Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Day at the Races

A Day at the Races
by Elizabeth Stein

With the Preakness in the books and the Belmont Stakes only three weeks away, everyone around the country is in the horse racing spirit. In honor of that spirit, we decided to take a trip to Arlington International Racecourse, to see how a racing stable operates, and it wasn’t disappointing. As a hunter/jumper equestrian whose only experience with horseracing is watching it on TV, I can assure you, the glitz and glamour is only part of what makes a racing stable run.  

First, I have to give credit where’s its due, our day and all this insider information would not have happened without Alexis Kuhn, and everyone at Rodriguez Stables. Kuhn, 22, a Barrington Hills native, got into horse racing like most of us do, by watching it on TV. However, this former hunter/jumper rider was hooked and has worked her way up to being an assistant trainer, which is no easy feat in the racing business.

Kuhn, who owns two race horses of her own besides training, was able to give us an inside look into what it takes to run a successful racing stable and with three horses scheduled to race, was able to show us what it really took to produce a winning race horse.

And they're off! 

First thing you have to know if you’re ever going to get into racing is everyone has to be licensed, down to the hot-walkers. To become a licensed assistant trainer, Kuhn had to pass a 60-page test, get two letters of recommendation and complete a barn test. On top of all that, you need to be licensed at each track you’re racing at because the drug rules are different (their rules are closer to the FEI rules).  
If you want to be an owner of a racehorse, you’re in luck, it costs no money to board and no money to enter races, the betting handle provides the purse. You do still have to pay for certain things like vet bills and shoeing.  If you have an owner’s license and a trainer, you can buy a horse in a claiming race (the cheapest is five thousand dollars). Trainers charge a day rate, which covers their fee, the overhead like feed and tack, they make their money on the horses winnings, 10% goes to the trainer and the jockey.

As with any aspect of the equestrian sport, it’s not just finding the right horse, it’s finding the right trainer and creating the right program. For Kuhn, finding the right training method depends on the horse.

“We’re more conservative, we run once a month or every three weeks. We’ll train every day or six days a week slow training, trot two miles, gallop really collected or slow. Depends on what they need or what their bodies are telling you. It’s building endurance. Since these horses are bred to go fast, training is really slow, its about educating the horse and not pushing them past what they can do since they’re still growing, ” Kuhn affirmed.

There is a strict routine for before and after the race as well. After a race, the horses are walked three to four days for them to recover and usually before they are set to run, walked so they’re fresh. Race day routine can be different for each horse however, Kuhn’s own horse gets a little nervous so she’ll train him the day before the race or even the day of a race so he doesn’t know he’s running.  
Being one of the few women on the track has provided Kuhn with her own set of obstacles so her motto and the truth of anyone in any equestrian sport is simple- “The key is finding your motivation is to keep evolving and never take no for an answer.” And that method is paying off, the stable is winning at a 20% rate, which is huge in the racing the business.

The wonderful thing about equestrian sports is truly how diverse they are. Hunter/jumpers, horseracing, eventing, dressage, polo, reining, pleasure riding around the world, there are truly so many facets of the sport anyone with a love of horses can participate. This trip to Arlington provided one look into another part of our sport, with hopefully many more like it to come.

Video Project - Arlington Race Track

A Day Trip to Arlington Race Track
by Jingting Hui

Monday, May 23, 2016

Behind the Scenes - Arlington International Race Track

Behind the Scenes – Arlington International Race Track
By Nicole Janiga

Alexis Kuhn breezes a horse on the main track.

At noon on Sunday morning, the gates to Arlington International Race Track open for a day filled with bright floral sun dresses, lunch and conversations on the terrace, and fingers being crossed for the favorite thoroughbreds to be the first ones to cross the finish line as the crowd cheers from the grandstand.

