Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Seeking a New Challenge with Dom

I’ve never been one to go with the grain or follow the most popular trends. I’m the type of person who makes her own path, seeks new challenges, and learns and grows from her mistakes.

Growing up in Prescott, Wis., my classmates labeled me as “the smart kid.” I wasn’t the most popular or the greatest at sports. Frankly, I was a klutz and injured myself more times than I can count. But in middle school, when all the other girls were into dance or volleyball, I decided to take riding lessons – and for me, that’s when everything changed.

I had grown up with horses in my backyard, but was told I treated my Shetland pony, Starfire, more like a dog than a pony. It wasn’t until I started riding lessons with Cathy Goveronski that I learned to have more body awareness and how to feel the movements of a horse. I spent my summers with Cathy learning the fundamentals of training, and the patience and consistency needed throughout that process. Horses had become my passion and I wanted to learn it all!

I showed locally, and as a member of the Pierce County 4-H Horse Project, qualified for district and state competitions in multiple disciplines. I won Grand Champion at the Pierce County Fair in English Equitation with Willie. He was my heart horse, a POA/Arab cross and the peanut butter to my jelly. 

Like me, Willie did not fit into “a box.” He wanted to do it all too!  He taught me how to jump, but we also became competitive in Western riding and gymkhana classes. Amongst a sea of Quarter Horses and Paints, Willie and I always stood out with his small, narrow frame and blue roan leopard appaloosa markings.

In 2016, I left Willie in my mom’s care, so I could attend graduate school at the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky. Again, I wasn’t the typical candidate. I didn’t major in animal science and I wasn’t a veterinarian. However, I soon proved myself capable, and while a member of Dr. Amanda A. Adams’ lab, I earned my Master of Science degree in Veterinary Science.

Being in the heart of horse country, I was ready to immerse myself in all things related to the horse and Thoroughbred. So, while balancing my studies, I simultaneously worked as a groom at Airdrie Stud. There, I witnessed the time, hard work, and love that goes into developing Thoroughbreds into amazing athletes.

Prior to working at Airdrie, I’d never worked with a Thoroughbred, and I learned that just like me, not all Thoroughbreds follow the stereotypes. Some were tall, some were short. Some were stocky, and some were like a teenager going through a growth spurt. They came in all shapes, sizes, and personalities!

By the time I graduated in 2018, I had developed a love and passion for the breed, and as I stood at my last Keeneland sale, I knew that it wasn’t the last time I would have a Thoroughbred in my life.

Four years later, I moved back to western Wisconsin with my husband, and shortly after, my heart horse, Willie, passed. Still in mourning, I rediscovered my love of riding and training with our older rescue horses, Henna and Daisy. I began searching for another equine partner, who would be in this with me for the long haul.

So in October of 2022, I reached out to my friend from graduate school, Dr. Carleigh Fedorka, another woman who can’t be typecast. Carleigh is a brilliant equine researcher, co-owner of Sewickley Stables, and in the business of retraining quality Thoroughbreds to offer them new careers after racing. She suggested a gray/roan 4-year-old gelding, who just happened to be eligible for the Thoroughbred Makeover.

His name was Dom… just Dom. Trusting the guidance of my friend, I drove to Kentucky to test ride him, and from the moment I hopped on, I was in love. We were a “match,” but there would be challenges ahead.

We have long winters in Wisconsin (it’s March and it’s still snowing), so I knew I would need to board Dom at a barn with an indoor arena, if we were ever going to train before the spring/summer. But, with it being October and winter fast approaching, nearly every barn was full!

Where was I going to find a barn?

Luckily, Sky Horse Farm had one opening and it sounded like the perfect place. The owner, Linn Ekvern, has experience with OTTBs, jumping, and dressage. Bonus! It came with a close-knit, supportive and inclusive barn family. So I took the leap, signed the contracts, arranged for Dom’s arrival, and within a week of our first meeting, Dom had made it to his new home.

Dom, by Liam’s Map and out of Champagne Sue, has been affectionately referred to as a “sweet lazy baby.” He loves all creatures big and small, taking long walks through the woods, and his favorite treats are peppermints and salty licorice. When other sights or sounds might spook a horse, like the thunderous echo of snow falling off a metal roof, Dom doesn’t even flinch! He is calm, affectionate, brave, and a determined young horse, whose temperament doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of an OTTB.

Because of Dom’s brave and calm personality, we intend to compete in Competitive Trail at the Thoroughbred Makeover. However, our long-term goal is to one day compete in eventing. In preparation for that, we also intend to compete in Dressage at the Makeover.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but my hope is that throughout this process our experience will be able to show that just like me, not all Thoroughbreds can be placed into a box. We hope to be able to educate others on the retraining process, and show by example that OTTBs can be incredibly versatile, have successful second careers, and make great partners for people even in places like rural western Wisconsin.