Sometimes a horse comes along that changes the lives of the people around them. For Rae-Lyn Kropius, Whining was that horse.
Rae-Lyn fell in love with Whining the moment he stepped out of the trailer from New Mexico where her employer and trainer Don Schnell had purchased him. The dark bay gelding was sired by graded stakes placed Simon Pure and was out of the End Sweep mare Sweeping Showers.
Whining continued his career as a racehorse, but wasn’t too successful. He was able to pick up two wins, one at Turf Paradise and one at Canterbury Park.
“[One day] he put his head on my shoulder and hugged me,” Rae-Lyn recalled. “He came into my life when I needed him and he needed me.”
When Whining suffered a small injury, Don Schnell gave the horse to Rae-Lyn. “I kept saying he was going to be my Retired Racehorse Project and forever horse.”
Rae-Lyn already had experience with Off Track Thoroughbreds. Her father was a horse buyer and her mother was a trainer. She had spent her entire life working alongside her mother, whether that be grooming, galloping, or ponying. She has worked for multiple trainers, including Don Schnell, but now works primarily in riding young horses and training Thoroughbred prospects.
Not only did Rae-Lyn’s mother teach her the horse racing life, but she also passed down a love for Off Track Thoroughbreds. “My mom had such heart for them it carried on to me!,” Rae-Lyn explained. “I love how versatile they are and willing to do anything you want. Honestly, it is the most rewarding thing you can do - track to ranch horse.”
Retraining racehorses isn’t always easy and Whining was no exception to this. Whining had been difficult as a racehorse, a “wheeler”. Many people thought Rae-Lyn was crazy for wanting to retrain a hot horse that had an injury, but Rae-Lyn wasn’t going to give up on him that quick.
“I stall rested him, turned him out, and when we started riding in February he was a little hot,” recounted Rae-Lyn. “When I checked him in April he was healed and the vet said it was amazing!”
Rae-Lyn took a clinic with Les Vogt, the 15 time World Champion that is known for reining and reined cow horses. She also got some help from Gary and Jodi Johnson. “I strongly agree that learning horsemanship will always better you as a trainer!”
The cow work taught Whining the patience he needed. Rae-Lyn worked diligently to help Whining learn how to relax, drop his head, and collect himself.
“Being 10 and a war horse, sometimes they are less patient and set in their ways. You really need to know how far you can push them before they have had enough,” Rae-Lyn explained. “But I believe Whining has always been insecure and the bond we built...he trusts me and will do anything I want. He truly is the nicest horse I have ever turned into saddle horse.”
This past weekend, Rae-Lyn and Whining participated in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, a training competition to showcase the progress a horse and rider have made in no more than 10 months.
“Everyone just pitches in to help each other, it feels like a big family team! I even spent some time visiting with Fallon Taylor about how great the event was and the people involved with it,” Rae-Lyn recalled. “She told me how proud I should be of how beautiful of mover I’ve made Whining into and how any challenge we set ourselves on, we will always conquer it with amazing horses.”
“Most of us have such a connection with our horses we all got emotional when we conquered things we didn’t think were possible. I cried when I finished my trail class. I was not feeling good from a spill earlier in the week and I sat in the heat for 4 hours waiting to compete then competing and my horse just looked after me.”
"As I watched the champion Thoroughbreds circle the arena I thought, ‘wow, I can’t believe these were all once race horses and look at us now’. I strongly encourage anyone wanting to conquer something amazing and the best experience to get an OTTB. They will teach you patience, love, and they will give you every ounce of heart in their soul.”
When asked if she thought that there is something about OTTBs that make them special, Rae-Lyn poured her heart out. “They have amazing work ethic. They want to, and could, go all day,” she described. “My horse and I were on the trail for 4 hours at RRP in the heat, then competing, and he never once got mad! They are less spooky than most homebreds, having seen literally everything at the track. So when you go somewhere, they are like ‘meh’ when other horses see a bag and dump you! Their soundness has already been tested! And I feel like they give you every ounce of heart they have.”
Now, Rae-Lyn hopes to continue working to rehome Thoroughbreds alongside the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project. “Joe and everyone from the Minnesota [Racehorse] Engagement Project have been amazing. I had heard about them some in the past and this is only the beginning for them to grow even more,” she explained. “I hope to continue working with them and rehoming these amazing Thoroughbreds. We have some good plans for next year's RRP already!”
One thing is clear: Retraining OTTBs is never easy, just as retraining any horse isn't easy. But, the pay off is extraordinary. These horses will give their owners love and dedication like no other.
Whining has touched the soul of Rae-Lyn. Through their time together, they have formed an unbreakable partnership. They stand as a true testament to what a little love, care, and patience can do for a horse coming off of the racetrack.
Next time you're thinking of adding a new horse to your life, think of Rae-Lyn and Whining. It will remind you of the great things you can accomplish with an Off Track Thoroughbred.
A special thank you to the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project for the recommendation of this story. This group works diligently to promote the joy that racehorses, both retired and active, bring the lives of those who work them. They host many opportunities for Minnesota residents to engage with racehorses and Off Track Thoroughbreds. Go to their website to learn how you can get involved.
Thank you to my Ko-Fi supporters: Amy W., Stephen A., Keryl W., Joe S., Jennifer K., Debbie W., Robin L., Brian R., Cody V., and Lisa B.
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