The Ambassadors of The Western Thoroughbred are exceptional horsemen and horsewomen. They have diverse equestrian backgrounds but share a passion for Thoroughbreds. Ambassadors ride and train Thoroughbreds while upholding our mission to
Meet Our Ambassadors
Amalie Reeves lives Christchurch, New Zealand. Thoroughbreds are regular mounts of the equestrians in the area. Mae grew up around Thoroughbreds and Thoroughbred crosses. She has been riding for nearly two decades. Mae competes in Eventing during the winter and spends the summer months competing on the South Island rodeo circuit. Her Thoroughbred mare Nellie, more affectionately known as “Big Orange,” has been her partner for three years now. The pair initially competed in Eventing only, but Mae later decided to start Nellie on the barrel pattern and the rest is history! Mae has always loved the willingness of a Thoroughbred. She appreciates that they try so hard to do whatever is asked of them. Mae and Big Orange have been busy Eventing almost every weekend. We look forward to seeing them in the rodeo arena again soon! You can follow Mae on Instagram at @maereeves_42.
Chelsey O’Brien calls both South Florida and Massachusetts home. She has traveled throughout the eastern United States working with horses. She began riding as a young child, but did not develop a passion for western riding until later. Chelsey was introduced to Thoroughbred horses as a teenager when she worked at a rehabilitation farm and learned to treat injuries and retrain and rehome OTTBs for a variety of second careers. Her appreciation for Thoroughbreds led her to work at a Thoroughbred breeding farm, offer specialized training for OTTBs, and purchase several OTTBs of her own. She currently owns three OTTBs: Tomo Nights, Beatle Boots and Star Killer. With these OTTBs and other horses, Chelsey has competed in Barrel Racing, Ranch Sorting, Team Penning and Ranch Horse classes. She also enjoys dabbling in Western Dressage and loves trail riding. Her greatest passion is training horses and quieting incorrect stereotypes about OTTBs. She hopes to continue advocating for Thoroughbreds in all disciplines. You can follow Chelsey on Instagram at @seekayohbee.
Jessica Gilbert lives in Washington with a small herd of OTTBs. She started riding in high school and competed in pleasure events on her Arabian gelding. After high school, Jessica decided to switch to speed events and was hooked. That decision led her to her first job in the Thoroughbred industry at a training facility. She ended up spending the next twelve years on the racetrack in various roles which included grooming, ponying, exercising, and riding races as a professional jockey. Jessica won over 100 races including multiple stakes races before ending her race-riding career. All the OTTBs that she owns today were once mounts she had in races except Cowboy Swagger, but Jessica has a lot of history with the handsome bay and even rode his dam. You can follow Jessica and “Swaggs” on Instagram at @star_g_speed_beads and @cowboyswaggerottb as the compete at barrel races across the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Kaytie Henricks lives in the Willamette Valley, a region of the Pacific Northwest that is famous for its wine and mountain views. She began showing horses at a young age, but was more interested in gymkhana events and eventually moved onto barrel racing and rodeo. Having always been obsessed with racehorses, it was a dream of Kaytie’s to turn a racehorse into a barrel horse. In 2015, she made that dream a reality when she purchased Tychonic Choice off the track. Kaytie and Tychonic Choice, aka “Sosi,” got serious about competing in 2017. A few years later, the pair place consistently in the 2D and 3D across the Pacific Northwest and have some top ten rodeo placings. Kaytie also owns four other OTTBs – Infantry Star, Stormin’ Bubsy, Takis Choice and Uncle Yo. Kaytie works hard to bring awareness to the outstanding abilities of Thoroughbred horses. You can follow her on Instagram at @kaytiehenricks.
Kristen Kovatch Bentley has never really been one for the status quo. After a series of unfortunate face plants in her awkward teenage years over fences, she gave western riding a try, becoming the lone token cowgirl at her hunt seat barn. Between semesters competing in reining and horsemanship on her college’s western equestrian team, Kristen worked summers in Wyoming at a working guest ranch, leading trail rides, starting and training the ranch’s home-bred Arabians, and moving cattle around thousand-acre allotments in the mountains. After a four-year professional stint coaching and training scholastic and collegiate western teams, Kristen retired to her husband’s family farm in Jamestown, New York to poke around far from the show pen. Finally ready for not only a new challenge but a return to the competing life, she hooked up with Jobber Bill, placing seventh in the ranch work at the 2018 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. Kristen loved the Thoroughbred Makeover so much that she now works for the Retired Racehorse Project as communications and program manager. In 2019, she purchased a second OTTB, 2018 Makeover Ranch Work winner Regal Justice, aka “Shorty Harmon,” to add to her growing string of racehorses-turned-ranch horses. Kristen, Jobber and Shorty can be found in western New York changing OTTB stereotypes on the trails and in the ranch horse and reined cow horse show pens. You can follow Kristen on Instagram @thehorsebackwriter or on Facebook at Jobber Bill: Race Horse to Ranch Horse.
