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Kristen Kovatch


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SmartPak: ‘Stuff Dressage Riders Say’ With Ryan Wood and Boyd and Silva Martin

The only thing that could improve SmartPak’s ever-popular “Stuff Riders Say” series? Adding Team SmartPak riders, dressage rider Silva Martin and eventers Ryan Wood and Boyd Martin.

This trio of professionals takes turns reading “stuff dressage riders say” and they crack themselves up as they go — always a good sign!

Well, it sounds accurate to us. What would YOU have added to the list?

Best of HN: HN Deep Questions: Ribbed vs. Smooth Bell Boots

Such mysteries abound. SmartPak

Okay, Horse Nation hive mind: we have a burning question that we can’t figure out through massive amounts of research*.

*Googling a lot.

First, some background: bell boots (sometimes also called overreach boots) are used to protect a horse’s feet, from the pastern and coronary band down to the heel. Good for horses who overreach with the hind feet (hence the name “overreach boots”), the boot will protect the sensitive heel bulbs from getting clipped, as well as a front shoe getting caught with a hind toe and pulled right off. (Bonus points to horses like mine who manage to interfere with the other front foot as they learn how to horse.)

Some horse owners, especially those with certain shoeing regimens, may prefer to have their horse wear bell boots all the time; others will use bell boots just for turnout and riding; yet others may apply bell boots only for training and riding. They’re also often recommended on all four feet for shipping, when a horse may step on himself while balancing in the trailer.

There are numerous styles of bell boots and overreach boots, from the classic pull-on gum or rubber varieties to velcro-open bell boots to various neoprene or nylon iterations for specific purposes. For the sake of today’s discussion, we’re chatting the classic bell-shaped bell boot, either in pull-on or velcro-tab.


Davis smooth velcro-open bell boots in black. Also could double as a photograph of Darth Vader from behind. SmartPak


Eskadron velcro-open bell boots… ribbed. SmartPak


The classic pull-on bell boot, KL Select Italian. SmartPak

The other night, a friend of mine sent me a casual message, asking what the difference was between ribbed and smooth bell boots. (For all of us with a good equestrian friend, we know this is just a normal conversation.)

I thought about it. I Googled. I thought about it some more. And now I can’t stop wondering. All of my clicking around on the internet revealed that no one else really seems to know either. It’s worth mentioning, perhaps (I don’t really know), that you can only apparently get pull-ons in ribbed; smooth only seem to come in Velcro.

What is the difference? When would you use one versus the other? Why are there options?

Please, Horse Nation, weigh in and help soothe my troubled mind.

#SmallBusinessSaturday With Draper Therapies, Saratoga Horseworks & Wilker’s Custom Horse Products

Courtesy of Draper Therapies

Especially as we start to shop for the holidays, it’s easy to forget that some of our favorite equine businesses are small companies with just a few employees, and our favorite products are the result of hard work and innovation by just a handful of individuals. Our sponsor Draper Therapies is certainly one of those small businesses, partnering with two other small businesses in Saratoga Horseworks and Wilker’s Custom Horse Products to produce our favorite equine therapy products. We caught up with all three companies to chat equine small business and the unique challenges they face — just in time for #SmallBusinessSaturday!

Our panelists:

  • Becky Shipps of Draper Therapies:Draper Therapies makes equine, human, and canine therapy products featuring Celliant®, a recently FDA approved fiber that helps combat muscle fatigue. We’re based in Canton, MA are are a part of the Draper Knitting Company, a 180 year old family owned/operated textile manufacturing company.”
  • Kate Stephenson of Saratoga Horseworks:Saratoga Horseworks Ltd specializes in custom horse clothing (from dress sheets to fly sheets) and accessories, such as our popular Saratoga Bandages, K9 Kooling Coats, Storage Bags, and more. We’re based in Amsterdam, NY.”
  • Kristyn Rogers of Wilker’s Custom Horse Products: “Wilker’s Custom Horse Products has been a manufacturer of saddle pads and leg wraps since 1974. We are located just south of Nashville in Franklin, Tennessee. Consumers can find our products in many local tack shops (a map of our dealers is available here) or can purchase a small selection of items directly from us here.”

Becky on Draper Therapies working with Saratoga Horseworks and Wilker’s Custom Horse Products:

“Draper Therapies has been working with Saratoga Horseworks since our inception. Quite literally, our equine line would not be possible without them! They make our polos (and Perfect Polos!), saddle pads, stable sheets, coolers, quarter sheets, hock boots, quick wraps, and dog coats. Their specific knowledge about equine garments makes them invaluable to us – they have the brilliant combination of horse AND textile knowledge to help us develop new products that are not only functional but that are beautiful and last a long time.

“Draper has been working with Wilker’s for two years now. We originally started working together on developing what is now our No Bow Wraps, and now we have started developing other products (look for an XC pad from Draper that is cut and sewn by Wilker’s soon!). When I start developing a product I look around and see who is producing the best products in that category. Wilker’s is a trusted name that has been around forever and their no-bows have been a staple in just about every barn I’ve been in so I was thrilled that we got to work with them to incorporate our fabric with Celliant® into a product that was already tried and true. The sales have spoken for themselves – our No Bows are a HUGE customer favorite and I love hearing all the stories of how the wraps are helping horses stay on the top of their game.”

What are some of the unique challenges you face as a small equestrian business?

Becky: “Being seen! Even though the equestrian market is small in the scheme of the world, it’s always bustling and there are so many brands competing for attention. Always being creative, innovative, and staying one step ahead is tricky, but staying hungry is how small businesses survive. And it’s fun to be creative!”

Kate: “One of the biggest challenges we face is the competition with less costly imported brands and products. This is a two-part issue, as not only can imported products be marketed at a lower retail price, but the lower cost of production means these companies can spend more on marketing and promotion. Consumers may not realize that all of the big marketing they see does not always translate to a better product. Another challenge along these same lines is that brands that produce internationally do not always have the same level of regulations, which again makes it cheaper to produce while sacrificing sustainability, workforce safety, and more.”

Kristyn: “As a small business, it can be difficult to compete with lower prices of foreign-made goods. We believe that the high quality of our products, as well as our vast range of custom colors and options, sets us apart and keeps customers coming back to Wilker’s.”

What’s your unique niche in the market and how do you address that need?

Becky: “Our products are unique because they’re not exactly what you think of when you think of a “medical device”. We’re really changing the way people think about alternative therapy products and how they can be integrated into daily care of all horses, not just senior or injured ones. Being small has been helpful because it allows us to build a strong relationship with each customer. It starts when they first find us and we explain how the product works. It grows when they have questions or need help ordering and, with the help of social media, the relationship continues to be interactive as we release new products and information about our brand. As a brand we try to be helpful and friendly, so after awhile many of our conversations with customers end up sounding like two old friends catching up! We truly love our customers and are grateful that we can always be a friendly and familiar face in the equestrian marketplace.”

Kate: Our “niche” is creating high-end custom horse clothing with impeccable quality and attention to detail. Being a small business allows us to offer an incredibly personalized buyer experience for our consumers, something that we believe is key when it comes to creating one-of-a-kind items. With a small work force, we can also better insure that each and every blanket meets the highest of standards when it comes to quality and appearance.

Why should consumers “shop small” this holiday season?

Becky: Because small businesses take pride in their work. That item that you bought from a small business someone took the time to dream up, design, then make, package, market, etc possibly all by themselves. They will always go the extra mile to make sure you’re as satisfied and as proud of your purchase as they are of their creation.

Kate: We think it is important because you are not only supporting a small business, but also supporting our workers here in the USA, American suppliers of materials and raw goods, and the community as a whole. When you shop small, you set off a chain reaction that reaches far beyond just the company you have purchased from!

Kristyn: We encourage consumers to shop small this holiday season because you’ll have a memorable and personable experience. Many tack shops offer far more than just the products on their shelves; they offer services and benefits that make shopping with them a more hands-on experience, ensuring you have exactly what you’ll need to for a fun and safe ride.

Courtesy of Draper Therapies

Support small business this holiday season and shop small! Check out our sponsor Draper Therapies for their unique therapeutic products, plus partnering businesses Saratoga Horseworks and Wilker’s Custom Horse Products.

Go small business, and go riding!

Best of HN: In Defense of the Square Cooler

BELGIANS IN BATHROBES. That’s all. Photo by Kristen Kovatch

Not too long ago I was trawling my Facebook timeline (as you do) and saw someone hating on that barn staple, the square cooler. “No one uses those anymore,” sneered this individual, insinuating that somehow, the square cooler had become retro and outdated, set aside as the trend-seekers turn their attention to the next big thing (fitted coolers? Dress sheets? I have no idea what the cool kids are doing these days).

As someone who wouldn’t know what’s trending if it flew by and hit her in the face, let me tell you that at least as far as my barn is considered, the square cooler is king. This is a hill I will gladly die on, defending these oversize fleecey monsters until they’re pried from my cold fingers.

1. One size fits all.

Why would anyone turn down the opportunity to buy a few giant coolers that fit literally all of their horses, rather than sizing individual fitted fleece sheets for every horse? I also realize that not every equestrian has small horses and drafts co-mingling together in one happy pasture, and this may not be as big of an issue, but for goons like me who need to have one in every size, I can’t beat a blanket rack draped with square coolers ready to go just an arm’s length away when someone needs to dry off and warm up.

2. They cover the entire horse.

The point of a cooler is to allow a horse to dry while preventing him from getting chilled… right? So what on earth is the point of leaving the neck uncovered, steaming away on a cold day? Yeah, okay, I have a fitted fleece sheet to use on those days where it’s not quite warm enough to air-dry after a bath but the horse isn’t steaming into the atmosphere… but if I’m trying to dry off a sweaty horse or warm up a chilled one who’s been outside in the cold rain, I obviously want to cover as much of the horse as possible.

3. They wash easy.

As far as smuggling it home into my home washer so that my husband won’t notice, you can’t beat a square cooler with its subtle nylon tie straps — there are no metal buckles to clank and clatter like a rock polisher as they turn endlessly over and over again in the machine. In a world in which literally every other thing with horses has to be complicated, isn’t it nice to embrace one simplicity?

