The Prodigious Fund trainer selection committee has announced five finalists and one alternate for the 100-Day Trainer Challenge, in which six former Thoroughbred racehorses will be retrained to perform in equestrian events at Emerald Downs.
The 100-Day Trainer Challenge begins June 28 and culminates October 5 at the Thoroughbred Only Horse Show at Emerald Downs, with an end goal of placing the retrained horses into permanent homes through a private sale.
“We were very pleased with the response from the equestrian community,” said event coordinator Sophia McKee. “We achieved our goal and have a good cross-section of training talent.
“The next step is to get each trainer a horse, and they then will have 100 days to teach the horse three new disciplines.”
Trainers will select horses from a pool of former Emerald Downs’ runners donated by Emerald Downs’ owners and trainers. A blind draw will determine the draft order.
At the Thoroughbred Only Horse Show, the winner will be decided by a combination of public voting on social media and the judges’ score in three categories: In-Hand, Flat Class, Freestyle Class.
Here is a look, in alphabetical order, of the trainers chosen to compete in the 100-Day Trainer Challenge:
Mark Bolender, Silver Creek, WA*Extreme Trail/Western
Owner and operator of Bolender Horse Park (bolenderhorsepark.com) in unincorporated Lewis County, Bolender is a nationally recognized horseman and instructor. The 57-year-old Bolender is a three-time National Grand Champion, and a leading expert in Mountain Trail, Extreme Trail, and Competitive Trail. Bolender Horse Park features a unique set-up tailored toward Extreme Trail and Mountain Trail, boasting over 40 obstacles and nearly endless training potential.
Amy Brandt, Olympia, WA*Hunt Seat
The 26-year-old Brandt is resident trainer for Katie Merwick’s Second Chance Ranch (secondchanceranch.org) in Rainier/Yelm, where she specializes in transitioning off the track Thoroughbreds (OTTB) of all ages and training levels. Prior to her current full-time position, Brandt has an extensive background riding and training OTTBs, and has assisted farriers and veterinarians.
Meika Decher, Lake Stevens, WA*Three-Day Eventing
Based at Polestar Farm in Lake Stevens (polestarfarm.com), the 43-year-old Decher has ridden at the Advanced level since 1999 and was selected to ride with the United States Equestrian Team’s Developing Rider Team for 2 years. Decher has completed 5 CCI***, which is equivalent to Olympic level eventing, and has an extensive history riding and working with Thoroughbreds, including a stretch with Washington Hall of Fame Trainer Jim Penney.
Ruel Johnson, Poulsbo, WA*Hunter/Jumper
The owner/trainer of Blue Heron Farm (blueheronfarmllc.com) in Poulsbo, Johnson has long been involved both in breeding (her family owns Allaire Farms) and retraining Thoroughbreds. Beginning in 1979, while Johnson stood Persian Emperor at Blue Heron Farm, she began retraining Thoroughbreds for jumping. Along the way, she has retrained dozens of former Thoroughbred racehorses for different careers. Johnson’s students will be assisting in the Challenge as a team effort.
Devin Robel, Eugene, ORE*Three-Day Eventing
Owner/trainer of Blue Rider Farm (blueriderfarm.com) in Eugene, Ore., Robel has ridden for 30 years and competed in Eventing the last 19 years. She has an extensive background with Thoroughbreds, retraining over 30 ex-racehorses for their next careers. She has ridden through the Intermediate level, as well as FEI level international one and two star events.
Chesna Klimek (1st Alternate). Rainier, WA*Dressage
A 26-year-old native of Rainier, Klimek has extensive equestrian experience. She earned a United States Dressage Foundation silver medal for competing successfully at Prix St. George level. In 2012, Klimek won the Extreme Cowboy Race in Lynden, as well as the All Breed Challenge at the Northwest Horse Fair & Expo. In three-day eventing, she won the United States Eventing Association Area VII championship at Training level.
The Prodigious Fund is an organization dedicated to recognizing and supporting positive efforts made within the Thoroughbred aftercare community for the re-homing, promotion and care of retired racehorses.