RRP Featured Rider: Maria Belakonis

How did you get started retraining OTTBs (or horses in general)?

My senior year of high school my sister & I pulled our first horse off the track. He was 3 and had severely bowed a tendon in his last race. Despite [probably wise] advice that a 3 year-old injured OTTB probably wasn’t the best choice for two 17-year-olds, there was not stopping us. Many late nights, early mornings, and a roller coaster of emotions later, Noble’s Honor is sound, fat, and happy! Although it was incredibly challenging at times, that experience taught me more than I ever could have imagined. It was certainly a learning curve, but so worth it.

How did you find your horse for this year’s makeover and why did you pick them?

Resisting Arrest (Zoey) was placed through PA HBPA New Start for Horses, and was fostered by Abbie Fischer. I was really just beginning my search for an upper level event prospect that I could take into an Eventing working student position, but really wasn’t in any rush. I saw Zoey’s conformation photo on Facebook & knew I had to have the info on her.

Despite the fact that she was a mare, and had double-triple the number of starts that I was looking for, I loved her look (and her name, let’s be honest). I’ve learned a lot about bloodlines throughout the years and of course the second I pulled up her pedigree I had to have her. She’s Kafwain (Cherokee Run – a Blushing Groom line) o/o a Pulpit mare. I figured worst case she’d make a fantastic eventing broodmare, so I decided to take the chance and bought her sight unseen. She’s turned out to be everything her pedigree told me she’d be, and I couldn’t love her more!

What is your favorite thing about the Retired Race Horse Project’s Makeover?

The trend in the majority of sport horse disciplines has greatly shifted to European Warmbloods and imports, supported by the idea that America’s strength isn’t in breeding competitive upper level horses. I fully believe that the US breeds world class athletes within the thoroughbred industry, across all disciplines; it’s merely a matter of access to said horses. This idea is what the RRP Makeover is all about, and that’s what I love most about it. The Makeover showcases the capabilities of quality bred American thoroughbreds, and without a doubt is making a huge impact in the return of thoroughbreds to the top of multiple disciplines.

Do you have any advice for people retraining horses?

Take it slow! Putting more time into a solid foundation will only payoff in the end. These horses are capable of so much, we owe it to them to start them off on the best foot possible.

Do you have any funny stories from retraining a horse?

I find myself asking why I got a mare almost daily (I’m sure so many people can relate)! Really she’s absolutely wonderful though and I completely understand why some people prefer mares. They’ll make you work for it, but at the end of the day I can tell our partnership is only just beginning, and that’s exciting.

What is your greatest challenge as a rider/trainer in this year’s RRP Makeover? How do you plan on overcoming this challenge?

God Zoey was so wild when she first showed up! Letdown and patience has really paid off with her. When we first really started her retraining we joked that she strongly resembled a deer; she couldn’t canter for a solid month (if you’ve ever seen the YouTube video of the horse that bunny hops through the canter poles, picture that. If you haven’t seen that video go look it up, it’s hilarious) and let’s just say she’s not the most naturally talented jumper.

She’s super athletic, and I am confident she will get there, but she’s the type that just needs to figure it out on her own and figure out what her body is doing. Giving her that time with new questions can feel like a real lack of progress, but when she gets it she gets it, and it’s so important to let her learn and progress in a manner that gives her confidence in herself.


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