Lindsay Gilbert
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Lindsay Gilbert

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A Letter, Not a Number

Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

Today, I didn’t complete an event. For the first time ever, I halted at X and did not gallop through the finish flags. Today, I did not even step onto the cross country course.

Of all the things that can go wrong during an event, none of them happened. We did not make an unplanned exit from the dressage ring or become the victims of an untimely dismount in stadium. No outside factor or spite of the eventing gods forced us to end on a letter and not a number. Instead, I made the decision myself.

Today, I did something I have never done before. Today, I scratched.

I knew this day would eventually come. Every time I fill out my entry one of my goals is to end on a number and not a letter. Up until today I have always been able to check that box and feel accomplished knowing I had achieved that goal. Yet, I knew one day I wouldn’t, it was just a matter of time. And I always wondered how I would feel when that day came.

Frustrated, defeated, ashamed?

Much to my surprise, I did not feel any of those things. Packing up the trailer, loading my horse and heading home early, sitting in the cool, air conditioned cab of the truck, I felt better. 

I felt better because I knew today was not our day and I chose to act in my horse’s best interest. A fussy dressage test turned into an argumentative show jumping warm up that was completely uncharacteristic for my horse. And while we addressed the issues and solved the argument for a pleasant, rideable stadium round, I knew Java’s heart was not in it.

Could I have forced the matter, sticking hard and fast to my main goal of ending on a number and not a letter? Sure. And would we have done it? Most likely. But would I have felt accomplished? Would I have felt good? No.

Because the goals we set for ourselves as riders mean nothing if the horse is not on board. Regardless of the triumphs won, the boxes checked, the feats accomplished — we walk away having achieved nothing if not acting in the best interest of our horse. Only when our goals align with those of our horse can we truly realize success.

Today, the goals I had set for myself did not align with Java’s needs. We did not accomplish the things I had originally set out to do, we drove away with a long list of boxes left unchecked. But still I left with a contentment and optimism that only conquering your goals can provide. Because I didn’t actually fail to achieve my goals, my goals just changed. They went from self-serving goals intended to make me feel accomplished, to selfless goals intended to make my horse feel comfortable and confident.

Today, I didn’t finish an event. But ending on a letter and not a number was the biggest success in my relationship with my horse.

Finally an Event Horse, Finally an Eventer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

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

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

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

 

The Pre-Training Pyramid

Training horses for success in a variety of disciplines calls for an intelligent and thorough approach to their upbringing. Over thousands of years, horse trainers have created numerous systematic approaches in order to develop a horse to the best of their abilities.

One of the most well-known and respected of these is the German Training Scale, or “training pyramid.” It is a staple in the dressage discipline but can be utilized by any trainer to correctly and comprehensively develop a horse into a competitive athlete. Developed by German classical trainers and based on military training practices followed hundreds of year ago, this pyramid serves as a template for trainers to follow as they progress through the levels of Dressage.

The training pyramid seen below shows a set of sequential objectives for trainers, each building upon the next to produce a horse with a solid foundation.

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However, when you are starting young horses or re-starting a horse for a second discipline, like in the world of off-track Thoroughbreds, there is a lot that needs to be accomplished before one can begin to pursue the objectives detailed in the pyramid.

In order to address this, I created the “Pre-Training Pyramid” shown below. This new training scale focuses on the relationship with your horse and the mental goals you must achieve before working towards specific goals under saddle.

Respect – The foundation of any good relationship is mutual respect. Defined as having due regard for another’s feelings, wishes, rights or traditions; this translates to your partnership with your horse as understanding each other’s boundaries and limitations. Before moving forward in your training, your horse must first see you as the leader of your two-being herd.

  • In practice — A horse that respects its handler does not invade personal space, is listening and reactive to the handler’s body language. A handler that respects their horse knows what they can mentally and physically handle, does not ask for more than the horse is capable of achieving and understands the horse’s body language.

Trust – Respect without trust can result in a fear-based relationship. When a horse begins to trust its handler, they have faith in their decision-making and begin to rely on the trainer to make decisions in their best interest. Gaining your horse’s trust tells them that you are not only the leader, but their friend. As training progresses, a horse that trusts their trainer will be a more willing and receptive partner.

  • In practice —  Horses that trust their handler will be more relaxed and receptive to cues. They will seek guidance from their trainer. You may find a trusting horse has a lower headset, ears that are flickering towards their handler and a calmer demeanor.

