Friday, February 1, 2008

Regal: A thoroughbred success story

Years ago I boarded Harvey at a hunter/jumper barn, and it was there I met Linda Habrukovich (shortened to Hab from now on) and her family. The entire family -- mom, dad, and two daughters -- has platinum blonde hair, so it tickled me to see them with their flaxen-maned chestnut pony. Remember those Breck Girl ads from women's magazines? Linda and her two daughters look like they could be Breck girls. Despite their decidedly ethnic last name, the Habs are an all-American family, and they're the kind of people you hope to have as fellow-boarders -- down to earth, upbeat, and quick to laugh.

I didn't get to know the Habs well until after they brought home Regal, a young jumper prospect. They found Regal as a five year old in Maryland. He had been won in a claiming race at a race track in West Virginia. Regal's new owner gave him some pasture time, and then advertised him for sale. Linda told me that after kicking the tires of many horses, they knew right away that Regal was the one. Mike, her husband, had joked "I'll get the checkbook" after watching him only a few minutes on the longe line.

Regal's arrival gave Linda and I a lot to talk about, sharing details about our thoroughbreds and their history and bloodlines. Regal's sire was Digamist, who is out of a Northern Dancer mare. Northern Dancer's offspring are known to make good sport horses, and they have good minds. Linda just beamed when she talked about their new horse, so I was eager to see him. But even her glowing accounts of the 16.2 hand bay didn't really prepare me to see such a nice-looking youngster.

Thoroughbreds recently off the track often look a little weedy and underfed, even pitiful. It's a hard life and they look haggard. Not Regal. Yes, he was lean and his feet needed work. But he was "cut" with well-defined muscles and an uphill build. I watched Lauren tack him up and noticed how easily she worked with him -- as if she'd owned him for years. Regal moved with easy confidence despite the new surroundings and unfamiliar rider. As they picked up a trot, I knew why Mike had gone for his checkbook so quickly. Regal was 100% athlete, with freedom of shoulder, powerful gaits, a lot of knee action. As a dressage enthusiast I liked his active hind leg. Finally, Regal had a look of intelligence and awareness; you could look in his eye and see someone there. There wasn't much to criticize, but I did notice what Linda pointed out to me -- that he toed in a bit and paddled slightly.

The first day Regal was turned out, he was a little too happy about it and managed to slide into a fence. Even pretty scraped up, he trotted out sound. We watched him power around the ring and marvelled at the thoroughbred toughness. Regal had boundless energy, and his early training was challenging, Linda recalled. "He could be explosive, especially after fences." He had never done anything crazy or dangerous, but there was barn buzz about Regal. Not everyone felt he would ever settle down to be a show horse. But if someone could "tame the lion," his potential was easy to see. Regal had a big natural jump and and the agility and speed to excel in jumper classes. I'm not sure that just any good rider could have forged a partnership with Regal. Lauren was not experienced in training green horses, but she's a tough, confident rider, and she persisted with Regal where others might have backed off. They were a good match.

The Habs moved not long after they bought Regal, and I visited him a few times at his new barn. The first time I visited, I had not seen him in almost a year. I watched a lesson. With the help of a trainer on the ground, Lauren had made good progress. During the lesson they jumped a course, and Lauren was instructed to encourage Regal to think for himself. She sat quietly and left him alone as they went down to a combination. Regal scrambled a bit the first time through, but he didn't seem phased. He quickly learned what was expected and was clocking around big fences on a soft rein.

Regal and Lauren have progressed through the jumper ranks with Regal showing under the name Sincerely Me. In 2005 they were NJHSA Schooling Jumper Year End Champions and also 2005 NJPHA Schooling Jumper Year End Champion. Lauren is now attending college, but she rides and shows as time permits. Recently they moved up to the 4' level.

Regal is a real life thoroughbred success story. In a sport that can be absurdly expensive, the Habs invested a very modest sum in an untrained ex-track horse. With some coaching from a pro, Lauren trained and campaigned him herself. To me, Regal embodies everything that is unique and wonderful about thoroughbreds. Their sensitivity, courage, and athleticism are unmatched in any other breed.

Years ago I went to a riding clinic with an international level rider. "Warmbloods," the clinician told us, "have a strong sense of self-preservation." Confused, I asked another auditor what that could mean. Her reply was, "they give up. You can only push them so far." Not so with thoroughbreds. Linda observes that thoroughbreds have a inner work ethic that other breed may not have, and they excel at sports that call for an animal to put their heart into their work -- racing and eventing. They are an undervalued breed in a sport where warmbloods considered de rigeur for the serious competitor. I hope this article encourages other people to consider thoroughbred ex-racers when they look for their next prospect.

Regal's Bio
Regal's racing name is I'd Rather Be Social. He was bred in Gettysburg at Xanthus Farm. His Sire is Digamist and His Dam is Rather Be Social.


  1. What a beautiful guy! I'm with you in encouraging more people to consider thoroughbreds. There is some major talent to be found at modest prices on the racetrack. My show horse growing up was an ex-racehorse, also out of Northern Dancer. She's gorgeous, a great mover, athletic, and looooves to jump. When I get to a point where I can afford to keep a horse, I'll for sure be looking for a thoroughbred off the track. Maybe I can have a success story like with a horse like Regal someday!

    You have to be careful though. Thoroughbreds are highly sensitive and highly energetic and I would caution require more experienced riders who are willing to take the time to truly understand them. You really have to build up a relationship of trust and respect with them to get them to live up to their potential. Most require a rider with light aids, a good seat, and lots of patience. They're not a good option for someone with little experience just starting out.

  2. Yes, as a group they're very sensitive and high energy. I've seen people put a lot of time into TBs with so much baggage that they ultimately aren't safely ridable. Harvey is a lovely combination of sensitive and quiet -- but he is a worrier and has a big spook.

  3. How very interesting and a thoroughly enjoyable story. Kudos to that gal for the perseverance and determination to succeed. I hope they do well in the future. Please keep us posted!

  4. This is the most wonderful thing...I'm so happy that someone appriciates my Regal as much as i do! He really is a star & a once in a life time partner!
    Thank you so much stacey! Regal & I are very greatful!


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