Being “Made Over” for the Makeover

This blog was started to chronicle a common goal over the last few years of my life – to make it to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. To successfully take a horse off the track and retrain it for a specific discipline in 10 months’ time. To be a part of the change in the industry. To make a difference for just one horse.

And for two years, I could proudly check that box, having accomplished that goal.

In 2016, it was with Rebel Annie. A 15-something hand chestnut mare that I bought directly off the track 6 months prior to the competition. With a short let-down period and only a few months of training, Rebel successfully carried me around the Field Hunter division – a sport I knew nothing about. Her heart of gold and willing attitude helped me fall in love with the OTTB again, and I thank her every day for that.

In 2017, I partnered with Hot Java. A horse more my “type”, this 2011, 16.1 hand bay mare came off the track in January after nearly 50 starts. Requiring significantly more let down but with just as much heart as Rebel, Java proved to have all the makings of an Eventer. But, having not truly evented in years, we conquered the Show Jumping division of the Makeover. Even though we placed solidly middle-of-the-pack, I saw something in Java and opted not to sell her as initially planned. Instead, Java lit that competitive spark in me and has me planning out goals that include Area 8 Championships, move-up’s and, ultimately, the American Eventing Championships.

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This year, my Makeover mount came to me from New Vocations. My first adopted horse and one that could not have been more different than the two in years prior. Cold Gone Hot, aka Tiny, was a 5 year old, 17.2 hand gelding by Tiznow. With high expectations on the track not coming to fruition, his connections graciously donated him to an aftercare program. With some mental baggage to overcome, Tiny hung out in my pasture for several months before I ever sat on him. And when I finally did this gentle giant showed me just how versatile a Thoroughbred can be. From earning a 70% at his first dressage show, to packing my non-horsey husband around on hacks, and taking home multiple ribbons in the hunter ring, Tiny would truly do anything you asked.

So, it was a bittersweet day when life decided it had other plans for me and it was clear that I would not be able to compete with Tiny at the Makeover this year. Instead, I sold my sweet boy to an amateur Hunter and withdrew from the competition. But among the things that Tiny taught me was that I could make a viable business out of training horses, and that my childhood dreams were actually taking shape.

I find myself this year attending the Makeover horseless for the first time. And as I meander around the grounds, volunteering my time with the wonderful organization that is the Retired Racehorse Project, helping other competitors whenever I can, and taking in the buzzing atmosphere at the park, I thought I would be sad that I couldn’t check that box this year. I thought I would be disappointed that I didn’t “make it” to show off all of my hard work with Tiny.

But instead, I’ve realized that “making it to the Makeover” was never about the competition anyway. Over the past three years, while I thought I was making over a Thoroughbred and showing them a new career, they were all actually making over me. Each horse taught me something different and helped me grow as a rider, trainer and person.

While I thought I was making Rebel Annie a Field Hunter, she was actually helping me find my passion again. When I showed Hot Java a new career in Show Jumping, she was showing me my hungry, competitive side. And as I brought Tiny out of his shell and let him find success him multiple rings, he let me realize all I could be – and all I already was.

So congratulations, ponies. Whether you stepped foot onto the Kentucky Horse Park grounds to take on the competition of hundreds of other Thoroughbreds or not, you’ve all checked the box. You’ve all done your job and accomplished the goal of changing me, of making a difference for just one person.

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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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Finally an Event Horse, Finally an Eventer

16 months ago, Java was standing in a stall at Turfway Park. Race fit and knowing nothing but the track for the last 4 years of her life, she was ready to retire from racing. Body sore and a little lame, I fell in love with her anyway and despite my vet’s hesitation, Java came home.

It was impossible to know then just how much that little mare would do for me.

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From an outsider’s perspective it may not look like much. They may see a girl living in the heart of horse country, trying to make her way in the Equine Industry and taking a horse from the track to Beginner Novice in a little over a year. So what?

But what those people can’t see is the years and years spent with nothing but baby horses. The basics instilled, the light bulbs starting to switch on, the tiny schooling shows that were few and far between and the smallest of victories before moving them on. They don’t see the years of not being able to afford to show, let alone actively pursue my goals. A broke college student with no truck, no trailer and no money. So I did what I knew how to do, I brought along the babies, I sold them to people who could afford what I couldn’t and I put my Rolex dreams and AEC wishes on hold.

And then, a head-first leap into the craziness that is the Bluegrass, an acceptance to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project and a few good Thoroughbreds that knew exactly what I needed and when I needed it changed everything.

It seems sometimes patience and persistence pays off in the most unlikely of places. And somehow, the sweet “nearly war-horse” mare with the sore body, kind soul and least natural jumping talent was the one who lit the fire I had been missing, gave me the confidence I didn’t realize I needed, and has me finally accomplishing goals I used to only dream of.

