I committed to blogging for America’s Best Racing monthly through the Thoroughbred Makeover in October. At this point, I had hoped to be talking about our first dressage show, but things have not gone according to plan thus far. Check out my latest installment here.
If you missed my first entry, you can find it here.
I’m hopeful that next month’s installment will chronicle all the progress we’ve made.
This month’s confession: I love blankets. But I don’t love just any blankets. I’m a Horseware blanket addict. This means my blanket addiction is a bit on the expensive side. Trust me when I tell you a young thoroughbred will test a blanket’s durability.
I got the blanket pictured here when I got BooBoo. The blanket was 18 years old in the picture, and is now nearly 20 years old. Now Wex wears it. How many people can say they have a blanket that has lasted 20 years? It’s a Horseware Rhino mid-weight blanket. It’s a little faded, and there have been a couple of snags that have been patched. Otherwise, it’s in amazing condition.
When I got Wex, I decided he needed a few things of his own, that weren’t hand me downs from his cousin. (Fun fact- every horse I’ve ever owned has worn the same size blanket.) BooBoo’s old blanket has had a good life, and it will continue to be a back-up blanket for Wex. The main issue I had, and the only reason I was prompted to upgrade, is that this model of Rhino was so old that it didn’t have the connectors to attach a neck cover.
I wanted to get Wex a Rhino mid-weight with a neck cover, but I had issues with getting the right size/color/neck rug combo. I have never had an Amigo product, but I really liked the charcoal gray blanket with blue trim. It had a detachable neck rug, and was a really good price.
This blanket has been fantastic. Wex has been turned out alone all winter, but he’s rubbing on fence boards, trying to bite at it, and overall being a baby racehorse. The blanket stays put, he stays clean and dry, and he looks super cute in it. My only issue is that the neck rug is a little too big for him. However, that’s not Horseware’s fault—he has a short, compact neck. He just looks like he’s wearing a hoodie sometimes. J
I own several other Horseware Rhino blankets, but after seeing how nice this Amigo actually is, I might take the price break and use Amigo from now on. But, Wex is pretty well set for blankets for now until I decide he needs another upgrade, because I don’t think his Horseware blankets are going to wear out any time soon!
The Thoroughbred Makeover has garnered a lot of attention from both the sport horse world, and the racing world. As a result, there has been a call for bloggers to chronicle their Thoroughbred Makeover journeys. Nation Media (Eventing Nation, Horse Nation, and Jumper Nation) is spotlighting several bloggers throughout the course of their journey to the Thoroughbred Makeover. This year, America’s Best Racing is doing the same. I applied to be a contributor, and was chosen to blog about my journey. America’s Best Racing is the media outlet of The Jockey Club. They have 175,000 Facebook followers, 45,000 Twitter followers, and 40,000 Instagram followers.
My first blog was published a few weeks ago. Check it out here. My next installment will be published shortly. While you’re reading, send ABR some love on social media.
My trainer has been working with Wex once a week for two months now. He’s been doing a lot of groundwork on the lunge, and has benefited a lot from learning how to move forward, and respond to verbal queues. He’s learning contact, which is a big change for him.
We’ve transitioned to riding him more frequently. He’s in work 4 days a week now. He’s not the same horse every day of the week, for sure. We’re starting to figure out his patterns and behavior. My rides have been… eventful. I was beginning to think we were years away from ever jumping anything, let alone making our way around an entire course by October.
So, the logical choice was to take a lesson. I’m so glad I did. The horse I had on Saturday was a different horse than I’ve had before. He went forward. He only had a couple of explosions. I felt like this was a horse that might be able to jump this spring.
My key takeaways from this lesson:
It’s all in the hips. We are starting Wex in dressage. In dressage, your hips and seat are SO important. On Wex, I get especially rigid, as a defense mechanism. As soon as I unlocked my hips, Wex moved forward, and even offered some trot.
I need to keep this horse thinking. When he’s not thinking, he’s misbehaving. For him, it could be as simple as talking to him to keep his attention. If he’s paying attention to me, he isn’t thinking about exploding.
Transitions are our friend! For Wex, we struggle with getting him to go forward. He needs to learn that a walk isn’t a quit. He still needs to be listening, and “set up” to move into a trot at all times. This is what I’m going to be working on until my next lesson.