Before the races begin, crowds gather around the paddocks to see the muscular horses, highlighted by the sun, being brought out and exhibited with grooms and colorful silk attired jockeys preparing for the day’s races. With the announcer’s voice echoing throughout the park, talk of the horses, their odds, and their performance fill the open air. The eight horses in each race come out toward the grandstand and enter their starting gates on the track, ready to be released to gallop towards the finish line. After the few short minutes of excitement and anticipation, the volume of the crowd’s cheering increases until the winner enters the Winner’s Circle with owners, trainers, family and friends, scurrying to get in for a ceremonial photo and victory hugs before the next group of horses are brought out.

Unlike most hunter/jumper shows, horse racing attracts a wider variety of spectators. Guests don’t see, and often don’t realize, what happens behind the scenes at Arlington and all of the people that make it possible. Alexis Kuhn, assistant trainer at Rodriguez Stables, spent the day with Chicago Equestrian to show us what goes into making the well-known and well-loved tradition of horse racing happen every weekend.

With an alarm clock set for 3:30 am every morning, Alexis beats the sunrise and begins her day at the track by 4:15 am to exercise and train horses until 10:00 am. At the young age of 22, Alexis already helps manage 30 horses and owns two of her own. With memories from her hunter/jumper background, Alexis took a 180 spin and didn’t just dip her toes, but rather dove into the waters of horse racing.

 Alexis Kuhn after a morning of breezing horses.

Often times, many horses will train together.
Alexis and the exercise riders bring the training horses out to the dirt track, overlooked by Illinois Rt. 53, before taking them to the main racetrack. One horse after another, they trot, canter and gallop around the polytrack. With four feet floating above the ground for milliseconds at a time as the horse extends and contracts its body to cover more ground, the riders hover above their saddles with the wind gliding over their backs. As horses with flaring nostrils and glowing bodies covered in sweat complete their day’s work, their prideful strut carries them and their riders back to their barns after a successful session.
Alexis on the practice track.

After the horses are exercised and have concluded their journey back to the barn, they are hosed off with water while they dance around anxious to get back to their stalls. Each horse is then hand walked by hot walkers for a few laps around the barn, eyeing its own stall each time as it passes by and nickering to the other horses. Alexis ensures that each of the horses at Rodriguez Stables is properly cared for, seeing that they are getting their legs wrapped and poultice applied as needed, by venturing to the barn whiteboard to double check that the jobs are being completed.

Enjoying time off between work and lunch.
From the grooms carrying totes of brushes and curry combs from stall to stall and the hot walkers leading drying horses around the barn, each job requires a test of candidates’ abilities to ensure the horses’, riders’ and staff’s safety. Some tasks, like tacking a racehorse, have more rigorous requirements and are left to assistant trainers and trainers. With horse’s hooves carrying their bodies and jockeys at speeds of 45 miles per hour, having the saddle tightly secured in its rightful place is crucial to ensuring that no jockeys slip off and land on the ground among other horses running at similar speeds.

As the horses are saddled and brought out to the track, each racehorse’s “pony,” outfitted in a western saddle, makes the flat, black racing saddle on its companion seem nearly invisible by comparison. They aid the racehorse by jogging their prideful companion, eyes filled with anxious eagerness, out to their mark in the starting gate. By keeping the young thoroughbreds at bay, the “pony” horses serve yet another vital part in both the training and safety at Arlington and other racetracks around the world.

 Racehorse being led by its “pony.”
With all of the roles that it takes to make a day at the track possible, it is important to take a moment between races to sit back and remember the dedication and persistence that backs this sport.

Alexis believes that “the day you stop learning and stop evolving is the day that you’re done in this business… The key is you have to find your motivation to keep evolving and find something that motivates you to keep pushing forward … Mine is having a stake horse.”

On behalf of Chicago Equestrian, we would like to thank Alexis for taking the time to show us behind the scenes at Arlington Race Track, and we wish her the best of luck in following her dreams and finding her very own stake horse.

Alexis’s racing saddle.

