Expo Has Helped To Transform the Life of Equine Athletes and Their Human Partners

November 28, 2023

Photos courtesy of Laurine Lockhart and Kristen A Photography

Thoroughbreds’ Versatility Showcased in Event at the Florida Horse Park

By Ben Baugh

A third-generation horsemen, Laurine Lockhart envisioned following in her mother and grandfather’s footsteps in being a Thoroughbred trainer, something she attained and being a high school math teacher, something she’s working toward. 

However, the thought of being an event organizer for a show that continues to be a highly anticipated part of the late autumn calendar in Ocala, Fla., one that showcases the depth and versatility of the Thoroughbred, was something that wasn’t on her radar. 

This year’s event will be the seventh edition of the Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Exposition, and although Lockhart had grown up exhibiting hunter/jumpers, she was immersed in the world of Thoroughbred racing, at Suffolk Downs and Rockingham Park. 

Turning a Dream into a Reality 

She is the founder of the Run for the Ribbons shows at her Cedar Lock Farm in Morriston, Fla., the horse show series that announced its formation on Jan. 1, 2014; and conducted its first shows nearly a decade ago in April 2014. The series continues to evolve from its nascent stages to its current state, one that has been embraced by horsemen within the community. 

“One of the first organizations I went to was the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, and Tammy Gantt was one of the first people I met from the organization,” said Lockhart, who now sits on the FTBOA board. “She had told me, that someone had tried to start a similar program before, and there were previous attempts by an organization like ours, but it hadn’t gotten off the ground. It was like (Lockhart laughing), ‘are we going in the wrong direction here.’”

The pitfalls and adversity provided Lockhart with a number of challenges, but it was through those experiences that the Run for the Ribbons series would improve and evolve, the shows are open to all breeds, and the Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Expo would emerge. 

“We did learn a lot of things throughout the years, we have lists, I was like. ‘don’t throw those away,’ we have handwritten notes from 2014,’” said Lockhart. “We just learned so much along the way. Even though you have a general sense of how a horse show runs, there is so much behind the scenes, especially with the difference of 30 exhibitors at my farm versus 100 people in six disciplines over three days at the horse park. It’s so vastly different when it started, but the mission is still the same.”

The purpose for starting the Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Expo was to raise awareness about the breed and what they’re capable of doing and provide them with a place to showcase their versatility. 

“It provides an incentive for those owners to go out and adopt a Thoroughbred and take on the challenge of a retrain project,” said Lockhart. 

But the Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Expo also places an emphasis on Thoroughbred aftercare, with raising funds being part of the organization’s mission.

“We knew as an organization, at the end of the day, we’re responsible for these horses…so the horse show was a way of self-funding, instead of having to rely on sponsors and donations, which of course is also what we do,” said Lockhart. ‘We definitely promote everything in the breed and the organization. But the show was initially like, ‘How are we going to fund this project, and this passion and help as many horses as we can?’ And then it just kind of started expanding. It was in our third year, in 2016, that we started the expo, and that was the one show that was exclusive to Thoroughbreds. All of the shows that we have at the farm are open to all breeds. There are always extra incentives for the Thoroughbreds.”

Pursuit of a Passion 

It was Lockhart’s love of Thoroughbreds that has taken her away from her studies the past 15 years, she’s in the process of pursuing her bachelor’s degree to become a math teacher but doesn’t regret a single minute of it. Her children are following in her footsteps as horsemen. 

“I’m excited to be where we’re at,” said Lockhart. “We recently received our Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accreditation, and that shows the credibility of our organization. It shows that our hard work has paid off too. And circling back to the expo, we have an aftercare organization, with seven horses in the program.”

The Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Exposition will have 100 horses participating in this year’s event, five less equine athletes than its all-time high. The number of exhibitors fell off during the COVID-19 pandemic, but have risen markedly over the past two years. 

The expo itself has undergone a transformation since its inaugural show, where it was more similar to the Kentucky Makeover, where there was one restrictive division. 

“By year two, we realized this thing needs to be more inclusive,” said Lockhart. “We opened it up to any registered Jockey Club Thoroughbred. It has the open division which are the horses with more than three years off the track, and then the restricted division for horses within three years off the track.”

