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Jennifer Reisenbichler

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Jennifer’s Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: Lessons Learned from a Masters Champion

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Between now and the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

I started writing this a few weeks ago and put it on the shelf, because to be honest, I didn’t have any cute pictures of George. You know, the important things! We’re in that stage where there are not a lot of milestones or updates, because, as you’ll read below, life is a bit boring right now. But look for us in a few weeks, because I might have entered our first Beginner Novice mini trial today  

From “a few weeks ago me” …

I used to think golf was boring. OK, I still think golf is fairly boring. But my husband loves it, so I’ve learned a thing or two about the game over the past 10 years. Regardless of your opinion on golf, you know who Tiger Woods is. And if you’re like me, for reasons you’ve never quite been able to put your finger on, he is always the one you cheer for. Tiger quite literally had it all at a very young age, and this past weekend, he had it all once again. In most sports, I don’t like the players that win all the time — I’m looking at you Tom Brady. So why did I sit on my bar stool, willing Tiger to win last Sunday afternoon, then watch with tears in my eyes as that last shot went down?

For those of you who don’t follow golf, I’ll skip the soap opera that was Tiger, I’m sure you know that part. But did you know that he last won the Masters in 2005? Or that he won his last Major in 2008? That he had multiple surgeries, a circus of a personal life, and enough setbacks to make a normal person quit? I have a hard time comprehending sticking with something that isn’t quite working out for three years, much less 11. But there he was, in 2019, accepting that green jacket. What Tiger Woods did, in my mind, was nothing short of extraordinary and is one of the greatest feats I’ve ever seen in sports. I doubt many of us can comprehend the baby steps he took to get from 2008 to 2019.

So it is with extra resolve, that I set out to take the baby steps with George this year. We’re about 30 rides in at this point, and for lack of a better word, we’re in the boring stage. We’ve knocked out the low hanging fruit. George steers now, George no longer tries to run away from my leg, George has learned to go out and work, even when his friends are in the barn, George has learned to stand at the mounting block.

However, there are so many things he doesn’t do yet. He pushes against my left leg for a minimum of 10 steps before taking a step away. He doesn’t bend well going either direction. He doesn’t have much of a canter transition. He still looks a lot like a race horse, even with months of let down time. He still gives me the “ears” a lot, the ears that say “Mom, I tolerate you and your crazy ideas up there, but I have absolutely no idea what you want.”

One of our many long walks … I love his ears! Photo by Jennifer Reisenbichler.

It can be so hard to be patient, to get truly excited when something that sucked really badly yesterday sucks just a little bit less today. Or when what didn’t suck so bad yesterday is suddenly 10 times worse today. We are so tempted to get on Facebook and get secretly disappointed when we see another trainer’s horse running a recognized event in April, or see one with a clean flying change at this stage of the game. We have to remember that our horse isn’t on Facebook and has no agenda other than eating grass and feeling safe with his or her human.

Our baby steps might come rapidly, or the tracks might look like a drunk leaving the bar at 4 a.m. Some days we’ll hop off our horse feeling like the world is ours, and other days, it’s all we can do to keep our temper in check and end the ride before we take 10 steps back. Our horses deserve for us to celebrate each and every baby step along the way. Even when we want to quit, even when we’re sick and tired of things not going right, even when we wish we had $10k to buy something civil and trained.   

I’ve always said that I wanted to be a good rider, maybe even a great rider. I’ll admit that I’ve given up on my fair share of horses. And I’ve given up on myself a time or two along the way. Riding and training horses is rarely glamorous and it never goes exactly to plan. Even when we have a great day and everything goes right, there is sure to be one that knocks us on our rear right around the corner. But if Tiger Woods can go through 11 years of baby steps to make it back to the top, surely we owe it to our horses to embrace the process and the many tiny steps that come along with it.

Is he a ranch horse after all? Time will tell! Photo by Jennifer Reisenbichler.

Now back to “current me” …

Like I said at the beginning, I wrote this two weeks ago. In that time, George saw the chiropractor and we’ve finally been able to put in a few solid weeks of riding, even if we are dodging the April showers. I don’t feel like we’ve made a ton of progress, but reading back on my (two weeks old) list of things “George doesn’t do yet” made me realize just how far we’ve come! He is 100% more willing to bend after being adjusted, and he is starting to trust and reach for the bit. He also had the “ah ha” moment regarding leg yielding and moving his shoulders. Plus he’s put in several solid jump schools.

Maybe most importantly, he loves my niece and nephew and is happy to stand all day in the cross ties while they learn to groom. I’ve never been one to keep a riding diary, but using this as the next best thing, I can say it’s been really beneficial so far! The baby steps really do add up fast if you pay attention.

George and Gracie are quickly becoming best friends. Photo by Jennifer Reisenbichler.

 

 

 

Jennifer’s Road to the TB Makeover: When You Jump Off the Diving Board

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next eight months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

I’ve been working in “Corporate America” for quite a while now. About seven years ago, my manager at the time made a comment on my annual review that I’m the kind of person who likes to “jump off the diving board.” To this day, I don’t know if she meant it as a compliment or not, but I took it to heart and ran with it like it was.

