Story submitted by Chelsey Burris
Off-track Thoroughbreds are versatile. While they are becoming highly sought-after partners in many English disciplines, they are also becoming increasingly popular in Western sports. On May 8, three Friends of Ferdinand Inc. (FFI) graduates and one adoptable horse—Bisque, Is He Proud, Vindication Ally and Soy Sauce—attended an intro to cattle clinic at Brandon Fortner’s Rafter 2F Ranch in central Indiana. Brandon is the head western trainer for FFI and helped lead the instruction with his own FFI graduate, Hum Baby.
The sunny Saturday started off with introductions from the cowboy himself, Brandon. Despite several of the Off-Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) having never seen a cow before, they handled their introductions perfectly with only an occasional gawk or snort.
First, each participant in the clinic got to introduce their horse to the cattle on the ground. Then it was time to tack up and work on sorting the cows while mounted. Horses went out in pairs, working together to move the cattle around the pen, separate specific cows from the group or wrangle them into a smaller sub-section of the pen.
Well-known graduate Bisque headed bravely into the pen with his adopter and FFI Adoption Coordinator, Heather Hoffmann. On the racetrack, he banked almost $175,000 having had a lot of success in stakes races, which ultimately led to him being named Indiana Bred 2-Year-Old Colt of the Year in 2013. Heather and Bisque have been partners since 2016 and have an outstanding bond. Heather had lots of good things to say about her ex-racehorse at the end of the day.
“Taking Bisque to a cattle clinic was an amazing way to gain confidence in our partnership while putting another line on Bisque’s resume of fun things we get to do together,” she beamed. “He is a perfect example of the versatility of the Thoroughbred. There is no doubt he is my heart horse! All of this is because of Friends of Ferdinand. I am forever grateful.”
Next, it was Vindication Alley’s turn. Affectionately nicknamed Vinny, the gelding was bred in Florida and spent the early part of his racing career at tracks along the east coast, before eventually being claimed and sent to Puerto Rico. Once retired, Vinny needed surgery to be sound for a riding career, and his prospects looked bleak. The wonderful volunteers at Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare (CTA), one of FFI’s sister Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredited organizations, snatched him up.
Vinny arrived at FFI in the spring of 2020 and was a wonderful patient throughout his surgery and rehab. FFI’s Vice President Erin Durham fostered him during some of his early time in the program and officially adopted him in March 2021.
After a successful test round with her friend Jared Pike, Erin was ready to hop aboard and try working cattle with Vinny. Tag-teaming with Bisque and Heather, the two FFI graduates successfully sorted specific cattle from the group with plenty of grins and cheers at the end of each round.
“Being a part of the cattle clinic was an incredible experience in team building with my new best friend,” she said. “Having an educated, patient instructor like Brandon and great friends made it all come together for a wonderful day!”
FFI’s President Sara Busbice stood at the fence as her horse, Izzy, stood beside her. While the program she loves so much has continued to thrive and expand over the past year, Sara faced difficult personal struggles, as she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. Now in recovery, this was her first major horse outing since her diagnosis. She proudly watched and smiled as Bisque and Vinny worked together—two horses she had been intricately involved with bringing into the program, retraining and adopting out.
It was now her turn to get into the ring. Swinging her leg over Izzy, a towering 16.3 h Thoroughbred, Sara headed to the gate. It was an inspiring sight for everyone there to see their fearless leader back in the saddle and happier than ever.
“After not riding for about a year, I thought it was a good idea to take my OTTB to meet the cows,” Sara shared. “I was 100% prepared for Izzy to resemble a kite, decide the cows ate horses, and that we should leave… quickly. However, Izzy borrowed confidence from the other horses and kept his feet on the ground.”
“Brandon did all the initial introductions to the cows on the ground and in the saddle,” she continued. “Then I got on and off we went. It was a fantastic experience, giving both me confidence in my horse and my horse confidence that we won’t over face him. It was a safe and controlled environment with experienced ranch horsemen and their horses to help us, and the cows were very used to horses. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to do something a little different with their horse.”
Brandon, easy to pick out from the crowd in his black cowboy hat, rode around the arena offering encouragement to each of the clinic’s participants from the back of Hum Baby. Hum, a lightly raced Indiana-bred Thoroughbred, was one of the first horses to go through the western branch of our retraining program under Brandon’s tutelage. Brandon had so much fun with the gelding that he decided to adopt him for himself.
As the day wound down, Brandon pulled Soy Sauce from the barn. The spicy little chestnut mare—who is currently available for adoption through FFI—warmed up while the rest of the clinic’s participants took their turns. One they got into the ring and she saw the cattle, the mare was all business. Soy Sauce displayed a lot of bravery at the clinic and would be a great fit for someone looking for a western partner. If you’re interested in adopting Soy Sauce, check out friendsofferdinand.com for more details about her.
Friends of Ferdinand, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and currently the only Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredited organization in Indiana. The horses in the program are vetted at intake, given let down time, and have at least 30 days of professional retraining at our facility in Dayton, Ohio.