Blazing Through Barriers: It’s Showtime

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It’s the showcase event that ex-racehorse advocates and enthusiasts all over look forward to attending. In the past few years, its popularity has soared, and this year’s event should prove to be one of the biggest and best yet. The Retired Racehorse Project’s $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover is set for this week at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

Around 300 ex-racehorses will compete in ten equestrian disciplines, ranging from barrel racing to show hunters. Nicolette Merle-Smith and Blazing Beryl are one of the horse and rider pairs seeking to put the Thoroughbred’s winning temperament and innate athletic ability on display.

Over the past six months, Merle-Smith has worked on taking Blazing Beryl, known around the barn as Emmie, from a former steeplechaser-turned-pasture-ornament (of the four starts listed for her on Equibase profile, she did not hit the board in any) to a rising sport-horse star.

Merle-Smith, competing in her first Thoroughbred Makeover, has taken the 6-year-old daughter of Family Calling to a few small shows near her home base in Louisa, Va., to prepare for the Makeover and the striking bay mare has excelled at each opportunity.

In her first eventing competition late last month, Merle-Smith and Emmie scored a 29.6 in dressage, and were going around well in show jumping when an unfortunate twisted hind shoe forced them to withdraw from the rest of the competition. Just one of a few minor setbacks the two have experienced along the way.

After that, Merle-Smith gave Emmie a bit of time off of from jumping to focus on some of her other projects, like her up-and-coming three-day eventing rockstar, Ratatouille, a Merle-Smith homebred. Merle-Smith and Ratatouille posted double clears in cross-country and show jumping to finish 17th this past weekend at the Hagyard MidSouth Three-Day Event, their first CCI*, also held at the Kentucky Horse Park.

But before Merle-Smith and Ratatouille begin plotting the rest of their path to the prestigious Rolex Three-Day Event, the focus goes back to Emmie and this week’s Makeover. The team is ready to shine.

Merle-Smith is ready to approach the competition with her usual calm, cool and collected attitude. She said there is “no need to stress” and watching the duo together, it is easy to understand how she can possess such quiet confidence.

This week in Kentucky, Merle-Smith and Emmie had a final jumping lesson with respected three-day event coach, former Rolex rider and OTTB advocate Cathy Wieschhoff of Carriage Station Farm in Lexington.

“We (Emmie and I) had not jumped in nearly a month,” Merle-Smith said. “I told Cathy we would be jumping 3′ at the Makeover, so she set up a 3′ course and we just went for it. Emmie was incredible.”

Merle-Smith and Emmie will compete in eventing and show jumping (ride times below). There will be several rounds in each division, and the pair will perform a dressage test, gallop out on the cross-country field and navigate technical show jumping courses to demonstrate Emmie’s suitability to the disciplines as well as her overall trainability and athleticism.

An expert in the respective discipline will judge each division and the top three horse and rider pairs from each division will compete in Saturday’s finale.

Emmie has shown a particular aptitude for show jumping, but Merle-Smith said it’s still too early to tell where she will ultimately be best suited. And even if Emmie does eventually go the show jumping route, the classic horsewoman in Merle-Smith will ensure she is always capable of performing a solid dressage test as well as going out to gallop in the hunt field.

One thing Merle-Smith is very sure of; she has found something exceptional in the striking 16.3-hand bay mare, and because of that, she elected not to enter her into the auction that will take place during the Thoroughbred Makeover. Horses that are showcased throughout the weekend may be sold to approved homes where they can continue to excel in their second careers.

“During our lesson with Cathy (Wieschhoff), she asked if she was for sale,” Merle-Smith said. “When I told her ‘no,’ she said, ‘I don’t blame you, you’ve really got something special here.’ “

That was something Merle-Smith already knew, that Blazing Beryl is a very, rare gem.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a multi-part series following the progress of Nicolette Merle-Smith and Blazing Beryl as they prepare for the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, which takes place Oct. 27-30 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Check for more updates on the pair’s progress. You can also follow Kaitlin Christopherson on Twitter @kaitlinceqins


Read the other installments in our Flying Changes section, presented by Herringswell Stables.


Look for Merle-Smith and Blazing Beryl at the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover this week in Lexington. The will compete as entry 231.

3′ Show Jumper, Thursday 2:46 p.m.

Eventing Dressage, Friday 12:27 p.m.

Eventing Jumping, Friday 1:27 p.m.