Making a Difference

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Kristin Werner and Jasper

By Jennifer M. Keeler

When Kristin Werner accepted a part-time data entry job to make extra cash for college, she never dreamed that 20 years later not only would she still be with the same company, but also in charge of a national program that has made such a positive impact on the horse world.

As Senior Counsel for The Jockey Club in Lexington, Ky., Werner handles legal issues on a daily basis. But it’s also her tireless work heading the organization’s post-racing aftercare programs and Thoroughbred Incentive Program (T.I.P.) that means so much to legions of equestrians. Those efforts have now resulted in The Jockey Club officially signing on for 2020 as a Participating Organization with the wildly-popular Adequan®/United States Dressage Federation (USDF) All-Breeds Awards Program.

“We’re delighted to now be a part of this,” said Werner. “As the official breed registry for Thoroughbred horses in North America, I think there is an expectation for The Jockey Club to carry the torch to promote Thoroughbreds in sport after their racing careers are over, and this is another great opportunity to do that. We realize that Thoroughbreds may not be the first thought for many people as a dressage mount, but we’d like to change that perception.”

Bred throughout the centuries to be the ultimate equine athlete, modern Thoroughbreds like Secretariat and American Pharoah are household names due to their incredible achievements on the racetrack. But the breed’s athleticism has also served it well in the sport horse arena. Because of this talent, Thoroughbred blood enhances the pedigrees of many warmbloods throughout the world.

In the late 1970’s, a giant of a Thoroughbred forever changed the minds of the international sport horse world when considering the breed as a dressage mount. The 17.2-hand chestnut gelding known as Keen climbed to the top of the international dressage stage with a young California rider named Hilda Gurney. Purchased as a three-year-old from his breeder for only $1,000, Keen and Gurney rose through the ranks together, culminating in a Team Bronze Medal at the 1976 Olympic Games. The pair also thrilled the hometown crowd with a top-15 individual finish as part of the U.S. Team for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

As Keen was cantering down centerline at the Olympics, Werner was spending her childhood years on the East Coast before her family moved to Louisville, Ky. in the late 1980s. Both Werner and her older sister Laura were into horses; but while her sister was an avid competitor in eventing and is now an equine veterinarian with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, Werner enjoyed other interests.

“While I loved horses and had every horse-crazy girl’s required collection of Breyer horses, I wasn’t that interested in competition,” Werner remembered. “I enjoyed taking lessons, being around the barn, and helping my sister at shows. But I also did a lot of other sports like field hockey and softball and was very involved in training and showing dogs. Even so, I still was always involved with horses to some degree and, of course, was a big horse racing fan since we grew up with the Kentucky Derby in our hometown.”

Werner enrolled in the University of Kentucky in Lexington to pursue an undergraduate degree in Political Science. Needing a part-time job, she answered an advertisement for a data entry clerk at The Jockey Club Information Systems. It proved to be a perfect fit, as Werner stayed on with The Jockey Club throughout college and after earning a postgraduate law degree. “I needed a job and they happened to be hiring – I certainly never thought it was where I’d spend my entire career!” Werner laughed.

Already working full-time as legal counsel for The Jockey Club, Werner was happy to volunteer to become a one-woman army and manage the organization’s Thoroughbred aftercare efforts, a cause she is now passionate about. “The leadership of The Jockey Club have always been very supportive of the idea of Thoroughbreds moving from racing into second careers in sport,” she explained. “So about 10 years ago we created the Thoroughbred Incentive Programs, or ‘T.I.P.’, to incentivize people to purchase or adopt a Thoroughbred for a career after racing and to reward those people who actually compete with them.”

Rebecca Sturdy riding Raphael (registered as Red Phase) at the T.I.P. Championships last year. (MBH/Pyrois Photography – Melissa Bauer-Herzog)

Officially launched in early 2012, T.I.P. invites organizers to apply to be part of the program and offer Thoroughbred classes and high-point awards at their shows, with ribbons and prizes provided by The Jockey Club. It was a hit right out of the starting gate: growing from about 150 participating shows that first year, more than 1,400 individual shows in 42 states and 6 Canadian provinces representing a multitude of disciplines signed up to offer T.I.P. awards in 2020, including more than 450 dressage competitions. And the number of horses participating in the program is also impressive.

“We currently have about 28,000 T.I.P. numbers assigned, which are given when a horse is enrolled in our awards programs,” Werner noted. “Last year we had about 8,500 horses actively competing in individual shows, as well as 650 enrolled for our T.I.P. year-end awards programs.” T.I.P. also recently announced that in response to the ongoing cancellations of horse shows due to COVID-19, stand-alone divisions have been added for online dressage shows for 2020 (for more information, visit this link: https://tjctip.com/About/TBPAFI).

Now the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds program is part of The Jockey Club’s every-growing umbrella of incentives for Thoroughbred enthusiasts. “We’ve continued to expand the awards program over the years, and it’s a perfect fit to now officially partner with USDF,” said Werner. “We’ve had multiple requests for it and had to work out some of the eligibility requirements, but are delighted that now we’ve been able to make it happen.”

What does this mean as far as encouraging more people to try competing in dressage with their Thoroughbred, or who may be considering one as their next dressage mount? “For those people who already have a Thoroughbred maybe at the local level, I hope this will give them some incentive to dip their toes into the water of recognized shows, and that benefits everyone,” Werner explained. “We certainly want more and more people to get out there and compete in licensed competitions with their Thoroughbreds because it provides even more exposure to encourage others to try it as well.

Ava Thrun and Light My Fire (Ann Thrun)

“A horse does have to be a registered Thoroughbred to participate, and sometimes this presents an issue with people who adopt a horse but maybe don’t have the original registration papers and can’t read their lip tattoo from racing,” Werner continued. “But please reach out to us – we have a lot of resources available and are happy to work with people to try to track these things down or find other ways to identify the horse, such as through markings or DNA.”

Even though she admits her work involves a daunting amount of paperwork, Werner knows the difference it makes for horses, riders, and the Thoroughbred breed. When taking a break from the demands of her busy career, Werner enjoys spending time on her Georgetown, Ky. farm with dogs, two chickens, and two horses of her own, including her very own off-the-track Thoroughbred named Jasper, who she enjoys riding on the trails when time allows.

“Aftercare programs for Thoroughbreds are a critical part of racing, and expanding our program like this with USDF to include more awards for dressage in turn provides even more opportunities for these horses to excel in their second careers,” said Werner. “I’m just honored to be a part of making that difference.”

For more information on The Jockey Club’s T.I.P. program, visit https://tjctip.com/default.

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