Off the Track Thoroughbreds or OTTBs, like the name implies sees horses leave the racetrack on a journey to a new purpose or career. It’s the ultimate back to school process that thanks to many hard-working organizations like Long Run Retirement ensure racehorses have a long and healthy future. Many times, that includes becoming a successful equine athlete in one of many equestrian disciplines.

We first met “Remember Gizmo” (Mitchell) back in 2019 when Canadian Eventer Kendal Lehari of Uxbridge, ON, entered the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America. The EC Certified Eventing Competition Coach Specialist and Team Canada member retrained the former racehorse into an exciting young eventer.

Fast forward to 2023, and four years later, the pair have just competed in Arville, Belgium in their first FEI Nations Cup and are continuing to train in the UK to gain further international experience this fall. 

Horse of the Month: Retraining to Pre Training to World Stage

“It has been an amazing Journey with Mitchell, I have always believed in him, he is so talented and genuine, also massive” said Lehari. The 36-year-old added, “last year I gave him an easier year, focusing on more on getting him stronger and more confident in show jumping and this year when I brought him back to eventing, he surpassed all my expectations! He got his first 3*-L in and just completed his first 4*-S in Belgium, this horse has so much talent and heart, I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!”

This profile of what it takes to retrain an OTTB to the highest levels of our sport is great to revisit, knowing he has gone on to great things! It’s also a reminder that patience, hard work and trusting in the young talent of a horse like Mitchell always pays off. 

Horse of the Month: Retraining to Pre Training to World Stage

Lehari and Mitchell competing for Canada in the Dressage test of the FEI Nations Cup in Arville, Belgium.
Photo Credit: Canadian Eventing Team

The Thoroughbred Makeover is a competition featuring hundreds of Thoroughbreds who have each had 10 months or less of retraining after retiring from their racing careers. The adventure culminates in three days of competition across 10 different disciplines, with entries vying for a share of $100,000 in prize money and the title of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.

For those who love OTTBs and the transformational stories that inspire us all, the Thoroughbred Makeover will be taking place again this year. The largest Thoroughbred retraining competition in the world for recently-retired ex-racehorses will be held at the Kentucky Horse Park from October 11-14, 2023. Maybe another future star for Canada will start their journey then. 

Horse of the Month: Retraining to Pre Training to World Stage

Lehari transformed her off-the-track Thoroughbred into an eventer during the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover, which culminated in a three-day competition from Oct. 2-5, at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY.
Photo Credit: Ian Woodley

Back in October 2019 at the retraining competition, Lehari revealed the transformation of her ex-racehorse, Remember Gizmo (“Mitchell”), to the world. The story of their journey was first published in 2019.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Lexington to compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover with my horse, Mitchell (race name “Remember Gizmo”). Mitchell is a big, impressive 17.1hh four-year-old gelding by Giant Gizmo. He was sourced through Franz Crean, as were most of my other Thoroughbreds. Franz trained at Woodbine for years and is a trusted family friend, so he knows what we look for in a horse and calls when something interesting pops up. Mitchell had been trained by Bob Tiller, whom my mom had worked for doing winter layups when I was younger. This proved to be very beneficial for my riding career, because I would help my mom ride the Thoroughbreds as they were getting ready for the track. This was an amazing opportunity to learn how to ride a Thoroughbred and young horses. 

Horse of the Month: Retraining to Pre Training to World Stage

Lehari discovered Mitchell, whose race name had been Remember Gizmo, through the help of a family friend who worked in the racing business.
Photo Credit: Kendal Lehari

As soon as we went to pick Mitchell up, we knew he was special. The grooms loved him and Bob said I was blessed to be allowed to buy him… this was definitely a first! It turns out they were right, this guy is the real deal. He is so talented and nice to ride, plus he has a great work ethic. I knew from the first time I sat on him that he was the horse I’ve been looking for to help get me where I want to go (to represent Canada in eventing at major games). I decided after the first couple rides that he had a very good shot of winning the Makeover, so I gave him time off until I left for Florida in January to keep his eligibility. 

Horse of the Month: Retraining to Pre Training to World Stage

Lehari hoped that Mitchell would one day be her partner on the Canadian Eventing Team at major games, which appears to be coming true.
Photo Credit: Ian Woodley

One of the rules when you plan to compete in the Makeover is that you can’t do more than 15 retraining rides prior to December 1st of the year preceding the Makeover. The horses also have to have raced or have a published work. This way the horses are all competing on a fairly level playing field. (See the complete rules here.) You can choose to compete your makeover horse in two disciplines out of eventing, show jumping, hunters, fox hunters, polo, dressage, ranch, trail, barrels and freestyle. Some people (like myself) choose to compete in the disciplines they’re most comfortable. A few braver people choose to learn about a new sport and compete in it. You also have the option to post your horse for sale. This is a great opportunity to have multiple buyers and sellers in one place.

The Makeover is a fun, different experience from our normal competitions. For example, the scoring is different for the jumping phases. Each jump receives a mark rather than just scoring faults. Another difference is that the 10 different disciplines are competing and stabling together. It’s really cool to meet people from all over North America and hear about how they trained their horse for their discipline, how they sourced it, to learn about the disciplines they’re competing in and then watch them compete!

The variety of Thoroughbreds competing was also very interesting. Horses that I may not pick out for eventing may make fantastic polo horses. This competition is really giving all Thoroughbreds a second chance. It has already started to make a difference in the industry and I think it’s just going to keep benefiting everyone. It’s pretty amazing that around 500 Thoroughbreds who have had less than a year of retraining can perform so well and professionally in so many sports. It really shows how versatile, trainable and talented Thoroughbreds really are!

Mitchell competed very successfully at the pre-training level all season, so I went in thinking we had the best chance competing in eventing, and show jumping was my second choice. It turned out we excelled in show jumping and had some costly mistakes in the eventing… you never know with horses! Competing in eventing the first day really helped take the edge off him for the show jumping competition, so I had a much nicer, more rideable round from the day before. We managed to get in the top five for show jumping, which secured us a spot in Saturday’s finale – and guarantees prize money!

Horse of the Month: Retraining to Pre Training to World Stage

The 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover as seen through Mitchell’s ears.
Photo Credit: Kendal Lehari

Friday was a day off from competition, so I joined Jim Phillips and Frank Tucker to experience more of the Thoroughbred scene at Keeneland, watching the morning works and races. I saw quite a few Thoroughbreds I would have happily taken home! Huge shout out to Jim, who is not only a fellow Ontario eventer and Makeover competitor, but also the top placed amateur in dressage, and he finished third overall! 

Horse of the Month: Retraining to Pre Training to World Stage

Lehari (left) took a quick trip to the famed racetrack Keeneland on her day off from competition, joined by Frank Tucker (middle) and Jim Phillips (right).
Photo Credit: Kendal Lehari

Finale day is run in the indoor arena. There is a lot of atmosphere with the jumbotron, spectators and trade fair. This was Mitchell’s first time jumping inside, so I wasn’t sure how he would handle it. He jumped around really well and quite boldly. We ended up finishing fourth out of 95 horses! Mitchell also won Best Conditioned Horse in show jumping. I have Purina feeds and Omega Alpha supplements to thank for making sure he looked and felt his best going into the competition.

This was a great experience to see how Mitchell would react at an away show and perform with atmosphere. I’m very excited to see what the future holds for us as we move up the levels!

We look forward to seeing even more of Mitchell and OTTBs like him competing for Canada on the World Stage. Stay tuned!

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