I was thrilled with this lesson. My ride the next day did not go quite as well, but it was still better than the week before. I’ll be taking more lessons soon, because the first was so successful. We may have hope after all!
I have confession. I am a tack addict. Not just one particular type of tack. I’m talking about horse products in general. For most of my horse-owning life, I have owned only one horse. I happen to like tack shopping (especially during a sale!), but when you own only one horse for so long, eventually, you have everything you need. When you have everything you need, you start to get extra things. (For clarity, I mean “extra” like embellished, not “extra” like back up or too many—too many is not a thing that can happen.) I don’t have a saddle pad this color. These polo wraps match my new saddle pad. This bridle has pretty stitching. That’s a new leather conditioner! I mean, is it ever a matter of needing something? It is a slippery slope, but here we are, 37 saddle pads and 10 bridles later.
I have basically the equivalent of a tack room in my basement. (I wish it were in my barn, but that’s a different story.)
This post will be the first of my monthly product reviews. Each month, I’ll review one product. For this initial post, however, I’ll be talking about a handful of my favorite things around the barn. These are little items that make my life easier. So many times, people gush about a special saddle, pad, bit, or bridle that is a game changer, but sometimes it’s a the little things that make all the difference.
Up first, is a spray bottle holder. My stall has one hook on the front, and it’s job is to hold Wex’s halter. It’s always difficult to figure out what to do with the fly spray bottle. We have long winters in Michigan, but we also have some pretty intense summers. On top of that, our barn has a creek running through the length of it, so we have all those fun water-dwellers, on top of the normal obnoxious flies. A good fly spray is a must, and it has to be in a convenient location so the staff can put it on daily. Out of sight, out of mind. This holder makes it easy to keep it right next to Wex’s halter. It’s a simple concept, but super useful.
The next product is admittedly, a bit of a luxury item. If you’re not familiar, let me introduce you to the miracle of bit wipes. Sure, you could always use the old standby method of dunking your bit in a bucket, or running it under the tap. But there’s the tangle of leather to risk getting wet. These bit wipes are peppermint flavored. I’ve never had a horse who wouldn’t accept a bit, so I can’t tell you if it helps with bit acceptance. They just make cleaning your bits so much easier. If there’s green or foamy gunk left, it takes it right off. They are single use, which is not terribly environmentally or economically friendly, so I only use them about once a week. I use them on my spurs, stirrup irons, and any other metal pieces of tack. They just do a better job than dunking, or a damp rag. Nothing like a sparkly bit!
People, this moisturizer is what’s up. Healthy Hair Care moisturizer. I’ve used this product for probably 15 years. It smells so light and pretty. Can a moisturizer smell pretty? This one does. Almost like roses. It comes concentrated, and you mix it with water in a spray bottle. I spray it all over, and then use my finishing brush to work it into the coat. Like any product, it won’t replace good nutrition. (Healthy horses start from the inside out!) This adds that extra little bit of shine and softness to a healthy coat. Did I mention it smells delightful?
The last item I want to talk about today is this round bridle tag. I’m sure it’s great as a bridle tag, but that’s not what I use it for. I use this tag on all of my blankets. You can engrave on both sides. On one side, I put my horse’s name, and my cell phone number. On the other side, I put the weight of the blanket (sheet, midweight, heavy, etc.) and the temperature range for use. They stay on, even when I send my blankets out for cleaning. They’re super durable, and good looking too. Even though BooBoo and Wex are the same blanket size, Wex *may* have acquired some of his own blankets, and he also needs some tags with his own name.
Do you use any of these products? What are you favorites?
Real talk: Social media is a double-edged sword. I have always been active on social media. I had a Xanga and a MySpace. I anxiously waited for my university to be added to Facebook in the mid-2000s. I am not terribly active on Twitter, but I have multiple pages on Facebook, and multiple Instagram accounts. (Check out Wex on Facebook and Instagram.) But social media shows one side of the coin.
For example, on my personal Instagram account, I follow a lot of interior design accounts. We’re talking Chip and JoAnna Gaines style, immaculately decorated houses that look like they belong in a magazine (and some of them are). There is not a toy in sight. There is not a stray dog hair. The couches don’t look like they’ve ever seen a butt, let alone a marker, a spilled beer, dripped ice cream, jumping children, or dog drool. I recognize that just out of the shot is a Lego masterpiece in progress, a broom and dustpan that have collected the dog hair, and a stack of mail that may never be completely sorted. With this in mind, I try hard not to fall victim to the social media “filter” that we put on our lives.