Confidence — Confidence goes hand-in-hand with trust. A trustful horse is confident in their handler. However, at this stage, the horse must start to become confident in themselves. The confidence we seek should come in the form of a horse’s self-assurance and ability to believe they can answer the questions they are asked.

  • In practice — Training must produce a horse that is not fearful or worried, but has been asked the right questions at the right time, so they are confident they can answer whatever comes next. A confident horse should not be overly nervous or reactive to its surroundings (spooky). Gentle desensitization that encourages curiosity and helps them problem solve will slowly build a horse’s confidence in themselves.

Focus — Focus is a necessary portion of the pyramid but must comes after the foundation has been laid. In order to reach our training goals, the horse must be in-tune to their trainer and able to concentrate on what is being asked of them. A focused horse is a working horse, one who can calmly and confidently tackle problems.

  • In practice — Young, green horses are easily distracted, may call to their friends, fall behind your leg or spook at an object. As a horse moves through training they should become more focused on their job. Before a trainer can successfully begin to pursue the German training pyramid, their horse must be able to concentrate on what their trainer is asking of them.

Only once you have achieved all the necessary pieces of the Pre-Training Pyramid is your horse ready to progress to more common training goals such as the rhythm of their gaits, acceptance of your aids and relaxation into the contact.

By overlooking the foundation that is created by good horsemanship, your training will crumble. You may have the most talented animal but if they don’t respect you, they will not listen to your aids; if they do not trust you, they will question the situations you put them in; if they are not confident, they will be worried and misunderstanding; if they are not focused, they will not be able to achieve goals.

Goals, Goals and More Goals!

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

Ride number 1: Danielle

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

For Danielle, this weekend’s goals were…

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

Ride number 2: Tiny

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

For Tiny, our goals were:

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

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

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

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

Ride number 3: Lou

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

Lou’s goals were:

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

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

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


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

So there you have it — nine goals, three horses, two days, one exhausted trainer. But overall a very successful, goal-oriented weekend and a wonderful start to the show season!

Gossip and Negativity in the Equine Industry

My happy place. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

We talk about sexual harassment in the barn; we talk about bullying in the equine industry. We work hard to bring light to the problems we face and to find solutions to make our sport a safer, more inclusive environment.

But, there is one issue we all sweep under the rug. One evil that we face on a daily basis, whose grips no one can escape. Yet, we all turn a blind eye and refuse to acknowledge its existence.

Why? Because we are all guilty.

As equestrians, the biggest, most common threat to the safety and inclusion of our various sports comes in the simple form of gossip. The trash-talking, criticizing and rumor-spreading that goes on behind each others’ backs breeds an unsportsmanlike negativity that all riders are affected by. And it needs to end.

The equine industry propagates it. The barn environment is like a petri dish, offering the perfect conditions for rapid production of this awful vice. There are participants in all aspects of the sport with polarizing opinions on everything from hoof care to blanketing. Add in the love we have for these animals, the massive amounts of money we spend and the stress we all face trying to become better athletes and horse owners — it’s no surprise we turn to gossip and criticism to vent frustrations.

Yet, we all have one thing in common. With the negativity we face in all the other aspects of our lives, horses are meant to be our safe haven. So why is the equine industry anything but?

All it takes is one step to start the change.

Together, we can become a more welcoming, understanding and kind group of people. Together we can make gossip, rumors and criticism a thing of the past. By addressing issues head-on, not behind closed doors, focusing on yourself instead of others, and generally being kind, the equine industry can once again become a safe-haven for all involved.

Address Issues

If there’s an issue, address it. If you feel compelled to speak up, do so. It’s as simple as that.

Problems cannot be solved behind closed doors, whispering about the parties in question. Gossip does not foster solutions. Rather, we can only learn by inclusive conversation that facilitates understanding.

So, if there’s an issue, work on it together. Start an open and honest conversation and work together to find solutions. If you attack problems head on, with an open mind and kind heart, there is no problem that can’t be solved.

Focus on Yourself

If there is no outright issue and you aren’t involved, leave it alone. We were all taught at one point, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As time goes on, this principle tends to slip through the cracks. But by living by these words, the world becomes a more positive, uplifting place.

