First Impressions

As the Makeover is fast approaching and summer is coming to an end, I see dozens of sale ads flash across my social media pages on a daily basis. Sellers are scrambling to find new homes for their horses before buyers hibernate for the winter. From Thoroughbreds fresh off the track to Hunter derby champions, if you’re selling horses chances are there are dozens of horses on the market just like yours.

The truth is, social media and classified websites have created a buyer’s market in the work of horse shopping. It’s as easy as point and click, filtering through ads and comparing horses without ever leaving the comfort of your pajamas.

However, it seems some lucky horsemen have rigged the system and can’t keep sales horses in their stalls while others are left wondering why Ol’ Faithful who packs around a 3′ course and always comes home with ribbons is still in their barn after a year. What gives?

How do you set yourself apart from all the other sellers out there? How do you make sure your horse’s ad is seen in the sea of bay Thoroughbreds and eventing prospects filling the pages of Facebook and classifieds websites near and far?

The answer is simple- your photos.

Buyers have the daunting task of filtering through hundreds, if not thousands, of sales ads and most of them don’t make it past the first photo before they scroll on. You have a fleeting moment to capture the buyer’s attention and first impressions mean everything.

 

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Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher,

Both of these photos show the exact same thing – a young Thoroughbred mare ridden by me, trotting in an arena at the same point in their stride. Yet, the photos could not be more different. One is a screenshot taken from an iPhone video, the other is a professional photo edited to enhance clarity. Which one will buyer’s react to?

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Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

And again. Both photos are of the same horse and rider, jumping in the same arena over very similar fences. Once was taken with a phone, cropped and edited to the best of my abilities. The other was taken by a professional. Can you tell the difference? Which pony will you contact me about and which will you scroll by (even knowing they are the same horse)?

No matter how cute and adorable Fluffy is, or how many ribbons Fancy brings home, buyers rely on photos to help them decide whether a horse will work for them. What photos you choose to use to represent your horse can make or break your chances of selling them.

What can you do?

The simplest answer.. care! You put your time and energy into producing a well-rounded partner, writing an honest and carefully-worded description, don’t sell yourself short by throwing a couple of sloppy photos on your ad.

The easiest thing to do is hire a professional. There are extremely skilled equestrian photographers hiding in plain view if you just take the time to look! Most of them offer a sales package and will come to you and take all the shots you need in one appointment. The cost varies depending on your location and the photographer, but will be well worth the investment if it means selling your horse quickly!

For the photos themselves, present your horse and yourself in the best possible light. Groom your horse until they shine, pull or braid their mane and throw some hoof polish on their toes. Make sure to use appropriate tack for the advertised discipline and ensure that tack is clean and well-fitted.

And in the interest of not selling yourself short, make sure to wear professional-looking attire. That means clean, neutral colored breeches, a well-fitting shirt that has been tucked in and polished boots. Really want people to take you seriously? Put your hair in a hair net and up in your helmet.

And why?

This may seem like a lot of work for a few quick photos, but first impressions really are everything.  These photos are all the buyer sees before making the decision to click on your ad, which could be the difference between the right buyer contacting you or not even knowing you exist.

Exceptional photos not only grab a buyer’s attention but, by showcasing your horse in the best possible light, can increase demand and your horse’s price tag!

 

 

 

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10 Reasons to Buy an OTTB

A few days ago I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a post titled “10 Reasons Not to Buy an Off-The-Track Thoroughbred”. My scrolling immediately stopped as my eyes darted over the post.

You’ve got to be kidding me… I thought. Surely this is a joke. 

Fully expecting the article, shared by a well-known website, to be satire, I clicked on the link. As I read I felt the anger rising inside of me, I felt my face flush and my heart start racing. The reasons the author gave were nothing more than breed stereotypes, with no credible evidence to back up the claims. With each line that I read, the angry voice inside my head got harsher and harsher. Bad feet? Tell that to my 3 barefoot OTTBs. Vices? I don’t have a cribber or weaver in my barn. Body condition issues? 3 of the 4 Thoroughbreds in my care are fat!

