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!

 

 

Starting with Hot Java!

About this time last year, I was standing in a stall, pitchfork in hand, pulling my gloves off my frozen hand to check my phone that was buzzing in my pocket. Ignoring the bitter cold, I opened my email and scrolled through the unread messages and there it was – my acceptance e-mail from the Retired Racehorse Project! I had entered on a whim, hoping to be able to participate but not actually knowing if it was in the cards for me.

The next 10 months were a whirlwind. From purchasing Rebel Annie sight unseen in April, to spending 6 months getting to know each other, learning and growing together. And finally, actually making it to the makeover! Throughout the process, Rebel earned a permanent place in my heart. Not only did she take me through the Field Hunter division at the makeover, a discipline I knew nothing about and had no experience in, but she also changed my life in a million other ways (cue the eye-rolling from my husband!) She taught me how to have fun, how to let my guard down, how to really love my job again. Rebel reminded me why I fell in love with horses in the first place.

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Rebel at the track!

Applying for the 2017 Makeover meant a million things. It meant the opportunity to learn and grow as a trainer and rider, to make dozens of new friends and to be changed by yet another amazing OTTB. But, it also meant saying goodbye to Rebel. It meant sleepless nights and lots of tears wondering whether I was making the right decision and hoping for the perfect person to come along who would let my little red-headed mare work her magic on them the way she worked her magic on me.

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Racehorse turned Field Hunter!

And just as I was questioning letting Rebel go, trying to convince myself that 4 horses could be a possibility or, just maybe, that the Makeover didn’t need to happen this year, that perfect person I had been wishing would come along strolled right into our lives. She fell in love with Rebel’s laid back personality, her never-ending pony kisses and constant searching your pockets for treats. So, off she went to her forever home,leaving me a bumbling mess in Kentucky.

But thank goodness for good friends who support your unhealthy horse habit, because just days earlier I was encouraged to take a chance on a lovely mare and brought her home from Turfway Park as my 2017 makeover hopeful.

Hot Java is a 2011, 16.2 hand mare by Heatseeker and out of an AP Indy granddaughter. She was nearing war-horse standards with 43 starts under her belt when her trainer decided it was time for her to move on from racing. With only two wins to her name, both at route distances, and pretty incredible conformation, we decided she might like a career in eventing. I decided to overlook some minor ankle rounding and slight soreness at the trot as she just raced days earlier and some wear and tear can be expected with such a high number of starts.

For now, Java is learning to love her new life as a sport-horse-to-be! She is getting some much deserved down time after 4 long years on the track. Java is learning how to be a horse, which means figuring out what turnout is, eating a totally different diet, and learning that ground manners and personal space are real things!

I like to use my OTTB’s down time to work on our relationship and start some really important foundational training that is easy to overlook. So far, Java has totally impressed me with her willing attitude and generally laid back personality! From lunging to ground driving, learning the word “whoa” to leading with just a rope around her neck, Java gives it her all!

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The next few weeks will consist of more down time, ground work, light riding and a post-purchase exam from the vet before we jump into under saddle training. Stay tuned as we work towards the 2017 Makeover!

 

When Good Sellers Go Bad

Maybe it happens due to pure neglect, maybe it’s a lack of knowledge or just general apathy. Maybe people get into this profession for all the wrong reasons. We may never know, but the problem lies right before our eyes, and who is responsible for picking up the slack? We all are.


To say I’m mad is an understatement. My blood is boiling. My heart hurts and I just want to scream. The number of blatant lies being told, the amount of deceit and deception running rampant in the horse industry is appalling. It’s time someone said something.

I hear stories about horses that were misrepresented to buyers, people who ended up hurt and horses who stepped onto the wrong trailer because someone decided not to tell the truth. And the fact of the matter is for every lie that’s told, every excuse that’s made, and every attempt to cover up the truth, there’s someone who has to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess. Someone like me.

I got into this profession for the love of a horse. I’m not one looking for a quick profit and it’s not about the money, it’s about the process of taking horses with uncertain futures and giving them the skills necessary to succeed. It’s about the joy that comes with every frustrating, thankless moment of finding them their perfect match or their next step in life. To me, it’s not a game, it’s not about coming out on top, or the pursuit of a dollar.

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No. To me, and to every other person out there selling horses, it’s a responsibility.

We are privileged to have these amazing animals come into our lives, to affect us in so many ways. And how do we repay them? It should be with honesty, integrity, and with every effort made to secure them a bright future and a long, happy life.  There is no animal in this world that deserves to be misrepresented and no buyer who should be blinded to the truth.