Kristen A Photography

The expo continues to evolve with the lineup of participating disciplines changing over the past seven years. Barrel racing and in-hand which had made up part of the event in previous years, won’t have a presence at this year’s transformation expo, but barrel racing may make a return at a fundraising event this winter. 

The Ocala Polo Club will also have a fundraising match for Run for the Ribbons, their opening weekend, with the game scheduled for Dec. 3. In previous years, a polo match was held simultaneously at the Florida Horse Park, while the Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Exposition was being held. 

The quality of the horses exhibiting in the different classes at the transformation expo continues to progress and the evolution and improvement are noticeable particularly for those horses who started out inexperienced, to what they can do entering their seventh year of competing at the event is markedly significant. 

“You get attached to the horses and to the people,” said Lockhart. “It’s really a great atmosphere. I feel everybody is family. Even the new people that come, they kind of feel that they fit right in. It’s a fun weekend, even though it’s competitive.”

There will be exhibitors from Canada, Arkansas, South Carolina, Kentucky and Maine, who will be participating in this year’s Thoroughbred transformation expo, competing for more than $10,000 in prize money, down from $25,000 this past year.  

“It’s an event that’s loved by the competitors or they wouldn’t keep coming back, said Lockhart. “It’s not just about the money, it’s about the breed. It’s a fun weekend.”

A Team Effort 

The event’s growing reputation has not only attracted outstanding horseman, but the quality of officials associated with the exposition adds to its allure and popularity. Lindsey Partridge will judge the freestyle and working ranch/trail riding classes; Pam Hunt the show jumping class; Dorothy Crowell, eventing and Whitney Mulqueen, show hunters. 

“We’re very blessed, fortunate and thankful to have these judges in, everybody but Whitney has been with us before, which again speaks for itself, they had so much fun,” said Lockhart. “

The Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Exposition’s board is entirely composed of women, and they share a common objective.

“Our board is a strong team of women who are passionate about Thoroughbreds,” said Lockhart. “I think our judges also reflect that this year. They’re all strong women in the industry and mentors that I looked up to growing up. I’m just humbled and full of gratitude when I’m around these women, and it’s an amazing experience to be able to ride in front of them and be judged by them.”

As an organizer, Lockhart and her team found have found themselves wearing multiple hats, including lining up and securing the judges, handling the communications with the Florida Horse Park, working with sponsors and being involved with the marketing to promote the event. They also reach out to the previous participants.

“We have a great team of volunteers and amazing judges,” said Lockhart.

A familiar voice will be returning to announce this year’s show, John Henderson, the voice of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company and Keeneland, his third consecutive year as the transformation expo’s emcee and announcer. 

“He’s actually supported us from year one,” said Lockhart. “At our very first show and awards banquet, we needed a live auction person, and a friend from OBS was like, ‘Come meet my buddy John, he’s an auctioneer. Maybe he’ll be able to come and help you out.’ So he came out to the banquet that year, and we’ve stayed friends. And three years ago, we were in the position of needing a new announcer for the expo, and I said, ‘Hey John, have you ever announced a horse show?’ and he said, ‘No.’ He was game and has been with us ever since.”

The expo will start each morning at about 8 a.m. 

There will also be a veterans leadline class on December 9, and donations will be collected throughout the day for the Wounded Warrior Project. 

“Right before we start our freestyle, we’ll do a leadline presentation,: said Lockhart. “Sometimes the veterans will be leading the horse and sometimes the veterans are on the horse. It’s a class where we honor our veterans and show recognition. It’s heartwarming.”

Run for the Ribbons reached out to trainer Ron Moquett and the Arkansas HBPA this summer, to learn more about the Ring the Bell program, and how they might be able to bring that initiative to Florida, and it has become a reality after coming to an agreement with Tampa Bay Downs. 

“Our slogan from day one has been that we’re setting the pace for Thoroughbred aftercare,” said Lockhart. “This program (Ring the Bell) will not only help us but will help other approved organizations here in the state of Florida. It’s truly going to make a statewide impact.”

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