Improbable Athletes — Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds

The Equestrian Olympics 2016 are celebrating a new kind kind of competitor. Against the backdrop of perfectly bred warmblood horses glittering like diamonds in the sun, ex-thoroughbred racehorses show they have the grit to become great athletes even following the lowest point of their racing careers. These unique, damaged souls are given a second chance in life as event horses — and many go on to compete equally with their more expensive and well-bred comrades. Simply stated, they are the “diamonds in the rough,” but no less valuable.
The heartwarming tales of success with these second-chance horses are paved with difficulties, but the payouts are twofold. Meghan O’Donoghue and her off-the-track thoroughbred horse Pirate are fitting examples of the abundant rewards that can be reaped by the transformation of racehorse to event horse. At only 15 years of age, this young rider picked Pirate out of a collection of similar low-end racehorses in Collinsville, Illinois, near her family’s Carbondale training facility. She brought him home as a three-year-old event prospect originally destined for resale but fell in love, and Pirate became her first ticket to upper-level eventing success.
As Meghan steadfastly quotes on her website,, “I don’t take any day I ride Pirate for granted. He’s never given me a reason to doubt him. He shows up and gives 100 percent whether we’re at home or a competition. I feel really lucky and blessed to have Pirate.”
This young horse and rider team finished seventh in their first CIC three-star event in 2012 and quickly moved up the ranks. In 2013, the team competed in the prestigious Rolex Kentucky CCI event, a four-star competition known as the "Kentucky Derby" of the eventing world. After placing 12th and securing her spot as the highest ranked first-time rider, Meghan knew they were bound for a remarkable future together, and the team never looked back. They compete in upper-level events all around the world to this day.
The story of Meghan O’Donoghue and Pirate shows the joy these rescued racehorses have brought to the lives of show riders and horse lovers alike. Diamonds in the rough, truly, but partners for life? Always.
Meghan O’Donoghue on Pirate, Jersey Fresh CCI**

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