Having a place to ready young Thoroughbreds for the racetrack was one of Gary Broad's reasons for buying the 85-acre Murrieta property that is now Oakmont Ranch in 2007. Oakmont has since become one of the West's premiere Thoroughbred training and rehabilitation facilities. More recently, it is becoming known as a source for retired racers ready for the sporthorse world.
The owner of noted racers including Mr. Gruff, Buzzards Bay and the up-and-comer Akkadian, Gary believes the responsibility of owning a racehorse extends beyond its life on the track. Oakmont Ranch Sporthorses is the result of that conviction.
"We know that a lot of people are a little scared by the idea of a racehorse right off the track," says Oakmont Ranch's Laura Hansen. "The clientele we are catering to is looking for a horse that is already going and showing." And that's what they see in the steadily growing string of horses hunter/jumper trainer Gregoire "Greg" Solente recently introduced to the Southern California A show circuit. No need for a big spiel on how wonderful Thoroughbreds can be in the hunter/jumper arena, which they dominated up through the 1980s. Instead, Greg, a USHJA certified trainer, lets their competitive performances make the sales pitch.
After leaving the track, each horse is given about six months of downtime before their re-training begins. Most are more than athletic enough for jumping and many take to their new job quickly and enthusiastically. One horse Greg is now competing, Saccente, raced at Del Mar nine months ago and returned to the venue as a show jumper this spring. Another horse, a 4-year-old, recently won a Horse Trial.
Each prospect is re-trained on a timetable that suits their individual needs. If there are soundness issues, the Ranch's thoroughly equipped and staffed rehabilitation center can usually resolve them. An underwater treadmill, a free walker and shockwave and digital x-ray and ultrasound machines are just a few of the tools at the Oakmont team's disposal. Oakmont's best advantage in the soundness department is that its young horses are prepared for the track with an eye toward long term health. Their feed and training regimen, and the surface on which they train, are designed to build and sustain strong bones and muscles for their rigorous workouts on the track as well as their life long beyond it.
One of the advantages of buying a sporthorse from Oakmont is that the horses are known quantities. "We've known most of these horses since they were yearlings," Laura explains. Her husband Scott Hansen is Oakmont's racing trainer and, between them and super groom, Ken Fales, they've seen how each horse handled itself through each phase of its upbringing. "We can give Greg all their background and little pieces of information that make it easier for him to move forward." In some cases, it's clear a track-bound youngster has plenty of potential for a later, second career as a sporthorse. "We have some horses that you would never know are racehorses," Laura comments. Conversely, a few will never be pleasant
personal horses and those are not put on the sporthorse path.
Most of Oakmont's Thoroughbreds come from top racing pedigrees and their athleticism, conformation and heart translate well to the show ring. Equally important, "Gary retires his horses with a second career in mind," says Laura. "He's not one to bleed them stone dry, then see if we have a show horse left."
At the moment, Oakmont Ranch Sporthorses has a string of five or six horses on the circuit, with another 12 to 20 on their way. Their average age is just 5 and the average price tag is $5,000. At this early stage, most of Oakmont's graduates are succeeding in the jumper ring and as eventers. Laura is confident they will be equally successful in hunters, equitation and dressage. Before Warmbloods began to storm the American hunter/jumper and dressage markets, Thoroughbreds dominated those disciplines, and they continue to do so in eventing. Hilda Gurney's 1976 Olympic partner, Keen, Anne Kursinski's multi-Olympian, Eros, and Becky Holder's 2008 Olympic eventer, Courageous Comet, are just a few examples of terrific Thoroughbred sporthorses.
"I believe Thoroughbreds are of the same quality as Warmbloods from Europe," says Greg. "They are courageous and willing to do anything I ask
Born in Eastern France, Greg worked with many young horses, principally of the Selle Francais breed. In America, he began in Oregon as assistant trainer for the well-known Portland-based hunter trainer, Jim Dahlquist, before relocating to Southern California.
Oakmont Ranch's commitment to retaining racehorses has been enthusiastically embraced by the equestrian community. Product sponsors include Triple Crown Nutrition, and free or deeply discounted services are provided by a long list of supporters. These include Morning Star Horse Transportation, Temeku Equine's Dr. Chris Huth and blacksmith Robert Sise. Trainers/competitors Erin Kellerhouse (eventing) and Angie Taylor (dressage) have been a huge help, as has Fabio Nor, a former racehorse trainer and the father of show jumper Josephina Nor.
"It's a team effort," says Laura. "We all love showcasing these Thoroughbreds. These horses are amazing and they deserve it. It's also a lot of fun!"
For more information on Oakmont Ranch Sporthorses, visit www.oakmontranchsporthorses.com or call Greg Solente at 951-304-2564.