Similarly, the equine accounts on social media would have us believe that everyone has perfectly groomed horses, never misses a spot, and has a clean round every time. And who are these people who have great lighting in a barn? The reality is, no one is going to post a video of the terrible chip, or poop stained gray horse, or the round with 6 rails. We filter our lives on social media to show only the best side of ourselves. This is just human nature. As consumers of social media, we have to be cognizant of the filters.
Let’s take the Thoroughbred Makeover, for example. These horses have 15 or fewer post-track rides prior to December 1st. At most, they have 3 months of training in. There are people sharing their 2019 Makeover horse’s first shows. They’re out doing solo trail rides. They’re schooling cross country. It’s entirely possible that some people are way ahead of the game, but what we’re not seeing is all the “out takes”. The blooper reel, so-to-speak.
So let’s talk about real life. Real life is that not all horses are the same. Not all thoroughbreds are going to be easy to restart. Some may have had 30 days with a professional already. I don’t anticipate Wex seeing a jump (on purpose!) until late spring. When Wex has a moody day, I get this kind of ride. (Full disclaimer, I edited out all the good moments—and there were many. I just wanted to show a real life 4-year-old ex-racehorse.)
I shared this because I want people to know that not everyone is already showing their Makeover horses. Not everyone is jumping around courses. Even if social media leads you to believe that, there’s at least one horse who has a long way to go. I also shared because I know many people plan to sell their Makeover horses, and showing something like this may damage sale potential. I don’t plan to sell Wex, and I really value the process, even if it can be discouraging.
But we’re still making progress. I’m still working with a trainer. I’m constantly consulting with my vet and chiropractor. I had a saddle fitter out once, and will have her out again as he adds muscle. This week, I successfully trotted without having someone on the ground. I call that success for us.
The Retired Racehorse Project. Thoroughbred Makeover. If you are a thoroughbred fan, it’s likely you’ve heard these names. I first learned about the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) a few years ago. The organization started in 2010 with the intention of increasing demand for thoroughbreds when their racing days are over. Thoroughbred racing has provided me with nearly every horse I have ever loved. I have ridden more horses than I can count in my lifetime, and a great many of them have been retired thoroughbreds.
As soon as I learned that RRP had a Thoroughbred Makeover, I was intrigued. I have followed RRP and the Thoroughbred Makeover for many years now. If you don’t know, the very high level idea is to take horses who are newly off the track, and retrain them over the course of not more than 10 months, to compete in one of 10 disciplines. The Thoroughbred Makeover has been held at the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) for the last several years, and has grown to an enormous event.
Let’s pause for a moment. I have a confession: I have lived within less than a day’s drive of KHP for almost 10 years. Last year’s Thoroughbred Makeover was my first trip to KHP. And it lived up to the hype.
Okay, play. I casually and quietly decided I would make it my goal to compete at this event one day. Unfortunately, I’m a one-horse woman. I mean, do you know how expensive it is to keep two human children alive? They grow out of clothes every 5 minutes. They are always wanting to eat and be entertained. And daycare and preschool! $$$$$ Each kid costs the equivalent of about 2 horses. And I’d really like to pay off my student loans before they go to college.
So I can “afford” one horse. You’ve read about my dreamboat heart horse, BooBoo. As a senior horse, who had retired some 20 years ago, he wasn’t eligible for the Thoroughbred Makeover. He was such a constant in my life. My first tall, dark, and handsome. Mr. Reliable. No matter where I moved, I could drag him along, and he was up to whatever I threw at him. Always there. No matter what. Until he wasn’t. And then I was horseless for the first time in nearly 2 decades. (Side note: how can I be that old?) You’ve probably read about Wex, too, and how I came to own BooBoo’s cousin.
I was casually reminded by my bestie that Wex was 2019 Makeover eligible.
While we stew on that fact, let’s revisit my current situation. I hadn’t ridden in 6 months. Prior to that, I was sharing my semi-retired senior horse with my kids. My training days were long behind me. I hadn’t even ridden a horse that wasn’t BooBoo with any regularity in more than 8 years. Plus, I have a full time job, a long commute, and 2 incredibly busy kids. In all honesty, I really had no business with a 3-year-old colt.
