Part Three: Hillary Irwin, Yogi Successfully Compete at Thoroughbred Makeover

With a sense of pride and accomplishment, professional horse trainer and rider Hillary Irwin recently competed in her second Thoroughbred Makeover as part of the Retired Racehorse Project. She and her 4-year-old bay gelding, affectionately known around the stable as “Yogi” traveled from their home in Ocala, Fla., to Lexington, Ky., the first full week in October to showcase the skills he learned from Irwin this year. 

“He did great. He did way better than I could have ever asked him to. He traveled really well thanks to his Vitalize®. He was the best he possibly could have been,” Irwin said of her equine companion. 

The Retired Racehorse Project is an opportunity for trainers and athletes to purchase off-track Thoroughbreds that have run their last races, typically at a young age, and rehabilitate them to learn different disciplines like show jumping, dressage, barrel racing or eventing, just to name a few. The trainers have approximately 11 months to work with their horses to train them for the Retired Racehorse competition. 

The Competition 

Irwin and Yogi competed in eventing and dressage in Lexington, placing in the top 25% of each competition. With more than 500 horses competing across 10 disciplines, Irwin was very pleased with their placings. Each horse can compete in up to two events. 

Although Thoroughbreds are typically bred and trained for speed, Irwin said each of her rescue horses she trained has been different. According to Irwin, Yogi was fairly simple to train, as he is naturally a slower-paced, smaller horse. 

“Naturally, he’s not fast at all; he’s quiet-minded, so mentally that wasn’t a big transition. He is very compact and built uphill, which makes life easier. Strength building takes forever, and they don’t want to do anything they think is wrong,” she said. 

Yogi excelled in the cross-country portion of the eventing competition because he could gallop and jump the course. Irwin said the show jumping portion is more challenging due to the short and long, bounce and softness of the course.  

Irwin said there is no other event quite like the Retired Racehorse Project, where the main focus of the competition is on the horses, while there is a deep sense of camaraderie. 

“You can’t replicate the Retired Racehorse Project. A lot of people gain a great sense of humanity out of it. It’s a friendly environment that is highly competitive, but not cut-throat. Everyone wants what is best for the horses,” she said. 

What’s Next 

Since Yogi’s big competition is over, he is now for sale. However, Irwin said she is selective about finding the right buyer for him. Although she knows he will go to a good home, selling him will still be hard.  

“He’s got quite a personality; he’s easy to have around. He definitely will be missed, when he sells,” Irwin said. 

Her barn won’t be empty, however; she has 10 other horses she is currently working with. And, once she sells Yogi, she said she plans to start looking for a pair of horses to start working on for the 2020 Retired Racehorse Project. She said she likes the process behind the Thoroughbred Makeover, and she likes helping the horses gain a second chance. One of the ways she helps her horses stay healthy and feel their best is with Vitalize® Equine Digest More® Plus. Vitalize Digest More Plus is a pelleted top-dress that contains Amaferm® for increased digestibility, MOS for sequestering pathogens, and biotin and zinc for coat and hoof health. 

She also gives them Vitalize® Alimend®. Vitalize Alimend is natural product that supports gastric health and GI tissue in horses. Alimend is a unique blend of MHB3® Hyaluronan, H. erinaceous (Lion’s mane) extract, and AO-Biotics®. AO-Biotics is a precision prebiotic designed to boost animal resilience to challenges. It is research-proven to improve gut integrity and immune response.  

“Yogi traveled really well to Kentucky. He weighed the same when we came home as he did when we left, thanks to the Vitalize,” she said. 

A caring heart, good horsemanship and quality supplement have helped Hillary Irwin win the hearts of many equine companions.