Thoroughbreds often evoke mystery, myth and misconception for those in the horse world unfamiliar with the breed. Sometimes Suzanne Wepplo can’t believe the ideas – some approaching folklore – that she hears about this horse, particularly thoroughbreds who’ve had careers at the racetrack.
The beliefs run varied and deep, although Wepplo is doing her best to dispel notions that thoroughbreds are incorrigible, usually crazy and incapable of turning over a new leaf, or learning anything new, once they’ve run a furlong or more.
Some of the folk tales put thoroughbreds in a category with, say, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and Vlad the Impaler. They’re ornery, single-minded and destined to stay that way.
Wepplo, who once wanted to become a veterinarian, studied education and psychology and has a teaching degree from Hamline University. She is sometimes astounded at what people believe about this breed of horse.
“People, even horse people, think they’re crazy, that they can’t canter on the right lead because they’re always running to the left,” Suzanne said. “It’s all such a myth. If you watch these horses at the track, the way most of them are treated and groomed every day, it’s amazing. The horses that are sane on the track usually excel afterward. A horse with a good mind at the track will have a good mind anywhere.”
Take her first acquisition from Canterbury Park, a horse who ran under the name “Rainy” and is known now as Puppylove. Suzanne has worked with this son of Shot of Gold since acquiring him from Vic Hanson in 2009 and in that time turned him into a national dressage champion.
“He wasn’t much of a runner from what I understand,” she said. “But he’s been wonderful to work with.”
Good enough to have won national titles at the third level and attracted enough attention that Suzanne was one of two Minnesotans – Dr. Jennifer Selvig is the other – chosen with 24 others to compete in something called the Retired Racehorse Makeover, sponsored by the Retired Racehorse Training Project.
To compete, a horse has to have a racing history, at least one start, and no other training since leaving the racetrack. Trainers will chronicle the horse’s progress on the internet and then demonstrate what the horse has learned in his or her new discipline the first weekend in October at Pimlico Racetrack.
Thus, Suzanne is in the market for a new horse, preferably between the ages of four to nine,” at least 16 hands, sound, with a good temperament and an aptitude for dressage or jumping.”
She is looking for more than a horse. Sponsors are sorely needed to help with the expenses associated with this project – vet, farrier, feeding, training equipment and shipping. “Sponsors get publicity on our blog pages/social media/you tube,” Suzanne added.
Suzanne changed directions in college simply because she missed her time with horses. “I wanted to be a horse vet,” she said. “But when I was going to school, doing pre-med, I didn’t have time to ride. I wanted to ride and train professionally.”
She is doing both. Wepplo operates Sisu Sporthorse out of the Pegasus Riding School in Medina. “Sisu” is a Finnish word meaning inner strength or fortitude. “I wanted to recognize my heritage,” Wepplo explained. She teaches beginning to experienced riders in dressage or hunter jumping and trains horses in those disciplines as well.
Wepplo rode as a youngster growing up in Forest Lake, working in the barn where she rode to pay for her riding lessons. “I was a barn rat,” she said. “Luckily there was a good trainer living nearby (about five miles from her home) so I worked for my lessons.” That trainer was renowned Grand Prix dressage trainer/rider Anne McKay.
Wepplo hasn’t had the “funds” to buy a Warmblood, a horse bred for dressage with an elastic supple movement and a body conducive to carrying its weight behind for better balance and collection.
Nonetheless, she has been delighted with Puppylove. “I’d ridden thoroughbreds before, but he is the first I’ve owned,” she said.
Actually, it was love at first sight. Suzanne had just watched the horse gallop, which told her nothing beyond his ability to run a straight line. “I went back with him to his stall. He had just galloped and he got all snugly with me and put his head on my chest,” she said. “He was quiet and gentle, even after galloping and all the grooms loved him.”
That was all the information she had. So choosing the right horse takes some luck, too. You want an animal work, study his disposition. Ask questions of those who have spent time with him. And then…
“Then you roll the dice,” she said.
It was her come-out throw with Puppylove, and she rolled a seven.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.