So obviously, I applied to be a trainer for the Thoroughbred Makeover 2019. I cobbled together an entry with a highlight reel of my past life. I begged and borrowed rides from friends so I could get some more recent videos of my skills (can I just mention how far digital video has come in 10 years?!). I wrote a narrative about the thoroughbreds that have graced my life. And then I waited. Two long weeks.
And I got in.
You guys. Wex and I are going to compete at the Kentucky Horse Park in October. We have 8 months to be able to successfully complete a hunter round. For the record, I can trot about 6 steps at a time right now, so I guess you could say we’ve got this thing in the bag.
I wrote this quite some time ago, but have mostly kept it to myself. I lost my heart horse on June 11, 2018. Trigger warning/tissue alert.
On a perfect early summer day, with blue skies and sun shining, a goldilocks kind of day that was not too hot and not too cold, the very best kind of day, I laid my head on his cheek and listened while he took his final breaths. I watched as the life left his eyes, and took in one last deep breath of his coat, that familiar mix of fly spray, hay, dirt… and something else, something utterly indescribable. And while I wish I could say it was as peaceful as it sounds, it was the single most horrifying and devastating moment of my life.
Intrepid Air came into my life as slightly awkward 5 year old stud colt. One of the farm hands called him “the black stallion”, which sounds striking and regal. In reality, he was a rather stout dark bay colt, who would be more often mistaken for a Quarter Horse than a thoroughbred. He had recently retired from racing at Belmont Park and was sent off to be sold as a sport horse prospect. My sister and I were 15 years old, relatively green riders, and so we were obviously the perfect match for an in-tact young racehorse. (Disclaimer: that’s sarcasm, we were NOT the perfect match. Spoiler: it worked out okay in the end, mercifully.) He was gelded just before the sale was complete. Our trainer nicknamed him BooBoo, (because he had a big boo-boo!) and though our teenage selves did not think such a juvenile name was suitable, it stuck.
Deciding on BooBoo’s show name was more of a process than one might think is merited. There are so many options that could incorporate “Boo”. Ultimately, our trainer submitted the entries for our first show, so she got the deciding vote. “What To Do About A BooBoo?” complete with capitalization and punctuation. His name was butchered by announcers even more frequently than his breeding was questioned. It was fitting though, as we often asked him “what are we going to do about you?” This was as often in response to his antics under saddle to make sure his rider was paying attention, as it was to his uncanny ability to cut or injure himself in a freak and ridiculous manner.
BooBoo turned out to be a cute little hunter, and he took me around the schooling shows and local hunter/jumper circuit. His two white socks and multiple facial markings, set against his dark bay coat made him stand out in a flat class. He had the potential to go further, but I just didn’t have deep enough pockets. While many riders choose to sell their horses when they go to college, I was determined to make it work. I worked 2-3 jobs for so many years, in addition to full time classes, and still found myself saddled (pun intended) with student loan debt. If anything was worth it, BooBoo was. Then I went to grad school in a city on the other side of the state. I made two attempts to bring him with me, but just couldn’t find a farm that worked out. So back home he went to my sister. When I got married and moved to another state, he came with me for good. Each time he returned to me, he would peek out of the trailer knowingly, as if to say “oh, you again?”
I started teaching beginner lessons, and he taught some right along with me. He was a faithful summer camp mount, who was certain to let his riders know when they got it right, and when they got it wrong. We took up dressage, wherein BooBoo exceeded everyone’s expectations. When I had my babies, he was patient while I focused on them for a little while. He waited for me when work and life were busy. I carted BooBoo from barn to barn, searching for the right one. There were so many, I’ve lost track, but he settled in at every one of them, making friends and winning admirers at every stop along the way.
BooBoo’s last job was teaching my babies to ride. At 3 and 5, if you ask them, BooBoo was their horse. They were like two little walking treat dispensers. His reward for a career well done. He loved them and carried them faithfully around the leadline ring. At one of our last shows, the judge asked what breed he was, clearly assuming he must be a Quarter Horse. When I told her he was a thoroughbred, she exclaimed “but he’s so quiet!” He was an ambassador for his breed, and a professional in everything he did.
Even at age 24, he galloped out to meet his friends in the pasture, reverting back, if for a moment, to his brief race career so many years ago. He loved to rub his head on me, rather exuberantly and without exception, every time I removed his bridle. It was as if he knew just how hard he could scratch his head on my shoulder without knocking me over. He liked blueberry Pop-Tarts (no frosting, please) and Willie Muffins. He disliked walking into the wash stall forward (totally cool to back in), and had opinions on how long he was made to stand in the cross ties. He loved dogs, but birds, not so much. (I’m looking at you, horse-eating cranes!) He had a thing for tall chestnuts and small children.