I consider myself an advocate for the breed, I currently own 3 OTTBs, work in the racing industry, and spend my free time working for one of the largest Thoroughbred adoption agencies in the country. I devote nearly all of my time day in and day out to these amazing horses, and nothing angers me more than uneducated horse people trying to undermine the breed, citing stereotypical fallacies as their rationale.

So, I’m here to set the record straight. And rather than counteract every point made in that article, because you can’t argue with stupid, here’s my list of the top 10 reasons TO BUY an off-the-track Thoroughbred.

They have heart.

The heart of a Thoroughbred is unlike any other breed.  They give their all for their connections, racing their hearts out and giving it 100% every time they step onto the track. And you can expect that same amount of try in their lives post-racing.

They’re versatile.

Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds are making their mark in dozens of sports. They have long been revered in the Eventing world, as their athleticism and stamina suits the discipline perfectly. But, you can also find an OTTB out on a ranch working cattle, loping around the hunter ring, bringing home the money running barrels, and even dancing around the sandbox with a Dressage rider. There is nothing these animals can’t do (see reason 1).

Thoroughbreds are athletic.

Thoroughbreds bred, raised and trained to race require athletic ability second to none. Whether a sprinter galloping their heart out over 5 furlongs or a steeplechase horse, galloping and jumping over miles of course, there is no question Thoroughbreds are incredible athletes.

They’re tough.

OTTBs are mentally and physically tough. They are expected to perform at a young age and must hold up to the rigors of strenuous physical exercise day after day. They know how to work and thrive in that environment. All breeds are susceptible to injuries and illnesses, but if you want a horse built to last, consider a race horse. Some of them, known as war-horses, have raced over 50 times or brought home more than $100k on the track and are proven to hold up in even the most demanding career.

They have the best personalities.

Each and every Thoroughbred is different, their personalities and attitudes towards things vary just like any other breed. But, if you want a best friend who will listen when you talk, loves a good snuggle, and will always keep you laughing, don’t pass up an OTTB.

 

They’re intelligent.

Thoroughbreds are extremely intelligent, with an exceptional sensitivity to their surroundings. This can cause people to classify them as “hot” or hard to handle. However, that sensitivity, once understood and managed, is one of the biggest assets! At the core of an OTTB is the desire to understand your expectations and to please you. Once they understand what’s expected of them, that intelligence and sensitivity makes them once of the easiest breeds to train.

They’re affordable!

If you have experience with green horses and want to make your mark in the discipline of your choosing, you don’t necessarily need to spend 5 figures on a fancy warmblood. Coming off the track, Thoroughbreds are significantly cheaper to purchase as prospects than other breeds. I pride myself on having developed some lovely sport horses that have gone on to be successful show horses, and I’ve never spent more than $1,000.

They’ve been there, done that.

OTTBs have seen it all. From the huge crowds on race day, flapping flags and blaring horns before post, to goats, chickens and other companion animals meandering around the backside, Thoroughbreds are exposed to a lot! Bonus, they usually are already great at loading and hauling, standing tied, being seen by the vet and farrier, being tacked up and groomed. It’s all in a day’s work for a race horse. You can thank your local Thoroughbred trainer for doing all the hard work for you!

Java falling asleep for the farrier. (The only OTTB I have with shoes..) 

It’s rewarding!

There is no better feeling than watching your hard work pay off. When you put the time and energy into working with an OTTB, taking a horse whose whole life was running fast to the left and teaching them a new skill set, there is no shortage of warm and fuzzy feelings. From their first day off the track, to their first blue ribbon, to moving up the levels or teaching a youngster how to ride, those milestones are second to none. Watching all of your hard work come to fruition with a horse who loves you, tries for you and makes you happy day in and day out.. well, it doesn’t get better than that.