Arlington Race Track: A Day With Alexis Kuhn
by Maddie Muuss

Alexis breezing on the warm-up track.

Our day at the Arlington International Race Track began with a behind-the-scenes tour of Rodriguez Stables, with 22-year-old Alexis Kuhn. Alexis is currently an assistant trainer for Rodriguez Stables, veering slightly from her initial path, where she studied Marketing for three and a half years at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. . By the age of eight, Alexis had already sat on her first horse but her riding career really began at the age of twelve. During her initial riding days, Alexis successfully competed in hunters, jumpers, and equitation. Although she competed for years, she still had to gain more upper-body strength to ride the race horses, since they pull more than she was used to. This gave her little option other than to be in the best shape possible.

Alexis’ fifteen years of horse experience also helped her transition to racing. Being familiar with horses gave her quite the advantage against any competition or anyone who doubts her abilities. Only six months after starting at the track, Alexis was ready to get her Assistant trainers license.

         Alexis and one of her horses.
“In Chicago, to get your trainer’s and assistant trainer’s license, you have to have three letters of recommendation and you have to pass a written test and a barn test. The written test is sixty pages and you have to be on the racetrack for two years,” said Alexis.

Since Alexis didn’t have the minimum time at the track, she had to search for a state that didn’t require the two years. That’s when she discovered that Indiana only requires six months. Alexis drove seven hours to take the test. She recalls thinking that if this test does not go well, the drive back will be the longest seven hours of her life. Luckily for her, she passed with flying colors in September 2014.

One of the most important pieces of advice Alexis gives to aspiring riders is, “Never give up is my next piece of advice. You always have to keep evolving and never take no for an answer. If someone tells me no, that’s my biggest motivation to say, ‘I can do it.’ I’m going to prove them wrong. I’m going to do it.”
One of the aisles in the Rodriguez Stables barn.

Alexis’ dedication makes her stand head and shoulders above the competition. She wakes up at 3:00 A.M. every morning so that she can get to the barn early. Even though she wakes up when most people are sound asleep, she never complains. This shows her passion for horses and making sure that everything is done the right way.

When asked what her goals are, Alexis says that she hopes to start getting horses in her name as both the owner and the trainer. She would also like to get more owners in the barn. The stable has a 20% win record, which is above average for the industry. She still enjoys being an assistant trainer but hopes to one day become a trainer. It seems that Alexis can only go up from here, and has big things planned for her future endeavors.

Alexis on the track.

I have no doubt that she will reach all her goals with ease, and maybe even surpass them. Her dedication is shown when she arrives to the barn before others, or when she makes sure that each horse has the best care possible. With her passion, dedication and love for horses, Alexis will have no issues becoming a successful race horse trainer.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Isabella Baxter

Monday, January 18, 2016

Florida Vacations - Equestrian Style

by Brenda Mueller

It's that time of year when the temperatures drop and equestrians seek some fun in the sun.

Equestrians can never really seem to get away from horses, even when they're on vacation. When those cold, dark, snowy days get you feeling the need for sun and fun, head to Florida on one of the many flight deals and get ready for some equestrian fun. There's something for every horse lover from jumping and polo to dressage and racing, so get ready to plan your getaway.

Stop in at the Winter Equestrian Festival to see the top horses and riders in the world compete. Photo Chicago Equestrian.

First stop, Wellington and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.  From January through the first of April, you can catch  Grand Prix Show Jumping at one of the Saturday Night Lights events and treat yourself to live entertainment, food, shopping and children's activities while watching Olympian after Olympian in the ring with some of the top show jumpers in the world. You can also catch hunter derbies, ponies, clinics and more. Over 5,000 horses compete with riders from over 33 countries for over $9 million dollars in prize money over the 12 weeks. For a complete schedule of events, visit their website at http://pbiec.coth.com.

See the world's best showjumping and dressage in Wellington, FL. Photo Chicago Equestrian. 

