Month 1 Check-up

So we returned from the More Miles with Mimi Clinic, and we got the horses unloaded and put away and fed and all of that good jazz, and as I was starting the ten minute drive home, something absolutely terrible happened.

I started sneezing.

My husband had come home from training for less than 24 hours and had managed to give me his cold. It stayed away through the clinic weekend, but as soon as we were done traveling, my body said “Great! We have time to take care of this now,” and my week was essentially kind of ruined. Many decongestants and Kleenexes died to bring you this post.

Rather than go out to the barn every day and stress my body out and run the risk of passing a cold to Amanda as well (I think she would shoot me: she doesn’t have time for colds), I went out on Monday (to clean out the trailer and make sure horses were all happy) and on Friday (to clean out the barn). Outside of some mounting work on Friday (Champagne isn’t sure whether to run from the mounting block or eat it), Champagne essentially got week 2 1/2 to 3 off.

We’re now solidly into week 4, and I still haven’t gotten to do as much work with Champagne this week as I would like to, because my oldest brother and his girlfriend came out to visit, and spending time with my brother who I haven’t seen in almost 3 years kind of takes priority. I gave up some training time in favor of social visits and taking them to eat some true Louisiana BBQ and Crawfish. However, I also got to take them out to work and show them a little bit of what I do (I’m slowly debunking the myth that I don’t do anything productive with my life), and they even got to have a bit of a lunge lesson from Amanda. They were both super brave, because they were both willing to groom and saddle by themselves (we taught them how, but they did all the work) and to climb into dressage saddles, which neither had done before. My brother made all kinds of funny faces as he was concentrating on what he was doing (it’s a family trait: I totally do it too), and his girlfriend actually seemed to have a bit of a knack for it; but she does have that tall, athletic build that always makes me jealous. My brother has officially set a record for the biggest head that Amanda has tried to shove into a helmet, and we had some great help from one of our Horse Team girls during their lesson, as well as the lesson afterward. They said that they had fun and that it was really interesting, so I like to think that we did something right.

I’m a little irritated with how little work Champagne and I have done so far: We only have about seven rides under our belts (but the two weeks of ground work leading up to those seven rides was totally worth it), and I’m starting to stress about how much we have to get done before October. I’m starting to have funky dreams where I think it’s September and we still only have a few rides and we’re just not ready for RRP. I’m really having to remember to not demand perfection right now: Champagne is still too weak and too new to this whole “not racing thing” to cope with the weight of those expectations. I’m really trying to focus on the smallest, almost insignificant victories, like 1) Sighing, grunting, licking and chewing, 2) relaxed stretches forward into contact, 3) The slightest correct positioning of the head, 4) NOT bracing on my hands, 5) practicing and setting a rhythmical gait, particularly in the trot.

However, training anxiety aside, one of the things that I am planning on doing through this whole process is to take a picture of Champagne every month for the 8 months that I have him, and essentially try to document any changes that we make through feed or training. I don’t see a whole lot of changes so far, except that he’s (hopefully) put a little weight back on, and that he’s almost done shedding from the constant grooming, but it’s only been a month so far, so I don’t expect miracles. Hopefully we see some really positive changes by about month 6.

In other news, I’m starting to follow Amanda around to some of her Equine Massage appointments and trying to pick up whatever little tidbits of knowledge that I can. I need to steal some of her massage therapy papers from Meredith Manor and study them, because in spite of how much I do already know, there are a lot of complexities that are beyond me without some very active studying. That said, I did purchase some essential oils in order to make a massage liniment for Champagne’s tight hamstrings. I sat down at the dinner table to make a nice, oily concoction, and it was… underwhelming. I’m not sure why I thought mixing smelly stuff together would be satisfying, but still… I guess I had hoped for inspirational music or angelic voices to be heard when I got the proportions just where I wanted them.

This evening after I finished with my ride with Champagne, I slathered some of my new concoction all over his hamstrings and rubbed them out a little bit. He doesn’t quite seem to know whether he likes the smell of the liniment or not, and he’s definitely not sure what to think about me trying to massage it into his butt, but there seemed to be some things that he did like about it. From here on out, I’m hoping to not postpone any more training, and I’m planning on rubbing on his sore muscles, even for five minutes, after every work out, so… Well, best case scenario, it will work wonders and I’ll somehow magically get a superb performance horse. Worst case scenario, I think I’ll at least have a very happy, spoiled pony.

More Miles With Mimi

Week 2 has been fun.

IMAG0913_2Notable things that happened during the week:

  • I climbed on top of Champagne for the first time
  • He’s getting much stronger faster than I expected: he’s starting to really stretch into the side reins and really carry himself well over the poles (except for when he gets bored with lunging over poles and chooses to knock the poles flying instead).
  • He was so absolutely unimpressed with his birthday cake that rather than look at it or smell it in the feed bucket, he covered it with alfalfa so that he could eat his grain without having anything to do with the cake (I ended up feeding the whole mess to Einstein).
  • We went to a Centered Riding Clinic in Lake Charles this weekend, and Champagne came along for the ride and experience.

The Clinic

The clinic was wonderful. The Clinician was Mimi Pantelides, who was lucky enough to study Centered Riding directly under Sally Swift. Of course, she didn’t stop just with learning from Sally, but has continued learning everything she can, like natural horsemanship (not my favorite, but whatever), tai chi, yoga, Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique, and in the biography she gave us, she lists another 14 horse riding instructors she has studied under! In addition, she also was a professional dancer, studying in college and performing in New York, so she obviously had a lot of different techniques and experiences to draw on.

Now, a lot of what we learned was stuff that Amanda and I already study and teach- well, sort of. I’m afraid we often get caught up in the theory and anatomy and biomechanics of riding and training, because a) it’s cool, b) to us it’s very important that our students understand the absolute core of why we ride the way we do c) I think sometimes when we have students whose parents are paying us to teach their children, we feel very obligated to put out a ton of information so that we feel like we’re really teaching a lesson, not just giving the child an expensive pony ride. So this was a wonderful opportunity for us to go back and toss out all of the technicalities of riding theory, slow down our goal oriented brains, and simply return to feeling how our horses move.

While I’m sure that I should spend more time talking about the technical aspects of the clinic-the exercises that we did and so forth- there are plenty of books that have been written on the subject already. Honestly, the main thing that we worked on was the Four Basics from Centered Riding, which are:

  • Soft Eyes
  • Breathing
  • Centering
  • Building Blocks

For more information, you can either a) Buy a copy of Centered Riding and Centered Riding 2, or b) go to a Centered Riding Clinic. There is no possible way for me to explain all of it in one blog post. We only got a bit of an introduction in a full weekend, and I think an in depth study would last years, if not a lifetime.