4. They’re versatile as heck.

If you haven’t worn a square cooler as a hooded cape at least once in your life, are you even an equestrian? I’ve wrapped them around me at cold indoor horse shows in the dead of winter; I’ve worn them as lap robes while driving my draft horses. While hacking out bareback on our 27-year-old senior horse in the snow last winter, I definitely wore it like a giant quarter sheet-cum-dress, and while I’m not saying it was the safest thing in the world, it also made me feel like Lady Stark of Winterfell as I ambled around the pasture and some things are worth it.

I might look slightly like No Face from Spirited Away but whatever, it was cold out. Photo by Chloe Petry

Square coolers, don’t ever let anyone dim your shine. Go riding!

California Horse Community Needs Help in Deadly Wildfires

Embed from Getty Images

Raging wildfires in California have caused 50 confirmed deaths, with 48 of those coming from the Camp Fire in Butte County and two from the Woolsey Fire in southern California. The Camp Fire has virtually destroyed the town of Paradise and continues to blaze at about 35% contained.

The fires grew rapidly: the Woolsey fire grew to 35,000 acres in its first 24 hours last Thursday, and the Camp Fire grew even faster to 70,000 acres in its first day. With such dramatic speed and exponential growth, residents barely had time to evacuate. Harrowing images flooded social media from both fires: flames scorching trees on both sides of the road as people drove to safety. Animals turned loose as their best chance of survival. Horses ridden to the beach in Malibu to await pickup to safety with smoke and flames licking the sky overhead.

The Camp Fire is currently at 135,000 acres and 35% contained; the Woolsey fire is at 97,620 acres and 47% contained. Several other smaller fires are also raging in California, leaving fire-fighting resources stretched thin and evacuation efforts for both people and animals working hard. The fires are fanned by the Santa Ana winds, which blow hot, dry air east to west. Combined with dry fuel after a dry summer, conditions are right for fast-moving, devastating fires.

Details on all fires can be found at CalFire’s website, which also lists human and animal evacuation centers.

While having an evacuation plan for horses should be the first step towards keeping them safe in natural disasters, it’s not always possible due to the speed of a fire or rapidly-changing conditions. Due to the speed of the Camp Fire, there are numerous reports of horses turned loose, which can increase their chances of survival rather than being locked in a barn or small paddock. Owners forced to make that decision should mark their horses if at all possible with identification or phone number.

The full scope of devastation and damage won’t be known for some time as these fires continue to burn; it’s already believed that the death toll from the Camp Fire will continue to rise as authorities search the rubble left in the fire line’s wake. An estimated 96% of the town of Paradise burned to the ground.

How you can help:

Cash donations give organizations on the ground the flexibility to apply those funds where they are needed most.

US Equestrian Disaster Relief Fund: US Equestrian will determine where funds are best applied. In the past, US Equestrian has sent truckloads of hay to disaster-stricken areas, among other aid. Donate here

Humane Society of Ventura County: Aiding animals from the Woolsey Fire and others in Ventura County. Donate here

North Valley Animal Disaster Group: All-volunteer organization currently caring for over 1,300 evacuated animals in shelters plus additional wellness checks during the Camp Fire. Donate here

LA County Animal Care Foundation Noah’s Legacy Fund: Specifically to aid during disasters, the Noah’s Legacy Fund supports animal evacuation efforts plus animal evacuee supplies and support. Donate here

Brooke USA: As stated on the donation page, Brooke USA has yet to determine where funds will be applied but this reputable organization will find the area of most need. Donate here

American Association for Equine Vet Practitioners: This organization has a dedicated fund for emergency disaster relief. Donate here

Our hearts go out to all affected by California’s devastating wildfires.

Best of HN: Blanket Hacks for DIY Warriors

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

We don’t all have the luxury of professional blanket cleaning and repair — if you’re a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to blanket maintenance, here are our favorite tips and tricks for extending the life of your expensive blankets!

It’s blanketing season for those of us who by choice or necessity will now spend the next four months obsessively checking the weather forecasts and trying to decide between medium or heavy. While some of us might be unzipping the package on some brand-new sheets this year and others are digging our professionally-cleaned and -repaired blankets out of storage, there are others among us — again, by choice or necessity — who tackle all of that blanket maintenance ourselves. For the DIY warriors out there, here are a few tested-and-true tips for getting the most out of your blankets!


Post a question about washing turnout blankets to any public group on social media and you’ll get a variety of responses — some claim that washing and drying in industrial or home washers is fine; others claim that drying the blankets will kill the waterproofing while still others claim it’s the kind of detergent one uses that will render your blanket as leaky as a sieve next year. From anecdotal experience, I can state that when I worked at a large 70-stall equestrian center, we washed and dried our turnout blankets every spring and rarely had any issues with waterproofing.

Now tragically without a designated horse clothing washer/dryer set, I’m a little more choosy about what I put in my home appliances. Faced with a pile of fairly disgusting, muddy turnout sheets and blankets every year, I prefer to wash mine outside.

I’ve found an electric pressure washer to be a valuable tool in blasting the crusted-on mud and inevitable manure off of the blankets inside and out. I have not used a gas-powered pressure washer on blankets; I do know they tend to be a bit more powerful than the electric models so proceed with caution!

After the initial mud and gunk has been pressure-washed away, tackle the rest of the built-up with some good old-fashioned elbow grease: a stiff brush and Dawn dish soap work well to get out all of the dirt and grime. Soak in a tub if necessary.


Minor repairs such as small holes and tears can be handled at home without a major investment in a sewing machine. Gorilla Tape has been a game-changer for me in recent seasons; for larger holes and rips Gorilla Tape also manufactures a wide tape patch. A few notes on Gorilla Tape: the adhesive works best when it’s applied to a clean surface, so at minimum, go over those blankets with a stiff brush before repairing. It also works best when both the tape and the repair surface are warm, so bring the blanket home if you can. The tape patches do not breathe like the blanket material, so plan accordingly if you are repairing a lot of rips!

You can also repair blankets with patches from old sheets adhered with waterproof glue. A catastrophically-damaged blanket can still have plenty of salvageable parts for repairing others — the tail flap in particular is usually a good size, maintains its waterproofing and is easy to cut off of an old blanket to save for making patches.

Interior tears can be repaired with needle and thread; you can also apply a fabric patch to ensure a smooth surface against your horse’s coat.

If your blanket has truly given up the ghost with an irreparable tear, make sure you save all of the hardware — chest buckles, belly buckles and of course those leg straps!


A number of waterproofing treatments and sprays can be applied to tired blankets. Many of these are available at camping or outdoor stores. I’ve used Nikwax to great effect but there are many similar products out there! Applying new waterproofing can usually get another season out of an older blanket, and if you’re diligent about re-applying you might be able to extend its life for several years.

What DIY blanket tips do you have to share? Let us know in the comments!

This article was originally posted on our sister site, Horse Nation.

Best of HN: 8 Words That Make Breaking In a New Phone Tough For Equestrians

Photo via Barbara Lane/Pixabay

Autocorrect stepping in where it isn’t needed has certainly been responsible for more than one gaffe in the smartphone age (expect for the whole “covfefe” thing — you really let us down there). Fortunately, with enough furious repetition and backspacing, it’s possible to train one’s autocorrect to recognize certain words unique to one’s own areas of interest.

But the first few days or so with a brand new phone? Those days are rough. Speaking from recent experience, here are a few equestrian words that really gave my phone a hard time for the past week or so.

1. OTTB (no, not itty. How can you even recognize THAT as a word?)

2. SMZ (no, not SMH, I don’t even say that)

3. Percherons (yeah, phone, I really wanted to ask my father-in-law if he was planning to drive the persons this weekend)

4. Bute (no one knew what I was talking about when I said “let’s cut him to one scoop of sure in the morning”)

5. AQHA (no, we’re not following aqua rules)

6. Pastern (not the pattern)

7. Withers (I don’t have a horse with high withered. That doesn’t even make sense)

8. Forecart (this might be a bit of a fringe word for draft drivers only, but it’s a thing… not a forecast)

And, of course, woe betide you if you have a horse with an unusual name. The phone now recognizes “Jobber” but for awhile he was “jibber” no matter what I typed in there. Is jibber even a word? We’ll never know.

What would you add to the list?

Go riding!

ICTMI: Watch Accelerate Win the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Get so caught up with weekend eventing action that you totally forgot about fall’s biggest horse race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic? No judgement, and for your recap convenience, a quick summary: Capping off a nearly-perfect season, Accelerate was the toughest of them all in the $6 million race held Saturday at Churchill Downs. Thankfully our friends at Horse Nation have done a bang-up job covering the Cup — here’s a replay, and visit the site for more including this photo gallery of Breeders’ Cup jockeys’ winning moments, this embarrassing report  about the Cups’ token drunk dude, and an inspiring feature on the New Vocations Breeders’ Cup Pledge program.

Accelerate, ridden by Joel Rosario, wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Breeders’ Cup World Championship Saturday at Churchill Downs. Photo by Jessica Morgan/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM.

In a year that felt strangely empty with the early retirement of the Triple Crown winner Justify, a 5-year-old named Accelerate stepped into the void and grabbed the championship for himself: winning five of his last six starts, the chestnut son of Lookin At Lucky made Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic his sixth Grade I victory of 2018.

Accelerate was trainer John Sadler’s 45th Breeders’ Cup hopeful, and his victory broke one of the most infamous losing streaks in Breeders’ Cup history. He went off as the favorite in a star-studded field including Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow, UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn, Travers winner Catholic Boy, and 2017 multiple Grade I winner West Coast.

Mendelssohn set a grueling early pace that sent murmurs through the crowd as the fractions flashed up on the screen, with McKinzie and West Coast in hot pursuit and Thunder Snow lurking on the rail. Accelerate, under a ride by Joel Rosario, had to hustle from post 14 to make up some ground and settled clear mid-pack.

Into the home stretch, Mendelssohn tried his best to hold on but faded, leaving the door wide open for Accelerate to sweep three-wide on the turn and take command of the race. He held off challenges first by Thunder Snow and then by characteristically late-closing Gunnevera to cruise under the wire the latest Classic champion.