Shelly Marshall is from southern California. She began riding around age ten on her father’s property in southern Oregon. Shelly and her sisters competed in local gymkhana events. At seventeen, she moved her horse, “Bee,” closer to home in California. Shelly continued to compete in gymkhanas until Bee was injured and had to be retired from competition. She then focused on trail riding at large parks nearby. A few years later, Shelly fell in love with Kitty, an OTTB at the barn where she was boarding. Kitty had been trained English and was being used for jumping. Shelly was not looking for another horse, but she adored the mare. When the family that owned Kitty put her up for sale, Shelly made an offer and they gave the mare to her for free! Shelly and Kitty really enjoy trail riding. Shelly has also entered Kitty in local gymkhanas and found success again, winning overall high point for a show series. Shelly’s goals with Kitty are to continue exploring new trails. They hope to tackle the local 22-mile Mountain to Sea Trail soon. They also plan to try new western disciplines, such as Ranch Riding and Ranch Trail. Shelly’s experiences with Kitty have shattered stereotypes she had heard about Thoroughbreds and turned her into an advocate for the breed. You can follow Shelly on Instagram (@igo_riding) or on her blog (https://igoriding.wordpress.com/).
Melanie Lyell of Rutherford, TN. For as long as she can remember, horses have always been her #1 passion in life. Melanie grew up watching her uncle and cousin ride and couldn’t get enough horse time when she was with them. They both competed in barrel racing and she knew that is where her heart was. She started riding at age 12 at local saddle clubs and shows. She competed in High School Rodeo all 4 years and also entered some smaller local IPRA rodeos. She has qualified to go to NBHA World several times & finished 5th in barrel racing at the 2016 Thoroughbred Makeover. Since 2008 she has been helping her mother to start barrel horses for the public, in which some of them have gone on to have great futurity and derby years, and others have become nice open horses for their owners. They also do some bi-weekly & day barrel racing clinics. She was always the one who turned away from a Thoroughbred, because she followed the stereotypes that are out there. A couple years ago her best friend, Brittany Bennett, snuck off to KY and brought a War Horse home, named Seton Hall. She watched her start him on the pattern and thought “maybe she isn’t as crazy as I thought’! He picked up everything so fast and was so athletic. She decided to give them a try and is sure glad she did. She credits Brittany & Seton for this journey she is on today. She owns a 9 year old mare, Runbridled aka “Grace, who is definitely her heart horse! Grace retired from racing in Oct 2015, with 25 starts & $10,325 won. Grace has been competing in barrel racing since the Makeover in 2016 and has went on to be a 1D / 2D horse and has won a couple of amateur rodeos. She says it’s funny when people tell her “they just can’t believe Grace is a Thoroughbred.” They say “she doesn’t look or act like one.” Melanie says she has just tried to treat her like any other horse she would train & compete on, because in the end that’s exactly what she is. Her breed doesn’t define her or limit her capabilities to be a performance horse.
Kristen Daulton of Flagstaff, AZ joined the team of Ambassadors in Sept. 2019. Her background is in finance, marketing and photography. She’s a momma, a wife and uses her OTTB Salt Power in the wildly growing sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting. Salty is now 8 years old and one incredible athlete! Kristen was searching for a faster competition horse and picked Salty up right after his last race in March 2016. After a lot of time and dedication to his training they now travel all over the western United States competing; some of their accomplishments together are: 2019 AZ Game & Fish L3 Champion, 2019 South Pacific Reserve L3 Champion, 2019 March Madness L3 Champion, 2019 AZ State Reserve Champion & 2019 Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Showcase Champion. Kristen is also the Vice President for the Flagstaff Pro Rodeo, which is a PRCA sanctioned rodeo in the Turquoise Circuit. She also hopes to get Salt Power running barrels in the upcoming year.