My Challenge

Amanda and I both faced our own challenges during this clinic. In many ways, I had a great head start because I am naturally a pretty right-brained individual. The right hemisphere of the brain thinks in pictures and feelings and connects us to the rest of the world. It is responsible for art and music and dance and poetry and all of these incredible, very human things. With my history of singing and music and dance, I was already fairly well set up to understand and sink readily into this sort of Zen feeling of connecting with my horse and with other people through this undefinable language of centering and touch and feeling. It’s a feeling and an experience that I was used to chasing as I studied things like music and literature: to feel everything that the creator had wanted me to feel, rather than to analyze everything the author had written. My challenges were a little more left brained in nature, and I had a new one basically every day.

The first challenge was the hotel room. I had made a reservation for a semi-cheap room, thinking that I would be able to stay down there and feed our three clinic horses in the morning, cutting down on how early we all had to get up. That seemed like a good plan, until I discovered that the hotel tax in Lake Charles is 14.5%! My hotel bill, which I had expected to be maybe $160, ended up being over $200 for two nights. No more hotels in Lake Charles for me. Next time I’ll either just commute or I’ll bring a sleeping bag and sleep in the trailer or in the car.

The first night we all got to know each other and fill out paperwork and do some fun exercises (which is not something I say lightly about “getting to know you” exercises- I pretty much hate “getting to know you” games). Then afterwards we went out to collect our horses and ride for about an hour. Thinking that this would be a good time to take Champagne out and work with him so that I could ride Tidbit through the harder parts of the clinic, I saddled him up and walked him into the arena, thinking that I was going to hop into the saddle and just walk nicely on the rail.

He wouldn’t let me on. His racehorse training had kicked in. We were in a new place with lots of unknown horses and people, and what do racehorses do when they’re taken to new places with new horses? They race. I weigh a good fifty pounds more than most jockeys now, and as strong and athletic as I still am in my overweightness (I’m surprised that spell check accepts “overweightness” as a word), I am not in any condition to leap onto a galloping horse. So we just ended up doing ground work all night long.

Silver lining? Now Amanda and I know what Champagne’s biggest flaw is, and we can do something about it. We’re going to have to trailer to a lot of new places in the next few months.

The second day things were going pretty well. I was enjoying our exercises on the ground, learning a lot, I was planning to ride Tidbit through that day so that I could get as much out of the day’s exercises as possible, and then…

My half chaps broke. The left one had broken a while ago, and I had replaced the zipper. This time it was the right half chap, and by the time Miss Kelly and her brother had wrestled the darn thing off of my leg, I was frustrated enough that I wanted to take a knife to it and just chop it off, and it turned out some of the zipper teeth had ripped. So I ran to the English clothing store (fortunately there was one ten minutes away rather than the usual 2 or 3 hours that I would have dealt with at home), and I went in to try to buy a new pair of half chaps. All of their half chaps were Ariats or Tuffriders, and both are made for tall, skinny people with lovely, shapely legs. I am short and stocky and thirty pounds overweight, and so none of those were going to fit me. So I returned to the clinic, resigned to just riding in my paddock boots.

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That evening though, once the clinic was done, I brought Champagne into the arena and lunged him for a few minutes. After that, he actually did let me climb on, and while he did take off around the arena, I was happy that he had actually stood still long enough for me to climb into the saddle.

The third day I decided to try riding Champagne again. Now, we were able to coax him into letting me on, and he walked somewhat quietly for about five minutes, and then the obvious happened: he took off. Fortunately we were only in the arena with adults at that point, and they were all good enough to stop their horses and let me dodge them while I coped with Champagne. They were all very sweet about it, and later told me that they were impressed with how well I handled it and that I looked very calm and relaxed. One lady told me that if her horse had done that, she would have cried. I was mostly just embarrassed and glad that nobody had given me that look that said “Why is she bringing a horse to a clinic that she can’t even control? Doesn’t she know better?” They all took it in stride and accepted that this was a training horse and only my fourth ride on him to boot.

And actually, when everything was said and done, I was glad that I did ride him that day. He was willing to walk after that, and since a lot of what we were working on was breathing and relaxing and making things easier for our horses, the way he moved was a very good indicator of how I was doing. Also, while his motion is pretty flat (I’m comparing him to Luke), it still had this kind of funky, sloppy, big motion to it, so I could feel everything that was going on in his body. For the first time, I could feel his hind legs and haunches working: something that I hadn’t ever felt so clearly before. I could feel that the motion wasn’t a perfect forward, but a sort of swinging motion that picked up his back and my own weight from his hind foot to the opposite foreleg. I had never felt that before, and It. Was. Cool.

Amanda’s Challenge

Amanda had an entirely different set of challenges ahead of her. The first was obviously that she had to commute back and forth every day to feed the horses at home. The second was that she had some family problems come up, and so she had to work through that and fight off a migraine at the same time. I didn’t envy her that at all. But probably the most difficult challenge that I saw her overcome this weekend was this whole “feeling” and “centering” thing.

Amanda is an absolutely left-brained creature. I don’t think that she likes math or anything like that, but show her a line and she will let you know if it is straight or not. She has to have everything laid out in a logical sequence, and she has to know the WHY of everything we do. Dancing and singing are not her fortes. It’s only been recently that she’s been starting to learn to feel what do while on a horse instead of thinking about what to do. She came in wanting to learn more theory and exercises and biomechanics, and she had to learn to throw all of that away in favor of sitting quietly and feeling what was going on in her own body, rather than having something that she was supposed to do. I think not having a “right answer” laid out in front of her kind of killed her. Which is why I absolutely HAD to snap this picture in order to prove that this had happened.

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She. Relaxed.

This is particularly amazing because of all of the turmoil that was going on in her life this weekend. She managed to put all of it aside, and just FEEL. At the end, when we were wrapping up and being asked what we would take with us, she said something along the lines of how she needed to take more time to stop trying to do things perfectly, to just close her eyes, and to feel what was going on in the horse’s body.

Which is why from here on out, I think I may be forcing her into what I call “Feeling Friday,” where I put her on the lunge line or lead her around and make her practice centering herself and practice self awareness. She’s probably going to hate me for interfering with her goal oriented riding time, but too bad. I’m pretty much okay with being mean and making her do something that’s good for her.