A fascinating debate now unfolds over who should earn Horse of the Year honors: Justify, the undefeated unraced-as-a-two-year-old Triple Crown winner who retired in the first half of the year due to injury, or Accelerate, who won six Grade I stakes in California and then beat the best of the East Coast in the Classic? Weigh in with your thoughts!

Best of HN: Where Are They Now? 5 Breeders’ Cup Graduates

The Breeders’ Cup is the crown jewel for North American racing (with increasing participation from Europe as well). Many owners, trainers, breeders and jockeys dream of their horses capturing the elusive title of Breeders’ Cup Champion, and every year another crop of potential stars enters the starting gate hoping to get their piece of the glory.

Champion or not, however, the Breeders’ Cup graduates are all in need of a second career when their racing days are over: some go on to be breeding horses, but plenty of others find their second career in the show ring and beyond. We caught up with five former Breeders’ Cup runners to get the scoop on their post-racing careers!

2014 gelding by Gemologist
Bred by Fred W. Hertrich III and Ronald K. Kirk
Formerly owned by WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club International Ltd., SF Racing LLC, Head of Plains Partners LLC
Formerly trained by Todd Pletcher
Breeders’ Cup history: 10th in the 2016 Juvenile

Theory won his maiden start at Saratoga and followed up that victory with another in the Grade 3 Futurity Stakes at Belmont. He finished tenth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind winner Classic Empire. He never saw the top three again on the track, and after one start early in 2018, his connections made the decision to retire him and seek a second career. Restarted by Carleigh Fedorka as agent for Carolyn Walsh, Theory caught the eye of Clare Walker of Walnut Farm in Kansas.

Theory and Carleigh Fedorka. Photo by JJ Sillman

Walker purchased Theory in July. “We are currently working on instilling good solid dressage basics and relaxing in this phase,” describes Walker. “He is a forward thinking and smart horse but is naturally a bit of a worrier so I’m mindful not to rush him. He is brave and clever about the jumps, but I have focused more on pole work to make sure he gets the footwork basics he needs along with the rideability on the flat.”

As an upper-level eventer herself, Walker allows herself to dream about long-term goals: “Well, we’d all like another upper level horse, wouldn’t we? I have run horses through 2*, so it would be super if he was the one that went on to surpass that, but who knows, really?”

“Theory is a very sweet horse, has some wisdom for his age and is quite affectionate. However, his favorite thing in the whole world is to eat and he gets quite excited at meals times. He had tieback surgery as a two year old so he doesn’t really have a voice, but if he did he would shout at me for his breakfast!”

Theory and Clare Walker. Photo courtesy of Clare Walker

2007 gelding by Johannesburg
Bred by Redmyre Bloodstock and S. Hillen
Formerly owned by Antonacci Racing and Gerald Antonacci
Formerly trained by Danny Gargan
Breeders’ Cup history: seventh in the 2009 Juvenile

Bred in Great Britain, Radiohead showed early promise as a juvenile, winning the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes at Ascot and placing in several other Grade 1 and 2 stakes in England. He placed seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which was won that year by Vale of York. After his Breeders’ Cup attempt, Radiohead stayed in the States and never quite captured his early potential. Moving down the ranks of racing through the later years of his career, Radiohead retired from the track and was placed through ReRun Thoroughbred Adoption with Tristan Francar in February of 2015.

Originally, Francar intended to show Radiohead at the 2015 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover in dressage but closer to the deadline felt that the horse was not mentally ready and made the horseman’s decision to scratch. Since then, Radiohead’s training has progressed through Francar’s individualized program; he has schooled work through second level. A few physical setbacks forced some time off, but he’s been cleared to work again and Francar is slowly rebuilding his fitness, with the goal to return to the show ring in the spring.

Photo by Shaana Risley

Cary Street
2009 gelding by Smarty Jones
Bred by Darley
Formerly owned by JBL Thoroughbreds LLC and Walsh Racing LLC
Formerly trained by Brendan Walsh
Breeders’ Cup history: winner of the 2014 Las Vegas Marathon, the first year it was dropped from the Breeders’ Cup card

While from 2014 onwards the Marathon was dropped from the Breeders’ Cup card, the graded stakes is still considered by many to be an “unofficial” Breeders’ Cup race — and Cary Street was the first post-Breeders’ Cup winner. Winner of multiple graded stakes, Cary Street was considered the horse that helped launch Brendan Walsh’s training career, and when the horse incurred a minor injury to his suspensory ligament in 2016, Walsh sought a great home.

Photo by Marissa Miller

Enter Steph Butler, an associate veterinarian at the time at a racetrack practice in Lexington, horseless and preparing to start shopping. “One of my friends who at the time was an exercise rider for Brendan with his string stabled at Keeneland for the summer found out that he was looking to find Cary a home since he needed a job. I brought Cary home in the summer of 2016 after talking with a lot of people who worked for Brendan, and what really struck me was how much everyone loved the horse.”

Butler took the rest of 2016 to rehab the ligament injury and let down Cary from racing life; Butler carefully and slowly strengthened the injured ligament and Cary has no limitations now. Over the following summer, Butler introduced jumping, and she and Cary Street competed at the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover to great success, finishing fifth place and top amateur trainer in competitive trail and 11th in the field hunters (tied for tenth, dropped to 11th in the tie-breaker).

Post-Makeover, Butler and Cary won a Masterson Station hunter pace with a friend, and competed at some schooling shows over the winter. Cary also enjoys trail riding in both English and western tack. Butler hopes to take him to some recognized events in 2019.

Not only is the horse versatile and athletic in all of his careers, he’s just fun have in the barn. As described by Butler: “Cary, in a nutshell, is a 9-year-old-yearling. He is the barn clown, the obnoxious little brother in the pasture who loves to pester the other geldings to play with him (even though he’s 17 hands) and has a huge, goofy personality and is such a fun horse to be around.”

Photo by Steph Butler

Mr. Commons
2008 gelding by Artie Schiller
Bred by St. George Farm LLC
Owned St. George Farm Racing LLC (Banwell)
Formerly trained by John Shirreffs
Breeders’ Cup history: fifth in both the 2011 and 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile

Mr. Commons is still owned by his breeders, the Banwell family of St. George Farm. They raced him to earnings of over $900,000 in a career that spanned six years and 29 starts, including two graded stakes wins. Mr. Commons ran eighth in the 2011 Preakness Stakes, plus finishing fifth two years in a row in the 2011 and 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile on the turf.

“The Banwells opted to see what Mr. Commons could do in a second career,” shares trainer Emily Brollier Curtis. “They reached out to me to see if I would work with him as a dressage horse. Mr. Commons and I have competed through first level so far, most recently attending regional championships. He is schooling all of the third level and should be showing third next season.”

Brollier Curtis believes that Mr. Commons can be a Thoroughbred stereotype-breaker: “I hope to get him to the FEI levels and really see what an OTTB can do in that setting. He is a very sensitive horse, very particular. He likes what he likes and tells you what he doesn’t like. He is super fun to train because he is quick off the leg and hot to the aids. A very ambitious horse!”

Photo courtesy of Emily Brollier Curits/Wendy Wooley

Romp (ARG)
2004 gelding by Incurable Optimist
Bred by John T. Behrendt
Formerly owned by Sisters in Racing Stable and Jeff Siskin
Formerly trained by Kristin Mulhall
Breeders’ Cup history: ninth in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Marathon, eighth in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Marathon

Romp accomplished a long racing career with his last start in 2013 at the Jockey Club age of nine. He didn’t break his maiden until well until his three-year-old year, but seemed to get better with age with his first graded stakes placing as a six-year-old. With 55 career starts, Romp was well into warhorse status when he retired through New Vocations, where Leah Alessandroni became his next owner.

Romp showed talent over fences and enjoyed a brief stint as a show horse, but truly enjoys the quieter retired life, getting to simply be a horse out in the pasture!

Photo by Courtney Calnan

Go Breeders’ Cup. And go riding.

6 Ways to Participate In No-Stirrup November (Without Creating Sore-Back December)

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

No-Stirrup November is upon us! This month is an opportunity to strengthen yourself in the saddle, deepen your connection with your horse and achieve what you might have thought impossible. But that doesn’t mean that you need to go totally cold turkey, yank the stirrups off your saddle and attempt to continue on like nothing has changed — that can be a recipe for disaster both for yourself and your horse. This year, we’ve put together a guide to help you conquer No-Stirrup November in a way that’s safe for both horse and rider!

1. Get in a good warm-up — with your stirrups.

In many parts of the country, November is getting pretty chilly. That can mean tight backs and stiff horses in some cases, and if you guess that a rider bouncing along without stirrups is pretty uncomfortable for a cold horse who isn’t warmed up yet, you’d be absolutely right. Keep those stirrups while you give your horse a good, thorough warm-up to ease his muscles (and yours) into working, especially if the air is getting frosty. You’ll both appreciate it.

2. Start small — yes, it still counts!

“No-Stirrup November” doesn’t have to be taken literally. Especially if you don’t often do a lot of no-stirrup work in your regular program, suddenly removing the stirrups from your saddle and locking them away for a month has the potential to lead to some scary situations for you and a lot of bouncing on your horse’s back.

Instead, take a look at your current riding program and decide where you can start working in some no-stirrup work. Once you and your horse are warmed up, perhaps you can drop your stirrups and work on your sitting trot for a few minutes, gradually building up each day to bigger goals. If you were jumping 3′ grids with stirrups, perhaps you might scale back to cavelletti until you’re strong and comfortable without your stirrups. If you ride a young or green horse, you might pick your battles on when it’s a good time to go stirrup-free (if at all!)

You won’t be “cheating” — just setting yourself up for success to improve over the course of the month! Even cooling down after your ride without stirrups can be a stepping-stone to bigger things.

3. Set realistic goals.

Riffing off of the above theme of starting small, assess your current level of riding and set a realistic goal for the end of November. If you’ve never ridden without stirrups before, your goal might be to sit the trot for a full lap of the arena. If you already train without stirrups frequently, your goal might be to jump an entire 2′ course or perform an advanced maneuver without your stirrups.

Having a workable goal to attain by the end of the month will help you build a program for the month of November: if you want to be able to canter without your stirrups, you can design steps that will help you get there. Without a specific end destination in mind, you might otherwise spend a lot of November aimlessly wandering without your stirrups wondering if you’re getting any stronger!