By criticizing others, gossiping and spreading rumors, all we are doing is creating a world of negativity and misunderstanding. We must understand that from an outside-looking-in perspective, there is a lot that can be missed and without being wholly involved in a situation, we can’t possibly have all the information.

So, if there is no true problem to be solved and nothing nice to say, simply don’t say anything. Rather, spend your energy focusing on something you know well — yourself. Work on addressing the issues that you face and becoming a better, more positive person by leaving others alone.

Be Kind

This seems simple, but it is the most important thing a person can do. Be kind.

There is another core principle that seems to be missing in the equestrian world — treat others as you would like to be treated. If something you are about to say or do would hurt if the tables were turned, simply don’t do it. As equestrians, we are all in this together. We all have the same passions, face the same problems and feel the same joys and frustrations. While our personal experiences may be unique, we all have a lot in common.

By being a kind and understanding person, the world becomes just a little bit brighter.

Together, we can make a change. We can become a more welcoming and inclusive industry. We can build each other up instead of tearing each other down. We can start open and honest conversations without the blame and criticism. We can stop gossiping and start learning about each other.

We are all guilty. But we are all capable of overcoming our imperfections and making this crazy, stressful, amazing world we chose to be a part of a safer, more understanding place.

Staying in Your Lane: Some Advice for First-Time Thoroughbred Makeover Trainers

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

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

Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

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

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

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

Meet the (Not-So-Tiny) Tiny!

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

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

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

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

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Tiny in all his non-tiny glory.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Tiny and the infamous grouch, Jinx.

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

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

The Zebra and The Duck

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Sometimes I think I attract difficult horses. Standing out in my pasture right now I have not one, not two, but three really tough mounts. Although, when it comes down to it, I realize I’ve chosen this life for myself. I’ve had lots of easy horses, horses that I could have taken through the levels and raked in the ribbons with, horses that could have had me in a totally different place by now. But, I moved them on, I let others take over and enjoy their wonderful brains and their solid foundations. The ones I decided to hold on to are the tough ones, the ones who enjoy testing me with riddles that seem impossible to solve.

I’ve chosen this path because I truly enjoy the puzzle. For me, the reward lies in the process of figuring out what pieces fit where and seeing the bigger picture when everything finally comes together.

It sounds romanticized as a write this, like I’m seeing the world through the rose-colored glasses of my computer screen. In all reality, those difficult horses frustrate me on a daily basis and make me question everything I think I know about training. They make me think outside the box to try to solve the problems they throw at me day and in day out.

However, I’m never alone in trying to put together the puzzle. Along with amazing trainers, good friends and as much training knowledge as I can possibly Google, I am fortunate enough to have a well-respected equine veterinarian and surgeon as a barn owner. I pick his brain about the issues I’m facing with my horses and every once in a while, between the conversations about work, clients and how damn cold it is outside, he teaches me a thing or two.

One day, as I complained about particularly frustrating horse, the issues I thought he had and the numerous different solutions I had come up with, he turned to me and said, “Lindsay, let me tell you something … Everyone wants to think they’re dealing with a zebra when, in fact, all you really have is a duck.”

I hung my head sheepishly because I knew he was reprimanding me in his own way for my crazy notions and fairy tale ideas.

He went on to explain that zebras are interesting and exciting, but they’re rare. Ducks, on the other hand, are boring and easy to overlook, but they’re common. He said that as a veterinarian for nearly 30 years, most of the issues horses have are ducks, and very few are ever actually zebras. That is to say, you should attempt to solve your problems using the most common solution before jumping to conclusions about a rare condition or treatment.

For example, when your horse is tossing his head under saddle, the duck tells you to check his teeth and possibly the fit of his tack. The zebra has you convinced that his TMJ is bothering him, he’s out in his poll and has kissing spine.

Once you’ve ruled out all the ducks, only then should you begin to think that maybe, just maybe, you have a zebra.

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Quack.

Selling a Horse? Avoid Sabotaging Your Sale Ad With This Common Mistake

As winter is fast approaching and Christmas is coming soon, I see dozens of sale ads flash across my social media pages on a daily basis. Sellers are scrambling to find new homes for their horses before the first frost causes buyers to hibernate. From Thoroughbreds fresh off the track to hunter derby champions, if you’re selling horses chances are there are dozens of horses on the market just like yours.

