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Cowgirl Up!

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Cowgirl Up!
FFI graduates and adoptables take on cattle at a western clinic.
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By Chelsey Burris
 
Off-track Thoroughbreds are versatile. While they are becoming highly sought-after partners in many English disciplines like dressage, eventing, and hunter/jumpers, they are also becoming increasingly popular in western sports. On May 8, Brandon Fortner, the head western trainer for Friends of Ferdinand Inc. (FFI), hosted an Intro to Cattle Clinic at his farm Rafter 2F Ranch in central Indiana. Three FFI graduates, Bisque, Is He Proud, and Vindication Ally, attended the clinic, while another, Hum Baby, who was adopted by Brandon, helped lead the instruction. At the end of the day, Soy Sauce, a currently adoptable mare in our retraining program, also got her chance to work with the cattle.
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The sunny Saturday started off with introductions from the cowboy himself, Brandon. The cattle were all familiar with horses already, and peered curiously through the rails of the fence at the visiting trailers and new horses. 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 if the cows got too close.
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First, each participant in the clinic got to introduce their horse to the cattle on the ground. After an afternoon lunch break, it was time to tack up and work on sorting the cows while mounted – a daunting but exciting task for all the cattle newbies. Horses went out in pairs, working together to move the cattle around the pen, or, if they were feeling gutsy, try to separate specific cows from the group, or wrangle them into a smaller sub-section of the pen.
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Ten-year-old Bisque bravely headed into the pen with his adopter Heather Hoffmann. Bisque is a very well-known graduate from our program. On the racetrack, he banked almost $175,000 and had a lot of success in stakes races, being named Indiana Bred 2-Year-Old Colt of the Year in 2013. He and Heather have been partners since 2016, and have an outstanding bond. Heather has been involved with FFI for years, and currently serves as our Adoption Coordinator, helping new folks to find their dream horses through our retraining program. Much like with everything in his life, Bisque handled his outing with cows with class, pricking his ears up to focus on the cattle in front of him.
Bisque, a former champion racehorse on the track, tries his hand at cattle work with his adopter, Heather Hoffmann
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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.”
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Next, it was Vindication Alley’s turn. Nicknamed Vinny, this horse also has a big following in our “Ferdinator” fanbase. He was bred in Florida and spend the early parts of his racing career at tracks along the east coast, before eventually being claimed and sent to Puerto Rico. He raced hard and frequently on the island, before finally being 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 our sister-Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredited organizations, snatched him up.
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Horses retiring on the island have very few options in regards to aftercare; unfortunately, many are euthanized, abandoned, or otherwise disposed of when they can no longer race. Vinny’s entire future changed when CTA picked him up and brought him to their barn. CTA networks with organizations across the US to fly these at-risk horses back home. At the time, FFI was working with them on bringing an Indiana-bred named Double The Thunder back to his home state. When they mentioned Vinny, we wound up falling in love with him too, and helped fundraise through our #PoniesOfTheCaribbean initiative to bring both geldings home to the mainland. Vinny arrived in the spring of 2020, and was a wonderful patient while getting his knee cleaned up. His prognosis for a second career was great, thanks to the awesome vets at Centaur Equine Specialty Hospital. When it came time to list him for adoption, FFI’s Vice President Erin Durham couldn’t let him go. She had fostered him during some of his early time in our program, and was completely smitten with the sweet bay gelding. She made the adoption official in March 2021!
Vindication Alley, brought home from Puerto Rico last year, was curious about the cows.
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Vinny had seen a lot in his seven short years on this planet, but how would he handle cows? Erin, recovering from a recent surgery, handed the reins over to her friend Jared Pike, who took Vinny in for his first test. Much like everything Vinny has encountered, he didn’t bat an eye or turn a hair, and in fact, seemed quite interested in sorting the cattle. After his successful test round, Erin was ready to hop aboard her horse and try it out for herself. Tag-teaming with Bisque and Heather, the two FFI graduates made quite a showing, successfully sorting specific cattle from the group, with plenty of grins and cheers at the end of each round.
Erin Durham (aboard Vinny) & Heather Hoffmann (aboard Bisque) celebrate a successful sorting round with a virtual high five