Misrepresenting horses is annoying at best and downright dangerous at the worst. Just yesterday, I was speaking to someone about a horse I have for sale. One I advertised as green but willing, with a solid foundation who would make a wonderful youth horse in the near future. So when the buyer asked me if the horse had a bucking problem, I was as a little taken aback. When he mentioned he can’t handle a horse who puts his head between his knees and acts like a bronco, I was confused.

Did he not read my ad?

Did the words “Youth Horse” mean something different to him? 

It hurt me knowing that this buyer had to question my word because it meant that, at some point, someone had lied to him. They had put him on a horse who was not a youth horse and had a dangerous habit. When buyers have to question the validity of my statements because somewhere along the road they were lied to, that’s not okay.

Here’s the thing- I understand the frustration, I know what it’s like to have horses that are hard to sell. In fact, I have two standing in my barn right now. Two horses that may live out their days with me because they’re unsalable. They’re tough, mentally and physically, and it’s my responsibility as their current owner, their trainer, and their person to see they never end up in a bad situation. I owe that to these horses. And so does every single other person with a horse they call their own. If you can’t offer a safe place until the right home comes along, if you can’t afford to wait it out and ensure your horse is placed in the right home, then don’t own a horse.

Because every time you resort to lying to make the sale, every time you cover up the truth or misrepresent your horse, someone is hurt. It might not be you and it might not be the person next to you but somewhere down the line there will be pain.

Perhaps it’s physical pain- broken bones on a person who was uninformed about the nasty flipping habit a horse had. Maybe it’s emotional pain- sleepless nights and tears cried over a horse that will never be what the buyer was promised. Financial pain- the money spent on vet bills for an undisclosed injury, or on professional trainers to fix problems no one told them about.

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Hits a little closer to home when you find yourself in this situation. (Me, circa 2008)

And if this is you, if you’re in the business of selling horses, you owe it to that animal and to every other horse owner out there- to every buyer, seller, trainer, and rider- to tell the truth, to be honest and let buyers make an informed decision about whether that horse is right for them. Anything less than that, even the smallest white lie or tiny misrepresentation, can have huge consequences.

 

The Best Worst Gift

I asked for this, I hoped for this, I wished for and wanted this. And yet, now that this day has come I sit here with tears in my eyes questioning the decision I just made. This is the best worst gift I could have ever been given.

Every once in a while a horse comes along that changes everything. I firmly believe you can and should learn something from every horse that comes across your path, but sometimes a horse teaches you a lesson you could have never expected. Rebel did that for me. For so long, I had been learning about training, about building relationships and getting through to the tough horses. I had learned about overcoming frustration, about not giving up and about trying to see issues from a different perspective in order to find the solution. I had forgotten about falling in love, letting go and enjoying the horses I worked with. Rebel taught me that.

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From the moment I met her, standing quietly in her stall at Turfway, I knew she was different. She was already mine but we had never met. I asked her trainer sheepishly if I could enter her stall, knowing all too well that some horses at the track could be down right dangerous inside. “Of course!” he gushed, while he opened her stall door and ushered me in. Immediately, her ears pricked and her dainty head followed my every move. She was beyond sweet. And when it was time to load her in the trailer I realized I had made a fatal mistake and left chain lead rope at home. Bracing for the difficulty I was sure was going to ensue, I cautiously led her to the trailer. Rebel hopped right on, never once offering to be pushy. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The weeks and months after that fateful day proved better than I could have possibly imagined. Having dealt with spooky, nervous and fearful for all too long, Rebel was a breath of fresh air. She took everything in stride and showed me how to have fun again. From teaching her tricks to hearing her nicker and watching her run to the gate to greet me every morning, from bareback hacks and dressing up like ballerinas at a Halloween show, Rebel took all of the stress I had been dealt previously and washed it away. She let me let my guard down.

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A relationship that will forever change me.

It’s not very often these horses come along and when they do most people refer to them as “heart horses” and you’re supposed to never let them go. Or so they say.

I made the extremely difficult decision to let Rebel’s magic work on someone else. To give another person the gift she gave me. And I knew the day would come when the perfect person would happen across our paths and I would have to say goodbye. And so I sit here with tears of joy and sadness in my eyes, a weird mix of emotions overtaking me, having just gotten the news that Rebel is sold.