I lost my sweet boy very suddenly. Even after the lifetime we had together, I still had so many plans for us- our first dressage show, a return to the hunter ring, a paper chase, his short stirrup debut. He was a mischievous baby, and a great old man. The kind that will teach you the same lesson over and over again until you finally understand. The kind who will try so hard for you, even in his final moments.
My 3 year old son climbed into my lap, hugged me, and wiped away my tears. My 5 year old daughter is always pragmatic. She told me I should feel a little less sad because I got to have him for so long. In a way, she’s not wrong. I got to spend 18 years, 5 months, 3 weeks, and 6 days with the most beautiful creature I have ever known. I have spent more of my life with him, than without. It is hard to know who I am without him. I do know that I have been privileged to have been his keeper for all of these years.
In the end, he knew I was there with him. He lifted his head, despite his clear distress when he saw me running across the pasture in my skirt and dress shoes, having raced an hour to the farm from work. His eyes looked a little less scared when I sat with him, knowing what I needed to do, but unable to speak the words. His breathing quieted as I rubbed his face, and finally whispered “okay”- to him, to myself, to the vet. That perfect day stole my heart. He was my first love, and my deepest heartbreak.
You did not ask for these shoes to fill- and they’re very big shoes. You did not ask to be the one after the one. All you ask for, is all any horse asks for, all any former racehorse asks for: to be loved, to belong to someone, and to be given the opportunity to love in return.
You see, I didn’t count on you. We call them “heart horses” and I had my heart horse for more than 18 years. I got him as a scrawny coming-5-year-old stud colt, not much unlike you. He wasn’t great at the track, and didn’t have a future in breeding. He was a train wreck, and we were a train wreck together. But we got through our awkward years together, and he became my partner in crime, my best friend, and my confidant. I went from a quiet teenager, to college student, to graduate student, to wife, to mom. He was a constant through all the formative stages of my life. I lost him very suddenly, and I didn’t count on you.
I planned to wait for at least a year after losing my heart horse. I thought I’d first get a medium or large pony for my kids to ride, something big enough for me to hop on, too. Or maybe, I’d get a thoroughbred with a few miles on him. Something restarted that I could have fun with at shows and paces.
I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. But there you were. 3 months after losing a piece of my heart, there was this 3-year-old stud colt. The cousin of my heart horse. More than 20 years apart in age. And you needed a soft spot to land. I couldn’t imagine anyone else having you. I felt certain that I would regret passing up this opportunity. And just like that, we were making plans for you to come home with me.
I don’t know how long I was supposed to wait. You can never replace your heart horse. Some people thought I should get another horse right away (and tagged me in listing after listing of sale horses, relentlessly) and some thought I should give it a few years. I don’t think there’s a right answer. It would always feel odd. Any 18 year relationship is owed as many moments as are required. In some ways, you pushed me over the edge. It would never feel the same, but we took the plunge anyway.
I can’t just hop on you and ride yet. We’re still working on keeping your head on straight under saddle, and going forward instead of up. You do not love to be groomed, but I’m trying to help you understand. You are definitely not kid proof, which makes it hard to explain to my 4-year-old when he asks if he can ride you. I don’t know every inch of you like I knew every inch of him. I can’t predict your every move, like I could predict his. I don’t trust you implicitly, the way I trusted him. We don’t fit together perfectly, like he and I did. Sitting on your back doesn’t feel like home, the way I felt so utterly at home with him.
But you are sweet, like he was sweet. You know my kids are little walking treat dispensers, like he did. You are smart, just like him. You know I’m your person. You try hard, and you have opinions, so much like him.
Please forgive me when I compare you to him, as I know I will. Remind me how much I enjoy your 3-year-old energy. Be patient when I expect too much from you. Show me all the things I love about you just one more time. Help me remember all the good times with him, by creating new ones with you.
We will get through these awkward times together, learning each other’s quirks, just like he and I did. You are not him, and I am not the same person I was when he came into my life. In the four short months we’ve been together, we’ve both changed. I’m not sure where we’re going just yet, but we’ll get there together. You are my horse, and you are loved.