To save a life

Even with all of their amazing qualities, there is still a stigma surrounding OTTBs in careers outside of racing. And while organizations like the Retired Racehorse Project are working hard to prove how wonderful these animals are and how well they can transition into any new career, many Thoroughbreds still find themselves retiring from racing with no where to go. So, rather than buying into breed stereotypes and bypassing some of the most incredible horses, be a part of the solution. Rescue, buy, adopt, love an OTTB.

 

 

 

The Devil is in the Details

On a rare Tueday morning not spent in the office, I hooked up my trailer and loaded Java for her first field trip. We were heading just a few miles down the road to a local equestrian park to ride around and see how Java handled herself in a new environment. During the short drive I found myself wondering why, after 5 months, was I just now asking Java to venture off the property? I pondered for a moment and shrugged it off, because, honestly… I didn’t care.

After 5 months of ownership, I can confidently say that I know my pony inside and out. And even with the deadline of RRP looming, I have never felt like field trips, cross country schooling, and show experience was a task we needed to tackle – at least not yet. My focus with Java has always been in the details, the small things on our to-do list that need to be checked off before getting to the fun stuff.  Galloping big fences and winning pretty ribbons, those things will fall into place after all the details are tended to. And if they aren’t, well, those little guys will come back to bite ya.

Thoroughbreds are incredible athletes, they are as versatile as any breed I’ve ever encountered. With their can-do attitude and willingness to please, when you asked Thoroughbred to jump they don’t even ask how high, they pull a Nike pony on you and just do it. But just because your Thoroughbred will jump on his third ride off the track, doesn’t mean he should.

When you skip the details and head right to the fun stuff, when you push too hard too soon, breakdowns happen, overwhelmed, under educated horses happen. When you take a horse that’s known one thing it’s whole life and turn it’s world upside down, you have to be willing to take some serious time to turn it back right side up.

Walk hacking – our favorite past time!

In order to develop a well-rounded partner, who is healthy both physically and mentally, we owe it to them to pay attention to those pesky little rascals that seem inconsequential until they come out and rear their ugly heads. A good trainer will seek out the devil in these situations and to look him in the eye and say “I’m not afraid of you”.

Those trainers willing and able to produce solid mounts embrace the small details.  They take the time to let their horse’s rest and recuperate, they give time for their bodies and minds to heal before introducing the stresses of a different career. They listen to their horse and tailor a training program to suit their needs, not their show schedule. Those truly successful trainers understand the importance of walk hacks, of ground manners, of confidence building, of stimulating the horse’s mind without wearing down their body.

It’s tough, it’s tedious and it’s just plain boring. But it’s facing the devil that hides in the details that weeds out the bad from the good and the good from the truly great. Those truly great trainers can put their lofty goals on a brief hold in order to sort out details like the in’s and out’s of daily life – from standing tied to loading on a trailer, to introducing rhythm and relaxation before impulsion and straightness.

When the order of operations starts small, those successful trainers know they are creating the building blocks that will eventually establish the solid foundation on which a horse can grow. When you don’t take the time to work on those small things, when you over-face your partner or ask for too much too soon, the devil hiding in those details is slowly chipping away at any semblance of a foundation and will be waiting in the wings to watch it come crashing down.

Active Listening 

Riding horses is exhausting. No, I’m not talking about the physical exhaustion that comes with hours in the saddle. I don’t mean the sore muscles, aching back or multitude of bruises I deal with every day. What I’m referring to is the emotional toll that riding several horses a day takes on your mental health.

And yes, this is a call for help.

Think of it like this – riding multiple horses every day is like dating numerous men at the same time (I would assume). At first, you may feel on top of the world, like you’ve got it all figured out and everyone loves you! Life is good… or so you thought. Then you realize just how much work it is. You have different people pulling you a million different directions, and you feel like you have to make everyone happy. Where is the ME time?!

