The Expecting Eventer – Showing While Showing

Being a young professional trying to make a name for myself in the horse capital of the country, seeing those two pink lines completely turned my world upside down. What I thought was never in the cards, or years down the road (you know, once I was an established adult) quickly became my new reality.

My biggest fear was being told I couldn’t ride during my pregnancy and having to put all of my goals on the back-burner, walking away from everything I had worked so hard to establish. But when my saint of a doctor gave me her blessing and my equally saint-like husband just told me to be careful and not ride anything too crazy, I adjusted my goals and set my sights on the dressage ring. I mean, you win in the dressage anyway – right?

So, I entered one more baby event at MayDaze to try to quench my eventing thirst for the season. I took home my pretty brown ribbon, told the baby in my belly that she had officially become an Eventer at 13 weeks and reluctantly put away my jump saddle. I told myself we would work hard at fancy prancing over the course of the next 6 months and come out swinging next season.

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Copyrighted by Xpress Foto.

But, doing dressage is a lot like eating your peas. You know it’s good for you, you know it will help you grow, yet it’s still tough to do it – especially when all of your friends are having fun, drinking wine and eating potato chips. The least I could do was put some butter on my peas, so I decided to venture off property and show a little bit. I told myself that a couple little dressage schooling shows would make me feel accomplished, help keep me on track and make the peas taste oh so much better.

But what I failed to realized that showing at 6 months pregnant meant that I was showing in more ways than one! Finding show-worthy breeches that actually fit was a task, and fitting into my jacket was never going to happen. Sorry judges, a casual appearance was going to have to do!

Then there were the constant stares of people wondering what the heck I was doing. And by show number 2, I was instantly recognized by passerby’s – I’m sure the only pregnant competitor is hard to forget! And though 3 phases used to be easy, just one test now left me exhausted and ready to call it a day.

The bump making its appearance!

 

But for all the inconveniences that come with showing while showing, it’s easy to see why the eventing (and dressage) community is so wonderful! The show staff and other competitors made me feel right at home and as welcome as always. The judges were generous with their scores and turned a seemingly blind eye to the fact that my balance and position are obviously not what they were before. But best of all, I was able to walk away feeling like I had accomplished something this season and with homework that will keep the fire lit until I can step onto the cross country course again!

 

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The Pre-Purchase Exam

Buying or selling horses can be a stressful experience as sellers work to find a perfect new match for their horse and buyers comb through hundreds of animals to bring home a horse that suits their needs. One important aspect of this process is the Pre-Purchase Exam.  This daunting vet check is exactly what it sounds, a thorough examination by a veterinarian prior to the purchase of a horse. However straightforward this may seem, there are several misconceptions regarding the Pre-Purchase Exam (also known as the PPE), which can make a seemingly simple process overwhelming for buyers, sellers and veterinarians alike.

In order to get the most out of the PPE, it is extremely important to understand what the exam entails, what the true purpose behind the exam is and how to use it to make an informed decision.

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Part 1: The Process of the Exam

Once a buyer has found a horse they feel is suitable for their needs, they should have the ability to have the horse examined by a veterinarian prior to completing the purchase if they so choose.

Sellers should give buyers the opportunity to have the horse vetted within a reasonable amount of time. The time frame allotted varies from seller to seller, but should give the buyer an ample amount of time to pick a veterinarian of their choosing and schedule the exam while not taking the horse off the market and unavailable to other potential buyers for longer than necessary.

The buyer requesting the vetting can decide how in-depth of an exam they would like the horse to undergo. Based on the horse’s intended use, buyers may opt for an overall physical exam, lameness evaluation or more in-depth diagnostics such as x-rays, ultrasounds, and more.

Basic Pre-Purchase Exams consist of an overall physical wellness check. This may include:

  • Checking Vital Signs such as heart, lungs, temperature
  • Checking eyes, mouth and teeth
  • Checking legs, feet and body, noting any soreness or blemishes
  • Watching horse move – walk and jog
  • Performing flexion tests to aggravate joints and ensure no soreness

If issues arise during the basic physical exam, the veterinarian performing the exam may consult with the buyer to decide whether to move forward with the exam or perform diagnostics to dig deeper into any issues.

Some buyers will opt to have a more thorough exam performed, even if no issues arise during the basic evaluation. More thorough exams may consist of:

  • X-rays of joints
  • Ultrasounds of soft tissue
  • Blood panel or drug screen
  • Other diagnostics as necessary

Part 2: Purpose of the Exam

The overall purpose behind the Pre-Purchase Exam is to ensure that the horse is healthy, sound and has no physical injuries or issues that may limit their ability to perform to the buyer’s standards. Most buyers make the incorrect assumption that a horse will either pass or fail the exam. The PPE is not meant to be a pass or fail test, as it is up to the buyer to determine whether any issues that arise are worth the risk of purchasing the horse for their intended use.

For example, a horse may appear sound while moving, being ridden or even after flexion tests but may have underlying issues that becoming visible during x-rays. While the horse is not bothered by the issues, it is up to the buyer to determine whether the horse may have problems performing in the future. A blemish like a small chip in a joint may not affect a horse that will be doing flat work only, but could cause problems for a buyer who intends to jump or event the horse.

It is also important to understand that Pre-Purchase Exams are a snapshot of a horse’s health in the moment in time that they are performed. As with all living beings, injuries and illnesses can occur at any time. While veterinarians do their best to provide insight into the horse’s health for buyers, they do not have precognition and cannot see into the future.

A horse that vets sound, has clean x-rays and shows no inclination that they may not be able to perform to the buyer’s standards may step off the trailer into their new home and injure themselves in the paddock.

The veterinarian’s job is to examine the horse in that moment and help the buyer determine whether the horse they see that day will suit the buyer’s needs. Buyers can always ask for a second opinion or request that a veterinarian examine the horse again at a later date if they have any concerns with the outcome of the exam on the day it is being performed. Buyers cannot and should not expect the Pre-Purchase Exam to act as insurance for their new horse’s soundness in the future.

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Overall, Pre-Purchase Exams can provided valuable insight into the health, soundness and overall condition of a potential new horse, but only if the buyer truly understands both what the exam entails and what they can expect to take from it. Buyers should use  the exam to make an informed decision prior to purchasing a horse while not falling prey to misconceptions such as a pass/fail outcome or insurance of future soundness.

The Expecting Eventer

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Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

No two words can bring so much fear, joy, anxiety and excitement as hearing “You’re pregnant”. But for horse girls, and Eventers in particular, this phrase can leave your world spinning. And spinning my world is.

There’s nothing quite like unexpectedly expecting to really scare the crap out of you. Top it off with not finding out until you’re almost done with the first trimester and, if you’re anything like me, you might quickly turn from hard-ass equestrian to sobbing puddle of former-human-self.

Where was the girl who could be kicked, bitten and stepped on without a second thought when the doctor looked up and said “yep, there’s a baby in there!”? Balling her eyes out in the exam room, that’s where. And as I choked back tears, willing myself to be able to communicate with the doctor for just one more minute so I could ask the most important question of all, my amazing husband held my hand and took the words right out of my mouth.

“Can she still ride? That’s why she’s crying.. she just wants to know if she can ride”. And all was right with the world when the doctor gave me a resounding “yes”.

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Baby Gilbert making her recognized debut at 13 weeks! © Xpress Foto 

I don’t mean to discount the miracle that is pregnancy. But, the unknown can be really frickin’ scary. Diving in to a whole new world without so much as a plan makes it even worse. And as eventers, we plan.

We plan our show seasons, conditioning schedules, vet appointments. We know exactly when our horse is due for a trim or reset. Like clockwork the horses come in at 7, eat their specifically rationed portions of grain and are exercised per their well-planned training schedule before going back out at 5. Our days are fully planned, right down to the large glass of wine at the end of the evening.

Oh no, I forgot about the wine! No more of that, either. Cue the sobbing again.

With a barn full of horses, both mine and my clients, a rapidly growing baby taking up space in my belly (and forcing me to pee every 20 minutes), I find myself wondering what the heck I’m going to do, and really hoping my breeches fit for one more week.

But for now, I’ve adjusted my goals from blue ribbons to a healthy baby. I’ve crossed RRP off my list for this year, as a 30-something week baby bump might not work well in the hunter ring. I’ve begun downsizing my small herd of horses and started registering for the most adorable baby clothes you’ve ever seen.

I’m forming a plan, slowly but surely. One to allow myself the best of both worlds – a continuing career as an eventer and the best new mom I can possibly be. Let’s just hope that my husband is ready to be a horse show dad and baby girl is just as obsessed with the smell of leather and the soft nickers of greeting horses as her mom is.

A Letter, Not a Number

Today, I didn’t complete an event. For the first time ever, I halted at X and did not gallop through the finish flags. Today, I did not even step onto the cross country course.

Of all the things that can go wrong during an event, none of them happened. We did not make an unplanned exit from the dressage ring or become the victims of an untimely dismount in stadium. No outside factor or spite of the eventing gods forced us to end on a letter and not a number. Instead, I made the decision myself.

Today, I did something I have never done before. Today, I scratched.

I knew this day would eventually come. Every time I fill out my entry one of my goals is to end on a number and not a letter. Up until today I have always been able to check that box and feel accomplished knowing I had achieved that goal. Yet, I knew one day I wouldn’t, it was just a matter of time. And I always wondered how I would feel when that day came.

Frustrated, defeated, ashamed?

Much to my surprise, I did not feel any of those things. Packing up the trailer, loading my horse and heading home early, sitting in the cool, air conditioned cab of the truck, I felt better. 

I felt better because I knew today was not our day and I chose to act in my horse’s best interest. A fussy dressage test turned into an argumentative stadium warm up that was completely uncharacteristic for my horse. And while we addressed the issues and solved the argument for a pleasant, rideable stadium round, I knew Java’s heart was not in it.

Could I have forced the matter, sticking hard and fast to my main goal of ending on a number and not a letter? Sure. And would we have done it? Most likely. But would I have felt accomplished? Would I have felt good? No.

Because the goals we set for ourselves as riders mean nothing if the horse is not on board. Regardless of the triumphs won, the boxes checked, the feats accomplished – we walk away having achieved nothing if not acting in the best interest of our horse. Only when our goals align with those of our horse can we truly realize success.

Today, the goals I had set for myself did not align with Java’s needs. We did not accomplish the things I had originally set out to do, we drove away with a long list of boxes left unchecked. But still I left with a contentment and optimism that only conquering your goals can provide. Because I didn’t actually fail to achieve my goals, my goals just changed. They went from self-serving goals intended to make me feel accomplished, to selfless goals intended to make my horse feel comfortable and confident.

Today, I didn’t finish an event. But ending on a letter and not a number was the biggest success in my relationship with my horse.

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Be a Good Buyer – Top 5 Questions NOT to Ask Sellers!

Horse shopping is no easy task. As much fun as buying a horse sounds, it can quickly become a stressful journey trying to navigate thousands of sale ads, gaze over hundreds of photos and videos and try to make a judgement call about which of the dozens and dozens of horses available may suit your specific needs.

But as much as buyers have the difficult task of trying to find just the right horse for their goals, sellers also have the arduous chore of filtering through inquiry after inquiry and trying to find the right person for their horse. Good sellers take this job very seriously, as it is equally important to find a quality home with just the right partner for their mount so that everyone is happy, healthy and benefits from the transaction.

Serious buyers should be clear and concise about their needs and wants in a potential new mount. Buyers who have a list of “must haves” and a list of “wants” will have an easier time navigating the large market of horses available. It is important to understand that in order to find a horse that meets all of their needs, a buyer may have to compromise on their wish list.

Buyers should be courteous and know how to ask the right questions when inquiring about a horse. Experienced sellers can quickly tell if their horse will suit a potential buyer’s needs and very early in a conversation will know whether to continue to engage with a buyer or to discount them.

Before opening the lines of communication with a seller, buyers should be prepared with several well-thought-out questions that can quickly and efficiently determine the horse’s suitability for their goals.

To help narrow down a list of prospective questions for a seller, here are my top 5 questions NOT to ask.

  1. Any question with an answer clearly stated in the ad. 

    Most sellers put a lot of energy into writing a good sales ad. These ads usually state the horse’s characteristics such as: Name, Breed, Gender, Age, Height and Price. Most ads will also contain details about a horse’s personality, their level of training or showing, suitability for different disciplines and possibly what type of rider they are best suited for. Be sure to read ads carefully and do not ask questions that are clearly stated in the ad. It shows sellers that you have not taken the time to learn about their horse before inquiring.

    Examples:

    • “How old is Fuzzy?” when ad clearly states Fuzzy: 16 year old, 17 hand Thoroughbred Gelding.
    • “Hughey is so cute! What breed is he again?” after reading an ad that says For Sale: Hughey, 14 hand Welsh Pony Gelding.
  2.  Will she pass a vetting?

    Questions about whether a horse will pass a pre-purchase exam are loaded questions that can put sellers in murky water. First, there is no standard “Pass-Fail” in a vet check. A horse “passing” a vetting simply means that there are no glaring health issues that may prevent that horse from performing at the desired level of that rider at that time. It is the responsibility of the BUYER, not the seller, to vet the horse to their desired extent and then make an educated decision based on the finding of that vetting.

    Furthermore, the statement of “Yes, this horse is sound and will pass a vetting” can be legal trouble for a seller. If the buyer decides to forego a pre-purchase exam and buy the horse based on this statement and the horse is later found to have a condition or flaw that will cause it to not be able to perform to the buyer’s desires, the seller may be found to have unintentionally made a fraudulent statement that resulted in the sale of a horse.

    • For example, a small amount of arthritis in a fetlock may make no difference to a buyer who aspires to jump no more than 2’6″, but may cause one to pass on a horse if the buyer has serious upper-level eventing aspirations. What may work for one buyer will not work for another.

     

  3. Would you accept $___________?

    Buyers that present questions of money before inquiring about the horse’s characteristics, training or vices often tell buyers that they are driven by one thing: money. While it is important to have a conversation about money, buyers should show interest in the individual horse and ensure they are serious about pursuing a purchase prior to talking about their budget.

    It is especially insulting to sellers when this question is followed by an offer of significantly less than their asking price. Sellers generally build in some negotiating room to their asking price as most serious buyers will want to make an offer, rather than pay full asking. You can reasonably expect a seller to be willing to negotiate within 5-25% of their asking price, with many determining factors including the horse’s show career, any limitations or vices, and how motivated a seller is to find their horse a new home.

  4. Why are you selling him?

    This question is one that gets tossed around quite a bit. And in the right context it can be a valid question. However in most circumstances, the reason behind a seller’s decision to find their horse a new home will not affect whether the horse will work for a buyer. In most cases, the decision to list a horse for sale is purely a financial decision for the seller. This ends up being an awkward question for sellers who should not need to explain themselves (and their financial situation) to potential buyers. You can easily determine a horse’s suitability for your needs and goals without questioning a reason for sale.

    • The exception to this rule is if an ad makes you believe the reason for sale would adversely affect the horse’s suitability for what you are looking for.
  5. I’m not in a position to buy now, will you hold him?

    Buyers requesting that sellers “hold” a horse, or refrain from selling them for an extended period of time can have adverse consequences for both parties. Situations can quickly change for both buyers and sellers and holding a horse for an interested party may mean that a seller ends up bypassing a buyer who is actively pursuing a purchase and can offer their horse a quality home. Additionally, a buyer may find that their circumstances change over time and they may find themselves no longer able to take on a new mount, but with an expressed intent to purchase the horse still standing.

    Buyers should refrain from shopping for horses until they are fully in a position to purchase, so as not to put either party in a bad situation and to allow each horse the best possible chance of finding a perfect new home.

 

Horse shopping, while daunting, does not have to be a difficult experience for either party involved. With sellers who are honest and reliable, and buyers who are respectful and educated, the process can be a pleasant one!

Happy horse hunting!

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A Duty of Care

I have owned lots of horses in my lifetime, probably more than I would willingly admit. A few are personal horses that I fully intend to stay with me forever. Most are projects, those diamonds in the rough that I enjoy polishing and perfecting, and then allowing someone else to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Some are the result of my bleeding heart, horses in dire need of a soft place to land or a second chance, who I knew better than to take on but couldn’t say no to.

But no matter how many horses have at some point called me Mom, or the circumstances under which I took them on, they all have one thing in common. I owe each of them something – a duty of care.

A duty of care is the responsibility of a person to do the right thing to the best of their abilities, and to do whatever they can to avoid causing harm. When I take on a horse, whether for myself, for a profit, or for no good reason at all, there is an unwritten rule that I will care for that animal to the best of my abilities no matter what.

Take Doneraile Lass for example – this former broodmare found her way to me because she had lacerated her cervix and her owner was ready to put her down. In one of those moments where you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan playing “Angel” in the background, I agreed to take her. Having no soundness issues, I fully expected Tully to be a quick project and had only planned to give her some skills to succeed in life as a sport horse and then find her a home shortly after.

Tully had other ideas and decided that she wanted to stay.. and stay.. and stay. No matter how wonderful and laid back she was for me, she gave a resounding “NO” to every person that came to look at her.