4. Work with a trainer or instructor.

If you’re not sure if you’re ready to drop those stirrups, seek the advice of a trusted trainer or riding instructor, especially if you typically ride on your own. He or she can help you with no-stirrups exercises and drills to help you get stronger so you’re not just bouncing along on your own.

If you ride a green horse or a horse otherwise unsuitable for extensive no-stirrup work, you may also benefit from taking a no-stirrups lesson on an instructor’s horse better suited to the task.

5. Take care of yourself between rides.

Most equestrians know that riding alone isn’t typically enough to build the optimum level of fitness to become a competitive athlete — the best riders also train in the gym as well as in the arena. That said, if you’re already cross-training, you may need to scale back your activities in the gym to counter soreness from riding without stirrups if you’re not accustomed to the activity. Make sure you are supporting yourself with good nutrition this month, as well as stretching before and after your rides!

If you had a particularly intense ride or lesson the day before, it’s definitely okay to scale back a bit the next day until you’ve recovered. There’s nothing worse than trying to hold on to the horse with exhausted legs when you feel yourself losing your balance!

If you come into each no-stirrup ride stronger, stretched and balanced, your horse will also have an easier time performing with you.

6. Listen to your horse.

If you notice that your horse is getting grumpy to saddle, reactive while grooming or otherwise shows signs of discomfort or pain, stop and listen to what he’s trying to tell you! Perhaps going without stirrups for a whole month is not in his best interests for the sake of his back or his soundness. There’s no need to sacrifice the health of your animal to follow a fad — but if you pay attention to your horse’s feedback and plan your program accordingly, there’s no telling how far No-Stirrup November might take you.

No-Stirrup November can be one of the best months of the year to improve your riding for all levels of rider! Use the guidelines above to customize a program that works best for you and your horse and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve improved.

Tag your #NoStirrupNovember posts on social media! Keep an eye on EN’s sister site Horse Nation for support and stories, including a social media roundup each week during the month. 

A SmartPak Halloween Classic: ‘Stuff Riders Spook At’

“We get you because we are you.” SmartPak’s motto has never been truer: this classic video, first released at Halloween 2016, is chock-full of all of your worst barn fears. From spooky loose plastic bags to tragic clipping accidents, this video is sure to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

Try not to shriek out loud…


Go SmartPak, and go riding! And be sure to visit our sister site Horse Nation as they celebrate through Halloween day with plenty of spooky stories and celebration.

‘OMG, What Happened To Your Face?’: Grass Mumps

Disclaimer: This anecdote is not meant to serve as veterinary advice. Any horse health concerns should be taken to your veterinarian.

A crisp fall morning earlier this week found me ambling back from the cow pasture on my horse Jobber after a successful move of the farm’s cattle herd between fields in the pasture rotation. Jobber had done a fabulous job of being exactly where I needed him to be every time I asked, and for the first time in her life, my border collie had been actually helpful rather than popping up exactly where she didn’t need to be at the most critical moments.

I stepped down out of the saddle back at the barn, gave Jobber a good pat on the neck, gathered my reins and felt my eyes bug out of my head.

“What. Happened. To. Your. FACE?”

On the 15-minute walk from the point where I had last dismounted to close up a wire gate as the last of the cattle disappeared over the hill in their new pasture and now, Jobber’s cheeks had bloomed into a series of… well, to put it succinctly, lumps. He looked rather like a hamster — not a good look for my normally sleek Thoroughbred, despite the bloom of his thick winter coat.

The initial lumpy swellings on Jobber’s cheeks. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

The swellings were fairly symmetrical, firm to the touch, and did not appear to be sensitive. Jobber stood there patiently, likely thinking what are you doing now, human as I poked and prodded at his face. I gently pulled at the reins as though I was riding — no bit sensitivity. I pulled his bridle in the barn, got him untacked and groomed, and checked his temperature. Normal. Judging from the way he was trying to clean up stray wisps of hay from the floor, he appeared to have a fine appetite.

I stood back and looked at my horse, who looked back at me expectantly. What? This is what I look like now, he could have been saying.

I tentatively turned Jobber back out so I could observe him. My immediate thought was a bad tooth — but the swelling was symmetrical, and he got right to work grazing, so that seemed unlikely. He had had a mild facial swelling earlier in the summer which I believed was likely a bee sting or a big horsefly bite, but again, this swelling was symmetrical on both sides. Had he stuck his head in a thorn bush while we had been moving cattle? That had definitely happened, yes … but what were the chances that he somehow pricked both cheeks equally to the point of swelling, without me finding any actual wounds or embedded thorns? The swelling was too high to be a symptom of strangles, and he was lacking the other key symptoms as well (fever, loss of appetite, nasal discharge and coughing).

The eventual diagnosis? Grass mumps.

Yes, it’s a real thing — poorly explained in most veterinary literature, and rather mysterious in cause, grass mumps (sometimes called grass glands) are swellings of the parotid gland, located below the ear and behind the cheek. While it’s generally believed to be a mild allergic reaction to new grass, or perhaps new pollens, no one seems to know for sure why the swellings appear. Generally, removing the horse from the triggering grass is enough for grass mumps to clear up on their own within a day or two; some advise giving antihistamine.

Diagram showing the location of the parotid gland. Photo via public domain.

This was still a bit puzzling to me, as we’re clearly well into fall — Jobber had been on this pasture all summer, and due to some recent pasture decisions, the cattle had eaten down most of the pasture so there was little brand-new growth. Then I remembered — the day before moving all of those cattle, I had moved the horses into a different section of pasture where they hadn’t been grazing since the spring. With some untouched weeds bobbing over the fenceline, I had probably set up the perfect storm for these mysterious grass mumps.

When I next checked Jobber, the swelling had faded from his cheeks and had settled into the classic location for grass mumps — symmetrical swelling below the ear and behind the cheek, over the area of the throatlatch, right over the parotid glands. The next morning, they were barely noticeable, and by afternoon they were gone completely.

Swelling now over the parotid area over the throatlatch — the classic “grass mumps.” Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Thus ended a brief and characteristic equestrian panic, and thus my knowledge grew just a little bit more about weird conditions that our beloved horses are prone to developing at the drop of a hat. Grass mumps can be filed under the heading of “things that look worse than they actually are,” as well as “things that may look somewhat like much more serious conditions” — but in reality, they’re more bark than bite.

24 hours later, back to normal (if slightly dirty). Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

For more information about grass mumps, I recommend the article “Jaw Swelling In Horses: Strangles or Grass Mumps?” from friends of Horse Nation, Kentucky Equine Research.

That’s Spooky! Details on HN’s Halloween Short Story Contest

The old “snort-n-spook,” a Halloween classic with year-round appeal. Photo courtesy of Kate Samuels. 

Have a spooky Halloween horsey short story to share?

Whether you have an old tale that’s been passed down in your barn family or you conjure up the best spooky story in your mind and put it down on paper, Horse Nation is calling for your best horsey Halloween tales for its first annual short story contest. We’ll publish the best around Halloween, and we’ll be reading our favorites on the Halloween episode of Horses in the Morning, the horse world’s first and favorite daily podcast!

How to enter:

  1. Send your story, either in the body of the email or in an attachment, to [email protected] Include your full name (or penname!)
  2. Stories should be limited to about 2,500 words. If you’re under that limit, that’s fine; if you’re a bit over, we’ll use our discretion. Stories selected for publishing may be edited slightly for length if necessary.
  3. Multiple entries are welcome!
  4. “Spooky” suggests a true good old-fashioned goosebump-inducing ghost story, but we’ll also welcome lighthearted spoofs. That means you can write “The Curse of Hunter’s Hill Farm,” or “The Horse Who Was Too Fat For His Girth To Buckle.”
  5. Entries are due by midnight on Wednesday, October 24!

HN will publish the best 5-8 stories on October 29-31, and we will read our favorites on the October 31 episode of Horses in the Morning.

Go Writing! Here are a few spooky tales to get you started:


Best of HN: Equestrian Life Hack — Moving Stall Mats

Horse Nation contributor Melanie O’Neill, an event and dressage rider from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, shared this recent mind-blowing equestrian life hack. We’ve all had to contend with the dreaded barn chore of moving, cleaning and then replacing those cumbersome yet necessary stall mats — they’re bulky, heavy and just not designed to be picked up and moved easily.

Melanie found a cheap and easy way to haul those mats around the farm using common materials lying around pretty much every barn we can think of. In Melanie’s words: “I have heard of using clamps or vise grips, but I didn’t have those … and this is free!”

Genius! With just a long section of twine and a few pieces of old hose for secure handles, Melanie made a handy little DIY mat handle in just a few seconds flat.

Thanks, Melanie! Have an equestrian life hack of your own to share? Let us know by emailing [email protected]!

Go riding!

Hurricane Michael Wrecks Panhandle Farms, Including Aqua Farms Sport Horses

The quickly-intensifying storm smashed the Florida panhandle on Wednesday, leaving destruction in its wake. Joe Pimentel’s Aqua Farms, one of North America’s top Trakehner breeding operations, was hit particularly hard.

Aerial view of catastrophic storm surge and wind damage in Mexico Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael. The powerful surge swept numerous homes clean off their foundations while violent winds caused extensive structural damage. NOAA/public domain

Hurricane Michael was a storm of unprecedented strength and speed: the storm rapidly intensified from a “disturbance” on Saturday to a fully-fledged hurricane just shy of Category 5 wind speed by Wednesday. The Florida communities of Panama City and Mexico Beach took a direct hit, with images from Mexico Beach in particular showing scenes of widespread devastation. The famous tourist destinations are essentially unrecognizable.

Due to the storm’s speed, it was able to cover a lot of ground inland, remaining a defined hurricane as it clawed its way across the Southeast. While the remains of Michael have now blown out to sea over the Atlantic, the recovery efforts are just beginning, and among the millions affected by this storm are horse owners and equestrians.

Hit particularly hard was Joe Pimentel’s Aqua Farms Sport Horses: Pimentel is the president of the Trakehner Association of North America (TANA) and respected as one of the largest breeders of Trakehners in the United States. His farm in the Panama City area is home to 75 horses, including several prized stallions.