The truth is, social media and classified websites have created a buyer’s market in the work of horse shopping. It’s as easy as point and click, filtering through ads and comparing horses without ever leaving the comfort of your pajamas.

However, it seems some lucky horsemen have rigged the system and can’t keep sales horses in their stalls while others are left wondering why Ol’ Faithful who packs around a 3′ course and always comes home with ribbons is still in their barn after a year. What gives?

How do you set yourself apart from all the other sellers out there? How do you make sure your horse’s ad is seen in the sea of bay Thoroughbreds and eventing prospects filling the pages of Facebook and classifieds websites near and far?

The answer is simple: your photos.

Buyers have the daunting task of filtering through hundreds, if not thousands, of sales ads and most of them don’t make it past the first photo before they scroll on. You have a fleeting moment to capture the buyer’s attention and first impressions mean everything.

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Photos courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

Both of these photos show the exact same thing – a young Thoroughbred mare ridden by me, trotting in an arena at the same point in their stride. Yet, the photos could not be more different. One is a screenshot taken from an iPhone video, the other is a professional photo edited to enhance clarity. Which one will buyer’s react to?

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Photos courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

And again. Both photos are of the same horse and rider, jumping in the same arena over very similar fences. Once was taken with a phone, cropped and edited to the best of my abilities. The other was taken by a professional. Can you tell the difference? Which pony will you contact me about and which will you scroll by (even knowing they are the same horse)?

No matter how cute and adorable Fluffy is, or how many ribbons Fancy brings home, buyers rely on photos to help them decide whether a horse will work for them. What photos you choose to use to represent your horse can make or break your chances of selling them.

What can you do?

The simplest answer: care! You put your time and energy into producing a well-rounded partner, writing an honest and carefully-worded description, don’t sell yourself short by throwing a couple of sloppy photos on your ad.

The easiest thing to do is hire a professional. There are extremely skilled equestrian photographers hiding in plain view if you just take the time to look! Most of them offer a sales package and will come to you and take all the shots you need in one appointment. The cost varies depending on your location and the photographer, but will be well worth the investment if it means selling your horse quickly!

For the photos themselves, present your horse and yourself in the best possible light. Groom your horse until they shine, pull or braid their mane and throw some hoof polish on their toes. Make sure to use appropriate tack for the advertised discipline and ensure that tack is clean and well-fitted.

And in the interest of not selling yourself short, make sure to wear professional-looking attire. That means clean, neutral colored breeches, a well-fitting shirt that has been tucked in and polished boots. Really want people to take you seriously? Put your hair in a hair net and up in your helmet.

And why?

This may seem like a lot of work for a few quick photos, but first impressions really are everything. These photos are all the buyer sees before making the decision to click on your ad, which could be the difference between the right buyer contacting you or not even knowing you exist.

Exceptional photos not only grab a buyer’s attention but, by showcasing your horse in the best possible light, can increase demand and your horse’s price tag!

Making it to the Makeover: Taking the Scenic Route

Ride number four and first canter! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Ride number four and first canter! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

The ground has thawed, and what little snow the crazy Kentucky weather decided to produce is long gone. Green grass is peeking through, ready to make an appearance. We’re just days away from April, marking three months since Java has come off the track. Here we are 90 days in, and yet, we are still less than 10 rides under saddle.

This time last year I hadn’t even met Rebel yet. I was nervous, and I was worried about our six-month timeline and how we would fare against horses with months more time and training under their belt. So, when I picked up Java in early January, I had a plan. Getting my Makeover horse early this year meant so many things. It meant more time, a better bond, a higher level of training, more show miles before making the short trek to the horse park in October. I knew where I wanted to be and I knew exactly how to get there. My plan was foolproof.

But, in true equine fashion, nothing ever happens as expected. So here I am, nearly three months in with only a handful of rides under saddle. Whatever plan I thought I had in place has long since dissolved. But, surprisingly, I’m content.

Much to my surprise, Java’s lack of training up to this point doesn’t bother me. Unlike last year, I’m not uneasy or concerned about this journey, because now I know that’s exactly what this is — a journey.

It’s not about the destination, or the number on the score sheet hanging in the covered arena. It’s about every day from now until then. It’s about each sunrise we watch from her stall window as I groom, each trail ride, meandering aimlessly as we see new things, build muscle and talk about life. It’s about taking Java’s personality into account and listening to the unspoken ways she tells me what she needs and wants during this journey.

