Apr. 5, 2016

Highlighting: Nicole Valeri

The first time I heard of the name Nicole Valeri, I was on the developing board for a trainer's challenge that was called "The Extreme Retired Racehorse Makeover." It was a Barrel Race that was using horses off of the racetrack to be trained as barrel racers. The show was geared towards helping horses that were too small for most english disciplines yet possibly too big or built wrong for the sport of polo. Nicole applied that year and just missed the cut of the  12 trainers that were picked. She asked the director, Jackie Harris of Dreaming of Three, what she could do for the next year or what she could improve on if she applied again. She went home and put the time in. She worked hard and the following year, she made the cut. The second year had some changes. It was now called the "Ultimate X Showdown." The final trainers totalled 15 rather than 12 and the purse money and prizes doubled. Nicole purchased a young gelding named "No More Rings" who had been racing at Mountaineer Racetrack that season. She went to work right away and slow but surely, gained his trust. At the showdown, trainers were given 100 days to perfect their barrel skills as well as to design and perform a freestyle routine to show off any other skills they were able to teach their horses. Nicole bested the best and won. Not only did she prove how smart Rings was, but showed her maturity and confidence being the youngest to compete that weekend. 

In 2015 Nicole decided to test herself yet again and entered into the Retired Racehorse Project where she would be competing in front of the country (online) and thousands live at the Kentucky Horse Park. She decided to bring two horses to compete this time. She chose a horse that had actually been in my family's racing string. Her name was Quantitativeeasing aka "Q." She also followed and purchased a filly who was closely related to her beloved "Rings" from the year before named, Legal Ring aka "Jinx."  "Q" swept both preliminary runs against 10 other horses and won the finals as well. "Jinx" finished a very respectable 6th place. When the final tallied times came in, Nicole's first place finish was 7 seconds faster than the next best time! 

Naturally Nicole was on my radar to interview! 

Nicole was born to a suburban, non horse family. She started riding at a very early age though. She first started riding lessons at 3 years old. Her parents weren't sure she would stick to riding as most girls from her area would get the riding bug but would soon grow into other interests so her parents kept her in lessons to make sure she wasn't just going through a "phase." Nicole first started her riding lessons in an english saddle. As her skills progressed quickly and she zipped through the skills she needed to learn, her parents decided it was time to lease a horse for her. Nicole said her parents were very supportive even with their limited knowledge of the sport. She proved she was going to stick and was very invested in it. As she learned more and more, her confidence really grew as did her talent in the saddle. So much so that she really felt the need for speed....and so....her love of barrel racing was born!

Nicole was never really a big fan of thoroughbreds. She competed in a sport that, for the most part, felt they weren't capable of competing against breeds that were bred and raised for the job. When she made the cut for the Ultimate X Showdown in 2014, she purchased her very first thoroughbred. Nicole remembers, "I fell so in love with him that I knew I had to have more. It wasn't long before I was totally smitten with the breed as a whole." 

She has since owned and trained 8 thoroughbreds. She says, " I try to buy horses that are built for barrel racing and I have been fortunate to have selected several that have a real aptitude for the sport. However, not all of them were suited to be barrel horses. I have had several that were much too quiet and had little desire to run that went on to be excellent trail and hunter mounts."

Nicole breaks and trains horses for clients for many disciplines but she focuses on barrel racing, where her heart is. Some of her accomplishments include:  2012 IBRA Youth 1D Res. Champion, the 2014 Ultimate X Showdown Champion, 2015 RRP Barrel Racing Champion, and numerous placings in the barrel pen.

Nicole continues to look for prospects off of the racetrack, one by one. I asked her what it was about this breed that she loves so much now? Her answer was pretty simple and very much like what you hear people say that have been "converted " to the breed, "The first thing I always tell people when I'm asked this question is that I love their heart. They truly are the hardest working horses out there and will go in and give you their all 100% of the time. To me, that's priceless." she replied. To those of us who love a good thoroughbred, that is music to our ears! 

Currently, Nicole owns a gelding by the name of "Double Ring." She is training him for the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project in October at the Kentucky Horse Park where she will be defending her title from last year. Double Ring (pictured above - photo credit Strawberry Fields Photography) is a 2009 gelding who last raced in November of last year. He is also closely related to No More Rings and Legal Ring. Nicole has found a family line that really seems to work out for her and has committed to finding more horses that have similar pedigrees. 

Nicole is based out of Plum, PA. If you are interested in training or help with your horse, please contact Nicole through her facebook page for her training business, "Pinnacle Stables."