So what does that have to do with eventing, or my journey to the RRP? My answer to that is “more than you would ever imagine.” This blog is supposed to be about George going to his first Combined Test. But my brother Caleb passed away almost three weeks ago, and at this point, not a lot else goes through my mind.

He was 26, and he was an addict, “just like me.” Somehow, by some twist of fate, I have always been addicted to horses and the high that goes along with eventing, instead of heroin. You might not sit around and think about it a lot; I didn’t either until the past few weeks. Your heart beats faster, you get a few butterflies, you might want to throw up but you don’t. Instead you listen to the count down and then gallop off, or you jump a 3’ fence for the first time, or you swing your leg over the new kid on the block and hope the first ride really is romance. We jump off the diving board, and we hope for the best, because that is who we are. We are blessed that our drug has four legs, and I will never take that for granted again.

I always try to get my Thoroughbred Makeover hopeful out for the first time in a quiet environment (I highly recommend it actually!). But I was in a funky head space and I just wanted to enter something. Anything to give me a goal to work towards, so I didn’t have to time to sit around and think. So I pushed Liam and George (as a reminder, George is my Makeover hopeful this year, and Liam and I did the Makeover in 2017) a little more than I should have, because I needed to push myself. Because I couldn’t just stand on the diving board. So we all three went to the Paul Frazier Combined Test at the Kentucky Horse Park to start the year, a show I’ve never entered before.

If you’ve never been to the Kentucky Horse Park, let me give you a few hints:

  • It’s the greatest place on earth
  • The environment is BIG — there is a lot going on, always.
  • The stalls are concrete, so bring lots of bedding, I always add mats under my shavings (that I bring in myself, the mats you can purchase on site are … lacking)
  • On that note, it’s EXPENSIVE to buy shavings, hay, or grain on site. There is a Tractor Supply just down the road.
  • If you can do it, camp in the camp ground, it’s well worth the money. Just be sure to bring a golf cart, a Gator (or equivalent), or a pedal bike. They do not allow 4-wheelers or big dirt bikes.

Let’s just say that the boys stepped up to the plate. Liam put in the test I’ve been waiting for in the sandbox, then jumped his Novice course very exuberantly, and George was a star. You never really know how a horse is going to react until you put them in a situation. George has always been the quiet, chill dude at home. However until you put them on a trailer at 4:45 a.m. to go to a new place, with a bunch of other horses and an insanely decorated stadium course, you never really KNOW.

I’m chalking it up to his 10 year old brain being amazing and capable of processing the scenery on the fly. I know most people post their ISO ads and say 3-7 years old, but let me say you are missing out, the older men are where it’s at!

Liam says “Let’s move up to Training, mom!” Photo by JJ Sillman.

We have a ton to work on, our dressage test was not the best. To be fair though, it was probably our 20th ride and the 2nd time he had ever seen a dressage arena. It was certainly his first time in a crowded dressage warm up. He had moments of what is to come, but it was just not quite there yet in the ring, and that is 100% ok. It’s March, and I know I asked a lot.

We headed up to stadium and were greeted by a course worthy of the FEI levels. They pulled out all the stops. There were heavily decorated fences, there were non-fence decorations in the ring, the fences were maxed for the level, OMG, I ACCIDENTALLY ENTERED A BIG BOY SHOW RIGHT OFF THE BAT. Gulp.

OK, let’s trot around warm up and pretend we know what we are doing. Let’s jump the warm up jumps. I learned that if I put my leg on a little bit in a new place, George jumps. And that is how our round went in the ring. We trotted almost all the jumps, but we got more confident after every single one. We both jumped off the diving board together. And we ended up with a “royal” purple ribbon, earning 7th out of 16 in the division!

George says “What flowers, no problem.” Photo by JJ Sillman.

I know we all hear this a lot … stay in your lane. Do what is best for you and your horse. But what happens when life falls apart and you can’t even stay in your your lane? When you can’t get out of bed, much less swing a leg over. It happens to all of us. It might be a tragedy, or something we deal with on a day to day basis.

The last three weeks of my life have been a nightmare to put it mildly. But if anything, I’ve learned to rely on my horses, that they are there for me, even when I ask more than I should, or am less than my best. You never know what might happen if you jump off that diving board and have an OTTB to catch you.

Confessions of a TB Addict: Meet 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Trainer Jennifer Reisenbichler

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next eight months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Today, meet blogger Jennifer Reisenbichler. 

 

Hi Eventing Nation! My name is Jen, and I’m a Thoroughbred addict. When I was 5 years old, I told my mom that Kentucky Derby Day was better than Christmas, and that’s never changed. I grew up with one goal: to be a jockey. I practiced on my poor mutt pony until she was in good enough shape to run around Prelim (she never jumped over 2’, but that’s irrelevant). However, there were other plans for my life as I am 5’7” and love to eat!