Java is a laid back, slow-paced, mellow girl who is happiest taking it easy. Her calm demeanor tells me exactly how she  wants to approach training. And after four years on the track and nearly 50 races, it’s my job to listen and oblige. She deserves the down time. Even though her muscles are no longer sore, she’s happy and sound, she deserves an easy transition with no real destination just yet.

So, we’ll sit back and watch, cheering on our friends and other competitors as they jump bigger fences, bring home the blues at shows and accomplish feat after amazing feat. We’ll be their biggest fans and talk of the day when we’ll go to shows and join in on the fun — when Java tells me she’s ready.

For now, we’ll trail ride and snuggle, lunge and build muscle, enjoying the views as we take the scenic route. We’ll breathe in the fresh air on the winding back roads of our journey, in no rush to get anywhere but exactly where we are.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Making It to the Makeover: The Battle

Yesterday, I pulled up to the barn and waited for my student like usual. I expected to see her walk in the from the field excited for her first lesson back and ready to jump. Instead, I saw a hanging head, tears in her eyes, her mud-covered horse dragging along at the end of the lead rope and I heard the words that have crossed every rider’s mind a dozen times…

“I’m done. I don’t want to ride. I don’t want a horse anymore.”

My heart sank for her as she fought through tears and tried to explain that horses are a lot of work and it just wasn’t fun anymore. And I knew exactly where she was coming from. How many times have I battled between my passion and the work that has to be put in to pursue that passion?

A lot. The answer is a lot. No one tells you as a little girl how many sleepless nights you’ll have wondering when an abscess will drain, how many tears you’ll cry when your horse doesn’t feel like being caught, and how many times your heart will break when you felt like you gave it your all and it still wasn’t good enough. Or maybe they did tell me, I just wasn’t listening … In any case, it’s scary, it’s hard and it doesn’t get any easier.

Run! She’ll never catch us! Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

Run! She’ll never catch us! Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

What are you doing on the ground? Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

What are you doing on the ground? Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

I felt that same feeling when I opened my email and saw the subject line that read: Your Thoroughbred Makeover Application Has Been Accepted. I was ecstatic, elated, excited (and I’m sure a bunch of other e-words I can’t think of right now) but at the same time, my heart sank. I knew this journey would not be an easy one. It would mean more late nights, tears and anxiety wondering if my training methods would hold up against the time crunch, wondering if I had chosen the right horse, wondering if I would make a fool out of myself when it came to packing up and heading to the Kentucky Horse Park.

But, just like my student promised to give it her best shot and leave the negative thoughts on the ground, I, too, will do the same. And the feeling she felt after nailing her three-stride line on a horse that had just weeks before left her with stitches in her lip, the same feeling I had when she dismounted, hugged her horse and thanked me for the best lesson, that’s the feeling that keeps us all going, that promises things will get better (but only after they get worse) and that convinces us to pursue a crazy dream that we never know if we can accomplish until we get there.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Silencing Doubt

Photo courtesy of Natasia Lind. Photo courtesy of Natasia Lind.

Last Saturday morning, on an unseasonably warm day in February, I hooked up my trailer and tried not to think about what I was doing. I loaded my 17-hand dragon of a Thoroughbred and hauled 10 minutes down the road to a small dressage show at the Kentucky Horse Park. I hadn’t had the courage to show him in over a year. I was nervous, I was scared of him, and I was fully ready to be publicly embarrassed by what I knew would be a sad attempt at dressage.

But, trying to take my mind off the impending train wreck, I made three goals: one easy, one attainable, and one possibly pushing it.

  • Make it to the show and finish our test.
  • Stay soft, supple and thinking the majority of the time.
  • Potentially score higher than one other competitor.

With my three goals in mind, I saddled up my dragon horse and crossed every bone in my body that we’d make it through in one piece.

Much to my surprise, my dragon turned into a puppy from the moment a stepped into the stirrups. Lou carried me through an extremely hectic warm-up without so much as batting an eye. He tested me as we stepped into the covered arena, questioning whether we really had to go dance in the sandbox and not quite believing me when I told him that the letters were not horse-eating monsters. But, with the help of some wonderful friends offering advice and support, we trotted down centerline and, three minutes later, we halted at X still in one piece.