While the farm was built to withstand hurricanes, the intensity and track of Michael wreaked havoc on the 250-acre property: the roof blew off the stallion barn, the indoor arena is a pile of rubble and an estimated $1 million worth of outbuildings were damaged or destroyed, reports TANA secretary Jean Marie Larson to Horse Nation. While the storm track meant that Aqua Farms did not suffer flooding, the farm did take the brunt of the western edge’s high winds.

Tragically, one horse was killed by the storm — a broodmare who had foaled in September, leaving behind an orphaned filly. Another injured horse was euthanized by a veterinarian, who came to the farm as soon as she could to treat horses injured by flying debris. Larson reports that transport will be heading to the farm soon to pick up the orphaned filly and any other critical cases so that they can be cared for while the farm cleans up.

Orphaned filly with “Trakehner royalty” bloodlines. Photo courtesy of Jean Marie Larson.

Efforts are underway by friends of Pimentel to assess how much hay and feed he needs for the immediate health of his horses. A GoFundMe has been set up by Pimentel’s sister to assist. Larson adds that Pimentel has been part of the Trakehner community for decades and has been “a great guy for a lot of us,” and the horse world is already responding in kind.

Elsewhere in the region, efforts are underway to provide relief for other horse owners in the wake of Michael. Tune Ups Veterinary Equine Services, spearheaded by Dr. Bess Darrow, is gathering monetary donations and organizing a volunteer team to assist horse owners in need; Dr. Darrow reports to HN that the situation is currently “chaotic” and she is having a hard time getting into the area.

For all readers who wish to lend a hand, Fleet of Angels is connecting victims with help via its National Equine Evacuation Directory — the directory connects those in need with evacuation sites, volunteer shippers and donated goods including feed and supplies. The directory includes easy-to-navigate channels for individuals who need assistance as well as those who can provide; Fleet of Angels is also accepting monetary donations.

Our hearts go out to those affected by Hurricane Michael.

This story was originally posted on our sister site, Horse Nation.

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 5

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill! If you missed it: Part IPart IIPart III, Part IV.

I’ve grown strangely accustomed in the five days that I’ve been here in Kentucky to a number of things: getting up happily (well, maybe not happily, but promptly, anyway) before dawn, operating with little sleep, little food, and tragically way too little water, and spending about 14 hours at the showgrounds. This is the horse show life: It’s been a long time since I’ve lived it, and while it’s bizarre and strange and taxing on every system, it’s also glorious, triumphant and stupidly fun.

This morning, however, was unique.

“I need to be at the stirrup cup in 20 minutes and I’m panicking” read the text message I read in the pre-dawn darkness. Meagan DeLisle (of HN and JN fame) had been braiding horses literally all night long, and as often happens with dedicated braiders, had left her horse for last … meaning that he was still chilling out in his stall, braided down but not pulled up.

That’s how I wound up with a pull-through in my hand, hastily pulling up hunter braid for the first time in about a decade, a headlamp shining the way as Meagan pulled on her show clothes and tacked up her horse. I’m pleased to say that not only did the braids not look completely terrible when the sun actually rose, but Meagan made it to the stirrup cup with time to spare, and a glass of port later, was looking much more optimistic about her day.

Meagan and Flash gathering at the Stirrup Cup on a very picturesque hunting morning. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Jobber was back to “home Jobber” mode after extensive hand-grazing and riding over the past few days, and after another long graze this morning, I anticipated needing only minimal warm-up for the freestyle performance. While I had been looking forward to showing Jobber’s talents with cattle in the freestyle, I equally had zero expectations for the class as far as placing and scoring went — I simply wanted to show the world that Thoroughbreds could work cows!

Expectations should have been placed, perhaps, on the unknown factor — the cow itself. Fellow ranch work competitor Fawn had kindly hauled in a roping steer on a trailer for me, and while our experience was mostly in working cows and calves in the pasture, I was pretty confident that Jobber would take to a roping steer easily. What I should have doubted, perhaps, was the roping steer’s ability to take to us. From the moment the black and white booger stepped off the trailer, he was pretty resistant to any of our attempts to actually direct him anywhere … almost as though that big indoor atmosphere that I had worried about with Jobber had struck fear right into his little bovine heart.

In a normal reined cow horse run — the specific discipline in which I hope to show Jobber in 2019 — this cow would have gotten us a whistle blow and a new cow pretty much immediately. But in the Makeover’s freestyle format, in which this was a BYO cow event, that wasn’t really an option … so we tried to make the most of what we had. At least we kept the spectators entertained.

Freestyle at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover

In a regular reined cow horse run, this cow would have been whistled out and I would have gotten a new one — but this was the freestyle and I had to work with what I got on a time crunch! Therefore, enjoy four minutes of me trying various methods to get this little booger to move as Jobber tries his hardest, despite the cow goring him (he is fine, but I think he might STILL be mad about it).

Posted by Jobber Bill, 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover on Friday, October 5, 2018

On the plus side, I’ve never used a flag around Jobber before (this may shock some stocksmen, but it’s just not a tool we typically use on our farm). I’m pleased he handled that well, and also beyond pleased that he lost absolutely none of his bravery after getting thumped in the chest by this irritated steer.

Shout-out to all of the random folks who jumped over the wall to help herd this booger of a cow back to his trailer! It got a little western, but it got done.

Photo by Nancy Kohler-Cunningham.

Our Makeover performances are now behind us: I’ll come back to the indoor arena tomorrow for the awards presentation for working ranch, in which we are officially seventh place — for which I’m over the moon happy. For the way that Jobber just walks into the indoor ring with all of its atmosphere and all eyes on him as though he does this every day — when in reality he spends his time outside just wandering around the pastures with me — made me so unbelievably proud of him and so grateful for the horse he has become. I am truly a lucky horse owner.

Oh, and Jobber also found this giant soccer ball in the warm-up ring and dragged me over so he could push it around. Photo by Melissa Murray.

As the sun set this evening, Meagan and I, inherently just two grown-up pony children, slipped on our helmets and halters and let Flash and Jobber graze lazily out in the field, enjoying the fact that thanks to the Makeover, we had found these lifetime horses for ourselves. We may not be here to chase the prizes and the placings, but we are only here because this organization and this event made us believe that we could tackle this challenge.

The past 10 months with Jobber have been full of highs and lows, challenges and rewards, and so much expansion of my horse knowledge. He has truly been a life-changing horse for me, and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey when we get home … after I turn him out and let him chase our cows around on his own for a few days out on the pasture.

Photo by Allison Everhart.

Knowing When It’s Time to Retire a Horse: Q&A With Madeline Backus, Presented by Draper Therapies

Originally published on EN’s sister site Horse Nation.

Madeline Backus and PS Arianna at the Badminton horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Madeline Backus and her mare PS Arianna were a fan-favorite duo in their rise to the upper levels of eventing — memorably, Madeline helped fund her first ride at the Kentucky Three-Day Event by selling baked goods. Madeline and “Ari” had been partnered since Backus was 10 and Ari was 5, working their way up the levels including competing in three NAJYRC events, passing A level Pony Club testing, being named to the Under 25 emerging athletes list for three years and, at their crowning first CCI4* at the Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2017, placing 20th and earning the JD Reeves Award for highest-placed young rider.

The pair did not stop there — in 2018, Madeline received Wilton Fair and Rebecca Broussard grants that allowed her and Ari to travel overseas to train and compete. The pair competed at Badminton, after which Backus made the tough decision to bring Ari home to retire.

“This incredible story that I’ve had the pleasure to be part of has not gone without its ups and downs,” Madeline says. “Ari had a major injury in 2011 that took her two years to recover from, as well as lots of bumps and learning curves along the way. She will always be a very special horse to me and has a forever home with me.”

We caught up with Backus to talk about retirement of performance horses and indicators that it’s time.

Horse Nation: Did you have a retirement plan in place for Ari before you made the ultimate decision?

Madeline Backus: When it was time, I planned to bring her home to Colorado, where she had grown up. I am very lucky that my family has an extra property down the road where we keep the broodmares and retired horses, so she will get to go out with the herd. And it’s wonderful to have a mare, so I am planning to breed her, or look into embryo transfer. I definitely want a few little Ariannas running around in a couple of years!

HN: What factors went into your decision? What factors would you recommend others take into consideration when looking at their own horses?

MB: It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. Ari turned 17 this year, and has had a lot of wear and tear. I have been lucky to have some amazing vets and therapies to help keep Ari feeling her best, and help her through her old injury. She has always loved her job, and fought to keep competing. After Badminton, where I had a minor tumble, it was becoming harder to keep her sound for the upper levels. I had great vets and chiropractors, and even though she trotted sound, I knew something wasn’t right.

One day I was schooling cross country gearing her up for Bramham International (our reroute after Badminton) and she stopped with me. She has never stopped. I withdrew from Bramham, in hopes I could reroute because it was just something minor that we could get through like we have done so many times before. I gave her some time off, and then started her back up again. Our rides, even jumping, seemed like work for her, and I knew she was doing it because that’s what she was trained to do, and not because she really wanted to. That’s when I knew I was making the right decision, even if it was the last thing I wanted to do. She owes me nothing, and it wouldn’t be right to push her through if it’s not what she wants to do anymore.

The biggest piece of advice I have from my first experience with retiring a horse, is to trust that you know your horse best. Don’t risk safety and partnership with your horse if you’re worried they might not be at the top of their game. Allow yourself the time to make such a big decision, as it’s not a light one that can be made easily. And don’t worry if it didn’t end on the best note. It’s not just about how your horse’s career ended, it’s about all of the perseverance and achievements they had throughout it.

HN: When do you know it’s “time”?

I think that’s something that will be different for every horse and rider. Ari told me a couple of ways, and after I stopped being in denial of what she was saying, it was very clear to me. When the initial thought of her retirement was real, I did try to bring her back because we had gotten through so many injuries and bad times before, so I had to make sure it wasn’t just another blip I could get through. I didn’t do this by taking her to events — I just continued riding her at home and really listened to her. I know now, without a doubt, I made the correct decision. It’s great to have her back home where she can relax and enjoy herself. I’ve been taking her on bareback rides, and letting her just have fun. That’s what it’s all about.