This weekend, after a solid 6 months without competing and a good portion of the winter off, Java stepped up and completed her first Beginner Novice. And no amount of rain, mud, lack of warm up or soggy breeches were able to stop us!

She put in a solid dressage test, bounced around stadium like she was born to jump, and gained some much-needed confidence on cross-country.

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

And while we fell .4 points short of my goal of a dressage score in the 20’s and two stops on XC isn’t quite the clear round I was hoping for, we did accomplish the most important goal I had set for the weekend- to finish on a number and not a letter. And even more important that we walked away stronger and wiser, with new homework and our sites set on our first recognized event in just over a month!

So after several years of breaking babies, finding them perfect new homes and watching them make other people’s dreams come true, maybe – just maybe – it may be my turn. I may finally have an event horse and may finally feel like an eventer.

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

Goals, Goals and More Goals

This weekend I did a thing… and maybe not the smartest of things I’ve ever done.

This weekend, the weekend of Daylight Saving Time, I decided it would be a great idea to attend back-to-back horse shows for three different horses over two days. To say I was exhausted at the end of the weekend would be an understatement.

But regardless of my level of exhaustion, the weekend could not have been more successful. To take two baby horses to their first show and one still-thinks-he’s-a-baby-but-he’s-really-not to his first show of the season is a big deal in my book! Because even more than the physical challenge of tackling two separate shows, multiple different rides and losing an hour of sleep, is the mental challenge of how to make each individual ride the best it can be for that particular horse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – there is no one-size-fits-all approach to horse training. And because each horse is an individual, and needs to be treated as such, each ride had totally different goals.

And because there’s no such thing as too many goals, I personally like to make three separate goals for each ride. One easily obtainable, one a bit more difficult and one possibly pushing it but not out of reach. That way you can easily prioritize what you’d like to achieve and feel good knowing you obtained at least one, if not all of the things you set out to do.

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

Ride number 1 – Danielle

Danielle was my first ride of the weekend. This GORGEOUS girl is pretty much as fancy and talented as they come, but had a late start in her dressage training. Even though all the fanciness is there and doing Intro/Training Level seemed almost beneath us, I was determined to not skip any steps.

For Danielle, this weekend’s goals were

  1. Have a calm, confident first show experience.
  2. Complete each test (complete with bending and supple-ing moments).
  3. Score in the 60s.

Being Danielle’s very first show, I wanted to prioritize a calm, confident experience and not worry so much about the score. Even though at her best 75%+ is completely obtainable at these levels, it’s extremely important to me to not put too much pressure on my baby horses.

So, when she tied to the trailer all day long, pranced around the warm-up like a total champion and scored in the 60s for her first test, I was thrilled. And when a line of spectators watching her second test was a bit more than she bargained for and kept us out of the 60s in Training Level, I wasn’t too concerned. Mission accomplished – onto the next show!

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

Ride number 2 – Tiny

Tiny, my 2018 RRP horse, has been with me since August. He is a huge boy that has been slow to mature and has a lot of growing up to do in the months before I could start his training for RRP. He came to me very unsure of himself, always questioning my motives and never wanting me to touch his face. Very slow and steady work, with lots of easy tasks to accomplish boosted his confidence more than I ever could have expected. So when I signed up for this show, I was both thrilled and questioning whether he was ready, or I would break his trust in me and he would revert back to his nervous ways.

For Tiny, our goals were:

  1. Haul off the property for the first time.
  2. Have a quiet and thinking warm-up, not worrying about the new place.
  3. Complete Intro Test B.

I wanted Tiny to tell me if he was ready to step into the arena. I didn’t want to push him or make him nervous, so I was completely ready to scratch if he told me to. So, when my big baby of a horse trotted around a busy warm-up and into the indoor arena for the first time, I was thrilled. When he finished the test and was awarded a 70%, I was ecstatic!

Time to start asking for more, as I think Tiny is telling me he’s up to the challenge!

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer. (Can you tell she’s the best friend ever?!)

Ride number 3 – Lou

Oh, Lou.. what to say about you? Even though I’ve had Lou for years longer than the other horses I’m competing, he gives me the most trouble. A very worried and nervous horse at his core, Lou is also a bit of a bully and thinks he knows better than his rider. We have been working a lot on obedience and walking the fine line between communicating and arguing.

Lou’s goals were:

  1. Get him off the property. As much as possible!
  2. Have a calm, happy experience.
  3. Stay obedient in the warm-up and through the test, especially in transitions.

Like our first goal says, Lou just needed to go places and do things. The only way to get him over his nerves and ensure his listens to me off the property is to just take him off the property. But this guy also has my number because he makes me question myself as a rider and trainer. He is so incredibly talented but can be so argumentative that I shut down and stop riding.

