Emily Daignault-Salvaggio, Coatesville, PA, and her horse Gin Joint clinched the Field Hunter division of the 2015 Thoroughbred Charities of America Thoroughbred Makeover. Daignault-Salvaggio is no stranger to buying horses off the track. With professional experience in the racing industry, foxhunting and eventing, she knows the ins and outs of ex-racehorses and transitioning them into new careers, and when she decided to start shopping for a new horse, she had the Retired Racehorse Project Makeover specifically in mind.
Daignault-Salvaggio’s introduction to hunting came during her years as a student at the Oldfields School outside of Baltimore, where she hunted with the Elkridge-Harford Hounds and worked as a professional hunt groom for Green Spring Valley, Moore County and Cheshire after she finished school.
While perusing the entries for an evening of racing at Charles Town Race Track in West Virginia, the name Gin Joint caught her attention, seemingly popping off the page. Upon further investigation, Daignault-Salvaggio found the gray 17 hand son of Macho Uno had a solid record without any big gaps, but was on his way to running out of conditions. More research turned up race videos, which piqued her interest even further, as one video in particular showed his fluid, free moving, jaw dropping trot. Gin Joint finished last that night and with a smile on her face, Daignault-Salvaggio called his trainer and made an offer contingent on an in person visit. She wasn’t disappointed.
“In person I was beyond impressed with every part of him,” she explained. “I got so lucky. Amazing doesn’t cover Gin. Sounds goofy, but it is so true.“
Gin began his preparation for hunting like any young horse in a good retraining program: he arrived at his new home and started hacking out through the neighborhood, down the road and through the fields, building strength through a combination of hill work and flatwork. Five weeks removed from racing, he and Daignault set out to conquer the Chester County Paper Chase series with fellow hunting friends.
“All of the brilliance that I am enjoying hunting with him now was evident even then,” said Daignault-Salvaggio. “He’s a flat natural. Nothing that I have done has shifted that; he enjoys being out with other horses and hounds and thinks it is all rather cool.”
With suitability being a major factor in developing a hunt horse, Daignault-Salvaggio is quick to point out not only Gin’s intelligence, but the general intelligence of the Thoroughbred.
“He has picked up that he needs to listen to the hounds and the horn and he has to mind his feet,” she explained. “He is great about going from a canter or gallop to a dead halt and then back to canter or gallop. He settles well and doesn’t mind eating grass at checks and relaxing.”
Gin has gone out with Andrews Bridge several times. The big gray gelding took this all in stride without a second thought. He has also jumped around two Beginner Novice level horse trials and managed to get over his initial mild concerns with water complexes and happily complete both events unflustered.
“Gin is the most natural hunter I have ever sat on,” Daignault-Salvaggio smiled. “I have sat on some seriously nice imported animals and this cheap claimer from the track puts them all to shame.”
Katherine Gunter, who placed second and is the huntsman for Aiken Hounds (SC) was looking for a new horse. After happening upon a photo of Alluring Devil standing in the snow in West Virginia, she called his trainer Eddie Carlson. Alluring Devil’s conformation, expression and excellent sport horse pedigree were enough for Gunter to buy “Diablo” that day and arrange for his lengthy trip from West Virginia to Aiken.
“Eddie said he was not spooky, good to ride and that his price was not negotiable,” laughed Gunter. “So I bought him, had him shipped, and he cruised off the trailer like a champ.” Diablo stepped off the trailer and was welcomed to his new home, unfazed, by a sloppy kiss from one of Gunter’s house hounds, Vampire, and every day since has been similar.
“One day after hunting, I had some champagne and went for a ride,” she said. “We went down the road through what I call ‘The Gauntlet of Death’, where we pass by an assortment of dogs, donkeys, cars, you name it. The house dogs went along and Diablo was never bothered a bit!”
The 16.1 hand bay gelding took to hound exercise right away as well, allowing hounds to jump up on him, lick him, and so forth, all without showing the slightest hesitation. Gunter was also able to whip break easily and he effortlessly sailed over the biggest Aiken fences in the Hitchcock Woods with textbook perfect form on the first try. “He is extremely athletic and quiet; so quiet that I will sometimes get a leg cramp from kicking,” she beamed. "On our sixth ride, we hunted with Randy Waterman. Diablo stayed right up there in a French link snaffle without a problem.”
Gunter is so pleased with her young racetrack reject that she foresees possibly wanting to hunt hounds off of him too much.
“He’s so good, I have to be careful not to overuse him!” she said. “He is so comfortable; I just sit to his canter, throw the reins away and off we go. I am not planning to sell him. He is mine!”
For more information on the Thoroughbred Makeover, check out the Retired Racehorse Project's website.