Final Thoughts

You know, we did all of this great stuff and learned new exercises and met new people, and I really loved it. But I think my favorite thing from that Clinic can be summed up in one word: John.

untitledJohn was the only man at the clinic- completely surrounded by women and girls and all of the estrogen they represented, riding a horse that he bought from the sale barn for a few hundred dollars, got into riding relatively late (age 21, and he basically had to figure most of it out on his own because most horse riding instructors wouldn’t teach him), and because he tends to ride horses that are cheap and that he is usually taking a chance on, he’s usually pretty tense; always waiting for the next buck. But as he came in to this touchy-feely clinic with all of these crazy horse women, he managed to be secure in himself and eager and willing to learn. Basically, he was the best kind of student any teacher could hope for (and yes, I did feel compelled to sneak a picture of him leading one of the girls on her little white pony. Because it was adorable and awesome).

The change that John made was incredible. He started out tense, a little bit stuck in his seat, and about as goal oriented and driven as Amanda. By the end of the clinic, with all of these exercises and an instructor who was willing to take the time with him to adjust his body and help him find a good position and a comfortable feeling, just about everything about him had changed. He still wasn’t super flexible and limber like the 12 year old girls (because no 40 year old man is ever going to be as flexible and limber as a 12 year old girl, and no one in their right mind would expect them to be), but he was no longer stiff. His seat and aids had softened, he was allowing his joints to do their job, he no longer needed to manhandle his horse, and it all showed in how his horse moved. The horse no longer needed to have his head in the air, his gaits lengthened, he became more willing, and they both just looked a little more comfortable and a little more happy.

By the end, when all of these horses and riders were soft and listening to each other and focused completely on what the other one had to say, it was really beautiful to watch. There was no anger, no expectations, no frustrations: just pure horsemanship. This was Equine Zen. I guess if that’s not worth the $250 Clinic Fee, not much is.

 

Happy Birthday

Champagne’s first week has (more or less) been a success.

The first few days seemed a bit overwhelming for him, and he didn’t quite seem to know how to communicate that he was feeling distressed. Of course, this is not surprising. A lot of the horses I’ve had the honor of working with at HES have the biggest, wildest, funniest personalities. They all have spots that they love to have scratched, they all have pet peeves, and they have no fear in communicating what they’re thinking and feeling. It used to be that I couldn’t understand everything that they were saying, but that came with time and practice (same as any other language), and I’ve grown to really love having these kind of funny dialogues with them. One of my favorite hobbies is to narrate what the horses are saying when they’re being ridden or worked, especially with some of our Horse Team girls, who are still learning exactly what the horses are saying. But when Champagne came in, I felt like this is all I heard.

This really didn’t surprise me. There are many parts of the horse industry (and I would probably put the racing industry in this category) where the horse doesn’t really need a voice: there’s a job to do and money to earn and no one has time for this touchy feely crap. I get that, I really do, because in many ways that was my attitude even a year ago. And really, there is a place for that where we have to just work through whatever is going on, and eventually we’re all better for it. But the thing is, Champagne is actually very sensitive and easy to overwhelm, and I don’t think anyone had ever really acknowledged that fact. As a result, he never learned to express himself in a healthy way: all he could really manage seemed to be explosive outbursts. I would have moments where I’d be working with him and he would freak out and pull back and run away, and I had absolutely no warning.

So the first order of business in our training regimen was a lot of grooming. I feel like I have spent the vast majority of the week with a brush in my hand. Part of this is because shedding season has begun (actually I think it started about a month ago. Louisiana is weird like that), and part of it was just for us to start communicating. My main goal was to encourage him to talk to me, and it required being oh so very quiet and attentive. I don’t think I could have done it six months ago. Every tiny flick of the ear, every quiver of the nostril, every shudder of the skin, I had to respond to immediately and correctly, and sometimes they were signals that I’m not even sure Champagne really knew he was giving. Every time he pulled his head away when I wanted to groom his face and ears (apparently a lot of racehorses get their ears twisted in the starting gate to make them behave, so Champagne is a little head shy), I had to start over. Every time he started acting a little kicky with his hind feet when I was cleaning his hooves, I had to remember that his hamstrings are tight and stiff, so it was time to relax and encourage him to stretch. The whole point was to say “I hear you. Talk to me, and I’ll try to make it better. I got you.”

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Champagne is still timid, but he’s talking now. We really put it to the test this week when I had to clean his sheath, because it was clear from grooming him that it was bothering him. (By the by, sheath cleaning is one of those chores that could almost make me give up horses. I guess Amanda had a teacher who used to charge $50 per sheath, and she made a killing off of that business. NO ONE in their right mind wants to do it.) He kept raising his hind leg in the air to tell me that he was very uncomfortable with this and he would very much like to kick me, but since all he did was raise his leg and he never made even one kicking motion, I used his tail to pull him back onto all four feet, gave him lots of pets, took it slow, and scrubbed him clean. He was much happier by the end, which was both gratifying and totally disturbing. Now I can scrub his belly without him getting wiggly and upset, and for lack of a better way of putting it, I guess it served as a good trust exercise. He definitely showed a lot of growth today when he saw a hose being dragged next to him and didn’t freak out and jump fifteen feet in the air. If he’s willing to just look at me and ask me if it’s going to eat him or if I’m going to protect him, I call that some serious progress.

Now, I can’t say for sure yet, but Champagne is sensitive enough that I’m not convinced that he will ever make a good kids horse or lesson horse. How-ev-er, I think he’s got the makings of an incredible performance horse, and that is super exciting to me. We’ve just been doing ground work so far (we have another few days before I toss a saddle on him for the first time), but he is one athletic, quick learner. He responds to the lightest touches, he has a beautiful floaty trot, he’s already shown a talent for roll backs when free schooling in the arena, and he stops (almost) on a dime when you breathe. We’re only five or six free schooling/lunge sessions in, and I was confident enough with his progress to show him off to Amanda today. He is a smart cookie, and I am ecstatic to see where we go from here.

11882835_10201167335943100_2667874322426040251_oOf course, there is one problem with having my own horse, and it’s that it’s not great for my checkbook. I’m not talking about the cost of food and board and vet bills: you don’t get into horses without expecting those kinds of costs. The problem is that since he’s now MY HORSE, I tend to buy a lot of… accessories.

I have become the “nice amateur lady” in many respects. I’m like “How long is he gonna be skinny?” “Is he eating all of his hay and grain?” “Does he need a supplement to help him gain weight?” “Would a toy help him stop chewing apart the stall?” “What if we try this?” “What about this?” “I heard that this would help, should we try that?” And I’m pretty sure Amanda is either a) laughing at me or b) putting her head in her hands and going “It has begun.”

So here are my ridiculous purchases thus far (I think I have curbed the urge somewhat now, thank goodness):Image result for jolly ball horses

Jolly Ball

It was meant to help keep him from chewing on the barn wall, but thus far that has essentially failed. I’m leaving it hanging in his stall for the time being to see if he starts to take any interest.

