Two weeks before Blonde Bombshell arrived at Sabrina Asper’s York County, Pennsylvania farm, the light chestnut Thoroughbred mare was still on the track working as a breeze horse. Bombshell had done fairly well in 13 starts, but at five years old, her racing career wasn’t going anywhere, and she wasn’t useful as a broodmare. That landed her at the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program in Farmington, NY; which also put her on the list of available horses for the Equine Comeback Challenge.
The Challenge, a program designed by A Home for Every Horse, is an opportunity for select trainers to take a horse from a rescue organization and work with it for 90 days to transform it to a willing, useful equine partner.
Sabrina watched last year’s Challenge, held during the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, and decided she wanted to compete in 2015. The first step was filling out an application to participate in the competition.
“As soon as I saw her, I fell in love with her just from her picture and the information,” said Sabrina, describing her first look at Bombshell. “I like her build, and they listed her racing stats. She ran 13 races and won three races, got two seconds and three thirds.”
It didn’t take long for Sabrina, an 8th grade science teacher, to decide that she wanted to travel to the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program to see Bombshell. Not long after Sabrina visited the rescue in July, the 16.2 hand mare was at Sabrina’s barn in Spring Grove, PA.
Bombshell arrived with only some basic information, and that was a description of her as being high-strung. But that wasn’t a problem for Sabrina, an experienced barrel racer, who says that she knew the horse would at least be willing to move forward. During her initial work with Bombshell, Sabrina noticed that she was sensitive to light tapping with a whip, and attributes that to her racing days
With only 90 days to transform Bombshell into a quiet, easy-to-ride trail horse, Sabrina created a plan for working with the mare. “I free-longed her for a while, and it didn’t take long for her to start following me,” said Sabrina, describing the mare’s willingness to accept Sabrina’s leadership. “I try to do at least one or two things each day, even if it’s only a bath or just a walk around the farm.”
The next phase of training would include ground work to help the mare get used to her surroundings, along with introducing a variety of obstacles that might be included in the competition. “I put a yellow rain jacket over her the first day she was here and she was fine,” said Sabrina. “My dad built me a bridge — that seemed to be one of the hardest obstacles for the horses last year.” Sabrina added more obstacles including a gate, a plastic wading pool, noise-makers, poles and a mailbox. Sabrina also works with Bombshell with flags and tarps both on the ground and around her head. “At first she was afraid of cans in a bag,” said Sabrina, “but is fine with that now.”
Sabrina likes to switch up the training routine to keep Bombshell engaged and willing to learn. Sometimes the training session will be with a western saddle and a bosal, or perhaps bareback with just a neck rope. The fact that Bombshell can be safely ridden with a simple neck rope means she’s paying attention to Sabrina’s legs and seat, and a good indicator that she will be a sensible, reliable pleasure mount.
As a trainer, Sabrina believes that slow, steady consistent work is the key to success. “I like to take baby steps,” she said. “At first, she wouldn’t give me the right lead. I tried and tried, and the second she got it, I’d stop and we’d be done. Now she picks it up right away. If the horse gives me something I’ve been working on, I stop right then, and next time it might not take as long to get it. The mistake some people make is that they want it over and over the first time, and they end up ruining the horse. That’s what some people do with barrel horses — they get a good horse and race every day, but they need a break.”
Sabrina and the other competitors will have an opportunity to showcase what they’ve accomplished with their horse in the East Coast Equine Comeback Challenge, which will be held on the evening of Oct. 13 during the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. Participants won’t know exactly what will be included in the obstacle course until that day, so that part of the competition is a genuine test of the horse and trainer. Each trainer is also allowed a certain amount of time to perform a freestyle routine in which they show more of the horse’s true potential. Many of the horses will be available for adoption following the exhibition.
“I’m on a three-day training cycle right now,” said Sabrina. “We do obstacles one day, then work on the freestyle, then take a trail ride.” And with every new experience, including trips to local horse shows, rodeos and trail rides, Platinum Bombshell is becoming accustomed to her new life of a well-loved pleasure mount.
Learn more about A Home for Every Horse at www.ahomeforeveryhorse.com.