You have to remember that boyfriend 1 likes pepperoni on his pizza but boyfriend number 4 is allergic to dairy and don’t you dare suggest pizza for dinner. Meanwhile, boyfriend number 6 wants to talk about the argument he had with his mom last week and you’re scrambling to even remember his mom’s name. And who knows why boyfriend number 2 is giving you the silent treatment.

Just like your 6 different boyfriends, horses are needy creatures.

 

Yes, scratch right there, Mom!

Each horse demands your full attention from the moment you step into the irons, or maybe even the second you pull onto the farm. In order to find any success in each horse’s training program, you have to be willing to listen to their problems, to remember all the details of their lives and to offer solutions tailored to each horse’s individual needs.  Relationships are a lot of work, whether its with your 6 boyfriends or your several training horses. Each and every partnership will only succeed if you’re able to actively listen to their problems and offer your full attention to their needs.

No wonder boyfriend number 6 is upset with you, you were too worried about why boyfriend number 2 was giving you the silent treatment that you couldn’t even remember his mom’s name, let alone actually listen to his problems. And while your Thoroughbred may not know their mom’s name either, he does expect the same type of active listening in your day-to-day interactions. When he swishes his tail and tosses his head, he expects your attention to be on him and why he’s saying “no”, rather than why horse number 2 has decided to randomly come up lame.

Actively listening to each and every horse you ride requires a mental stamina that not everyone is able to employ. When you ask for the canter transition and your horse responds by flipping you the bird and running through your aids, a rider who is passively listening, who is not actually paying attention or present in the moment, may respond by interrupting their horse. They may amp up their aids, ignoring what the horse is actually saying, effectively shutting down the lines of communication.

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Rebel said “NO!”
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Then we talked about it and tried again!

Meanwhile, the rider who is actively listening, who is focused on their mount and understands that communication is a two-way street, thinks their way through the problem. When the horse runs through the aids, rather than interrupting and just making them louder, they ask why. This rider wants to open the lines of communication and understand exactly where the problem lies.

Are you unbalanced?

Did I not set you up properly?

Are you uncomfortable?”

Being an actively listening rider is exhausting. But, in the end, each and every horse you sit on deserves that type of rider, the one who doesn’t interrupt and who wants to truly understand each horses’ needs. So, dump those 5 extra boyfriends, clear your mind and be ready to listen to your ponies!

 

 

 

 

Learning to Grow

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of a dressage warm-up riding a ticking time bomb. My dragon horse that had completely surprised me and threw down a calm, confident warm-up and accurate test just weeks prior was back to his fire-breathing self. I tried my hardest to work through the tension and anxiety, to ride my horse correctly and pull everything together before we entered the arena, but I was failing miserably when my friend walked up. She took one look at me and the mess I was trying to handle and confidently headed into the middle of the warm-up space. With no other words exchanged between us, she started telling me what to do, giving instructions on exactly what to change and how to ride the beast beneath me.

So I sat up tall, I took a deep breath and I listened. I heard every word my friend offered as if I had been paying her to train me for years. When she said to slow my posting, to push up through my rib cage and to squeeze Lou into the bridle every single stride, that’s what I did. Not one part of me questioned her words, wondering why she felt the need to tell me what to do. I embraced her suggestions, her words of advice and wisdom like she was the most enlightened trainer in the country. And why? Because at that moment she was. She had the answers that I needed, to questions I didn’t even know that I had.

She saw the holes in my riding and training, she knew exactly how to fix them and she shared that knowledge with me. In those ten minutes of warm-up, I assumed the student role and I could not have been more grateful that she assumed the role of trainer. With her help, the dragon calmed and we completed our test without an explosion.

Advice and assistance come in many forms – a professional who we have sought out to answer questions that have been troubling us,  a friend who happens to see an opportunity for improvement,  or even a stranger on a social media forum with in-depth knowledge on a topic. Whether sought out and paid for or completely unsolicited, criticism or compliment, uplifting or disheartening, our lives change dramatically when we open ourselves to guidance, no matter what form it comes in.