Hoof Wraps

Image result for hoof wraps

Brandi’s farrier did a really good job of trimming down Champagne’s hooves and getting his feet at a good angle and shape instead of leaving him with some of the weird things that happen to horses’ feet in the racing industry; but to do that, he had to cut them pretty short. Champagne actually has pretty tough feet, and I am absolutely confident that he will be able to go barefoot without any difficulty, so I’m not getting him shod, but he is a little sore over gravel right now. So I bought him a pair of hoof wraps to help protect his feet while they grow out a little (they were basically the cheapest product available). And, well, the hoof wraps do make it so he can walk on rocks without any problems, and I guess that for their intended purpose (pasture time), they probably work very well. But I was trying to use them for lunging on damp ground, and under those circumstances, they have absolutely ZERO traction. I’ll probably give them another shot now that things have dried out a bit since the last rain, so maybe they’ll be better, but if your horse’s feet are a little too short, I would probably suggest either a) getting a more expensive product, or b) just wait for your horse’s feet to grow out for a few weeks before putting him/her into heavy work.

Birthday Cake

This one is my favorite so far. Turns out today is Champagne’s birthday, so guess what I decided to do?

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What? You can’t tell me you didn’t see that one coming.

Champagne was not impressed. Actually, none of the horses really were. Even Sugar didn’t want to eat the cake when we offered it to her, and she eats ANYTHING. Einstein kind of broke it apart and nibbled on some of the crumbs, but that was the best response we got.

I think my husband is now convinced that I really am insane or stupid, but you know what? For the first time in years, I have a horse. I have about seven or eight months to train him to go to a national training competition in Kentucky. I will probably never be able to take this much time to train a horse ever again, let alone for a big event like this. So dang it all, I’m going to do some things that are kind of silly. Even if it does mean that I might have to clean smooshed carrot cake out of some feed buckets in the morning. It’s all about enjoying the journey and having some fun.

Champagne

For the last few years, I’ve been eying horse sale postings on Facebook and Equinenow and Horseclicks and Dreamhorse and Equine.com and sighing because there were such beautiful horses and I couldn’t buy one (military life kind of murdered my chances at buying a horse and expecting to own it for a long period of time). Then I got accepted to RRP, and suddenly, I had to start searching for a horse to buy as soon as possible. I made my list of parameters, which were:

  • Thoroughbred
  • Registered with the Jockey Club with a lip tattoo or chip
  • Raced after July 1, 2015
  • Hadn’t started training in a new career prior to December 1, 2016
  • Retired Sound
  • Able to go barefoot
  • Preferably 16+ hh
  • Priced at $500 or less (I do dream on a budget, and most of my budget is going toward horse care, not the initial purchase)
  • Needed to be located relatively close

With all of that in mind, I got started.

What. A. Nightmare.

imag0805Because this years RRP is essentially my grad project, I decided to go about this as professionally as possible. I put together a BEAUTIFUL business letter, collected the names and addresses of every single facility across Louisiana and Texas that dealt in Thoroughbreds (and didn’t seem horribly shady or like the business had gone under years ago), addressed each business letter individually, wrote out every single address by hand on the envelopes, double checked honorifics on the letter headings and envelopes, fixed and reprinted several of the letters, and then mailed off (count ’em) TWENTY EIGHT beautiful business letters. And that consumed a full weekend of my life.

Twenty eight letters sent out. Guess how many responses I got?

Three. Initially only two, but a few days ago I got a call from someone else, which was lovely, albeit a little too late.

I guess in a lot of ways, a 7-10% response rate is actually pretty good when it comes to asking strangers for a horse, but still… it was a bit of a let down. Serious props to the people who were kind enough to call me and tell me that they’d keep an eye out for me, especially because they actually did keep an eye out for me. But unfortunately, nothing quite panned out there, so I returned to pay homage to the god of all marketing and sales; most commonly known as “The Internet.”

Thousands and thousands of horse listings on the internet, but it felt like I couldn’t even find one that fit what I needed. I would find great sites, call the owners to see if they had any horses in my price range or my geographic area, and I would come up empty. There was even the lady that told me that at the price range I was looking at, my horse would break down before I ever got to the competition. Which was rude, because I try to leave my horses in better condition than when I started with them, so thanks for nothing, you evil cow. I contacted one rescue that had a horse that looked like he would be perfect, but I sent in the adoption paperwork and pictures of the facility and the twenty dollar application fee and whatever else they needed, and they never contacted me back. I kind of suspect that the lady has some issues letting go of horses, which I get, but dude. I was offering the horse a good home with training and rehabilitation and a chance at a new career and the best care in the area, and you couldn’t even be bothered to call me back and tell me “No?”

Eventually, I came across this group. The Gulf Coast Thoroughbred Network seems to be a fairly new, up and coming organization. They get horses of all kinds from people who don’t want their horses to end up at the kill pens (as well as pulling some of them from the kill pens) and do what they can to rehome them. Honestly, I think a lot of the horses never quite make it onto the website because the people working with the network by picking up and fostering these horses tend to fall in love with them and keep them for themselves. Which hey, mission accomplished!  I ended up going through several of their horses. The first one, someone else got to before me. The second one was sweet and curious and TALL and had a great ground covering stride that would have probably made him a great eventer or barrel racer, but he was not in great condition. When I came to see him, his coat was matted with poop, you could have probably gone hang gliding with his hips for a sail, and I’m still not quite sure what was going on with his feet. He was a sweet boy, and I think I could have done good things with him, but I also would have spent two months getting him back up to weight so that we could even start working. So in spite of how much I liked him, I decided it would be a good idea to look at some of the other horses from the Network and see if there was a better fit. And, well… there was.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Please make some noise and give a big welcome to Champali Lake!!

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It was a four and a half hour drive to go meet him and a four and a half hour drive back, which is always a bit nauseating to drive on my own, but whatever. The things we do for horses. When I got there, the first words out of Brandi’s mouth were “I’m so sorry, I just pulled him out of foster care this weekend, and he’s lost some weight from when I saw him last, so he doesn’t look as good as he should.” I looked at him and went “Oh, he’s still got a body condition of a four, so I can work with that.” Her facilities were small, clean, and well maintained, her own horses were friendly and well cared for, her equipment was up to date, and she had a pleasantly warped sense of humor very akin to my own, and that makes everything more fun.