To the perfect person, to a loving home, to the forever I wish I could give her. But there’s always more horses to help, more learning to do and more lives to be touched (mine, mainly). Knowing this is the Christmas gift Rebel deserves, the one I had hoped for in the months since I listed her for sale, it’s the best day I could have imagined.. and the worst.

But, I am beyond excited for Rebel’s new adventure, for her perfect new owner, and for the goals they will achieve and the experiences they will share together. This is everything I wished for and hoped to be able to give to the horse that gave me everything.

Makeover Wrap-Up!

The weeks since the Makeover has ended have been a whirlwind. A whirlwind of getting back to real life, of figuring out what’s next, of applying what I’ve learned. And, oh, how much I learned.

The Makeover was an experience I’ll never forget. It sounds cliche, but for a rider who usually moves her horses on to forever homes before she gets a chance to show them herself, being a part of such a huge event was eye-opening. Being surrounded by some of the biggest names in the industry and some riders no one had ever heard of before (cough, me…) all competing at one place, for one common purpose, it felt like home. Knowing each person you came across was on the same journey in one way or another, it was like we were one big family.

But, no matter the warm and fuzzy feeling I get looking back at that long, eventful weekend, the process of getting there was difficult, to say the least. I was tested as a rider, trainer, and as a person in general. But, I came out of it alive and with an abundance of knowledge to apply going forward.

For starters, my timeline was much shorter than some of the other trainers (and longer than a few, too). Some people acquired their horses months before January 1st, the date in which you could technically start full training. Some got their horses 6 weeks before the makeover. Everyone’s timeline was different, which means everyone’s training methods and timeframe were different.

I can only reasonably handle 3 horses at a time to ensure each horse I own gets the individualized care they deserve. So, when the email came that I had been accepted to participate, I knew it was time to move my latest project on. The beautiful, steel grey Thoroughbred had come to me unstarted and in my heart I hoped she would be an eventer. In her heart (and gaits, and jump) she was a hunter through and through. So, I gave her the best foundation I could and searched for a home that would help her develop into the horse I knew she could be. That process took until the end of March. So, it wasn’t until April 1st that Rebel came into my life.

Sudden Danger (now Ella) proving to be a hunter pony!

When I picked up Rebel from Turfway Park on April 3rd, I had just over 6 months to prepare her for one of the largest shows I would ever compete in. This forced me to step outside of my comfort zone, learn new training techniques, and become more brave than I’ve been in a long time.

Thankfully, this little mare who was a complete stranger to me, jumped into the process whole-heartedly and gave her all to me. Just as much as I built her confidence in new things like hacking around bareback, jumping weird colorful fence things, and actually carrying herself with the weight of a rider on her back. She, too, built my confidence in things I had not done for a long time. Like, actually show my horse. Together, we learned, conquered fears and grew.

Willingly hacking by herself, such a smart baby!

So, when the day came to load Rebel onto the trailer and make the trip to the horse park for the event I had been anxious for (and Rebel could care less about), there was no other horse I would have wanted to be there.

Because this was not something I had ever done before, I forced myself to make three goals before ever stepping foot onto the property. One easy, to boost confidence, one moderate, that we could reasonably attain, and one somewhat difficult, to push myself. My goals were to make it to the horse park with a happy horse all weekend, to finish the division (one neither of us had any experience in!) and to jump everything on the mock hunt. Check, check and check!

Not only was Rebel a superstar the entire weekend surrounded by hundreds of horses and people, she took me safely through my first attempt at fox hunting! Sure, we had some baby moments and things I didn’t prepare her for properly, but she gave me her all, just like she had every day before.


So now, looking back on the experience, I can honestly say that when you step out of your comfort zone, on the back of a good Thoroughbred, anything is possible. And I am forever in debt to my little red-headed princess for teaching me that.

The Baby Rolex Experience

On the 1st of October, my dreams came true. On the back of a Thoroughbred I had made myself, I rode through the Kentucky Horse Park for the very first time.

To a Lexingtonian this may seem like no big deal. It was just the Horse Park, a place where hundreds of shows, clinics, and events take place every year. To the lucky ones, this was just another arena, another cross-country course, another venue that they showed at year in and year out. But to me, who had moved from place to place and always chased one specific dream, this was life-altering. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. But this was so cool!

As we pulled onto the grounds, I felt a bit in awe. How many times had I driven these roads, excited to watch others participate in a sport that I love? How many times had I sat in traffic to enter the grounds with hundreds of other spectators? How many times had I dreamed that one day I’d be able to ride on these grounds myself?