It’s easy to skate by on a day-to-day basis, thinking we know what we’re doing and dodging help like the plague.  It’s much harder to take a close look at our shortcomings, to open our minds to the ideas and opinions of others and to admit when we are in need of assistance. Yet the only way to grow it by not only accepting, but seeking advice even when it’s disguised as criticism, hurts our egos or is offered unsolicited.

Only by being objective, putting our egos aside and not only hearing, but actually listening to other’s ideas, can we truly experience growth. Only when we realized how much we don’t know, how much there is left to learn, and actively seek those with the answers, will we ever become better riders, trainers and horse people.

I immediately asked my friend for a lesson a few days after the show.

So go out there, ask your friends to critique you, lesson with the trainer down the road, go to every clinic in your area, stand by the warm-up at your local show and just listen. Find the opportunities to learn, seek out the experiences that will help you grow, ask your farrier, vet, and random horse people on the street any questions you can think of. Use the resources available to you, no matter what form they come in- close friend, professional trainer, random internet stranger (only sort of kidding). Don’t be afraid to sound silly, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know, don’t understand or can’t figure something out. Don’t let your ego get the best of you, be ready and willing to admit your flaws. Because only by acknowledging what we don’t know, by being open to learning and by seeking out assistance in every form that it comes in can we ever truly improve.

Taking the Scenic Route

The ground has thawed, what little snow the crazy Kentucky weather decided to produce is long gone. Green grass is peeking through, ready to make an appearance. Just days away from April, marking three months since Java has come off the track. Here we are 90 days in, and yet, we are still less than 10 rides under saddle.

This time last year I hadn’t even met Rebel yet. I was nervous, I was worried about our 6 month timeline and how we would fare against horses with months more time and training under their belt. So, when I picked up Java in early January, I had a plan. Getting my makeover horse early this year meant so many things. It meant more time, a better bond, a higher level of training, more show miles before making the short trek to the horse park in October. I knew where I wanted to be and I knew exactly how to get there. My plan was foolproof.

But, in true equine fashion, nothing ever happens as expected. So here I am, nearly three months in with only a handful of rides under saddle. Whatever plan I thought I had in place has long since dissolved. But, surprisingly, I’m content.

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Ride number 4, and our first canter!

Much to my surprise, Java’s lack of training up to this point doesn’t bother me. Unlike last year, I’m not uneasy or concerned about this journey, because now I know that’s exactly what this is- a journey. It’s not about the destination, the number on the score sheet hanging in the covered arena. It’s about every day from now until then. It’s about each sunrise we watch from her stall window as I groom, each trail ride, meandering aimlessly as we see new things, build muscle and talk about life. It’s about taking Java’s personality into account and listening to the unspoken ways she tells me what she needs and wants during this journey.

Java is a laid back, slow-paced, mellow girl who is happiest taking it easy. Her calm demeanor tells me exactly how she  wants to approach training. And after 4 years on the track and nearly 50 races, it’s my job to listen and oblige. She deserves the down time. Even though her muscles are no longer sore, she’s happy and sound, she deserves an easy transition with no real destination just yet.

So, we’ll sit back and watch, cheering on our friends and other competitors as they jump bigger fences, bring home the blues at shows and accomplish feat after amazing feat. We’ll be their biggest fans and talk of the day when we’ll go to shows and join in on the fun- when Java tells me she’s ready.

For now, we’ll trail ride and snuggle, lunge and build muscle, enjoying the views as we take the scenic route. We’ll breathe in the fresh air on the winding back roads of our journey, in no rush to get anywhere but exactly where we are.

 

An Unnecessary Second Chance

At 5:25 AM my alarm sounded like it does every morning. I grabbed my phone and sat up in bed. Scrolling through Facebook like a true millennial, just trying to wake up, my tired eyes glanced over posts and comments from the night before. As I scrolled I came across a horse sale ad, just like the dozens of others that popped up on my news feed every day.