And Champali Lake… well, he might be a bit shorter than I’d like (15.2 hh, approximately- SUCH TRAGEDY!), and he’s had some issues with his feet (what OTTB doesn’t?), but I think he’s gonna be great. He’s a bit timid right now, but really pretty quiet and willing, even when he doesn’t really know quite what’s going on. I don’t think he had any idea about what I was doing when I put a surcingle and side reins on him, and really had no clue what to do when I started asking him to lunge, but he did his best and didn’t freak out all over the place, and that was better than I could have hoped for. He seemed to have a fairly floaty motion, be somewhat inclined to use his haunches, and actually wasn’t sore in his back, which was amazing. Sscreenshot_20170212-095130o I took my lunging videos home for further analysis and showed them to Amanda. She declared that she liked the way that he moved, so I contacted Brandi and told her that I wanted him and when could I come get him? Apparently her boyfriend was really celebrating about this, because it meant that every once in a while she could bring a horse home and it wouldn’t stay there forever. Of course that makes me giggle, because really, that’s the plight of horse husbands everywhere. I think I told her to tell him that she only brings horses home hoping to find one that he’ll fall in love with. Something tells me that he didn’t buy that story; mostly because it’s the one that I keep trying to pull on my husband, and it never quite seems to work.

So then it came down to picking him up. We had to borrow a trailer from our lovely boarder, and we needed to pick up alfalfa and a bag of feed along the way, but we eventually got there. I signed two bills of sale (so both the GCTB Network and I have a copy), got his most recent Coggins test, wrote out a check, stabbed him with a vaccine, took some pictures, loaded him in the trailer, and started home.

We spent twelve hours on that trip, which was definitely longer than either Amanda or I enjoy on a regular basis.  I owe Amanda a very good dinner and superb back massage. Fortunately, when we got home, our husbands were both good enough to come help us unload the 120 pound bales of hay that we had picked up, as well as helping us get the trailer clean and so forth, which was great because it means we could get Champali Lake settled in to his stall and let him start munching on his buffet. And then we all went home to bed, because since the horse was in bed, we figured we should be too.

quarantineWe have him under quarantine for the next two weeks, just because there’s a lot of crappy diseases running through Louisiana right now (Equine Herpes and Strangles, for example), so we’re being super cautious; hence my bright orange sign on his stall. But it also gives him some time to settle in, gain some weight back (I like my horses a little bit on the fluffy side), and start on some light groundwork to start a foundation for when I do start climbing into the saddle. We had the vet come out today for a Coggins test and for a Strangles culture, so I think we’re off to a pretty good start.

This leaves only one final thing to clear up. “Champali Lake” is a bit of a mouthful to shout across fields when chasing a former racehorse who doesn’t want to be caught, and I believe it’s considered acceptable to give registered horses barn names. Brandi was calling him “Champ,” which is great, and totally an appropriate horse name, but it makes me think of an 80s high school coach calling over his star athlete for some private tutoring, and that freaks me out a little. I was going to just call him “Lake,” but Amanda tossed out another suggestion that seems like a complete and total Dressage name:

“Champagne.”

It kind of makes me think of a little Palomino Arabian mare, not a seven year old OTTB gelding, but then at the same time, he’s the first horse I’ve owned since high school. Now, I don’t drink, but I do feel like that’s something worth celebrating. So really, I think just this once, it might be okay to have a little Champagne.

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Millenium Continued

As you may recall, my job since Halloween has been to start prepping Luke for sale by getting him stretched out and strong again. At least, that’s what I was told, but we all know that Amanda has me figured out. She knows that if she gives me a task like “Train Batman” or “Start Sugar,” I’ll learn something along the way. Basically, she’s letting my arrogance do the teaching, which saves her time and effort and provides a constant stream of entertainment. And this last few weeks was magical: I was finally starting to understand and feel how to ride him best. I was learning to be soft in order to balance instead of relying solely on strength. Luke was getting strong enough to start lifting his back, and we were starting to get some really nice, soft contact and even some self carriage. I like to think that his topline was even starting to improve a little (although that might be my hubris talking). Then something super cool happened this week.

Amanda got this message.feb_11_2017_932

My husband doesn’t fully appreciate how awesome this message was. For one thing, it opened up a whole new can of worms, because we were suddenly flooded with a whole new pile of information about Luke that we never would have known before. For example, we learned that he had been trained to 4th level in Dressage, which explains why Amanda was able to ride half passes and canter pirouettes on him. And now, with the name of his former owner, I was able to do some research and find out even more: Like that he has a lifetime USDF membership and does have a show record in Dressage.

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This was probably the best possible thing that could happen for Luke. I don’t think Luke was going to be the easiest horse for Amanda to sell, at least not in these parts. He’s a sensitive, massive warmblood with enormous motion and the training to go with it. He has to always be shod, and he really does better when he’s kept in good physical condition and given a job. That pretty much eliminates a good portion of the horse buyers around here, because all of that means that he’s not gonna be a horse that you buy for your kid or for yourself to ride just for fun. He’d be miserable as a barrel horse or cutter, because he’s so big that making those tight turns would be murder on his joints, which are already suffering somewhat from his history as a jumper. That pretty much leaves just the Dressage riders, most of whom would likely pass him up in favor of a younger horse. I think we maybe could have (eventually) sold him to a schooling facility with some higher level students, but those are less common down here than you might suppose. And honestly, if we sold him to someone who realized too late that they couldn’t ride him and he ended up starving in a field with founder and parasites and so on, I would be…  “Furious” is an understatement.

That message is basically a dream come true. Luke will be able to go back to live with someone who already knows and loves him, and who will (hopefully) give him a home where he can maybe transition into loving retirement when the time is right. Because honestly, any horse who deals with the sort of foolishness that I have put him through (like the three hours of finger painting and costuming nonsense that he suffered at my hands), totally deserves it.

I’m really ecstatic about this, except for two things. 1) I don’t get to continue learning from him anymore, because I KNOW I haven’t learned everything that he had to teach. 2) I can no longer get a video of me riding him correctly and (halfway) the way he deserves, and as we all know, if it isn’t on camera, it didn’t happen. And if you’re wondering why I can’t get a video, it’s because the lady already signed the bill of sale and we’re just waiting for her to come pick him up and take him home, and I don’t ride other people’s horses without their permission.

On the other hand, I am more or less mollified by a few things, but the main one is that I DID get to ride him, and I DID learn from him. I’m riding Dazzle (who is stuck with me for physical therapy for another two or three days, at least) way differently than I did before, because Luke has taught me the value of riding softly. There was no way to force Luke into doing what I wanted: he’s just too dang big and strong, and any fight we had, he would win. I spent about a month testing that out; that’s how I know. The only way to ride him was to have a balanced, relaxed seat, and allow him to move correctly. Now I’ve come back to Dazzle, who is weak and stiff and sore from her time at pasture recovering from torn muscles, and I could easily overpower her and make her do whatever I wanted (I’m not saying it would be a pleasant experience, but I could do it). Frankly, riding with a strong seat is easier for me than riding with a soft seat. But forcing Dazzle to do something will end up hurting her, and that’s just not the point. I don’t think it’s just that anymore. I think I got a taste of that magical feeling of riding so gently that your horse can’t help but move at their best, and I think that’s a feeling worth chasing for the rest of my life.