Kaytie Henricks is a 24 year old barrel racer from the Pacific Northwest. Kaytie has been riding horses from a very young age, originally started out in the show pen until at age 6 the need for speed took over after she attended her first gymkana. From then on out it was about going fast, although she has competed in many speed events her heart lies with the cloverleaf pattern. Kaytie’s dream has always been to own a race horse, from a young age she was drawn to them due to their speed, elegance, and raw power. That dream became a reality when Kaytie stepped on the backside of Portland Meadows where her mare Tychonic Choice aka Sosi kinda fell in her lap. Kaytie didn’t go to the track to get a horse that day, but as soon as she laid eyes on the little bay mare she knew she needed her. Now Kaytie and Sosi compete in multiple barrel racing associations in Oregon, as well as compete at open and NPRA rodeos, with dreams to pursue a WPRA permit in the future. OTTBs owned: Main Mount 2D/3D barrel horse (room to improve) Tychonic Choice aka Sosi, 11yo bay mare Rehab project (recovering from bowed tendon) Takis Choice aka Taki, 5yo bay gelding
Elisha Zellner, 49 years old, lives in Bend, Oregon. Office manager at Back In Action Fitness Equipment and owner of Back In Action Equine offering therapy treatments with her Sports Innovations 3-1 blanket and leg wraps. A unique combination of PEMF, massage and heat. Elisha grew up in the 4-H horse program and showing park saddle seat Morgan horses as a youth competitor. Later she was a 4-H leader and high school equestrian coach for over 10 years. She also judged many local pacific northwest schooling shows in the 90’s. She has raised two daughters the oldest showed AQHA pleasure horses and the youngest competed in NYRA youth rodeos this is where the passion for barrel racing began. Elisha now competes in barrel racing with her OTTB Big Sky Vatti “ Skyler” that she purchased in April 2018 with no barrel training or experience. They travel the northwest competing in OBRA, BSCC, Brn4d sanction jackpots and NPRA rodeos. She most recently won the OBRA 2500 novice year end and 2500 novice average saddles at finals for 2019 season . She was also the Reserve champion senior rider for 2019 in Brn4d Oregon. Elisha just purchased another OTTB My Pal Sully in February 2019 at the closer of Portland Meadows racetrack. She hopes to season him this year and introduce him to the barrel pattern. She has high hopes that he will show the talent and heart of an OTTB champion just as Skyler did. Elisha loves the underdogs and enjoys showing and amazing people with the talents of the thoroughbred breed.
Marcella Gruchalak is a registered nurse who works at the VA Hospital. She has found this to be a good way to serve and thank the veterans who serve(d) the United States of America. Marcella was not always a Thoroughbred fan. She listened to the common misconceptions of Thoroughbreds which drove her away from the breed. Marcella made her way to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover to watch a close friend compete, and has been hooked on the breed ever since. She went on to compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover in 2016 and 2017 making the Top Ten in Competitive Trail both years and Top Amateur in Freestyle in 2016. Marcella’s 2017 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover Horse, Funny Bunny B, stayed with her after the Makeover and they have been partaking in a large realm of activities. Marcella and Buns were on the 2018 CMSA Borla Equestrian Team, running flags at all the major shoots in the US. Buns has carried her to become a Ladies 2 in mounted shooting. The two have competed in mounted shooting, endurance riding, and barrel racing. In her spare time she is a freelance writer for Horse Nation. She loves being an ambassador for the breed and is happy to be a part of the team.
Mallory Cortes, age 32, from Acton, Ca. Mallory grew up with horses all her life. She started out doing gymkhana at the age of 7, then started barrel racing at 13 years old. She has several championships and reserve championships as well as a 4x world qualifier at NBHA. Her OTTB Heavens Eagle came into her life when ‘Sriracha’ was too slow for the track in 2015. Since then Mallory has trained her on barrels and the two have accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time. The duo have won several barrel races together and have won reserve champion at PCBRA in 2017. Their next step together is to start filling her permit. Mallory is also a wife and a mother to 2 beautiful children. Her daughter is following suit and is also becoming a barrel racer too. When Mallory isn’t training, she is teaching young girls how to have good horsemanship and also does barrel racing lessons. She wants every little girl to live their best dreams and reach for the stars.
Jenn Laurich is a 25 year old rider from Charlotte North Carolina. She has a background in customer service and business and works for an international protective packaging business full time. For as long as she can remember she always had a love for horses and always gravitated towards the thoroughbred during her riding career. She rode hunters for 9 years before switching to the western discipline after she began her partnership with her current horse, Aramis. Aramis, JC “Gypsy King”, is a 16.2 hand thoroughbred out of Fantasticat by Stormcat. They currently are training and fine tuning the basics of Western Dressage. Jenn enjoys the functionality of dressage as well as its usefulness and application for a real working scenario. Her goal is to transform Aramis into an exceptional ranch and bridle horse and begin showing him in 2020.
Alana Pickrell is from Ontario, Canada. She’s been riding horses since she was 4 years old, but mostly on APHA or AQHA. For her 20th birthday she bought herself her first ever horse on her own and first ever OTTB. Every since then she was a goner. She fell in love with their work ethic, grit and need to please that OTTB horses bring to every ride. Fast forward and she’s now on her second OTTB. Although some people think she’s crazy, and there are days she wishes she had a less head strong partner, she’s forever grateful that her riding career finally led her to these athletes.