We wish PS Arianna all the best in retirement! Go riding.

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 4

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill! If you missed it: Part IPart II, Part III.

Well, it’s official: I have the best horse in the world.

Let me back up a little.

It was finally the official start of the Thoroughbred Makeover, and it was organized chaos: horses coming and going, all braided to the nines as they headed to the hunter and jumper rings; eventers strutted out to the cross-country course and the dressage horses headed up to the iconic Rolex arena. I particularly loved seeing the barrel racers in their bright colors coming back through the barns, especially the barrel racer who had been her horse’s winning jockey, bringing him full circle into his second career.

We had plenty of time to kill this morning before the ranch work started, feasibly with a trail course inspection at noon. That ended up running late, and then the ranch itself ran late — so I had several hours to take Jobber out to the big field and go for a ride.

From our vantage point on top of the hill, I could catch glimpses of the eventers tackling the cross country course, hunters and jumpers warming up in the schooling ring and lots of horses coming out to hand-graze between competition. Despite the tension and likely stress among many of the competitors, everyone with whom I interacted was positive, encouraging and supportive of their fellows. This is hands-down the nicest horse show I have ever been to.

After letting Jobber canter his great big heart out in the field and walking on a long rein back to the barn, it was time for the ranch trail inspection. I somehow picked up a group of folks all walking the course together, and hope I helped steer everyone to success who was seeking some guidance!

The course was challenging: every competitor would first enter and perform the ranch riding pattern, which called for smooth upward and downward transitions at a forward but relaxed pace; the trail portion was a fascinating array of obstacles including a log drag, sidepassing, numerous pole obstacles, ground tying, a gate and the most challenging of all — trotting through a “covered wagon” (essentially a giant tent).

Jobber was back to his unflappable, mellow self, and no matter how well or poorly the ranch ride would go, I was just over the moon that he was happy and willing again after yesterday’s total meltdown in the stall. He ambled around the warm-up pen on a loose rein, stood at the in-gate and watched some of our new friends ride, and soon it was our turn.

At this point, I knew the Makeover would come down to two things: was the horse prepared? Would he handle the atmosphere? We had done our homework, I felt, at home — we had schooled the majority of these obstacles (maybe not the wagon) and I knew he could do them all, feasibly. But while we had schooled plenty in the indoor arena, it was a far different scene today with the stands full of people, all of the vendors set up, the announcer and music going full-blast and obstacles in every direction. The atmosphere worried me the most.

Waiting at the in gate. Photo by Nancy Kohler-Cunningham.

Naturally, I needn’t have worried about any of this at all. Jobber strutted casually into the arena like he owned the place and we laid down what I felt was a great pattern: straight and balanced with solid transitions and a great display of lengthening and collecting.

Jobber’s big weakness is his klutziness — despite schooling him extensively both in hand and under saddle over poles, I knew this would be our weak spot, and with the poles set pretty close to require the horse to really read and adjust his stride, I was anticipating likely bashing into most of them. True to form, Jobber bounced off pretty much every pole, which cost us some big points, but he had nailed his transitions and his leads and I couldn’t have asked for more.

The first obstacle of the trail course was the covered wagon, and in my strategizing with my support team and my new friends in the ranch riding class, I stated my objective — the wagon would set the stage for how we tackled the rest of the course. If he handled the wagon well, we would go for the higher degree of difficulty. If the wagon was a disaster, we would play conservative to build his confidence back up and end on a good note.

Jobber made the turn up the centerline right under the Jumbotron at a bright working trot, ears pricked forward — just before the wagon, I asked him to walk, and with just the barest hesitation he marched right under the canopy and trotted out the other side. Anyone sitting in the upper half of the ring was treated to an ear-to-ear grin as we bounced out of the wagon and on to the next obstacle.

Heading into the wagon without hesitation. Photo by Nancy Kohler-Cunningham

The log drag had some options for degree of difficulty: one could take the safer, conservative route and drag to the right, leaving the log to the inside and not wrapping around the horse’s haunches, or one could drag to the left and show that their horse was comfortable with the rope no matter where it went. The purpose of the log drag in the ranch course is to imitate dragging a calf to the branding fire, and if my experience with cattle has taught me one thing it’s that the unexpected can happen at any moment. We opted to take the higher degree of difficult and head left into our figure eight.

At the course walk, the judges had stated that if you could replace the log exactly where it stated, you’d be right on the money — and with a little maneuvering, we parked that log right where we had picked it up, then nicely sidepassed and backed to replace the rope on the tree. Of all of the obstacles we tackled today, I’m most proud of how we handled the drag.

The back and sidepass was a bit rough — Jobber will sometimes swing a hind leg out while starting his back, and that caused him to straddle a pole rather than back into the chute. The sidepass was a little sticky to get started, but in taking my time and thinking our way through it, we were able to recover and finish the obstacle in decent form.

He handled the turnaround in the box well, and picked right up into the left lead lope before taking the highest degree of difficulty and transitioning to the walk right before the ground poles for a second time — knowing he would probably step on them all again, I knew I had to make up points where I could! We then handled the spoke wheel of raised poles like a real winner, stepping carefully and not knocking a single one.

The ground tie, despite having practiced at home, just didn’t really pan out — Jobber stood for about half a beat before being pretty certain he had to walk with me, which I can forgive completely. We remounted, worked the gate to exit the pattern, and we had completed a dream ride at the Thoroughbred Makeover.

Ranch Work at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover (1 of 2)

Part one of two videos of our ranch work patterns! Thanks to Kate Samuels for the videos.

Posted by Jobber Bill, 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover on Thursday, October 4, 2018

Ranch Work at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover (2 of 2)

Part two of our ranch work patterns at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover! Thanks to Kate Samuels for the video.

Posted by Jobber Bill, 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover on Thursday, October 4, 2018

My support team rushed down out of the stands, all of them — my coach Nancy, my friend Eileen and new bestie/Jumper Nation editor Meagan — with tears in their eyes over how brave and amazing my little horse had been. I am so grateful for all of their help this week.

Additionally, the spectators are just awesome. At every obstacle, I could hear quiet calls of “good job,” “that was beautiful,” “good work, cowgirl” and numerous claps, cheers and whistles. I said it before up above, but I’ll say it again — this is hands-down the nicest horse show I have ever been to.

I fully expected to finish mid-pack, but as of press time, I’m in the top ten! I’m out of the top five that will be called back to ride in the finale, but if I stay in the top ten, I do get to come back and get a big pretty ribbon. While I’m not in this for the prizes, the simple validation of how amazing my little horse is will mean the world if I get to hang a ribbon on his bridle and look at a tangible reminder of all of our hours of hard work.

This has already been one of the best experiences in my horse life, and there are still two more days to go.

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 3

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill! If you missed it: Part I, Part II

There are a few lines to open a phone call that no horse owner really ever wants to hear, but Meagan DeLisle of Jumper Nation tried her hardest to break it to me easy.

“So I don’t want to alarm you, but…”

Oh, great.

“… Jobber’s kind of freaking out.”

“About what?”

“Well, I don’t know — it’s dead quiet here.”

I hung up the phone, made a hasty apology to the volunteer coordinator who I was supposed to be helping this morning — they had given me a golf cart! I was going to be useful! — and hustled back across the Kentucky Horse Park to Barn 14, where I could hear the distant but distinctive banging of a hoof meeting stall door. Meagan and one of our shedrow neighbors were gathered outside Jobber’s stall, trying to keep him quiet, but there he was, his bedding mounded up into a mountain in the corner, flinging himself in circles around the stall dripping in a full-body sweat.

I hurried to get his halter on and take him out, having the sneaking suspicion that my good-minded little horse had finally had enough of being “trapped” in a 10 x 10 stall. After all, Jobber lives out on a glorious wide pasture with his herdmates, wandering at will up and down the big hill grazing on what I firmly believe is some of the finest grass in the nation. (The proof is in the pudding, and he’s filled out gorgeously.)

This booty and topline powered by good old-fashioned grass. Photo by Allison Howell

We headed out to the cross country field behind the barns where Jobber fretfully grabbed mouthfuls of grass, then circled me, then grabbed mouthfuls of grass, then circled again, his ears and eyes constantly flickering at any movement or sound. Over the next two hours, Jobber settled, cooled, and relaxed once again, finally settling to the green grass he had been clearly desiring.

The signs had really been there for about 24 hours, but it took this very clear shout from Jobber to really get through to me — this show setup is a drastically different environment from what he’s used to, and I had taken too much for granted with his generally good attitude about life. Standing out in that field while Jobber gradually settled, I made a silent promise to try to listen to him a bit better.

So we saddled up and headed back to the field. After all, as a proud member of #TeamNoArena, what sense was there in heading to yet another schooling ring — fantastic though the footing may be? We started out on a long-rein hill walk, heading up to the top, then back down, then at the trot, circling around various cross-country obstacles and trees. When the moment felt right, I cued him into a ground-covering canter, pointed him up the hill and turned him loose.

Jobber’s strides ate up the ground as though he was hungry to work — we were at the top of the big hill before I knew it, arcing wide along the fence as the earth sloped gently down to an old stone wall. The black fenceposts flashed by as I settled into the regular rhythm, and we could have been in our home pasture, racing the wind, Jobber’s ears pricked happily forward and his hoofbeats cadenced and regular. He slowed himself at the end of the fenceline, settling down to a trot and then a walk, striding forward easily and happily on a long rein, finally able to blow off the steam that had clearly been building since he first set foot in his stall.

Many Thoroughbred lovers will state that it takes quite a lot to get to the bottom of these horses, and I no longer had any qualms that I would “wear Jobber out” as long as good horsemanship still dictated the day. We hacked to the indoor arena, worked in front of the massive Jumbotron, hacked back across the park and cooled down so Jobber could settle down for a bit of lunch, then saddled back up in the afternoon for a very special hack — the United Nations.

That’s what Meagan called the best hacking group ever: Meagan of Jumper Nation on Flash, Kate Samuels of Eventing Nation on Turkey and me on Jobber, plus my good friend from college Kait on her Frankie (shout out to Frankie for the best Jockey Club name ever — Fakeittilumakeit). We went on a lovely hack all over the park, enjoying catching up in a unique meeting as we let our horses relax. As far as we know, this is the first time staff from all three sites have gotten together — and how special to be riding together on Thoroughbreds at the Horse Park!

