Sunset years? End of the trail? Retired racehorse? NO WAY!


Meet Wig Collins—an angstless, nineteen-year-old Generation Z’er with seventeen years in the saddle.

Watch her ride, and it’s quickly apparent that Wig Collins is knowledgeable, courageous with kind-skilled hands, has a well-placed leg and heel, and a humble quietness. That combination turns Thoroughbreds headed to “proverbial greener pastures” into tri-color-ribbon-draped “New Starts!”

Wig bodes from a family of horse enthusiasts. Surrounded by equestrian trophies, memorabilia, and familial rider portraits, it is only fitting that a young “wiggly” toddler would find her way to riding solo and showing at age 2 on a Welsh pony named Ascot.

Not surprising either that by eight-years-old, Wig was confidently cantering arenas atop the stallion Thunder Kid (AKA Billy)—her mother’s 16.1 hands, retired Thoroughbred racehorse.


Shez So Groovy gets New Start (circa April 1st, 2019)

Wig Collins’ latest endeavor is Shez So Groovy—a Pennsylvania Thoroughbred “War Horse.”

“As I soon as I got on her, I loved her walk. Conformationally, she’s well put together, balanced, and uphill. Plus, when I first rode her, there were seven enthusiastic dogs creating a bit of chaos, and she was fine and relaxed! Just a bit fast-paced. It said a lot about her,” says Collins.

Wig Collins and Guinevere the retrained Thoroughbred Shez So Groovy

Now renamed Guinevere, this beautiful, six-year-old, 16 hands, bay mare has many performance years ahead of her. Having sixty-six racing starts, Guinevere has earned the prestigious title of “War Horse” (a horse that has fifty-plus starts). While the “War Horse” title does not necessarily fetch a silver trophy, blanket of flowers, or the default adoration of the masses, in truth, for any in-the-know equestrian, the title does garner respect and admiration.

The “War Horse” accomplishment encapsulates the epitome of a mentally and physically exceptional horse. The sheer endurance and longevity of a warhorse is a testament to successful and sound breeding, development, ongoing conditioning, training, and handling that makes those fifty-plus starts possible.

Retraining the Thoroughbred Racehorse Brain

Thoroughbred racehorses train to instantly react with speed. Coming “out of the gate,” contained-energy releases in a forward explosion that intensifies and endures for 5-7 furlongs. A career racehorse training-for-speed (as in Guinevere’s case) requires an enormous mental adjustment for off-track success.

Collins believes, “In retraining an off-track Thoroughbred, you have to slow down the ‘speed’ mentality and settle the engine. That’s learned. If she is exposed to a lot, then anything will be a breeze.”

Says Collins, “It’s a partnership, and I have to do my part as well. The hardest thing for me is maintaining patience. To not react over her over-reactions is the hardest thing to do, but I have to maintain a calm demeanor and not get frustrated. I have to stay focused and in my zone, or it escalates.”

“Some [Thoroughbred horses] are more sensitive than others, but if they have high anxiety, it’s just because they’re anticipating the speed. You’re wanting them to ‘chill’; so you simply have to not feed into their emotions. You have to keep it together,” says Collins.

Collins observes, “I love that Guinee’s a thinker, not a reactor. I’m working on taking away any elements of tenseness. Because of her racing career, she has a high level of anticipation. Her motor will be going too fast in anticipation of readying herself for speed. She just needs to get adjusted to relaxing and living and performing at a much lower key. Now, when we go out on trail rides and field trips to farms, she settles in, relaxes, and goes on a floppy rein.”

Partnered Career via Communication

While retraining the conditioned-for-speed equine athlete is beyond challenging for some, Wig Collins’ training regimen succeeds. She succeeds with focus, self-control, and establishing clear, connecting communication.

“What some label as ‘high-anxiety horses’ is really just a mental thing. You have to stay in your zone. You have to quiet and calm your energy because that translates through your hands and legs to the horse, and the horse will pick up on it. That’s the hardest part. Whatever you’re feeling translates through and into the horse’s body,” says Collins.

Wig Collins and Guinevere at Creekside Equestrian an affiliate New Start foster

“Some [horses] are super-sensitive; if they get priggish, you can’t react to that. They’re usually frustrated because we’re not communicating clearly to them. Then, we get frustrated because they’re not getting what we think we are communicating. It’s easy for that to escalate into an incident. As the trainer, I have to stay calm to have a stabilizing effect.”

Reminisces Collins, “When I was younger, I had this beautiful, chestnut, Thoroughbred racehorse named Spoo (formerly known as Rossi’s Girl). I used to joke that I needed to take a Xanax before riding her because she was so super-sensitive and reactive. I really had to harness my inner Zen. Looking back at it, she’d get upset because she didn’t know what I wanted. It wasn’t her fault. Most of the time, we were both pissed at the other for not being clear.”

Horse Show Calmness

In training off-the-track Thoroughbreds that are new to the horse show experience, Wig Collins believes maintaining contagious confidence is essential.

“When I took Guinevere to her first hunter show, she was a bit worried, but she didn’t react because I didn’t react to her nerves. She fed off of my calmness. Most of the time, at a show, it’s about calmness, not about getting the perfect stride or going pretty over a fence. If you’re nervous, that travels and is expressed in your body, through your hands, down the reins, and through your leg. If you’re nervous and worked up, the horse hears that and mirrors your emotions,” says Collins.

Attests Collins, “In the schooling ring at a show, it’s just chaos. If you stay calm, they still will be nervous, but if you’ve built that relationship, the [horse’s] response will be, ‘Okay, if you say so!’ Eventually, with enough experiences, they won’t be fazed.” “It’s funny, though, sometimes you just go and know you’re going to make an ass of yourself, but you just keep it together and know that it will eventually get better,” laughs Collins.

Empowering Potential

Wig Collins believes in training for versatility so nothing is limited.

“My ideal is to be versatile so I can find out what niche suits me best. Whether hunters, jumpers, combined training, eventing, or dressage, I’d like to try everything. I’m only nineteen, and I have a lot to learn. So why not have a versatile horse too? I have lots of ideas for Guinevere,” shares Collins.

“Guinee has an inquisitive, willing, and fearless attitude,” confides Collins. “Even with the blacksmith, she turns and watches him rasp her feet, and it’s not in a worried way, just interested in what he’s doing. But I think with her mental and physical soundness that she’s up to the challenges of competing in multiple disciplines. She’s very athletic, very classy all around with a great brain, so I’ll see what she does best and go from there.”

Wig’s Bucket List:

No end of the trail for retired racehorses here…  just a new trail!

It’s clear to see Wig’s passion and talent for retraining retired Thoroughbreds. Wig is dedicated to creating a gentle transition for Guinevere into her new profession. By establishing a trusting relationship founded in kindness and patience success is inevitable.

With the right person, gentle hands, love and care, and a lot of patience, the past champions of the track move on to be champions in other equine arenas. It’s important to Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry that the equine athletes have happy healthy lives in their second careers. Pennsylvania’s two Thoroughbred horseman associations have their own retirement programs at each of Pennsylvania state’s three Thoroughbred tracks (Parx Racing, Penn National Racecourse, and Presque Isle Downs).

Follow Wig’s featured new-career-readied-for-you, New Start Thoroughbreds: Instagram@wig_collins

Wig rides at Creekside Equestrian, LLC (owned by Sondra Fallon) which is an affiliate New Start foster.

New Start facilitates re-homing placement and ongoing new careers for retired-from-racing Pennsylvania racehorses—a program of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. For more information about New Start, contact Lauren Zagnit, Program Coordinator at 717-645-6615

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.