Local cowboy in Thoroughbred racehorse makeover challenge | TSLN.com

Local cowboy in Thoroughbred racehorse makeover challenge

Jan Swan Wood
for Tri-State Livestock News
The intelligent eye and pretty head of Drake's Dancer are typical of the Thoroughbreds that learn new careers at Gate to Great's gelding program. Duck and Dale Simanton will be traveling to Baltimore, Md., in October for the 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge.

The Retired Racehorse Training Project (RRTP) Thoroughbred Makeover “100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge” sounded like an interesting idea to Dale Simanton and Dorothy Snowden, Newell, S.D., owners of Horse Creek Thoroughbreds Gate To Great ranch. When Dorothy submitted Dale’s name to the challenge this spring, they never dreamed that he would win a coveted spot in the project.

The RRTP received 142 applications ranging in age from 12-60 years, from 29 states and Canadian provinces. The applicants were professionals, amateurs and juniors, specializing in 10 varying disciplines. Of the 26 trainers chosen, Simanton is only one of two who rides in the western discipline, with the other being a barrel racer. Most are from the eastern part of the country.

After having been chosen, Dale had to make some difficult decisions including which horse to use and how to get to Baltimore, Md., for the Oct. 5-6, event at Pimlico Racetrack. Planning began immediately for the trip, as sponsors got on board. A friend, Larry McCormick, Los Angeles, Calif., volunteered to pull Dale’s trailer and haul them to Baltimore.

Dorothy, laughing, says, “Our motto for him is just ‘shut up and ride, we’ve got this covered.’” Simanton grinned in response, as Dorothy and friend Heather Benson have taken over the technical details of the project.

Choosing the horse was a major consideration. Dale wanted to be able to get a lot done in the 100 days of riding without overwhelming too young of a horse, so he narrowed it down to three horses. Those three were put up on the website for consideration and “fans” were allowed to vote for the horse they thought should be chosen. The winning horse, by a landslide, was Drake’s Dancer, an 8-year-old. Drake’s Dancer’s nickname is “Duck” in South Dakota.

“I’m glad I’m going to use Duck. He’s just a plain brown horse, nothing flashy, and represents the breed well,” says Simanton. “Duck” was donated for this project by Don and Kim Campbell, Campbell Farm, Guthrie, Ky. Fresh off the track, he ran his last race March 27 at Beulah Park in Ohio, after a career earning three wins, two seconds and two thirds out of 28 starts and a little over $51,000. The Campbells had bought him from the breeder when he went broke and couldn’t care for him. Duck had a bright beginning to his career, with a 13 length win at seven and a half furlongs at Indiana Downs, but was unable to continue his winning ways consistently.

Duck is well bred, with Secretariat on his papers top and bottom and is by Assembly Dancer and out of Jo Ann Pal by Iron Courage. He stands about 16 hands and weighs around 1200 pounds. A fairly typical Kentucky-raised gelding, he had never been out of a paddock or stall in his life, so moving to South Dakota in early April was quite a change. “He arrived from Ohio in the midst of an April snow storm, so it was quite a change,” laughed Simanton.

“After letting him settle in for a while, I turned him out to just be a horse and be with the other geldings,” Simanton said, and added, smiling “He kept getting into trouble out in the pasture though. He’d get on the wrong side of the creek, end up on an island, get stuck in the mud. Man, he had some troubles. He’d start out across a muddy spot and get in deeper and deeper, then stop and look around for some help.” Even with his troubles in the pasture, though, Duck was adapting and learning to handle himself off level ground.

“Now he’s getting a crash course in ‘western’ and has gone to work. The first day I rode him, he bucked when I touched him with a spur, but he got over it and is working good now,” Simanton said. “I’ll be doing ranch work on him. If there’s something else that comes along, I’ll do that too,” explained Simanton. “We’ll go to brandings where he’ll drag calves, sort cows, and cover a lot of open country,” adding, “He learns things easy, is very willing and you only have to show him something about one time. He’s a really nice horse.”

Duck has already demonstrated some natural ranch horse ability to Dale and Dorothy, as Dorothy explained, “Dale put him in the arena with the roping steers and Duck cut one out and took it around the arena. He pinned his ears and went right to it and we know he’d never even seen a cow before.”

Dale Simanton isn’t new to the Thoroughbred as a ranch horse. As a long-time trainer of Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racehorses in Montana and surrounding states, Simanton has always used horses off the track for ranch work. “We did this out of necessity when we were running races. When we weren’t at the track, we might go gather Ed Gardner’s bulls on ‘em,” said Simanton, adding, “We always broke them just like a saddle horse. We believed that most of them weren’t going to make it on the track so they might as well be broke and able to do something.”

Simanton and Snowden raised Thoroughbreds on their place west of Newell, but when the horse business tanked, they decided they had to do something else. The need for a place to go with off-track Thoroughbreds (OTT) became apparent and they started their Gate to Great program for OTT geldings. Dale rides them on the ranch, day works for ranches in the region, and does everything that he does horseback on his Thoroughbred geldings, preparing them for a career and a future. Alumni of the Gate to Great program are jumpers, eventers, dressage horses, ranch horses, barrel horses, and pleasure horses.

This philosophy of the usefulness of the Thoroughbred melded well with the mission statement of the RRTP, so their program is a perfect fit for the challenge. Each trainer in the challenge will keep a chronicle online of how their horse is progressing in their new career and interested parties, whether just fans or potential buyers, can follow each horse as it moves along in it’s training.

The challenge isn’t a contest, as every participant receives the same $1,000 of the $26,000 that was initially donated in memory of the lives lost in the Sandy Hook shooting. “It’s not a contest but is more of a symposium to demonstrate the versatility of the Thoroughbred,” explained Dorothy. A sale will be set up to sell the horses that have been through the challenge, as Dale added, “He’ll be sold when it’s over. We won’t be bringing him home.”

From racehorse to ranch horse, “Duck” will be learning a lot this summer and fall in preparation for his demonstration at Baltimore. To follow this horse’s progress through the 100 Day Challenge, you can go to the Facebook page for Horse Creek Thoroughbreds or http://www.gatetogreat.com.