Christy Clagett, MFH Marlborough Hunt, is no stranger to training ex-racehorses for the hunt field. She runs her own racing operation at Larking Hill Training Center in Harwood, Maryland, and through the years has turned a seemingly infinite number of hopeless racehorses into happy hunters. The difference this time is that her newest project, Saba Rock (Van Nistelrooy- Sabina, Coxs Ridge), will not just lead the field at Marlborough one day, but he will strut his stuff at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover: Marketplace and Symposium at Pimlico Racecourse October 4 and 5, 2014.
A strapping 16.3 chestnut gelding foaled in West Virginia in 2006, Saba hit the board only four times in 17 starts and earned $24, 047; a paltry sum considering he was an $85,000 yearling. Clagett has known Saba from the beginning. She started him in his racing career and in May of this year began his training for hunting.
e-Covertside: You have retrained numerous Thoroughbred for hunting. What is your normal routine in preparing a horse to hunt? Did you do anything differently with Saba knowing he will be performing at Pimlico in October?
Christy: I am doing what I usually do: riding through the woods and streams, opening and closing gates, moving jump riders up and down with my hunting whip. As a Master, I don’t crack my whip, but we have been practicing cracking for the event at Pimlico. Saba goes cross country three days a week for fitness and we started jumping a while back; I don’t jump in a ring, I go straight to jumping over logs following behind a seasoned horse. He has also started hilltopping with one of my employees in the tack while I lead the first field.
Hounds’ voices can be the biggest training issue for a hunt horse, so exposure to hounds and kennels before hunting is very important. Horses may be fine around the farm dogs, but hounds opening can really ring a horse’s bell. The first time I take a horse to kennels, they go in hand. That way they can get to the point where they just eat grass and not be concerned. Saba came off the trailer the first time doing wing dings! Around and around he went! But, he is exceptionally calm minded and settled well.
What I haven’t done to prepare him for Pimlico is find a crowd of people with signs flapping.
e-Covertside: You have known Saba for most of his life. Were there any surprises during your training time? How did you overcome any challenges?
Christy: The first time I put a hunt saddle on him and took him into the indoor arena to ride, he was so joyful, he just started bucking! At first it was amusing, but then I took it more seriously when it didn’t stop. The bucking went on for the first month; he’d buck when he cantered, he’d buck on the back side of a jump. It was purely in celebration, but we can’t have him bucking while I’m leading the field!
To stop the bucking, I just ended up kicking him forward. I tried pulling him up, but it didn’t work. Kicking him on forced him to work harder, and he didn’t like that, so he stopped bucking.
e-Covertside: How would you describe Saba’s personality? Does he have any quirks?
Christy: He is the Robert Redford of horses! He has so much presence and so much character. He likes to be amused by people. And he is fantastically good-looking! I have only had one other horse who has been this brave. Saba will go out alone or in a group, he has never hesitated at a stream crossing, or even hesitated going through the woods. While I was looking for a jump, we came to the end of the path; he kept marching onward through the trees. I was starting to become concerned, but he was not! I like a horse that can do everything, and as a Master, need a bold, forward going type. No ducking or diving allowed!
His major quirk, if you can call it that, is when he doesn’t understand something, he just stops and stares at whatever it is that he find confusing. I rode over to my sister’s farm one day, and there was a big John Deere tractor sitting there. Saba just stopped and looked. We slowly approached the tractor, and he just checked it out; no problems at all. Once he was finished studying the thing, he went on like normal. We even have a photo of him and the tractor.
I have friends who say, “You don’t need another hunt horse. Give him to me!” No way. I’m usually very busy running around, training racehorses and hunting, but preparing Saba for the Retired Racehorse Project event forced me to focus only on him over the last few months. It has been a pleasure to be on this journey with him.
To learn more about Christy and Saba's adventures leading up the the Thoroughbred Makeover, visit the Retired Racehorse Project website!