfordchannelRRP/

Lauren and Frank

Lauren is entered in the Thoroughbred Makeover this year with Frank’s Gift, also known as “Frank.” Frank Gift is owned by Lauren’s student Victoria. He is a Kentucky bred gelding by graded stakes winner Temple City and out of Miss Pippa, by Mater Command. He sold for $200,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale. He had officially recorded workouts, but never made a start at the track. In addition to Dressage, Lauren and Frank will also be competing in Field Hunter. You can view Frank’s profile and ride times at https://www.tbmakeover.org/horse-profile-19?horse=330

OTTBwestern: What initially inspired you to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover?

Lauren: The Makeover is an amazing showcase of the versatility of Thoroughbreds in new careers. I went to watch for many years before I got to participate. For trainers who are already reschooling these horses, it provides an invaluable opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other as well as market your horse if it is for sale. For myself, having that goal to work toward throughout the year really helped my horse and I progress and grow as much as possible. And what better time can you have than a week of showing with great Thoroughbreds and their people?!

Victoria and Frank

OTTBwestern: How did you acquire your current Makeover horse?

Lauren: Frank was adopted from New Vocations in Lexington, Kentucky in June by a long-time student of mine. I have been training him for the Makeover to help them get their partnership started.

OTTBwestern: What have been your biggest challenges and greatest accomplishments in your Makeover journey thus far?

Lauren: My biggest challenge has probably been the amount of time I have had to train a horse for the Makeover. We had our first ride in June. He is just three, so I’ve had to be a bit creative and really in tune with what he needs to grow mentally and physically. Our biggest success is that he is a great fit for the young lady who owns him, and they are already showing together and growing their partnership. He went to TIP Championships with her and won the Junior Western Pleasure division.

OTTBwestern: What are the plans for Frank after the Makeover?

Frank

Lauren: After the Makeover, I will turn the reins over to his young rider to enjoy a winter of pleasure riding, lessons, and hopefully some fox hunting! Next year they want to work toward getting started in Eventing. He is qualified for Western Dressage Basic Level for TIP championships next year, so that is another goal for them as well.

OTTBwestern: What advice would you offer to other trainers that are interested in competing in the Makeover?

Lauren: Be prepared to learn and grow with your horse and don’t be afraid to get lots of help and lessons from other trainers. Try new things if they interest you! Make sure you are prepared for the commitment of time and resources for your new horse. Every horse and trainer’s road to the Makeover is different, but you will learn a lot and have the time of your life. Enjoy your unique journey!

The Western Thoroughbred is proudly sponsoring buckles for the winners of Ranch Work and Barrel Racing and the top-placed western riders in Competitive Trail and Dressage! For more information on attending, participating, or competing in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover visit: http://www.retiredracehorseproject.org

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