In my dreams, the day I drove into the horse park in my breeches and boots, hauling a trailer loaded up with my personal mount, was for some big competition. My upper level horse and I ready to rock. Little did I know this day would come and my sweet princess  Rebel would be standing there, just 6 months off the track, wondering what the heck was going on. No major competition, no bundle of show nerves, just my baby pony and I pretending we were doing something important.

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But we weren’t. At least not yet. But with the Makeover less than a month away, now was the time to prepare. So, we hacked around the park and we pretended, imagined and hoped.

We walked past the horses getting ready to dance in the sandbox at Jump Start. We watched riders with their game faces, their sparkling white saddle pads, and their hairnets secured perfectly in place. We smiled and said hello, met with braced grins as last-minute tests were being memorized on the way to the warm-up ring. In my dreams, that was me. But instead, on this somewhat gloomy October day, we walked on, with no courses to memorize, no agenda, no plan.

We made it our mission to find the scariest of places, to see what my girl could handle and what we needed to work on. We meandered around bustling barns with monster trash cans hiding around every corner waiting to strike. We wandered into the covered arena, which was bustling just the night before, totally empty except for one lone custodian cleaning up previous night’s party. We found abandoned areas without a soul in sight and we imagined being show ponies, too.

We hacked on the buckle past people jogging, fishing and biking. Dogs, cars and tractors crossed our paths. We found our way to the Rolex arena and we met Bruce Davidson dropping into Head of the Lake. Rebel studied.

 

We put that studying to the test in an empty Head of the Lake as we trotted and cantered through the tiny little puddle that the week’s rain had left. An unknowing bystander took pictures, further intensifying the faux-Rolex feel of it all.

We cantered and galloped over the empty cross-country fields, with only remnants of the 4* course left. The fallen tree, in all it’s glory, watched as we played. Rebel didn’t think twice of the huge fences strewn about. And as we reached the top of the hill, facing the polo field, we stopped for a break and watched the tractors move cross-country jumps into place for the next competition at the park. We saw a helicopter land a couple hundred yards away to drop off, who I can only assume to be, the Queen of England. Cause, you know, KHP is magestical like that.

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And on our way back to the trailer, after having unsuccessfully tried to spook my baby horse, we stopped and watch the Jump Start riders warm up for their XC rounds. We caught a few glimpses of the Prelim rounds and heard the thundering of the hoof beats as they galloped from question to question. I told Rebel one day we’d be there and one day we’d do more than hack around the park playing make believe.

And even though this first KHP ride wasn’t all that I imagined it to be, there may not have been any jumping, judges or ribbons, but it fulfilled exactly what I had dreamed. I got to go all of the places I had hoped and an OTTB I re-trained myself took me there.

Ch.. ch.. ch…changes!

It’s been so long since I’ve had a second to take a breath, let alone sit down and update you guys on what’s been going on!

With the Makeover fast approaching, I recently had to make my decision for what discipline we wanted to compete in. I am an Eventer through and through. Day in and day out as Rebel and I worked together toward the goal of the Makeover, I always had eventing in mind. I listened and adjusted, made sure Rebel was okay with eventing, but that was always the goal. So, when I logged on to make my selection, my brain said eventing but my hand clicked that drop-down list and chose Field Hunter.

I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into.

But, my brain will have to get over what my heart decided. There are over 100 people slated to compete in the eventing portion of the Makeover. Talk about pressure! Especially on a girl who never competes and a horse that’s life centered around a totally different career less than 6 months ago.

Trying to stay away from the pressure of competing in such a large group and focusing more on having fun and enjoying the experience, I considered lots of other options. All of my horses have a firm grasp on dressage. I used to be a hunter princess back in the day. And Rebel would have a lot of fun on a jumper course. But, instead of going with something that might be sort of in my wheelhouse, I took a leap of faith and chose a discipline I know nothing about! All I know is Rebel is having the most fun when she is out of the arena, she absolutely loves cross country and reads natural jumps very well. She is soft and sweet regardless of the situation, so why not try something totally new? Field Hunter it is!

We have very little time to figure out what all this is about. I will be studying the rule book like I’m back in college and our tack may be a little out of character for a traditional Foxhunting situation. And don’t even ask me about the hounds. But, we will try! If this crazy journey in the Retired Racehorse Project has taught me anything at all, it’s that even though nothing ever goes exactly as planned, a Thoroughbred will always be there with a whole-hearted “YES!” when you ask “Do you want to give this crazy idea a try?”