Somehow, this ad was different. In loud capital letters it read “SET TO BE EUTHANIZED FEBRUARY 22ND.” My heart pained as I wondered what was wrong with the pretty bay horse in the photos. Another pasture ornament, I figured. A horse that would not ever have a happy, healthy life. And even though my heart hurt thinking about it, I knew that for some horses euthanasia was the best, most humane option.

But my curiosity peaked when my eyes settled on the location of the ad – Georgetown, KY. That meant just minutes down the road stood a dark bay horse with the cutest blaze and a sturdy, almost warmblood-like build that would be put down in three days. So, I clicked the link, fully expecting to read about a horse with some inoperable injury who would live out her days in pain. I braced myself to read one last plea for someone to take her on as a pasture buddy, regardless of her quality of life. 16649199_1698920857067150_270268070666419178_n

Instead, what I read hurt even more. This horse had been a broodmare for several years and could no longer be useful as such without expensive surgery. She had several foals over the years, but had lacerated her cervix in the process of foaling unattended. The injury wasn’t fatal, she wasn’t in pain, and she was happy and healthy in every other aspect. But there she was, 15 minutes away and set to be put down in three short days, a horse with her whole life ahead of her and no limitations. She had been let down by the very people that she had served for so many years.

But, with the help of some amazing individuals in the industry, she was given another chance. They were given three days to find her a new home. So her ad was shared far and wide, in hopes that someone would be willing to give her a shot. Of course, that bleeding heart happened to be mine.

I rolled over and nudged my groggy, half-asleep husband.

“Babe..” I whispered, “I’m getting another horse.”

Still mostly unconscious, he nodded his head and grunted in agreement. “Okay, whatever.”

At this point it was clear he had no idea what was going on or what he had agreed to, but then again neither did I. And thus is the life of a horse husband. Asleep or not, he knew resistance was futile and no longer even tried to talk me out of my ridiculous plans to save all the ponies.

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And save the pony I did.

Doneraile Lass, a royally bred, beautifully built, 11 year old broodmare got her second chance. The one she shouldn’t have needed in the first place. Around the barn we call her Tully, which means peaceful, because she truly is. She has no idea where her life was heading, just three short days from when I stumbled across her ad. She holds no grudges for the way she was treated, for the decisions that were made for her, for the way she was let go. Tully knows nothing but appreciation for the humans who scratch her and feed her cookies.

So now, with her feet trimmed, her mane pulled, and her rain rot being treated, she is heading in a different direction. Her new adventure as a sport horse awaits, and never again will she find herself running out of time, with a desperate plea for someone to take a chance and save her life.

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The Farm of Dreams

Weeks of questioning, dozens of fence boards fixed, several sleepless nights. Hundreds of ideas and what-if scenarios played out in my head. Three trailer loads full of ponies, tack and hay. It all came down to this moment. One decision.

Late Sunday afternoon, horses munching happily in their new pasture, equipment unloaded and barn set up, I sat down on my tack trunk and took a deep breath. This was it. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into, but it was done now.

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Photo courtesy of Natasia Lind.

To the naked eye it was just a new barn. No big deal, people move barns all the time. Horses settle in, routines are established, time passes and everything becomes normal again. To everyone else it was no big deal, but to me it was everything I had worked towards for years, but now that I was there I was scared (to say the least).

Maybe in my heart I never thought it would be attainable, just a fantasy I let myself toy with late at night when there was no one around to chastise me. Maybe I had gotten comfortable with my “part-time professional” status and had come to terms with that lifestyle. Maybe I was just a big wimp, finally faced with something I had talked about wanting my whole life, but ready to run the other direction.