DeAnn Long Sloan of Pittsburgh, PA, spent the early years of her career in Education, both as a high school teacher and in academia. Currently, she is the Managing Editor of HorseNation.com and is a certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist. She owns Rustbelt Equine, LLC, which focuses on equine performance therapy. DeAnn has been a lover of Thoroughbreds for as long as she can remember. She has always loved the look of them — they are bred to be athletes and it’s apparent in their builds and how they carry themselves. However, her career with horses did not begin with Thoroughbreds. When it came time to buy herself her first horse as an adult, she went with the safe choice: a middle-aged Quarter Horse. But after observing a friend acquire and retrain a number of off-track Thoroughbreds as resale projects, her love of the breed resurfaced due to their work ethics, intelligence, and train-ability. She decided to get her own and, since then, she has been hooked. Her current horse is Rightful Goddess (aka “Mac”), a 2014 filly by Parading and out of Valid Goddess (by Valid Appeal). DeAnn describes her as “quiet, easy going, and having all the makings of a great packer.” DeAnn and Mac have begun competing in Cowboy Mounted Shooting and look forward to a long career together.
Kayla Zielke, age 21, of Pincher Creek, Alberta. Kayla has been around horses her whole life. She owns and operates Eclipse Equine and specializes in colt starting, massage therapy and barefoot trimming. She started out open showing in lead line and peewees but by the age of 7 it was time to just go fast. She won several junior high points and junior rodeos throughout her youth years. She started training horses at 13 and that was when she first found OTTBs. In fall 2013 Image This came into her life after being a reject endurance horse. After just being a pleasure horse for 2 years it was decided to start Image on barrels and she took to it very quickly. Since being started on barrels in 2016 she has had multiple 2D and 3D placings. Image has also shown her versatility open showing and placing in reining, showmanship and excelling at pole bending. Image sparked a passion for retraining OTTBs and since then Kayla has trained and sold half a dozen OTTBs and is excited for more in the future. Kaylas next step is to hopefully compete at the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover in 2020 with Graces Little Lady.
Robyn Mrnak is from Bowman, North Dakota. She grew up riding quarter horses on her Hereford ranch, as well as showing horses throughout her 4-H career. She attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana where she was part of the equine program. She specialized in therapeutic horsemanship. In 2016, Robyn started a nonprofit therapeutic riding center. She began working at an OTTB adoption center with the hopes of finding new therapy horses. While working at Bowman Second Chance Thoroughbred Adoption, she fell in love with a chestnut gelding named Tiz Jr. He has been used for therapeutic riding lessons; he has also turned into Robyn’s favorite horse to use on the ranch. Robyn is fairly new to the OTTB world, but she is completely amazed at the capabilities of these animals. She is confident that her corral will always be home to an OTTB!
Ashlee Wolf, 26 years old, is based in WA state. She travels between racetracks frequently. She’s an ex jockey, exercise rider and pony person. Ashlee’s background in horses is lifelong even though she has changed disciplines several times. As a pony person and a barrel racer her horse of choice is an OTTB! One of her two geldings is Powerized, a Keeneland sale graduate who is now a pony and out-riding horse. Her other is the warhorse Fishinkonablue. Fish spent his years with Ashlee doing a bit of cross training while he was racing he was also barrel racing, trail riding and ponying on occasion. Ashlee’s next big goal is to attend the Retired Racehorse Project!
Ashley Francese is a professional horse trainer and saddle fitter from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. As a child, Ashley’s father bought her a cantankerous old mule, in order to challenge her to learn to ride the hard horses. After spending her tween years riding hunter/ jumpers, Ashley discovered dressage and fell in love with the beauty of the sport and the emphasis on the bond between horse and rider. When her dressage horse retired, Ashley decided to change tactics and started working with horses who had been labeled problematic for one reason or another; this included physical rehabs, horses with blown brains, aggressive horses and late breaks. Training problem horses brought horses of various breeds into Ashley’s barn, but she discovered a real passion for working with Thoroughbred and Standardbred ex-racehorses. She just finished competing in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover in freestyle and western dressage with her OTTB Harper Valley, “Riley.” Harper Valley and Ashley plan to continue to compete in western dressage, but also to compete in competitive trail, working equitation and judged pleasure. In addition to Riley, Ashley has two other Western Thoroughbreds, Hillfoureleven, a 2018 Retired Racehorse Project graduate, and Chase Lane, her 2020 Makeover hopeful.