After the evening’s competitor meeting, Meagan and I took our horses back out to the grass field for one last hand-graze, meeting some new friends along the way and watching the sun set on what turned out to be another perfect Kentucky day. It may have started awfully rough, but I learned a lot about my horse and my horsemanship — and all was well as the sun went down in a painted sky.

Tomorrow, I’ll show in working ranch — stay tuned for another behind-the-scenes update, win, lose, or absolute failure!

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 2

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill! If you missed part 1, check it out here

One aspect of the Makeover that I may have been a little bit glib about was the fact that Jobber’s back in a stall. If I stalled him part-time at home, this probably wouldn’t be a big issue, but taking a horse that lives out 24/7 on a beautiful, massive pasture with his small herd and putting him back in a stall has been an interesting challenge for my horsemanship. Jobber is still the same level-minded horse he is at home, but he has a lot of go here — still no buck (knock wood) and he’s always willing to work, but he could power-walk the trails and hills here all day long and still want to power-walk after a good ride.

From yesterday’s “modeling session” in which Jobber sported the incredible memento saddle blankets for all western competitors this year. Photo by the talented and lovely Allison Howell.

Now that more neighbors are moving into our shedrow, Jobber’s settling down much better in the stall. Nevertheless, in this morning’s pre-dawn, he was the only horse in his row, and we shared a quiet moment watching a sudden strong rain fall, taking a moment of quiet together to get ready for the day. Jobber would have a few more hours to stand in his stall, unfortunately. It was volunteering day!

Every show needs volunteers to run efficiently and smoothly, and with ten disciplines taking place in multiple rings and areas all over Kentucky Horse Park, there’s a lot of set-up that needs to get done quickly. Sure, while I could have used my morning to hack Jobber extra and get him out and about more, I also felt that with so many extra days in my schedule here, the least I could do was give the Retired Racehorse Project a few hours of my time and help the show go smoothly.

Volunteering is a unique opportunity to get intimate with a discipline you may not practice much on your own — this morning, I loaded jump wagons, then helped other volunteers and members of the Kentucky Dressage Association build three dressage rings in the iconic Rolex Arena. Many hands make light work, and we had all three rings squared away within two hours.

Yep — the Rolex Arena. The dressage folks, plus eventing dressage, are getting the star treatment this week and get to show in the big ring, which I’m sure is a rite of passage for many of those riders. (It may also be super terrifying for some of their horses, but they’ll learn a lot.) While I’m not competing in dressage, I’m happy that I could help build the rings and be part of the dressage riders’ experience in my own little way.

…and then I decided to get a little piece of the Rolex Arena experience for myself later, on one of my several hacks around the park. How can you not? I mean, it’s there, and it was open for schooling, and while maybe some purists are rolling over in their graves to imagine my scrubby little ranch horse meandering across that hallowed ground, but there I went. #YOLO

Jobber takes Rolex … checking on my earlier handiwork. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

In the afternoon, we were able to get into the indoor arena, where both the working ranch and the freestyle will be held, conveniently getting to meet some of the folks I had been following and been inspired by all year. Jobber schooled really nicely in the indoor, but I made the mistake of practicing the working ranch pattern — which I had not ever run prior to today, and then made the mistake of trying to run it a second time. He anticipated the lope departures, so I made the executive decision to not practice the pattern again — just the transitions.

While chatting with some spectators — everyone is SO friendly here — I mentioned I wanted to go explore the park and trail ride, and they pointed out their family member riding a lovely, easy-going bay gelding. I snagged Tashi and her horse Nexen, a four-year-old gelding who trained but never raced, and with whom she had accomplished eventing, dressage and an endurance race in the past year. She’s competing in dressage and the freestyle this week, and we had a lovely hack around the park.

After Tashi and Nexen headed back to the barn, I picked up a few more new friends — Kyle and Binky, a mare who survived Hurricane Maria in Puero Rico, and Dakota and Ziggy, a super sporty little mare (offered in the sale!), who were handwalking, and we went for a second lap around the park.

I haven’t had a single class yet — I won’t until Thursday — but the Makeover has been such a fabulous experience already for the opportunities to meet friendly people, hang out and meet people I had only e-met until now, and of course, share time and conversation about these brilliant, brilliant horses that we’ve been lucky enough to ride. Everyone here feels so passionately about racehorse aftercare — not only for the sake of the horses, but also for the sake of the riders who are blessed with athletic, willing and good-minded mounts. I’ve had some great conversations today with some great people about just how mind-blowingly good these horses are.

The park is really starting to fill up now — more horses are arriving and tomorrow will be a real crush as the last big wave of competitors moves in. Every day has been better than the last; Jobber is schooling great and loving riding around the horse park (even if the whole living-in-a-stall situation is not quite what he was looking forward to). I’m looking forward to another morning of volunteering, and plenty of riding in the afternoon!

If you’re around the Makeover, swing by my mobile office at Barn 14 — you won’t miss the giant Horse Nation banner! Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

WEGging Out: Questions from the Armchair Perspective

While EN had its boots on the ground at the 2018 World Equestrian Games, Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch was working remotely from her home in New York to cover all the non-eventing disciplines, keeping us up to speed with daily pint-sized “WEG Happy Hour” recaps. Being almost 700 miles away from Tryon, Kristen recruited information from a number of sources, and in doing so cultivated a unique perspective of whether or not the Games were a “success.” Kristen shares her own armchair perspective and raises some interesting questions. 

WEG 2018 may be over and out, but there’s still plenty to contemplate as we look back on the Games. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Less than a week after the World Equestrian Games, my life has resumed its normal rhythm again. No more am I chasing down the best of #Tryon2018 on Instagram or scouring the internet for the best stories of the day to present at our near-midnight WEG happy hours; I’m no longer trying to multitask with a live stream window constantly running, distracting me with every cheer or gasp. Yes, the World Equestrian Games have come and gone again, and for this home-based reporter, they were a lot of fun while they lasted and I’m happy to be back to the usual grind.

In the lead-up to WEG and the two weeks during the games, I could log on to social media and divvy my newsfeed into two groups: those who sympathized with the monumental task set before the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), and those who seemed bound and determined to think the worst of WEG before the games even began. Even now, a week later, I’m still seeing posts of attrition about just how terrible WEG really was. Interestingly, most of these posts are from people who did not attend.

As a full disclaimer, neither did I — Eventing Nation sends its crack team to cover eventing in-depth, but due to the wide-reaching all-disciplines foundation of Horse Nation, the logistics of sending even a small army of reporters to try to cover the juggernaut of eight disciplines’ world championships over two weeks would blow any semblance of a travel budget right out of the water.

That said, I feel that there is plenty to be learned in the aftermath of WEG from the home perspective.

Under construction

The Tryon WEG seemed to be plagued by bad luck and bad press right from the start: as a refresher, the facility stepped in at nearly the eleventh hour when Bromont, Canada backed out as a host in mid-2016. While most host facilities have at least four years to prepare, Tryon would attempt to do the near-impossible in just 18 months, including not only barn space and competition space for eight disciplines with riders from all over the world, but the infrastructure to support those horses, riders, teams, support staff, media, vendors and spectators that make the World Equestrian Games what it is.

Bad weather slowed construction to a crawl; on a timeline in which every minute was precious, it became obvious months ahead of time that the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) would be cutting it very, very close.

In the end, the equine accommodations and competition spaces were finished and ready to welcome the world. The rest of the facility? As of September 12, when our team from Eventing Nation was on site, there was still plenty of construction left to complete. Even as WEG continued, so did construction — parking areas in particular were improved overnight. Regardless, a red-dirt bare cliff face topped by large machinery loomed in the background of many a shot from the live feed, and the mud seemed to be everywhere.

Compounding factors

The dates for the 2018 WEG were pushed back about a month, based on two studies commissioned by the FEI to look at the best weather from an equine welfare standpoint. Despite these studies, North Carolina was plagued with high heat and humidity, and right off the bat the weather began taking its toll. The ill-fated endurance race on the first day of competition will likely go down in FEI history as one of the most gut-wrenching fiascos of all time: after already being restarted and shortened after half of the field was misdirected on course, the endurance race was ultimately cancelled when over 50 horses wound up in the clinic with metabolic issues. You can find a more detailed account on the endurance race here.

Hurricane Florence certainly left her mark on the Games as well — wreaking havoc and destruction across the Southeast, the arrival of Florence and her heavy rains caused events scheduled for Sunday, September 16 to be pushed back to Monday, September 17. With a tight travel schedule that could not be modified for the dressage horses, the Freestyle event was ultimately canceled. Flooding around the facility was reportedly minor.

TIEC also came under fire on social media when a photo began circulating of what appeared to be a barracks-style tent with spartan bunks and little privacy, accompanied by the caption that this was the TIEC-provided accommodations for grooms. Mark Bellissimo, CEO of TIEC, issued a personal statement in apology, stating that he was “too optimistic” about being able to answer demand.

It was the half-finished feel of the place that drove show jumping legend Eric Lamaze of Canada to air his grievances on Facebook:

Tryon marked my seventh World Championships and, in my opinion, it was the worst one ever held. We heard stories in the…

Posted by Eric Lamaze on Saturday, September 22, 2018

Now, in defense of Tryon: the facility had 18 months to do what other WEG hosts have done in at least four years. Šamorín Equestrian Center in Slovakia had also put in a bid in 2016 to be the substitute host when Bromont backed out, but the strength of Tryon’s resume and the allure of Bellissimo’s experience and resources ultimately won TIEC the bid. Most Tryon sympathizers point to conditions outside of TIEC’s control for delaying construction.

I spoke with a few actual spectators who attended the event to find their impressions — was it a giant mud-filled disaster with construction materials piled everywhere?

  • The ticketed events, the parking, shuttles, seating, food, restrooms, shopping all were more than satisfactory.
  • The only thing we waited for was a seat at the restaurants. We parked at Staley’s private lot and never waited more than a couple minutes to get picked up.”
  • I came later in the day on cross-country, but same time as reining people were coming in. No wait for shuttle, no wait at the gate. Then a golf cart gave me a ride to the end of the cross-country course. I felt like a VIP.”