I planned for a long warm-up so we could have time to see the sights but also have some difficult conversations about listening and being obedient. When he was calm and focused the second I got on, we skipped right to the conversations and were able to head into the ring early. Lou and I worked very hard – him on listening to me and me on being there for him, and we ended our test with a 65%!


 

 

I’ve found that only by setting specific goals for each individual ride – and multiple ones at that! – do I do my horses and their individualized training program any justice. And it’s just as important to set goals as it is to reflect on them, continuously adjust them and use them to grow and adapt your training.

So there you have it – 9 goals, 3 horses, 2 days, 1 exhausted trainer. But overall a very successful, goal-oriented weekend and a wonderful start to the show season!

Staying in Your Lane

Trainer announcements for the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover class of 2018 have been made! A whopping 812 trainers applied to compete at this year’s event and 794 were accepted – the largest group of trainers in the event’s history! Within this huge group of trainers, less than 250 individuals have participated in a Makeover before.

Let’s think about that. Almost 550 people have opened up their e-mail to read those amazing words “Congratulations, you’ve been ACCEPTED!” for the very first time. And most of those 550 probably felt like a two-years-younger me, having been accepted to my first Makeover. Ecstatic and hopeful, but at the same time confused and worried. (You can read all about those first-timer emotions in my second ever blog here.)

Having two years of Makeover experience under my belt – and heading for my third year – I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a Makeover veteran. Each year is a totally new adventure, with lessons to be learned, friends to be made and wonderful experiences to be had. But, if there’s one word of advice I can offer first-time trainers its this: stay in your lane.

The next few days, weeks and even months will be a whirlwind. Chances are you’ve been on the RRP Trainers Facebook page and seen people discussing braiding, hotel rooms, stall assignments, and much more – and you may not even have your horse yet! You’ll see photos and videos posted of makeover mounts jumping courses, going around like lesson ponies, and prancing in the dressage ring. You’ll feel sick to your stomach, you’ll feel left behind, you’ll want to quit now. Don’t. 

In 2016, I struggled with comparing myself to the other trainers, even when there were a mere 488 of us. That year, I didn’t purchase my horse until April and watched as the other trainers hit milestones and found success while I remained horseless. But, by keeping my head down and staying in my lane, I was able to find a wonderful makeover mount in Rebel Annie and successfully completed the Field Hunter division, a discipline I had absolutely no experience in.

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In 2017, I prepared and planned a bit better. After selling Rebel, I purchased Hot Java directly from her trainer at the beginning of January. But even having 4 more months to prepare, I struggled with feeling left behind. We had setbacks as I worked to put weight on her, dealt with a nasty hoof abscess and popped splint. But again, as I reminded myself that my journey was mine and no one else’s, I kept on the path that made sense for me and my horse. Forgetting about timelines and the other trainers, Java and I successfully stepped into the Show Jumper ring in October 2017 and stepped out with two clear rounds.

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Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

This year, Tiny has been hanging out in my field since late August, needing time off to reset physically and mentally from his short-lived career at the track. As an outsider, you may see a partnership that has been developing since August, you may worry because you don’t even know your Makeover mount yet. But from my perspective, I see a horse overwhelmed by the track, whose confidence is lacking and whose large stature makes him unsure where his body is most of the time. I see a horse who needed months of down time and who is so unsure of himself that walking over a log is cause for celebration.

But social media may skew that perception. Trainers want paint their horses in the best light and to share their successes with the world. But, horses have a way of keeping us humble and messing with our manufactured timelines. As horse trainers we all experience the setbacks and the mistakes, we just don’t share them as vigorously.

So, as Tiny and I trudge on, facing our fears and working to overcome the specific hurdles we face, its soothing to know that we are all in this journey together… separately. We lift each other up, celebrating the accomplishments and rooting for our fellow trainers. At the same time keeping our heads down, working to compare ourselves to no one but who we were yesterday and staying in our lane, no matter how appealing your neighbor’s lane may look.

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Meet the (not-so-tiny) Tiny!

Well, the day is finally here, the close of applications for the 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover.  It’s like the Thanksgiving to my Christmas. An exciting day in and of itself, but what it really does is start the countdown to the day we are all really waiting for – in this case, Trainer Announcements on February 1st.

Of course, my application has been in since the day the applications opened. And why? Because my 2018 hopeful, Cold Gone Hot, has been hanging out in my pasture, running up my board bill, since August.

Tiny, as my husband named him, is anything but. I adopted him basically sight unseen from New Vocations, all I had to go on was a photo and a glimpse of him in the pasture. When I went to pick him up, what I thought was a chromed out 16-something hand Tiznow gelding turned out to be an over-sized baby horse sticking at 17 hands.

As I silently crossed my fingers that he would even fit into my trailer, I wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into. My just-over-5-foot frame hadn’t seen a horse over 17 hands in quite some time, let alone a towering 4 year old with a lot more growing to do. And I planned on Eventing this thing? Oy.