… I’m gonna miss that old man though.

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Hot Massage Cooler

I am a genius, ladies and gentlemen.

So a little while ago I rode Einstein in a training level test to send to RRP, and he worked his butt off for me. The thing was, even though he’s pretty fit, I probably should have taken a week ahead of time to get him stretched out and limber enough to perform the test with greater ease, because I was asking a lot of him athletically. Einstein gave his all, and we rode the test, and I got into RRP, and everything was fine and dandy, except…

When we tried to use him in a canter lesson, he started bucking.

Einstein generally doesn’t buck, and even when he was trying to buck me off (I am the resident test dummy, after all- I’m old enough to legally make my own decisions and young enough to still bounce), he didn’t quite have his full range of motion. We finally pulled the saddle off and discovered that he had a massive knot in his right longissimus dorsal muscle, so we brought him back and started a massage routine to try to work the knot out.

And that, essentially, is what started this whole adventure.

fascia_structureBrief lesson in massage therapy: You shouldn’t just start grinding on sore muscles straight away. The reason for this is that between the skin and the muscle there is a fibrous connective tissue that binds everything together (like the Force! Or Duct Tape). This tissue is called the fascia, and when it’s tight, cold, and stiff, gaining access to the muscle underneath can be difficult and very painful. If you start straight into deep muscle massage, rubbing away at those knotted muscles, what will usually happen is that the patient’s muscles will instantly tighten to try to resist the pain. Since the point of massage is to loosen and soften the muscles, that approach is pretty counter-intuitive.

To deal with that, massage therapists use a technique called Effleurage, which essentially means “flourish.” Basically it’s a light massage, almost only skin deep, and the purpose is to warm the fascia (as well the muscle, to some extent) and increase it’s elasticity so that when you start on your deep tissue massage, you don’t face the same pain and resistance that you would if the fascia was cold and tense. It takes a little bit of extra time and effort, but you can’t get a good massage without it.

And this is where my (sort of) genius comes in. Sometimes when you’re working on a patient (especially a horse, who happens to have a lot of muscle), you can get tired remarkably fast. So is there a shortcut that doesn’t compromise the quality of the massage?

(Imitate Annoying Advertiser) Now there is! Introducing LWR’s HOT MASSAGE COOLER, custom made for your equine massage needs! This patent pending device uses a flannel horse blanket customized with Velcro and with attaching rice bags! Simply pop a rice bag in the microwave for a few minutes, attach it to the blanket where the horse is most sore, and hey presto! The heat from the rice bag penetrates the skin, fascia, and muscles, shortening or even eliminating your effleurage time, and conserving your energy for deep tissue massage!

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Yeah, okay, so that’s not all entirely true. It’s not patent pending, because I’m not entirely sure how to file for a patent, and someone might very well have done it already (Although this post is essentially my way of saying that this is MY DESIGN, thank you very much). Even with this contraption, I probably wouldn’t recommend going without at least some effleurage, just to be certain that everything is appropriately warm and loose. But it is a custom design so that 1) there are no seams sitting on the horse’s spine, 2) the rice bags sit evenly and can be attached semi-securely, and 3) you can place heat exactly where you need it instead of trying to shove a fifty pound horse blanket filled with rice into a microwave to heat up. Also, in case you’re wondering, yes, we chose rice bags instead of some awesome high tech heating system for a reason. Number one, it’s reasonably cheap. Number two, if a horse decides to chew on a rice bag, they’re not going to get electrocuted or swallow some chemicals or anything like that. I’m not sure that rice is what you would call a quality horse feed, but I’m pretty sure it’s less harmful than anything else. And of course, the rice bags can be heated or cooled as needed, which is definitely not something you can say about an electric blanket.

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Now, we’re still in the early testing phase (we’ve put it on one horse so far, and technically it’s too small for him, but oh well), and Amanda wants more modifications done on it (which mostly involves more Velcro), but I’m actually really pleased with how well it’s done. The blanket stays in place, the rice bags sit reasonably well and don’t fall off too easily, even when the horse is a little wiggly, it’s fairly portable, and (most surprisingly) IT WORKS!! Luke is notoriously tight through his back and hips, but we popped it on him for a while and switched out the cool rice bags with fresh hot ones as needed, and when we turned him out, he moved soooooooo much better than usual. We didn’t even do any massage on him: it’s just that the heat was enough to warm his muscles and loosen his old man joints, so he could really start to move. So it can even just be used to help loosen and soften the horse before you even start riding, which is great for the older, stiff horses that really need a lot of time to warm up and stretch out, as well as for the horses that are starting to learn how to carry themselves correctly.

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Amanda says I could market these things to equine massage schools and the like. I like the sound of that, but I have a couple reservations. The main thing is that these things probably wouldn’t be cheap. It cost me $60 just for supplies, and I think I spent somewhere around 36 hours building this. Granted, this is the first one, I’m a perfectionist, and Amanda specifically requested a fairly professional looking blanket, so I made sure to take my time, but still… it’s a time consuming project. If I charged $150 dollars for a blanket and four rice bags (all weighing about 4 pounds each), I’d be making $2.50 per hour, which I think is less than I was making as a hostess at a restaurant. I’m not entirely certain how enthusiastic I’d be about that. I would maybe consider dropping down to $120, but I’d be getting paid $1.67 per hour, and I don’t like that much either.

On the other hand, people seem to be willing to pay $80 for a rope halter, so maybe at least the hardcore professional equine massage therapists who work on six horses a day would think it’s worth it.

Alright guys, what do you think? Would you like a Hot Massage Cooler? And if you would, how much would you be willing to pay?

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Broken Stirrup

So there I was, bouncing along on top of Luke, trying to get him to come back down to a walk as his massive motion left me behind in the dirt, when suddenly…imag0808This happened.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of bracing on the stirrups and then feeling one of them snap underneath you. There’s a brief moment when you try to find the stirrup before you realize that it’s completely gone. So you manage to get the big ball of momentum that is Luke to come down to a halt and hop off so that you can try to find a replacement set of stirrups, and you send a text to your boss telling her what happened. Needless to say, your trainer probably has something to say about it.

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Well, No Stirrup Monday it was.