Need a dose of dressage? Don't miss the Adequan Global Dressage Festival until May 1st. Make plans to attend Friday Night Stars, a Grand Prix Dressage Freestyle event featuring food, fun, and the highest level of dressage competition at the Stadium on select Friday evenings throughout the winter and spring seasons. Some of the best dressage combinations in the world will ride their own test to music. Fantastic dressage competition takes place weekly so don't miss your chance to see the world's top rider's in action.  See more at http://gdf.coth.com

Catch fast action polo at the International Polo Club. Photo Chicago Equestrian.

Polo anyone?  Head over to the International Polo Club for Sunday brunch and polo. There are plenty of events and games to choose from to get your equestrian fix while soaking up the sun during the champagne divot stomp.  Watch some of the world's top polo players compete for coveted championships. After the post-match Trophy Presentation, guests are invited to meet the players for autographs and pictures. Visit http://internationalpoloclub.com/polo/sunday-polo/ or http://www.wellingtonpolo.net for schedules and more information.

Pinetree Stables offers a great ride on the beach in the Bahamas.

Venturing a little further? You can cruise from West Palm Beach or Miami to the Bahamas and catch a fabulous trail ride on the beach from Pinetree Stables. Guides Linda and Chris keep it small and personal, allowing small parties of guests to ride their prized stock, most of which were bred and raised on the island. Their two hour trail ride gives you some history of the island and plenty of personal horse stories to share as you take the horses for a relaxing adventure. Even avid horse people will enjoy this ride - it's not your ordinary trail ride! Schedule early because spots are hard to get. They even take pictures during the ride and email them to you!!  Great fun for all levels of riders. Visit http://www.grandbahamavacations.com/horseback-riding/ and tell them Chicago sent you! 

Just north of Miami is Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino. Catch live horse racing Wednesday through Sunday. Schedule a VIP Fan Tour which includes the Winner's Circle Presentation, Jockey Room Tour, Announcer's Booth, Backstretch Tour and buffet. Visit http://www.gulfstreampark.com for details and post times. Hialeah Park offers Quarter Horse racing Friday through Monday until the end of February. Check hialeahparkcasino.com/racing for race details.

If you're on the west coast, check out Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa for racing action and Fox Lea Farm in Venice, for more of Florida's equestrian competition including quarter horses, hunter jumpers and ponies. Attend "Showjumping Under the Stars" every Friday from Jan 29th - March 3rd with food, music, family activities and a $25,000 Grand Prix. Visit www.facebook.com, Foxleafarm.com and http://www.tampabaydowns.com for more information.
Watch the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix at Post Time Farm in Ocala. Photo Rebecca Walton/Phelpssports.

Taking the kids to Disney? Just an hour and ½ drive north will bring to Ocala, another equestrian mecca. Stop at Horse Shows in the Sun at the Post Time Farm through the end of March, to take in high level hunter jumper competition including the $100,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix and the  Nations Cup. Visit http://www.hitsshows.com/ocala/hits-ocala-winter-circuit for the schedule.

Check out the best of driving and show jumping at Live Oak International near Ocala. This five star event is held in March and fun to attend. Visit https://liveoakinternational.com for the schedule.

In 2007, Ocala/Marion County was officially named the “Horse Capital of the World™,” a testament to the County’s unique involvement in all things equestrian and its record of producing some of the finest champions in the sport. Take an Ocala farm tour to get a behind the scenes glimpse of some of the area's top farms. There's a self guided tour also if you want to go at your own pace. For more information on the tours, click to www.visitflorida.com/   and  http://www.ocalamarion.com/equestrian/horse-shows.

Take a tour The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Center for a therapy education. See the latest treatments for rehabilitation such as the hyperbaric chamber, swimming pools, saltwater spas and more. www.sanctuaryequinerehab.com.

You'll find more to do simply by browsing the web for equestrian events in the area you're visiting. Get out of the cold and head to one or more of these great equestrian destinations to soak up some sun and four-legged fun!