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Tiny in all his non-tiny glory.

The past two years, I have chosen my Makeover mounts using a very specific algorithm, one that I have fine-tuned while pouring over hundreds of potential prospects. It has served me extremely well, bestowing me two mounts that have had incredible brains, a degree of trainability that just can’t be taught, and athleticism to top it all off.

This precise formula – are you ready for it? – mare + barely pushing 16 hands.

And what a wonder it has done me. Rebel Annie, my 2016 mount, was a puppy dog who made me fall in love with restarting OTTBs again. And Hot Java, my 2017 mount, is a wonderful mix of kind soul and hearty competitor who is pushing me to pursue a recognized Eventing career that I wasn’t sure I’d ever have.

These two ladies have served me extremely well, and have been exactly what I needed when I needed it. But this year I decided to go a different direction.

With Tiny, I saw an athletic, albeit towering, frame. I saw a royal pedigree with an affinity for route courses (can you say Eventer?), and his Daddy’s reputation for throwing just enough sass to keep it interesting. And of course, I saw eye-catching chrome that you just can’t say no to.

What came home with me was all of those things wrapped up in the body of an insanely large toddler. At first, he was worried. Trying to be good, but not sure if I was friend or foe, and wondering if I was going to push the ear-touching issue. And has he grew, so did his personality. Tiny now sticks at whopping 17.2 hands and isn’t quite done growing. His mouth has to touch everything and most of the time he isn’t sure where his feet are going or what his body is doing.

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Tiny and the infamous grouch, Jinx.

So, after successfully learning how to lunge, and doing lots of work over ground poles to help with coordination, Tiny has been a gorgeous pasture pet for months now. The few rides we have shared together have been largely uneventful, just meandering around as I figure out what to do with all the horse underneath me.

Will he eventually figure out where to put his feet over fences? Is he too big to actually put together in the dressage ring? Will he ever stop growing? Your guess is as good as mine! But for now, we wait and hope that our journey together will eventually lead to the 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover.

A Journey, not a Destination

Well, here I am – a month after the Makeover and finally sitting down to write about my experience. A month of reflection, but more importantly, a month of continuous improvement and constantly striving to achieve my goals, yes, even after the Makeover has ended.

So far, I have stayed quiet and watched the conversations happen around me. I have watched as the buzz surrounding this year’s horses has died down and trainers have started searching for new mounts. I have read the comments, posts and blogs of reflection in the weeks after the Makeover, which now seem to be gone as everyone has set their sights on 2018, ready to leave 2017 in the dust. And I’m a bit confused. We spent the past 10 months preparing our horses and ourselves, trying to be the best we can be only to forget about it a month later?

In the two years that I have participated in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, my Thoroughbred’s makeover didn’t end after the show. You see, the Makeover is just a step on my journey with my horse, a checkpoint to gauge our training.

As I reflected on my 4 short days at the park, 4 days that were meant to summarize my entire 10 month journey with Java, I knew I had grown from the prior year’s competition.

We may have has some tense moments and didn’t show the judges the best we can be. We may not have accomplished all of our goals, which included staying calm and quiet the entire time and finishing in the top 10. This year I still didn’t come home with a fancy ribbon or a check in my name, but I left feeling like a winner. Not because of a score given to me by a third party or an award from an organization. No, what I received this year was better than anything someone else could have given me. When I pulled out of the horse park this year, I left with commendation from the most important person – myself.

As a trainer and a horseperson, I knew I had a better horse under me this year. Our one moment of tenseness, that just so happened to be when the judges were watching, was just that – a moment. And as I moved on from that moment, I felt like I had more tools in my toolbox than previous years. My horse was better prepared and at a more advanced stage in her training than my mount last year, so I knew my training had improved.

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I knew I had brought Java along to the best of my abilities in those 10 months. She said “yes, Mom”, to every question I asked of her, including jumping cleanly and honestly over the most difficult course she had ever seen. She was calm and positive, hanging out in a crazy atmosphere that should have brought her right back to her track days, but didn’t.

This past month’s reflection of the Makeover wasn’t a conversation of “what can I do better next year?”, it was a question of “what can I improve right now”? And improve we have.

Three weeks after leaving the horse park, I wanted to try again. I felt like we were ready for another checkpoint. So, I entered Java in her first horse trial, ready to apply the lessons I learned at the Makeover and test my training again. And what that checkpoint revealed was a huge improvement – a calm and thinking horse the entire time. A fluid and soft dressage test, clean show jumping round and bold but rideable cross-country which landed us in 3rd place.

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But again, it wasn’t the ribbon or the recognition that left me feeling like a winner. It was knowing I had grown as a trainer and in 3 short weeks we were a better, stronger pair. So, our journey for improvement continues. We will see where it takes us next!

 

 

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.

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.

 

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!