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Erin was more than thrilled about her first outing with her new horse. “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!”
The smile says it all! Erin Durham beams from the back of her adopted OTTB, Vindication Alley.
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FFI’s President Sara Busbice stood at the fence, one boot up on the rungs, as her horse Izzy stood beside her taking everything in. While the program she loves so much has continued to thrive and expand over the past year, Sara had 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 as Bisque and Vinny worked together, two horses she had been intricately involved with bringing into our program, retraining, and adopting out, and smiled.
FFI President Sara Busbice watches FFI graduates in the ring with her adopted horse, Izzy.
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It was now her turn to get into the ring. Swinging her leg over her tall Thoroughbred Izzy, Sara headed to the gate. Izzy, a towering 16.3 hand Thoroughbred, looked much larger than the horse he was paired up with, a fairly compact Quarter Horse. The 16-year-old ex-racehorse strutted into the ring ready to show the cattle who was the boss. It was an inspiring sight for everyone there to see our fearless leader back in the saddle and happier than ever.
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“After not riding for health reasons 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.”
Sara Busbice and Izzy having fun at the clinic.
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She continued, “Brandon did all the initial introductions to the cows, on the ground and in the saddle. Then I got on and in we went. It was a fantastic experience, giving me confidence in my horse, and my horse confidence that we won’t overface him. It was 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.”
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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 entrants from the back of yet another familiar face: the super handsome Hum Baby. Hum, a lightly raced Indiana-bred, 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 just adopt him himself. To read more about their adventures together, make sure you check out our recent blog “The Cowboy and His Off Track Thoroughbred.”
Brandon Fortner, FFI’s head western trainer, gives encouragement to riders from the back of his FFI horse, Hum Baby, who he adopted in 2020.
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As the day wound down, Brandon pulled Soy Sauce from the barn. This spicy little redhead mare is currently available for adoption through our program, and is looking for an advanced rider who wants to form a partnership with her and have some fun!! She warmed up while the rest of the clinic’s entrants took their turns, then she and Brandon headed into the ring. Once she saw the cattle, the chestnut mare was all business, herding them and moving them with no fear. She’s not afraid to pin her ears and get the job done. Soy Sauce displayed a lot of bravery, and we think someone looking for their western partner is going to love this little mare! If you’re interested in adopting Soy Sauce, check out our website for more details about her!
Currently adoptable Thoroughbred mare Soy Sauce, with Brandon Fortner aboard, was game to chase the cows.
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The Intro to Cattle Clinic was a fabulous educational event with a lot of great information, tons of fun for participants and horses alike, and a wonderful chance for ex-racehorses to show off their versatility. Browse through some more photos from the day below!
From left to right: Adoptable Soy Sauce with Brandon Fortner, FFI graduate Bisque with Heather Hoffmann, graduate Izzy with Sara Busbice, and graduate Vinny with Erin Durham.
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FFI graduates rocking some beautiful matching saddle pads
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Trainer Brandon Fortner warming up Izzy
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The herd 
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The ultra handsome Vinny
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Horse show husband! Bisque's support team looks on
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Izzy enjoys a snack between his turns in the arena
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Izzy & Bisque saying hello
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Lending a helping hand - FFI graduate Hum Baby ponying FFI adoptable Soy Sauce
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Vinny & Erin, Hum Baby & Brandon, & Bisque & Heather pose for a photo together
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Vinny's got jokes!
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Current adoptable Soy Sauce prepares to go into the ring
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Erin celebrates a successful round aboard Vinny
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A Thoroughbred and a Quarter Horse walk into a bar....
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Soy Sauce - available for adoption!
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Soy Sauce being a boss mare with the cows
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FFI Leadership! Vice President Erin & President Sara pose with their adopted Thoroughbreds 

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