Nothing changes if nothing changes, I reminded myself. How long had I wished and hoped and waited for something to come along that I could pour my heart and soul into, that would finally allow me to push myself, my business, my horses to the next level? So, I found myself sitting in a brand new barn, surrounded by all of the horsey things I had accumulated over the years and realizing that I had just taken a huge step towards accomplishing my dream. I had a place of my own. 

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Photo courtesy of Natasia Lind.

It was far from perfect, but I saw 50 acres of pure potential. Around every corner was another project, something broken and in need of repair, begging for the life to be breathed back into it, just asking for someone to care. The empty stalls told me of the great horses that once resided there, back when someone else’s dream was alive and well within the farm, who knows how long ago. The dimly lit aisles were quiet, but if I let my mind wander I could picture them bustling with activity. I could see the possibilities.

But it was up to me to take the first step. It was my job to put my fears aside to chase the dream I had always had in the back of my mind. The coward in me asked “What if you can’t do it? What if you crash and burn? What if this all goes to hell?” but the dreamer in me asked “What if it doesn’t?”.

 

 

 

 

Silencing Doubt

Last Saturday morning, on an unseasonably warm day in February, I hooked up my trailer and tried not to think about what I was doing. I loaded my 17 hand dragon of a Thoroughbred and hauled ten minutes down the road to a small dressage show at the Kentucky Horse Park. I hadn’t had the courage to show him in over a year. I was nervous, I was scared of him, and I was fully ready to be publicly embarrassed by what I knew would be a sad attempt at dressage.

But, trying to take my mind off the impending train wreck, I made three goals- one easy, one attainable, and one possibly pushing it.

  1. Make it to the show and finish our test.
  2. Stay soft, supple and thinking the majority of the time.
  3. Potentially score higher than one other competitor.

With my three goals in mind, I saddled up my dragon horse and crossed every bone in my body that we’d make it through in one piece. Much to my surprise, my dragon turned into a puppy from the moment I stepped into the stirrups. Lou carried me through an extremely hectic warm-up without so much as batting an eye. He tested me as we stepped into the covered arena, questioning whether we really had to go dance in the sandbox and not quite believing me when I told him that the letters were not horse-eating monsters. But, with the help of some wonderful friends offering advice and support, we trotted down centerline and, three minutes later, we halted at X still in once piece.

Staying soft and supple, surprisingly. (Photo courtesy of Natasia Lind.)

I fought back tears as I thanked the judge and choked back a sob when she told me I had a nice horse on my hands. I knew that, I had always known that, but I never thought it would come to fruition. So, as we headed back to the trailer I couldn’t contain my smile that we had actually accomplished something in our partnership. The color of the ribbon, if I even got one, didn’t even cross my mind, because in my heart I knew that we had just passed a huge milestone and no score, comment, ribbon (or lack thereof) could take that away.

So, later, when I headed back into the show office to collect my test, eager to see what the judge had said and to start working harder on any shortcomings they pointed out, I was in awe to see a blue ribbon clipped to a test with my number on it!

Lou wondering what all the fuss is about. (Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer)

That blue ribbon didn’t mean that I was better than the other riders. It didn’t mean my horse was fancier or that we worked harder. It didn’t tell me that we were superior in any way. No, that $3 blue ribbon quietly told me that there was hope. It humbled me as it whispered “I told you so, if you had just listened before”. It reminded me that for so long doubt and uncertainty had ruled me, letting opportunities pass me by that should have been mine for the taking. If I had just had the courage to try.

A year ago, all of the hope that originally filled me when I brought Lou home was gone. After our move to the bluegrass state, he was unmanageable, he was dangerous. Through many tears and sleepless nights I had accepted the fact that what I thought was my upper level prospect was only ever going to be a fancy, prancing pasture ornament. When people would ask me about him, my dejected response was always something along the lines of “He’s broken.”, “His brain doesn’t work.” or “Who knows what’s going to happen with him.”