So Tryon may not have been a total disaster.

But perhaps the biggest take-away question from the past month should be: is it better to make the attempt and fail, or to never attempt at all? I admire what TIEC tried to do in the name of equestrian solidarity and celebration of our sport on the international stage. But was it too ambitious to try to get it all done on such a shortened timeline?

Would the equestrian world have been better served by having no World Equestrian Games at all and waiting for a future WEG to be held when Tryon was ready for it? Or is a half-finished facility doing its very best with the hand it’s been dealt for a world championships better than nothing?

These are questions to which I don’t have the answer. By its very nature, horse sport always rewards the try, and if we never tried and failed, we would never learn and grow towards that elusive quality of perfection. But another equally important skill to learn is to know when to quit, regroup and come back to try again another day.

Go riding.

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 1

Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch and her OTTB Jobber are ready to tackle the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover, and they’re taking us along for the ride!

Photos by Kristen Kovatch.

The last time I pulled a true all-nighter was in college, and it was purely for fun, if you can believe that — a couple of friends and I simply wanted to see if we could do it, so we made a pot of coffee and a list of random activities and worked until we had finished both and the sun was coming up.

Frankly, I didn’t know if I still had it in me, and I was starting to get genuinely concerned around the neighborhood of 6 a.m. this morning. I had cycled through my second and third winds already, vacillating between droopy weariness combated with singing loudly to the radio and coffee drinks, and bright-eyed peppiness and the sensation that I could keep driving all the way across the country. I could see the merit in a midnight pickup time for my gracious drivers Neil and Leslie — we had positively whizzed through the usual highway tangles around Erie, Cleveland and Columbus with barely any other drivers in sight.

But the hours behind the wheel, keeping the brake lights of the trailer in view, had finally begun taking their toll — despite my best intentions of sleeping late on Sunday and maybe taking a nap after dinner before doing a final pack of the car and wrapping Jobber’s legs, I hadn’t slept an extra wink, and I was paying for it now: we were in Kentucky, with the final destination of the Horse Park just a long half hour away, but the Thoroughbred Makeover felt further away than ever.

And then I glanced to the left, towards the east, and saw the gray hint of first light, the sun’s prelude creeping over the edges of the earth and transforming the mist-shrouded stone and black fences of Lexington into a scene of true magic. The iconic Kentucky Horse Park sign loomed. We had arrived after a long journey with many personal ups and downs of spirit … but we were here now.

All photos by Kristen Kovatch.

Some hours later, any memory of those rougher moments — whether the ones in the car in the true dark night of the soul, or the various road bumps and detours we had taken in the past ten months of our partnership — was erased as Jobber and I picked our way down one of the various horse paths in Kentucky Horse Park. Walnuts trees arched overhead and the sun filtered through as resident horses grazed in paddocks alongside. Jobber’s ears were pricked and he looked at every new sight we passed, but he was brave and confident, drinking in this new and expansive world.

Our ramble took us briefly into the indoor arena, where we’ll show on Thursday and Friday in working ranch and freestyle, before being politely asked to leave so crews could continue transforming the space into what was needed for the Makeover; we then wandered along the paved and graveled tracks before finding ourselves at the edge of the venerable Rolex dressage arena. We wandered back down into the Walnut Ring, where we put in a brief school — while I love my fields and pastures at home, it’s truly lovely to float the rein and let Jobber lope a circle and not have to worry about ditches or rocks or slick cow patties or other unseen hazards grabbing a foot.

It’s been a long 24 hours for both me and Jobber, but it’s already been a rewarding trip: he made the trip in great condition and wowed some of the volunteers here with his overall body condition. In fact, he looked good enough to model the gorgeous western saddle blankets being given to all western competitors this year — we had a lot of fun “posing” Jobber under some big trees to get the beauty shots, his ears perked and eyes focused on various new things he could see in the distance. I couldn’t resist hugging him right then and there: we had made it, after all, and no matter what happened after that moment, we had accomplished my little bucket-list goal that had been growing in my mind since watching the 2017 Makeover finalists — we were here in Kentucky.

Jobber’s been off the track since October 2016, with most of his 2017 spent turned out in a pasture; he’s only been in serious retraining since December (and if you consider the amount of snow and ice we had in the winter, you could also reason that he’s only been in consistent work since maybe April). While I still maintain that I ultimately got lucky and got exactly the horse I needed for my particular situation, I’m also proud of how far we’ve come — all the way from our humble cow pastures to the country’s premier horse show facility to celebrate with our new friends and fellow OTTB enthusiasts.

Check back daily this week for Kristen’s Thoroughbred Makeover blogs! For more information about the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, please see the event’s website and follow the Retired Racehorse Project on Facebook.

Go riding.

Best of HN: ‘Meet Kricket, the Internet’s Favorite Endurance Mini’

Jen Joines and her rescued miniature horse Kricket didn’t set out to become inspirational icons to show that no dream is too big — but here they are, living the dream, fresh off a 65-mile riding tour. We caught up with Jen to learn Kricket’s story!

All photos/videos courtesy of Jen Joines.

All Jen Joines was really looking for was a companion animal.

“There was only one other horse on the property where I kept my paint mare,” describes Joines of Anaheim, California. “So when I took her out to ride, the other horse would panic, and vice-versa.” Joines worked out a deal with the property owner in which she would get a miniature horse to keep everyone company and not pay additional board, and set out to find the right horse. She had just organized the adoption of miniature rescue Kricket from Falcon Ridge Equine Rescue when the other horse on the property passed away. “I couldn’t in good faith change my mind at that point… so Kricket came home.”

Kricket’s transformation.

While she was in the best physical shape of the three miniatures who had been rescued together, Kricket was still a mess: she was at a good weight but had no muscle tone, and didn’t know how to move faster than a walk due to a lifetime of confinement. It took four people to get her into the trailer for the ride home in October of 2016.

Joines’ teenage neighbor stepped in to help, riding the paint mare while Joines slowly started bringing Kricket into work in-hand to get the horse out and moving. Joines has ridden a variety of disciplines, but most recently had started training in endurance; she followed the discipline’s principles to condition Kricket with long, slow, stamina-building miles.

When the teenage neighbor expressed a desire to try an introductory endurance race in May of 2017 — which requires an accompanying entered adult to be within one minute of a youth rider — Joines scanned the rules, realized that there was no rule that explicitly stated a horse had to be ridden, and signed herself up as the accompanying adult… with Kricket.

Kricket’s second endurance intro ride at 20 Mule Team, roughly 9 miles into the 15 mile race, Ridgecrest, CA

“So we walked 18 miles in the mountains. And just like every other entry, we vetted in, did the ride, had our mid-race vet check and vetted out.” Joines’ long, slow miles of conditioning had done the job, and while it may have taken them quite a long time to finish, Kricket did in fact finish.

“Everyone thinks I’m out of my mind, but so far no one has challenged me on it,” Joines details. She does make sure that she’s respectful of other horses and riders on the trail, especially those that for whatever reason totally fall apart at the sight of a mini — she and Kricket move to the side and let others pass as needed. “The only big problem I’m noticing now is that when they have water offered on the trail, it’s too high up for Kricket to reach! I pack a collapsible bowl for her so she can get a drink with everyone else.”

Getting her initial vet check done. 20 Mule Team, Feb 2018

Accompanied by a variety of riders on Joines’ paint mare, she and Kricket have completed several introductory races on six legs, and gotten their time down from six and a half hours to two and a half hours. They’ve managed to beat a few horses in races as well! Kricket was also named Runner of the Month for August by Run Motivators, a virtual race organizer through which Joines tracks their on-foot miles (in Kricket’s name).

One big bucket list item for Joines was the AERC-sanctioned Grand Canyon ride. When her mare was diagnosed with a respiratory condition, Joines was unable to compete last year. “So I said ‘come hell or high water, we’re going this year,’ and we ended up turning it into a hundred-mile ride over ten days across four states.” And that, of course, included Kricket.

This is the spine at Thunder Mountain… The most nerve wracking section of the entire trail#poweredbygreenmare #greenmarenaturals

Posted by The Mini Adventures of Kricket on Monday, September 3, 2018

Video has since gone viral of brave little Kricket tackling some of the toughest riding trails in the American West, ponied behind Joines and her paint mare. The trio was accompanied by several of Joines’ friends and their horses who came along for the ride. The team rode in Kaibob National Forest around the Grand Canyon’s East and North Rim; Barracks Slot Canyons in Mt. Carmel Junction Utah; Red Canyon, part of the Dixie National Forest outside Bryce Canyon; Thunder Mountain, Utah and intended to finish in Red Cliff Desert Preserve in Utah when Kricket exhibited some colic symptoms and forced a reroute to a veterinary hospital in Las Vegas. (Kricket made a full recovery and returned home with no further issues!)

Some seriously rocky trails today at Thunder Mountain#poweredbygreenmare

Posted by The Mini Adventures of Kricket on Thursday, August 30, 2018

“We planned the entire trip thanks to the Facebook group Horse Trails and Camping Across America,” Joines states. “I recommend that group to anyone planning a long trail ride. Everywhere we rode was public land that anyone can ride on, which is awesome.”

Joines never intended to turn Kricket into a viral star; she considered the Facebook page simply a fun way to chronicle her progress with her mini. That said, she’s happy that she can inspire others to try something different, and maybe hit the trails with their own miniatures.

“Kricket wants to be on the trail. We do show a little bit — her first halter show was memorable when she reared and screamed at the judge — but ultimately she really likes to be out on the trail.”

Kricket jumping at a show.

What’s next for this pair?

“I’d love to get through some limited distance races — those are 25 to 30 miles. I’m sure Kricket can make it as long as I get her conditioned… but I’m not sure if I can. So on that note, I entered my first ultramarathon for December to challenge myself and get stronger.” Run Motivators is also issuing a 1200 mile challenge for 2019 — 100 miles every month. Joines hopes she and Kricket can complete that challenge.

Kricket’s medal rack.

Above all else, Joines and Kricket simply have fun. And shouldn’t that be what it’s all about?

Follow the adventures of Kricket at her Facebook page! And go riding.

Snuggle time at Santiago Oaks Regional Park