Elissa Ogburn, 14, and her Makeover horse Jack remind Steuart Pittman why he loves his job.
Makeover Trainer: Elissa Ogburn (14) of Crownsville, MD
Elissa, like many young riders before her, is outgrowing her pony. "Sketch" is now older (19) than he is tall (13.3hh), and in the past 7 years has taken Elissa from Equitation and Hunter Shows to the Novice level of Three-Day-Eventing. No one ever forgets their first pony, and Elissa loves and appreciates Sketch. But Elissa has also spent time riding Thoroughbreds at the farm where she boards, and was asked to ride one of the Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue horses in a clinic titled “Kids and Their Ex-Racehorses” at the 2013 Pennsylvania Horse World Expo. Elissa left the PA Expo this spring knowing her next horse would be an off-the-track thoroughbred, and the Thoroughbred Makeover provided the perfect opportunity for Elissa to graduate.
When Elissa was selected to participate in the Thoroughbred Makeover, Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue's Beverly Strauss, a former racehorse trainer, remembered Elissa's stellar work at the PA Horse World Expo and offered to find her a horse. Steuart Pittman, who began giving Elissa lessons on Sketch when he was still a naughty pony, agreed to be her coach. "She is mature beyond her years, is a naturally talented rider, and has limitless patience." says Pittman. "Elissa's mom thought I was nuts to suggest that she apply for the Makeover as a trainer. Our selection committee watched a video of her riding and gave her the nod."
Thoroughbred in Training: Governor Jack ("Jack")
2006 dkbbr., g., Sky Mesa - Our Nancy Lee, by Touch Gold
Bred in Kentucky by The Elkstone Group LLC
Last Raced: 3/1/12 at Laurel Park
In July, Elissa's first Makeover project Gina kicked a wall and split her hoof. Bad luck. Still time to find another. Bev Strauss generously took Gina back to MAHR to heal, and allowed Elissa to choose another Makeover horse from the MAHR herd. Elissa chose Jack. Really good luck. Coach Pittman is ecstatic about the new team. "Governor Jack and Elissa amaze me every week. This big, athletic horse is allowing this little girl to completely change his balance and supple his body in ways that most of us thought would take years. He trusts her completely and she trusts him. He teaches her and she teaches him. And both of them teach me."
Elissa's blogs about Jack's progress are a pleasant mix of contemplation and enthusiasm, and depict a serious student of the OTTB retraining craft. Jack's former exercise rider, Sarah O'Brien, stopped by one blog post to comment on how excited she was that Jack had found a new career. She also divulged Jack's on-the-track nickname "Jackie Chan," and that he should respond to it like he would to the crinkle of a peppermint wrapper. Bev Strauss of MAHR also stops by the blogs' comments frequently to congratulate Elissa on her progress. In October, Steuart Pittman will take 15 minutes off during his role as Master of Ceremonies at the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium to just be Elissa's coach. It's a team effort. "No glitz. Just an honest portrayal of the hard work and rewards of training a magnificent animal. Horses like Jack and riders like Elissa are why I do this for a living."
The Thoroughbred Makeover has become the connecting factor between the old and new lives of racehorses. Wouldn't it be wonderful if connections both past and present met at Pimlico in October to see their Thoroughbreds succeed?
Watch: Eliss and Jack, September 8
Buy tickets to the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium and receive free general admission to Jim McKay Maryland Million Day, October 19, 2013 at Laurel Park!