Makeover Watchlist: Competitive Trail

The Competitive Trail division at the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium consists of a course of ten obstacles. Two judges will assess each horse based on its demeanor, willingness, and surefootedness throughout the course. Obstacles may involve backing, side passing, dismounting and more. 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 award of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.

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

Louann Sanders and Tony of Cleveland

Louann Sanders in an amateur from Kentucky. She is originally from Canada and has lived in the bluegrass state for the past nine years. She was a Quarter Horse trainer and worked with hunt seat, western pleasure, and hunter/jumper horses. Louann also worked with retired racehorses before there were many established rehoming and retraining programs. She currently works in the surgery office at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, one of the nation’s leading equine hospitals.

Louann and Tony

Louann is entered in the Thoroughbred Makeover on Tony of Cleveland, also known as “Tony.” Tony is an Indiana bred gelding by multiple graded stakes winner Lantana Mob and out of Explosive Miss, by Gone West. He was actually bred and raised by Louann. He had two officially recorded workouts at Indiana Grand Race Course in the summer of 2018, but injuries thwarted Louann’s hopes for him as a racehorse. He will get a second chance to show off his talents at the Makeover. In addition to Competitive Trail, Louann and Tony are also competing in Dressage. You can view Tony’s profile and ride times at https://www.tbmakeover.org/horse-profile-19?horse=286

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

Louann: As an owner and breeder, Tony is my responsibility. The Makeover is an amazing opportunity to showcase the second careers of retired racehorses and show the public that they aren’t a high-strung, hard-to-manage breed. I feel that they are the product of their handlers. So many horses get a second chance at a new career through this great horse show. Since I live in Kentucky, I wanted to support the Makeover and go not for the competition, but for the unity of the competitors having fun and showcasing their Thoroughbreds.

Louann and Tony as a baby

OTTBwestern: So, you bred and raised your Makeover horse?

Louann: Yes, I had his mom and bred her a couple of times to a Quarter Horse. I then exchanged the mare for a free breeding to Tony’s sire, Lantana Mob.  We weren’t purposely breeding to have a racehorse but thought we would try and see how he did. He is an Indiana bred and they have a great program for owner and breeder awards. But as things go, he bucked his shins as a two-year-old and ended that year. He went back to the track in March of 2018 and then came home in September with two fractured tibias. He had lots of promise but he, like so many, ended his career before it got started.

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

Louann: Probably getting him sound and making sure he didn’t get over ridden while he was healing and being treated for some back issues that were related to the tibia fractures. I could only trot for three months and just started cantering this last month. I thought that Competitive Trail would be best for his mind and body at this point.

Louann and Tony

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

Louann: He’ll get some time off and then lots of hacking and trails before working toward another discipline. I’ll probably start jumping him this winter.

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

Louann: I think the Makeover is a great goal for anyone who may be considering giving a Thoroughbred a second chance at a new career. Everyone is one the same team and there isn’t the same pressure.  Choose a horse that you feel will suit what you are hoping to do and then aim for the Makeover in October. Don’t sweat the small stuff and do get excited about little accomplishments. It’s still all about you loving your horse and sharing the journey.

Kryss Cochran Helfrich and He’s Gastby

Kryss Cochran Helfrich is a professional from Oregon. She has a sports injury rehabilitation center for racehorses and performance horses. She was raised on a Quarter Horse farm and was involved in all facets of the industry including hunt seat, ranch riding, speed events, trail, working cow, and racing. At age nineteen, she began starting colts for outside customers. Her niche was building well-rounded versatility horses. Kryss worked with her first Thoroughbreds about six years ago and was amazed by their versatility. She is also a mounted shooter and finds that off-track Thoroughbreds acclimate quickly to the sport. Kryss says her specialty now is building all-around OTTBs. She has placed in the top ten at ranch horse shows, mounted shooting events, and even the National Trail Challenge on Thoroughbreds. She loves OTTBs as partners because they are always game. You can follow Kryss at https://www.facebook.com/tophorseman/

Kryss and Gatsby

Kryss is entered in the Thoroughbred Makeover on He’s Gatsby, also known as “Gatsby.” Gatsby is a British Colombia bred gelding by graded stakes winner Cause to Believe and out of Amy Came Back, by Archers Bay. He made 23 starts, won one race, and earned $24,974 on the track. His one win was at Hastings and his final start was in October of 2018. In addition to Competitive Trail, Kryss and Gatsby are also entered in Ranch Work. You can view Gatsby’s profile and ride times at https://www.tbmakeover.org/horse-profile-19?horse=142

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

Kryss: I applied with my first Thoroughbred the first year of the event and didn’t make it in. After that, I got busy with my rehabilitation center and kind of forgot about it. In 2017, I got two Thoroughbreds in to the rehab, Wicked Laugh and Last Call Lobo. They both worked so hard to get better that I applied and was accepted. We made the long trek from Oregon to Kentucky and did very well at the Makeover. By then I had decided that OTTBs were truly my calling and started a new future here at home proving what they could do. I strive to be the best ambassador I possibly can be for the western industry. After going last year, I am totally hooked and plan to make the trip for many years to come.