I bought my first Thoroughbred at 15 years old, from ReRun Kentucky, then after a break for college, bought my first event horse off the track. I had NO clue what I was doing, but he put up with me and we ended up successfully competing at Training level through 2011, with the highlight of our career being a top five placing at the 2011 Indiana Eventing Association Training Three-Day.

Before I dive too far into horses, let me get the boring part out of the way, introducing y’all to yours truly. I’m an adult amateur in my 30s with five-star dreams, but is still aiming for that first FEI event after several years of successfully competing at the Preliminary level.

I work a full-time job with a large team of financial advisors in Lexington, Kentucky, and last summer was blessed beyond words to have the opportunity to buy a 20-acre farm with an eight-stall barn about 45 minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park. My husband quickly converted four of the stalls into a shop; he knows me too well. We also own and operate a maple syrup farm in Indiana — believe it or not, the survival skills of “horsing” translate well to “farming.” Balancing horse goals with life goals is a consistent juggling act.

I owe a huge part of my success with horses to a little mare named Callie. She was the only horse I’ve ever evented who was not a full Thoroughbred. She was a tiny Holsteiner-Thoroughbred cross who stood 15.1 with her shoes on, if I was in complete denial about what the measuring stick actually said. But we jumped the green numbers and I owe her so much. Sadly, we lost her early last year to kidney failure, but I know she still jumps every jump with me.

Callie running Preliminary at Champagne Run in 2016. Photo by JJ Sillman.

I did my first Makeover in 2015, with a friend’s gelding. He wasn’t the easiest horse in the world, and I didn’t completely grasp the Makeover concept at the time (they ran it on Team Challenge weekend that year, talk about tired!), but the journey with Digger was so rewarding. We didn’t place too well, but it didn’t matter. I took a year off in 2016, then bought a gelding from Amy Paulus for the 2017 Makeover. Liam (my FEI hopeful!) took me on the Makeover journey of a lifetime, where we placed 12th and 15th respectively in the Show Jumping and Eventing. He is the big guy on campus now, as we are currently prepping for a move up to Training level early this season, if I can stop falling off.

Liam’s first Novice at Flying Cross in 2018. Photo by Vic’s Pics.

I bought my 2018 Makeover horse before the 2017 Makeover, oops. I’ll try to keep a long story short. In 2011, Nic (hubby) and I won the Bet or No Bet contest at Churchill Downs and were given $1,000 to bet to win on a horse. We bet it on a horse named Thankfulness, who went off at 5-1, and won. They counted out the hundreds and we put a down payment on a diesel truck.

Fast forward to 2017, Nic and I were betting on Charlestown on our phones on a random Saturday night in September. Yea, we might have a small problem, don’t judge. Nic asks how often the Jockey Club recycles names — Thankfulness was running in a $5k claimer at 45-1. I found his trainer on OTTB Connect and gave her a standing offer, no questions asked. She ran him one more time, then put him on a trailer to me.

I had no idea what to expect — I paid for the horse via Western Union. I was half prepared to put him down. Hank stepped off the trailer looking like a million bucks, and we had an amazing journey in 2018. We ended up entering Ranch Work and Field Hunters, where we placed 10th. He has a lifetime home with me, and will be competing this year with several young riders.

Hank on course in the Field Hunters at the 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. Photo courtesy of Iroquois Hunt.

I once again found my 2019 hopeful before the 2018 Makeover … sensing a trend here? I met Natasia Linnd when looking for a house sitter — she worked at the time for Jim and Susan Hill, who were retiring one of their successful race horses. He had won nearly $500k on the track, racing on the flat for several years, then racing over fences. They offered him to me, and I jumped at the chance.

After some soul searching, I realized that in order to keep doing the Makeover, I had to start selling my graduates. So “George” will be my first sale entrant. He is 10 and stands a shade under 16 hands. I know he might not be the big, young sale prospect everyone looks for, but he is special. I am so excited for another Makeover season, and the journey that gets us to October!

George’s first cross country school — I’m in love! Photo by Natasia Linnd.

To wrap this up, I’ll leave you with several hints I’ve learned over the past three Makeovers.

  • Don’t panic if you haven’t done much with your horse by March, or April, or May. I haven’t even put 15 rides on George yet. Both Liam and Hank got their start in mid-March and they were TIRED by October. Don’t fret and don’t push, you’ll get there.
  • Have the saddle fitter out early and get their teeth looked at. Their backs will change so much, having a fitter’s expert eye on your horse will save you from a lot of trouble over the summer as they develop. Hank had some teeth issues that I didn’t get on top of fast enough, it will make everyone’s life easier if their mouth is comfortable from day 1.
  • When in doubt, feed more hay.
  • Try something new. Even if you’re not an Eventer who ends up in Ranch Work, you and your horse will have fun learning something new together.
  • And last but not least, remember to have fun. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have highs and lows, but you’ll have the journey of a lifetime!

Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler