Every owner, trainer or rider that came with a horse to last month's Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park also brought at least one fascinating story with them to Lexington.
Hundreds of horses competed and showed during the three-day event the weekend prior to the Breeders' Cup World Championships across town at Keeneland, divisional winners were selected and one horse was even picked as America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred.
The amazing stories of the transformation of former claimers, allowance, stakes and even graded stakes horses to full capable dressage, hunter jumpers, barrel racers and even polo horses were as common in the barn area as trucks and trailers were in the jam-packed parking lot outside the Horse Park's main entrance and not far from a statue of the great Man o' War.
Rachel Jackson didn't bring just one or two stories with her when she made the trek from her home in Beaver Dam, Virginia, to Lexington for the Makeover event, she brought five.
Jackson, who competed in the proper Makeover contest in the Freestyle and Working Ranch Horse categories, also performed during the finals competitions Oct. 25 in the Horse Park's Covered Arena. And she wasn't like the other riders in the Covered Arena that afternoon, simply showing how horse and rider can work together.
Jackson used four ex-racehorses during her Roman riding performance, two pairs of two, standing with one leg on each of the rear pair's backs while guiding the front pair and holding the reins for each in one hand. The performance got plenty of attention a little before the halfway point of the finals portion, and Jackson got even more attention as she and her team walked back to their barn along the woodchip horse path past the Hall of Champions' paddocks.
The four horses Jackson used for the Roman riding performance - Jungle, Ellie, Gigi and Robb, as they're known around the barn at home - are all Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds or OTTBs.
"Using four ex-racehorses is pretty amazing," said Susan Jackson, Rachel Jackson's mother, as she helped her daughter untack the quartet. "It's a small world so we know most of the other people doing this, and as far as we know she's the only one using ex-racehorses."
The quartet collectively made 44 career starts and won four times. Only the veteran of the group, the 14-year-old Jungle Red, wasn't a winner.
Robb Tradd, an 8-year-old West Virginia-bred gelding with the distinction of being the closest to his racing career (2011), competed in stakes races and won twice during his career.
Electra's Ego won a maiden special weight at Belmont Park in 2010 and Grand Gianna won in maiden claiming company for a $10,000 tag at Charles Town Races in 2010.
They're ex-racehorses, but looked nothing like it on that typical autumn afternoon at the Horse Park, or this summer when they and Jackson performed at the Minnesota and Maryland State Fairs. Or a week earlier at Laurel Park during the Maryland Million program.
"They actually do better at a track than they do in an arena," Rachel Jackson said. "People say, 'oh no, you're not taking them to an arena?' But I perform more on tracks than anywhere else. To them it's second hand now. I do like doing it at the tracks because it shows people what horses can do after they retire. Of course there's the bad side of horse racing but this shows everybody there is a good side."
Jackson is quick to point out the four horses she used for her Roman riding performance or her Makeover horse, the 4-year-old Value Plus gelding Take Your Pic, were not mistreated before coming to her family's farm. She got three of the horses from Thoroughbred Placement Resources in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, which works frequently with horsemen at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course.
The others came to her in different ways and she's glad to use Thoroughbreds exclusively.
"I had always been told growing up, 'they're crazy, they're crazy,' " Jackson said. "I disagree. I got him (Jungle Red) when I was working at a boarding facility and somebody had given him up. They had financial, family problems, something like that.
"My Mom went nuts. I had just turned 18 and she was like, 'you got a Thoroughbred? They're crazy. You're crazy. They're nuts and you'll never be able to do anything with it.' Now he's the best horse I have. He started it all, with getting everybody else. I like him, his work ethic and he has some bad manners when he's outside the ring but once he's in there he's right on. He knows his job and he loves it."
Jackson finished seventh in both her Makeover divisions on Take Your Pic, who can do his job without a bridle if she chooses.
Take Your Pic made only two starts in his career, finishing sixth and 11th in maiden races in the fall of 2013 at Laurel Park. He suffered a bowed tendon and was off for a year before Jackson got him this past January. Since then she's taught the gelding nicknamed "Pickle" to work cattle and long rein and used him for Roman riding and trick riding bridleless within six months.
"Thoroughbreds are great for this sort of thing," Jackson said. "To me they're like any other. They drive really well because they have a whole lot of, 'want to go' stuff in them. They're not lazy and I really like that. They work hard, always try. I had a Quarter Horse cross before I got these guys and he just wouldn't quite try as hard."