And it sucked. It involved a surprising amount of us running around like idiots because Luke’s trot is… I won’t say impossible, but it’s definitely absurd. He has so much suspension that it bounces you clean out of the saddle in one step, and if you’re not out of the saddle, you’ve fallen behind the motion, and you’re left bouncing up and down on the small of his back, which is not his favorite activity either. So he takes off in an unbalanced canter through the muddy arena, wanting to buck except that it’s too slippery so he doesn’t quite dare, and you just move your seat with him the best you can and hold on to the grab strap and the reins and ride it until you both manage to somehow drop down to a walk or a halt. And then when you finally get there, every muscle is shaking from the effort of staying on. And then because you’re too stubborn to end on a bad note, you go back to work.

But it actually was good for me. I had to really ride from my seat, which was exactly what Luke and I both needed. I got to work on correcting all of my aids, which was definitely a plus. And I finally managed to stop him from my seat. It’s only taken two months, which is depressing. Most other horses I can stop by stopping the motion in my hips and legs and core: what some books refer to as “freezing your seat.” That doesn’t even touch Luke. Actually, if anything, I think it makes it worse, because then my muscles are tense and I’m lifted ever so slightly out of the saddle. To be able to get Luke to really stop by using my seat, I had to physically drive my tailbone and seatbones into his spine, which is exhausting. But it works.

And I finally got good contact. Consistently, I mean. I’ve gotten it before, but definitely not well with Luke. But I finally figured out what I was missing before.

My thumbs were tense.

It sounds so dumb, but that’s what it was.

There’s a lot that goes into contact- you don’t just get it any old way.

These are all wrong. In some cases, horribly wrong, but I think that’s because these are instructors all making great efforts to show how not to do it.

These are both right. Consistent and soft.

I had two problems. The first is that I tend to be too loose with my fingers. If your fingers are too relaxed, there’s nothing firm for the horse to rest against to balance. The second problem is that while my fingers were too loose, my thumbs were too tense. I was essentially trying to counter the floppiness of my fingers by pressing on the top of the reins with my thumbs for leverage. Among other things, that made my wrists and elbows tense, which is completely useless for good contact. So instead of providing something consistent and soft, I was giving Luke something that would snap against his mouth while using excess leverage to try to take up the slack. It’s essentially the difference between offering him a padded chair to sit on and bouncing on the opposite side of a thin, splintery, wobbly teeter totter.

Amanda has gotten after me about the loose fingers before,  and I always got better contact when I didn’t let them go everywhere, so that was no surprise. But that still wasn’t enough. What really did it today was that instead of having my thumbs pointing into the sky (giving a thumbs up), I made the effort to let my thumbs sit gently on top of my first finger and the reins. Immediately Luke sank deep into my hands. Not bracing, not jerking, not pulling. Just relaxing and stretching into the reins. What I have been struggling to get for two freakin’ months I got in two minutes by relaxing my stupid tense thumbs.

Why the (Insert String of Profanity Here) is it always the simplest things that make me feel like the biggest idiot??!!

And just in case you’ve ever wondered (was there really any question about it though?), horse people are gluttons for punishment. Stirrup snaps while you’re riding a 1200 pound animal? No Stirrup Monday. Slipping in the mud? Ride it. Think you’re gonna die? Better figure out how to fix it quick then! Feel like an idiot? Good. That means you learned something.

Only five or six more stirrup-less rides to go!!

RRP Application Results

I got in.

Wow.

I got in.

I’m not sure if I expected that. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, just in case, but… I got in.

I don’t have the same experience as a lot of the trainers in that competition. Heck, I don’t have the same experience as a lot of my friends back home. I don’t have the same show experience, the same training experience. I started later than my friends, than most of the people in the equine industry. I had to give up horses for a long while, because I couldn’t even afford to feed myself. I didn’t have the chance to get back into horses until a year and a half ago. The faults in my video made me crazy.

So yeah, I’m … surprised? Thrilled? Downright ecstatic?

And here’s the cherry on top.

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That made my day.

What this all really tells me is that I have a really good Riding Instructor. A dang good Riding Instructor.

Now for the next step: Time to find a horse. This is where it starts getting fun.

December Begins

Man, we stay busy. I thought I would get more ride time when winter came around, but I haven’t. Part of it is that I’m still in the habit of making a lot of my Christmas gifts. Part of it is that the winter brings rain, rain brings lightning, lightning brings horses into their stalls, and that means lots of horse poop to clean. Amanda went on two trips back to back for a few days, which left Rabea and I in charge of the barn while she was gone. In case you didn’t know, nine horses across two or three days of thunderstorms means a lot of poop.

Following that, Rabea moved back to Germany. She returned safely and I think everyone who knows her is glad that she was able to go home, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t miss her. Still, we have obviously all promised her that we will go to Germany to visit her and ride horses with her, but I’m afraid that promise is a little selfish. Who doesn’t want to ride horses in Germany with Rabea?

Since she couldn’t take it with her, I bought Rabea’s Brazilian saddle from her, thinking that it might be good for horseback archery. It’s really a pretty cool design; simpler than either an English saddle or a Western saddle, and it’s pretty obvious that it is really built for Endurance riding. Once I got a girth on it (for about a third of the expected price, I might add) and got it oiled, I decided that if I was going to test it, I was going to do it with flair.

So I tossed it on Luke.

It didn’t fit him. As a matter of fact, it looked ridiculously small on him, which is saying something, because I think just about all of my saddles look small on him. The look he gave me was one of pure long suffering. It was like he was saying “haha, very funny, now take it off,” and it was definitely in Alan Rickman’s voice.

He was a gentleman about it. The saddle was very comfortable for me though, and it didn’t give me chair seat. That is, it was comfortable until I tried to do rising trot. The wood handle hit the nerves in my thighs. I think it would be great for sitting trot, but I am not capable of that on Luke. With that in mind, we went back to the barn and I switched to Amanda’s dressage saddle, which fits him much better, and we ended up having a spectacular ride.

Also this week, I trimmed my first hooves! That was an adventure in so many ways.

First of all, do you know how hard it is to find a left handed hoof knife around here? I had to go to three different stores in two different towns, and then the knife that I managed to get had an edge like a butter knife. Amanda had to show me how to grind down the edge on her grinder, and then it turned out the knife was still too wide to clean out the commisures, or really much of anything for that matter. I managed to do about 25% of the hoof, and Amanda had to go through and clean everything up that my knife couldn’t get. So back to the grinder we went.

This time the blade was just about narrow and sharp enough to clean where I needed, but the blade was long enough that it’s hard to get the right leverage to get a good cut. Amanda still had to clean up after me, but I managed to do about 80% of the hoof this time. The length and bend of the blade aren’t super helpful, but that’s what I get for five dollars.

The point of all of this is to make sure that you give your farrier a great Christmas gift. The knife wasn’t even half of the struggle. Farrier Stance is awful, the horses can be wiggly (I practiced on Einstein and Tidbit, and they were both very good sports), and even when they’re not, horse hooves are surprisingly heavy. The tools that your farrier uses with such ease aren’t all that easy, and do you have any idea how much work it takes to get a hoof balanced? Well, actually for Amanda and Jacey, not that long, but it took me FOREVER.