What was supposed to be a few short months with this sweet lady turned into nearly half a year. We eventually found her the right situation – one that she agreed with and allowed me to let her go. But as months and months flew by with Tully still on the payroll, I never once thought about not doing right by her, by taking a shortcut or the easy way out. She was my horse and I owed that to her.

The thing about horses is they don’t know our man-made timelines, they don’t understand our goals or financial situations. When we bring them into our lives we silently agree to care for them and to do right by them.

Or at least we should. 

I see so many horse owners that don’t uphold their duty of care. I see people who do choose the easy way out, who fail to do right by the horses they agreed to take on. Day in and day out I watch people try to pawn horses onto others, see photos of horses withering away because no one is caring for them, observe as horses suffer because they don’t rise to standards they had no part in setting.

When you take on a horse, whether purchased for $50,000, adopted for $500 or just taken on for free, you must be ready and willing to provide for that horse (or be able to find someone who can) for any length of time and in any situation that may arise.

If you can’t uphold your end of the bargain, if you can’t offer each horse you own a duty of care, don’t get a horse.

Gossip and Negativity in the Equine Industry

We talk about sexual harassment in the barn, we talk about bullying in the equine industry. We work hard to bring light to the problems we face and to find solutions to make our sport a safer, more inclusive environment.

But, there is one issue we all sweep under the rug. One evil that we face on a daily basis, whose grips no one can escape. Yet, we all turn a blind eye and refuse to acknowledge its existence.

Why? Because we are all guilty.

As equestrians, the biggest, most common threat to the safety and inclusion of our various sports comes in the simple form of gossip. The trash-talking, criticizing, and rumor-spreading that goes on behind each others’ backs breeds an unsportsmanlike negativity that all riders are affected by. And it needs to end.

The equine industry propagates it. The barn environment is like a petri dish, offering the perfect conditions for rapid production of this awful vice. There is a vast majority of women in all aspects of the sport with polarizing opinions on everything from hoof care to blanketing. Add in the love we have for these animals, the massive amounts of money we spend and the stress we all face trying to become better athletes and horse owners – it’s no surprise we turn to gossip and criticism to vent frustrations.  

Yet, we all have one thing in common. With the negativity we face in all the other aspects of our lives, horses are meant to be our safe haven. So why is the equine industry anything but?

All it takes is one step to start the change.

Together, we can become a more welcoming, understanding and kind group of people. Together we can make gossip, rumors and criticism a thing of the past. By addressing issues head-on, not behind closed doors, focusing on yourself instead of others, and generally being kind, the equine industry can once again become a safe-haven for all involved.

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My happy place.

Address Issues

If there’s an issue, address it. If you feel compelled to speak up, do so. It’s as simple as that.

Problems cannot be solved behind closed doors, whispering about the parties in question. Gossip does not foster solutions. Rather, we can only learn by inclusive conversation that facilitates understanding.

So, if there’s an issue, work on it together. Start an open and honest conversation and work together to find solutions. If you attack problems head on, with an open mind and kind heart, there is no problem that can’t be solved.

Focus on Yourself

If there is no outright issue and you aren’t involved, leave it alone. We were all taught at one point, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As time goes on, this principle tends to slip through the cracks. But by living by these words, the world becomes a more positive, uplifting place.

By criticizing other, gossiping and spreading rumors, all we are doing is creating a world of negativity and misunderstanding. We must understand that from an outside-looking-in perspective, there is a lot that can be missed and without being wholly involved in a situation, we can’t possibly have all the information.

So, if there is no true problem to be solved and nothing nice to say, simply don’t say anything. Rather, spend your energy focusing on something you know well – yourself. Work on addressing the issues that you face and becoming a better, more positive person by leaving others alone.

Be Kind

This seems simple, but it is the most important thing a person can do. Be kind.

There is another core principle that seems to be missing in the equestrian world – treat others as you would like to be treated. If something you are about to say or do would hurt if the tables were turned, simply don’t do it. As equestrians, we are all in this together. We all have the same passions, face the same problems and feel the same joys and frustrations. While our personal experiences may be unique, we all have a lot in common.  So why tear each other down when it is so easy to build others up?

By being a kind and understanding person, the world becomes just a little bit brighter.  

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Together, we can make a change – we can become a more welcoming and inclusive industry. We can build each other up instead of tearing each other down. We can start open and honest conversations without the blame and criticism. We can stop gossiping and start learning about each other.

We are all guilty. But we are all capable of overcoming our imperfections and making this crazy, stressful, amazing world we chose to be a part of a safer, more understanding place.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.