When Holly Simkins went looking for a horse, she was eventually drawn to a breed she believed could take her to the next level in the show ring.
In April 2015, with her show jumping career still in its early stages, Simkins started the process of finding a horse that would suit her needs.
She was not about to rush her research.
“You always want to make sure you do your homework, not just for yourself, but for the horse you are looking at bringing into your world.”
Hours of research and due diligence eventually put her on a path she had not entertained.
As her show jumping life began to ascend, Simkins became more fascinated with the idea of purchasing a Thoroughbred.
The result was a game-changer for someone with a longstanding connection to horses.
“When I was able to move up another level, I ended up buying a Thoroughbred. He had been off the racetrack quite a few years, but that is where my love for them first started.
“A few years later, I bought another Thoroughbred. I was looking for an upper-level horse at this point. I had tried a few Warmbloods and the more popular and known breeds, but it just wasn’t working for me—I didn’t find that connection I was looking for. So, I thought, ‘Let’s go with a Thoroughbred.’ And it has gone on from there.”
Simkins has a handful of reasons as to why ex-racehorses are indeed the breed for her needs.
Holly Berry, Flagson Day, Strut N Stomp, All Better, and Juan Pablo, who, at one point in time, participated in Thoroughbred racing, were all purchased by Simkins.
Strut N Stomp was a stakes winner during his days on the racetrack. Juan Pablo, a six-year-old son of Street Sense, won four races and had $141,132 in purse earnings over a 41-race career.
Both were purchased through Southern Belle Thoroughbreds, a matching service that pairs off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) who have raced at Woodbine or Fort Erie with new career and life opportunities.
“There was just something about Strut N Stomp. He was so sweet, and I knew I had to take him home with me. Then I bought another one, All Better, and last year I purchased Juan Pablo.
“I have done the Silver Series—this will be my fourth year—all with Thoroughbreds. I have gone up to 1.10 meters so far and I’m hoping to go up to 1.20 meters this year, if I am feeling brave. That would be with Holly Berry, who I bought in 2016. I won the High Point Thoroughbred on Holly Berry in the Grand Prix at Angelstone Silver Series Playoffs last year. One day, I am hoping Juan Pablo will take me there and even higher. He’s very athletic, so I have high hopes for him.”
One common thread has defined Simkins’ approach to working with Thoroughbreds.
“If you rush them into jumping, they can get overwhelmed. The best part about them is that they try so hard—they have such big hearts. They are so willing to try for you. They will try to figure out what these new things are that you are asking of them. Patience is the key.”
The idea of confronting obstacles with the breed, noted Simkins, is at most a fleeting thought, especially in the aftermath of each hurdle faced.
“Some of the challenges are finding the right program and understanding the breed. Coming off the racetrack, they need that downtime. It’s a very high-intensity sport, so sometimes they need their brain and body to relax. Sometimes, you have to take things a little slower, so you are not overwhelming them. If you can find the right program and take your time, I find that they flourish.”
They also happen to turn heads.
Simkins, who lives in Bethany, Ontario, about an hour’s drive northeast of Woodbine, is often approached at shows by those curious to find out more about her horses.
“Some people that I have met are surprised that they are Thoroughbreds. My guys are quite well-fed, so they are a little bit on the chunkier side. They are healthy, but when you are used to seeing them race-fit, it catches people a little bit off-guard.”
There is a similar reaction for those in the crowd who watch them perform against their contemporaries.
“I think some people don’t realize just how athletic Thoroughbreds are. I have started seeing a lot more of them at shows lately. They might have had a certain reputation in past years, but people are starting to understand that if you find the right program for them, they are phenomenal. People are becoming drawn to them, which is lovely to see.”
As it is for Simkins, whose formula for success with Thoroughbreds is a measure of patience and lenity.
“My coach is big on that—to take the time and do it the right way. The results speak for themselves. It is so rewarding to see where you started and where you end up. I take videos and pictures to track the progress of my horses. It feels so good to see how far you can go.
“Challenges are positives. When you see what the challenges are, if you go about them the right way, they become the biggest rewards. I don’t have any complaints about Thoroughbreds. They can flourish in so many different places. They love to show off and they know when they have done a good job.”
Simkins, perhaps not surprisingly, is considering expanding her association with Thoroughbreds.
She continues to be encouraged by how the show world has embraced the breed and their unique set of skills.
“I’d like to eventually get into buying Thoroughbreds off the track, spending time working with them and teaching them, and then being able to rehome them to the show jumping world or anywhere that they would be a good fit. I was also thinking of breeding one of mine so that I could bring their babies up the levels with me.
“I would love to help them get into different disciplines, to allow them to have that opportunity and allow people to have the opportunity to connect with a wonderful breed.”