15400544_10207643495910336_7861711261810992289_nBut still, it was a good experience, and honestly pretty fascinating. I’m looking forward to learning more.

The last piece of news for this week is that RRP called Amanda (she’s my first reference). They requested a video of me doing a training level test and an email detailing my prior show experience. So yesterday I recruited my husband for recording, and I hopped on Einstein and Amanda called the test for me. Outside of the issues with the recording equipment (we ended up using my phone in the end), it was actually fairly quick and painless. But then again, riding Einstein usually is. But then Amanda told me that I’m a bit tipped forward and bracing on my toes from riding Luke. So I went through and watched the video and she is totally right and I’m pretty irritated. Here’s some pictures for comparison.

This is where I was a month or so ago. Legs back, shoulders rolled back, seat nice and deep and still (but I still needed to get my heels down, toes up, and eyes up. So easy to focus on the horse’s head instead of looking up where I’m going).

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This is where I was yesterday. I tended to wobble between the two extremes a lot (and yes, before you criticize Einstein’s headset, I know he is not bending at the poll. He’s bending around C2 or C3, and that’s what happens when you force a headset instead of training properly for contact by riding from the seat and allowing the horse enough time to start figuring it out themselves. Just FYI). My hands are very wide, which is great for giving good direct rein aids, but it really doesn’t look pretty. I’d like to blame some of my wobbliness on the deep spots in the arena, but really, I should be at a point where I’m riding correctly no matter what condition the arena is in. But hey, at least my eyes are where they’re supposed to be and my heels are down. I guess that’s something.

I’m going to have to practice a) getting my shoulders soft again (bringing my hands back in closer will help unblock the motion of my shoulders) and b) sitting the trot without bracing on the stirrups. It’s also time for me to go back and do some more yoga to get more motion and stability back in my seat, because my hips are a bit stuck.

Bother.

Still, it’s always good to have room for improvement. If I were a perfect rider, I think I’d be quite bored.

RRP Registration

I’M REGISTERED!!!

A lot of the time (unless the horse has done really well and will be used for breeding purposes) after a horse has finished their career on the racetrack, he/she is tossed to one side- sold for dirt cheap to the highest bidder, which frequently means kill buyers. It’s really a bizarre sort of concept- like taking a professional soccer player, and once their career is done, either tossing them on the streets or maybe helping them find a job working fast food. But the racing industry is driven by money, and I don’t mean that to be derogatory, because at some level, all successful horse businesses are. My boss has to look at selling some of her horses because they’re not bringing in enough money to cover the cost of their own care. What sets the racing industry apart is that they go through horses on a massive scale, and many of the horses that are retired are in their prime. Some have stress injuries from racing, but they often recover and could go into new careers that don’t involve a lot of concussion (trail riding, dressage, pleasure horses, etc.) But not every horse person is ready to ride a retired racehorse straight off the track- they’re not generally considered kid horses.

The Retired Racehorse Project is a group that’s dedicated to transitioning thoroughbreds off of the racetrack and into new careers. It works with both the racehorse industry and trainers and farms outside of the racing industry to take former racehorses and retrain them for new careers. This benefits both the racing industry and the rest of the horse world- increasing the value of OTTBs (Off Track Throughbreds) and making them more accessible to the rest of the horse world. The Retired Racehorse Project has been putting on a competition for the last two years, inviting trainers from all across the US to retrain thoroughbreds for ten different disciplines. The registration for the 2017 RRP Competition just opened on December 6th. I signed up on December 7th.

I really hope I’m accepted.

Compared to a lot of the professional trainers who show up, I don’t have a lot going for me. I haven’t been riding for twenty years or more (I started when I was about 12, so I’m up to about 13 years), I don’t own a big, fancy facility (I’m a working student), and I don’t have the benefit of a $60,000 equine education.

But I want in.

Ever since coming to HES, Amanda has been kind enough to give me a surprisingly good education- much better than I ever would have expected from a small facility in a small town. She’s really a pretty extraordinary teacher. I haven’t been studying with the same intensity that I would if I were to attend Meredith Manor: After studying there, Amanda had logged enough riding hours to fill three straight weeks of riding. I haven’t recorded all of my ride time, but in the ten months of what I have recorded, I’m up to about three days. That’s a bit of a let down, but in my defense a) I’ve been putting in a lot of hours doing other things besides riding (usually around 20 hours or more a week, and remember, my payment is in lessons, not money), and b) I have busted my butt both on and off the horse to learn as much as I can. I’ve gone from only knowing half baked, catchy phrases about training to understanding the biomechanics and psychology behind good horsemanship. I’ve gone from sitting on a horse to actively riding every single stride. My body awareness has gone from a 4 (not too shabby) to an 8 (not perfect, but really pretty good). My teaching skills have shot from a 0 (non-existent) to a 7 (Still room to improve, but I can explain most fundamental concepts to a variety of people and make it effective). I’ve learned more about building and maintaining a successful business than I had ever anticipated. I went from expecting my horse to do what I said to building a respectful, trusting relationship. I no longer stand around blankly when the farrier or the dentist come to visit- I now have enough knowledge to hold an intelligent conversation with them about what they’re doing and why.

Do I still have a long way to go? Why yes, I do. Amanda let that slip when she tossed me into a group lesson without a plan during Thanksgiving Horse Camp when she said “Do you understand why I did it? I only have a year left to teach you everything that you need to know.” But everyone I talk to that saw me at the beginning of my time here and who see me now say the same thing- that I have improved in leaps and bounds.

So why RRP? Why couldn’t I just be content enjoying my last year at HES by riding horses and teaching lessons and helping around the barn?

Well, number one, I’ve wanted to do RRP since I heard about it, and working with Batman and getting him ready for his new home (he’s doing great, by the way) pretty well cemented the desire. But the main reason is that if I’m accepted, the RRP competition is going to essentially be my grad project: it will test everything I know and show potential future employers what I’m capable of. It will demand networking, like contacting owners who are even interested in having their horse trained for this or purchasing an OTTB myself. It will take planning to make sure that the horse is sufficiently taken care of so that he/she can train and perform at his/her best. It will take all of my study and work from the last year and a half and the next year to come in order to develop the soundest, best athlete that I can. And of course, when the competition comes, it will test my nerve and confidence under pressure as we perform.

If I don’t get accepted, I probably will be a bit disappointed, but I imagine Amanda and I will be able to come up with another project. But obviously, I would much rather do RRP.

They said that I would be notified within two weeks if I am accepted. Only eleven days left to go.