Gate to Great
“Every horse that has left here is a success story in one way or another,” says Dale Simanton. The South Dakota horse trainer speaks with experience and kindness that only comes with 48-years in the business.
Simanton wears the hat and boots, but somehow, as cowboys go, he is different. His breed of choice is the Thoroughbred. Simanton has made a career of retraining off-track Thoroughbreds for second careers. He and Dorothy Snowden operate the Gate to Great racehorse retraining program.
While their Newell, SD address may not be a destination, Simanton’s horses are sought after due to their versatility and amateur friendly minds. They learn to work cattle and rope steers on the ranch, where work isn’t a four-letter word.
Simanton allows the horse to unwind, so “the silliness is out of their head.” It is only then that the retraining process begins, slowly and correctly.
Graduates of Simanton’s program have gone on to successful careers in eventing, dressage, fox hunting, and barrel racing with their new owners.
“I’ve always done this. I retrained my first Thoroughbred when I was 12-years-old,” Simanton says. He acquired a gelding named Royal Rooster by trading two cows and two calves. Simanton’s early years were spent as a jockey and racehorse trainer on Montana’s “Leaky-roof Circuit.”
The beginnings of the Gate to Great program happened due to necessity, during tough times. Sale prices plummeted and the cowboy began trading his Thoroughbred breeding stock for off-the-track geldings. Eventually, people back east started sending him free geldings and an occasional stallion.
“There are a lot of these horses that would have gone to slaughter – most in fact,” Simanton says. “Good people have stepped up to the plate to help them find another job.”
More than 140,000 American horses were shipped to Canada and Mexico last year and slaughtered, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The dead are made up of 70% Quarter Horses and 6% Thoroughbreds, Simanton adds.
Simanton says he is appreciative for organizations like Steuart Pittman’s Retired Racehorse Project, “that are doing something to help Thoroughbreds and working to make them more valuable.”
The non-profit is hosting a $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park in late October. “When a horse gets a good education it can find work. If it finds work it is taken care of,” Pittman states. To date, 330 entries have been received.
Three of Gate to Great’s horses will compete in Lexington for the title of “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred” – Thirsty Soul, Jaded Lover, and Painted Forest. The latter is being trained and ridden by Dorothy Snowden.
Simanton is also partnering with CANTER Colorado (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) on a fourth horse to benefit the charity. He is training the CANTER gelding named Fist Pump. The two recently became acquainted after an exhibition.
“I just loved him from the minute I got on,” said Simanton. “He was surrounded by chaos – people, other horses, loudspeakers – things that can really unnerve a horse and he still wanted to work with me. I knew then we would get along great.”
Fist Pump will compete in the working ranch horse class, where he will be asked to use the roping and ranch work skills he will spend the next several months learning at the ranch.
“We anticipate these two will do great things over the next six months,” said CANTER Colorado Executive Director Jamie Girouard. “We are very appreciative of Gate to Great’s support for CANTER Colorado and look forward to watching one of our Thoroughbreds show off on a national stage.” After the competition, First Pump will be available for sale to a new home.
Simanton is no stranger to the Thoroughbred Makeover. He has competed at the national event since its inception in 2013. Last year, he placed fifth aboard Rikim, competing against two former Olympians and trainers in ten disciplines.
This year the stakes are high. “At any time in my life, I would have felt extremely fortunate to have any one of these wonderful horses,” says Simanton. “I can’t imagine the good fortune of having them all the same year!”