The ambassadors of The Western Thoroughbred are exceptional horsemen and horsewomen that ride and train Thoroughbreds in western disciplines. All of our ambassadors have diverse equestrian backgrounds but share a love for Thoroughbreds.
Please watch for the next opportunity to submit your application.
Meet our Ambassadors
Katelin Bradley has always been an avid fan of Thoroughbred racing. In 2005, Afleet Alex completely captivated her when he won the Preakness and Belmont in impressive style. She was inspired to adopt an off-track Thoroughbred of her own. With help from fellow barrel racers and trainers, she retrained her first OTTB in High School. They successfully competed in barrel racing and qualified for the IBRA National Finals as a Youth Top Dog two years in a row. Upon her graduation from college, Katelin represented her home state as Miss Rodeo Wisconsin 2017. She used an OTTB gelding named Corybant to carry sponsor flags and push back cattle at several PRCA rodeos. Corybant was Katelin’s inspiration for creating The Western Thoroughbred (@OTTBwestern) and showcasing the use of Thoroughbreds in western disciplines. Since she started the page in 2015, she has featured over 1,000 Thoroughbreds! She has also competed at the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover and finished in the Top Five of the Barrel Racing. She will be serving as the Barrel Racing Steward at the 2019 Makeover and hopes to compete at more events with her current OTTB gelding, The Love Monkey, in upcoming years!
Casey French is a wife, mother, professional Barrel Racer, trainer, college graduate, Equissage CEMT (certified equine massage therapist), blogger for Horse Nation magazine, and most recently accepted as a trainer for the world’s largest repurposing program, The Thoroughbred Makeover with her mount “Awesome Choice”. She is native to Southeast Louisiana and currently residingin Charlotte, TN. As a young youth rider, she showed in AQHA judged events, barrel racing, and AHSA shows, but as a teenager became increasingly involved with High School Rodeo. At that point she knew that Barrel Racing was what she would ultimately pursue. During her senior year of college at McNeese State University she was offered an internship with Boyd Gaming at Delta Downs race track and casino. She worked in the racing office, but of course, found her way to the backside quickly to be with the horses. She has had the opportunity to learn from several successful Quarter Horse racing trainers and Barrel Racing trainers.
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 OTTB “Jobber Bill,” placing seventh in the ranch work at the 2018 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. She also became “that girl that worked the cow” in the Freestyle, where Kristen and Jobber demonstrated that nothing keeps you more humble than livestock. Kristen loved the Thoroughbred Makeover so much that she now works for the Retired Racehorse Project as communications and program manager. She and Jobber can be found trail riding, moving cattle around the home farm, and changing OTTB stereotypes in the reined cow horse show pen.
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
Hannah Pantze, 24 years old is the owner of Yeomansescape, aka “Rio.” She owns a Pet Sitting Business in Rochester, Minnesota and has been riding since she was 10 years old. Hannah has competed all over the Minnesota area, is a buckle earner and a Championship Show qualifier. She brought Rio home from the track as a 3 year old in 2016 and has been working hard to make him a well-rounded horse ever since. They currently compete in WSCA gaming shows, CBRA rodeos, jackpots, barrel races and trail ride in their free time!
Bobbi Jo Newman, 25 years old, grew up in a small town of sisters Oregon, now living in Terrebonne Oregon. Bobbi Jo spent her younger years competitively competing in Three Day Eventing which includes Dressage, cross country jumping and show jumping. Shortly after graduating high school in 2013, she picked up her passion and love of the sport barrel racing and rodeo. She has set very high goals for jackpots, & rodeos for herself and needed a horse that is willing to handle the pressure on the road, and has the talent to perform at a high level. Coincidentally in 2015 she ended up with a OTTB mare out of Storm Cat, which gave her a huge push to look into more thoroughbreds. In 2017, Bobbi Jo found her main OTTB barrel horse that she uses competitively today in jackpots and rodeos with the JC name “Goldimax” aka Sister. Sister was dropped off at Bobbi Jo’s house for a trial run straight off the track because Gib (previous race track owner) thought they would be a great match. Sister was just a project for Bobbi Jo, but after tapping into her athleticism and willingness to work she quickly decided she was there to stay. They are becoming consistent in the 1D/2D at jackpots and clocking under .5 seconds off the fastest times in the NPRA rodeo circuit. Bobbi Jo says “for this to be only my second year owning her off of the track and she’s only 6 years old, I am so excited for the future.”
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.
Travis Otremba grew up riding and showing Arabians in western pleasure and hunter under saddle. As a kid who would ride anything and everything, his work and time in the saddle lead him to becoming the assistant trainer of a large Arabian show barn in Michigan. Juggling horses and school, he went to University for animal science and completed his veterinary technology degree from Baker College, with a specialty for equine medicine and anesthesia. Taking a break from training and showing, he concentrated his studies and just enjoyed his own personal horses. Upon completion he made the move to Ocala, Florida to continue with horses and anesthesia, and took a position at Ocala Equine Hospital. It was at this clinic, that he got his first taste of Thoroughbreds. Noticing the large amount of horses needing second careers after racing, he set out to try and find a western pleasure prospect for his partner. He found a 5 yr. old Thoroughbred gelding that had trained but wasn’t ever going to make it as a race horse due to a tendon injury. With the proper rehab already done and the horse sound, he started the training. Within a short time, this horse was excelling, turning heads and so easy to work with. Then the show bug bit Travis again. It was this first OTTB that lead Travis to want to try and create a string of western Thoroughbreds. In 2018, Travis competed at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, and took home a 4th place finish in Ranch Work, with his own OTTB “Affogato”. He also won the 2018 Florida Thoroughbred Transformation, and had many wins and top 5 finishes in ranch completions against traditional stock type horses. “These kids really can do it!” he says. Currently showing in the Ranch Horse Association, he hopes to bring his string in of OTTBs to the attention of bigger trainers in the hopes that some of the horses needing second careers get picked up for western disciplines. Travis lives in Anthony, FL. with his partner Gayle, two dogs, 4 cats and 4 OTTBs.
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.