OTTBwestern: How did you acquire your current Makeover horse?

Kryss: He had a very minor suspensory tear and was offered to be my horse for the year. However, he had not initially been my choice for the Makeover. I had another lined up, but after just a couple days in our care Gatsby showed us that his can-do attitude was perfect for what I wanted. His ability to “cow” showed up once he was well and that just clinched it for us.

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

Kryss: Honestly, that’s a very hard question. Gatsby has been one of the easiest horses I have ever trained. However, getting my work done was a challenge. As a full-time trainer, I really only wanted to ride him! Every adventure with this horse is a pleasure. He and I have the same personality and we can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner. To be honest we are dangerous together! We get lost a lot! Well I do, he knows where we are. He’s always easy, so the most challenging was to find new challenges for him and me!

Kryss and Gatsby

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

Kryss: He is for sale and I spent this year building this horse with that in mind. I challenged myself to build the most finished horse I could – one that I would send my mother and grandchildren out into the world on – and I have!

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

Kryss: Don’t overdo it your first year. Spend as much time as possible adventuring and making your horse into your dream horse. Change the routine every day and don’t focus on just your discipline or you will fail each other. Our greatest goal with these horses is to give them an exceptional life, and when we spend too much time focused on the prize you will never succeed in that mission.

Melissa Porter and Marakovits

Melissa Porter is an amateur from New York. She is the manager and trainer at the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program (FLTAP). She was raised with horses and helped her father start and train colts. She attended Alfred State College and graduated with degree in agriculture. While in college, she rode with the equestrian team a few times a month to further develop her ridding skills. Melissa later moved to Greeley, Colorado and worked on Gail Doering’s farm for retired Quarter Horse racehorses. She moved back to New York but had developed a love for racehorses. She started working at FLTAP as barn staff, and soon became a rider and trainer. Melissa was able to substantially increase the adoption rates from the program. She says it has become her passion to find the perfect homes for their horses. You can follow FLTAP at https://www.facebook.com/FLTAPAdoption/


Melissa is entered in the Thoroughbred Makeover on Marakovits, aka “Mara.” Mara is a New York bred mare by Giant Surprise and out of Little Orphan Lucy, by Lycius. She started 26 times, won three races, and earned $59,882 on the track. Her three wins were at Aqueduct and Finger Lakes, and her final start was in October of 2018. You can view Mara’s profile and ride times at https://www.tbmakeover.org/horse-profile-19?horse=208

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

Melissa: Well the original plan was to compete for the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program to get more exposure for the amazing horses that come through our barn. That was our main goal. Our second goal was to be able to adopt out the participating horse for a larger adoption fee. The larger adoption fee would greatly help our program as we are funded mainly by our adoption fees, fundraisers, and grants. Our second goal has been a lot harder for me to complete. I have developed such a bond with the mare that I chose, and she has developed a bond with me and my four-year-old daughter. When I was explaining this to a potential adopter, I broke down in tears and realized that watching Mara leave with someone else would be the hardest thing that I would ever have to do. I decided then that Mara would be coming home with me after the competition. My hopes are to be able to do this again next year and complete both of our goals. I am amazed at how truly caring the people are that compete in this Makeover. I have never been in a competition where everyone helps the newbies as well as the professionals. It is such a great community and I am so proud to be a part of it.

Melissa and Mara

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

Melissa: Mara has done a little bit of everything from jumping, to barrel racing, to trail riding. She has been shown English and Western Pleasure, but I am a stronger Western Rider so I knew I needed to take a western route. Mara is fearless and she showed me that she would excel in Competitive Trail. She overcomes every silly obstacle I throw at her fairly quickly.

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

Melissa: Mara had trouble picking up her right lead because she was very back sore. Equihands Equine Massage Therapy and Joe Conor, an equine chiropractor, both donated their time and skills. Between the two, they have corrected her soreness and she is able to pick up both leads. Mara can be a bit sassy at times which can get in the way of our training. I learned to just laugh it off and redirect her energy. I believe our biggest accomplishment is teaching Mara how to properly carry herself. When she came into our program, she carried her head high in the sky. Through working on becoming soft in her mouth she learned how to lower her head and lift her back properly. The only thing we are still struggling with is her excitement after she completes an obstacle. She likes to dance off in her happy dance, as I call it.


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

Melissa: After the Makeover, Mara will become an official member my family and move home. My goal for Mara is to eventually compete in an Extreme Cowboy Race. She will continue going on trail rides and dipping her hooves in a variety of disciplines.

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

Melissa: Don’t second guess yourself or your horse. It is worth every setback and triumph. You will grow so much as a horse person with every step of this journey. There is always someone there to help you through the challenging parts. Take the leap, sign up, and give it your all!

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

1 thought on “Makeover Watchlist: Competitive Trail”

  1. Quite an interesting interview. I picked up a lot of useful information for myself. Everyone has different histories and backgrounds, but they are all united by one goal. Very inspiring.


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