Want to put a burr under Elizabeth Tewksbury’s saddle?
Well, saying something about retired racehorses and the glue factory may very well earn you a hard smack, but try telling her that retired Maine Standardbred harness racehorses can’t continue to compete.
The Kennebunk native has proven that you can teach an old horse new tricks.
After just one year of Tewksbury retraining Dreamy Starlet, an 18-year-old former pacer, to become a performance (dressage) horse, the former brood mare with just eight harness races to her credit, became the 2007 National High Point Standardbred Grand Champion. Last year, Tewksbury and Dreamy earned National Horse Show Training Level, State Combined Training, State High Point Senior Rider, and State Dressage Grand Champion as well as Reserve Grand Champion Ambassador Standardbred of the Year honors.
Not bad for a breed many consider good enough just for use as a pleasure horse or trail horse after race retirement.
“To me, they can always be used for competition,” said Tewksbury, who operates a barn in Cornish when she’s not teaching English at Fryeburg Academy. “They’re so easy to retrain because they’re used to being on a track, competing, and having people around them and bits in their mouths… Plus they’re trusting and good-natured.”
It’s that school of thought that led Tewksbury to found the Standardbred Performance Society, an organization dedicated to promoting Standardbreds and acting as a networking agency for people looking for retired racehorses and people looking to place them.
“We’ve only been a group for the last couple of months, we only have five members, and we’re trying to become incorporated,” she said. “We’re just trying to show how versatile these horses are.”
Tewksbury, who has been and is a member of other equine organizations, was growing dissatisfied with the emphasis of some of those other groups.
“I guess you could say I was a little frustrated that there was a core group of us who were competing, but never being supported or having the competitive angle promoted,” she explained. “One organization I was in was more about ‘rescuing’ Standardbeds. They don’t need to be rescued, and we want to support harness racing, not end it.
“I think they lost sight of the origin an purpose of Standardbreds, which are bred to race.”
Tewksbury, who started dressage training when she was 6, is addressing some other misconceptions with her organization. Primary among those is the notion that Standardbreds don’t make for good show horses.
“I always feel like the Standardbreds are the underdogs of show competition and the horse world in general,” she said. “It’s funny. They’re not natural dressage horses because they are trained not to canter, and they say dressage takes two lifetimes to learn, but look what she’s done in a couple years.”
As much as Tewksbury hates the way some people question Standardbreds’s versatility, she loves it when people ask her one certain question.
“People often can’t tell what she is. When they ask me I always ask what they think she is and they never guess it right,” she said. “When I say she’s a Standardbred, they can’t believe it.”
Tewksbury has come to love Standardbreds so much, she’s already added another to her “stable.”
“Actually I’m having a 3-year-old Standardbred shipped up from New Jersey,” she said.
Not his first Rodeo
Rodeo Du Ruisseau, a 7-year-old pacer that’s changed hands more than a subway token this year, notched the fastest time of the 2009 Maine harness racing season last Saturday by winning a claiming race in 1 minute, 54.4 seconds at Scarborough Downs.
Shawn Gray drove the pacer, which he re-acquired via the Bangor Raceway claim box the previous week, to the win.
The horse is now owned by William Hart of Carmel and safe from being claimed for the fifth time in his last seven races.