I had tried my best to figure him out and my best didn’t seem to be good enough. The horse that once had a bright future had totally dissolved before my eyes. I was ready to give up when, one fateful day, I spent 4 long hours (seriously) trying to catch him. Right then and there, I told myself something needed to change. This was not an abused pony that was fearful of people. He had no excuse and neither did I. He had my number and it was all my fault. But I was not going to let what could possibly be the best horse that I’d ever had get away because I had given up. I don’t wear defeat well, so I made a change.

We moved to a new barn, established a routine and I faced my fears. Day in and day out, I watched my horse change. He came out of his shell, he started meeting me at the fence, he started enjoying my company and really trying under saddle. Days, weeks and months went by and progress came slowly at first, and then all at once.

But there was one thing I still wasn’t facing. My fear of taking him off the property, of doing something with him, of actually showing, still ate away at me. What if he reverted back to his old ways? What if I lost my horse again? What if I wasn’t good enough?

Why I decided to enter him, I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t let myself think about it. Why I actually went through with it, I have no clue. But what I do know is walking away with a happy horse and a successful test is slowly sparking a fire within me. A fire to face my fears, to silence the doubt inside me and to relentlessly chase my dreams.

So, here we go. You have no idea what you’ve started, Lou.

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Photo courtesy of Natasia Lind.

One Month (of) Down (Time)!

A month has come and gone since Java officially started her life as an OTTB. And in true RRP form, is has flown by in the blink of an eye. 30-something days together and we have logged 2 rides under saddle. But that’s okay, because even though we have a timeline and a goal we are working towards 8 short months from now, I’m in no rush.

When Java’s trainer pulled her out of her stall at Turfway, she was obviously sore, possibly lame, and had a heart of gold. I had no idea if the slight lameness was purely soreness from her race 3 days earlier or if there was an underlying problem that would affect her in a second career. But one thing I did know was that she desperately needed down time. Time to unwind from the stresses of running 43 times in 3 years, time to let her muscles relax, time to let her brain recharge and time to learn what was expected of her in this new role as sport horse to be.

Following my gut and my vet’s opinions, I took a chance. I skipped the pre-purchase exam, loaded her up and took her home. Maybe I’m a little risk-averse, maybe I’m slightly crazy (that’s another blog). But no, instead I just believe that the track is not the best place to test for soundness. In my opinion all the poking and prodding, flexions and other various tests are better carried out after muscles have had a chance to heal, any drugs have left their system and their body has had a chance to recharge. So instead, I opted for a post-purchase exam.

The first order of business was transitioning her to a life of turnout. The small herd setting would help her with basic ground manners and show her how to start enjoying her new, relaxed lifestyle. The ample grazing opportunities would help her gut health and give her a much needed reset after the high-energy diet and possible drugs she was exposed to at the track. The room to move would help her sore muscles recoup and heal from the hard training day in and day out. So, with these benefits in mind, she went outside to make some friends.dsc_0082

And a few weeks later, when I felt like Java was in a better place mentally and physically, I loaded up on muffins and mimosas to calm my nerves and my wonderful vet came to tell me whether Java would ever be an eventer. As luck (and a trained eye) would have it, Java’s x-rays came back clean. Other than some body soreness, Java was perfectly healthy and ready to tackle our new adventure.

So with the all-clear and some muscle relaxants to help her transition easier, Java is officially an eventer-in-training! So far, that training has primarily been ground work as her muscles continue to heal. We are forming a partnership and I’m setting expectations before ever stepping into the stirrups. She’s learning how to use her body differently on the lunge, how to steer and stop while ground driving, and how patience really is a virtue, no matter what her buddies at the track might say.

But all this slow and steady work of seemingly not doing much at all has paid off already. Our first real ride together was cool, calm and collected! Java offered me a nice walk and trot, was steering like a pro and tried her best to offer me brakes when I asked for them.

So, with 8 months to go, 2 rides down, and a happy healthy horse on my hands, we are heading in the right direction!