Staying soft and supple, surprisingly. Photo courtesy of Natasia Lind.

I fought back tears as I thanked the judge and choked back a sob when she told me I had a nice horse on my hands. I knew that, I had always known that, but I never thought it would come to fruition. So, as we headed back to the trailer I couldn’t contain my smile that we had actually accomplished something in our partnership. The color of the ribbon, if I even got one, didn’t even cross my mind, because in my heart I knew that we had just passed a huge milestone and no score, comment, ribbon (or lack thereof) could take that away.

So, later, when I headed back into the show office to collect my test, eager to see what the judge had said and to start working harder on any shortcomings they pointed out, I was in awe to see a blue ribbon clipped to a test with my number on it!

Lou wondering what all the fuss is about. Photo courtesy of Brooke Schafer.

That blue ribbon didn’t mean that I was better than the other riders. It didn’t mean my horse was fancier or that we worked harder. It didn’t tell me that we were superior in any way. No, that $3 blue ribbon quietly told me that there was hope. It humbled me as it whispered “I told you so, if you had just listened before.” It reminded me that for so long doubt and uncertainty had ruled me, letting opportunities pass me by that should have been mine for the taking. If I had just had the courage to try.

A year ago, all of the hope that originally filled me when I brought Lou home was gone. After our move to the bluegrass state, he was unmanageable, he was dangerous. With many tears and sleepless nights I had accepted the fact that what I thought was my upper level prospect was only ever going to be a fancy, prancing pasture ornament. When people would ask me about him, my dejected response was always something along the lines of “He’s broken,” “His brain doesn’t work,” or “Who knows what’s going to happen with him.”

I had tried my best to figure him out and my best didn’t seem to be good enough. The horse that once had a bright future had totally dissolved before my eyes. I was ready to give up when, one fateful day, I spent FOUR LONG HOURS (seriously) trying to catch him. Right then and there, I told myself something needed to change. This was not an abused pony that was fearful of people. He had no excuse and neither did I. He had my number and it was all my fault. But I was not going to let what could possibly be the best horse that I’d ever had get away because I had given up. I don’t wear defeat well, so I made a change.

We moved to a new barn, established a routine and I faced my fears. Day in and day out, I watched my horse change. He came out of his shell, he started meeting me at the fence, he started enjoying my company and really trying under saddle. Days, weeks and months went by and progress came slowly at first, and then all at once.

But there was one thing I still wasn’t facing. My fear of taking him off the property, of doing something with him, of actually showing, still ate away at me. What if he reverted back to his old ways? What if I lost my horse again? What if I wasn’t good enough?

Why I decided to enter him, I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t let myself think about it. Why I actually went through with it, I have no clue. But what I do know is walking away with a happy horse and a successful test is slowly sparking a fire within me. A fire to face my fears, to silence the doubt inside me and to relentlessly chase my dreams.

So, here we go. You have no idea what you’ve started, Lou.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

When Good Sellers Go Bad

Hits a little closer to home when you find yourself in this situation (me, circa 2008). Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Hits a little closer to home when you find yourself in this situation (me, circa 2008). Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

We’ve all heard horse sale horror stories. The number of blatant lies being told, the amount of deceit and deception running rampant in the horse industry is appalling. Maybe it happens due to pure neglect, maybe it’s a lack of knowledge or just general apathy. Maybe people get into this profession for all the wrong reasons. We may never know, but the problem lies right before our eyes, and who is responsible for picking up the slack? We all are.

The number of blatant lies being told, the amount of deceit and deception running rampant in the horse industry is appalling. I hear stories about horses that were misrepresented to buyers, people who ended up hurt and horses who stepped onto the wrong trailer because someone decided not to tell the truth. And the fact of the matter is for every lie that’s told, every excuse that’s made, and every attempt to cover up the truth, there’s someone who has to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess. Someone like me.

I got into this profession for the love of a horse. I’m not one looking for a quick profit and it’s not about the money, it’s about the process of taking horses with uncertain futures and giving them the skills necessary to succeed. It’s about the joy that comes with every frustrating, thankless moment of finding them their perfect match or their next step in life. To me, it’s not a game, it’s not about coming out on top, or the pursuit of a dollar.

No. To me, and to every other person out there selling horses, it’s a responsibility.

We are privileged to have these amazing animals come into our lives, to affect us in so many ways. And how do we repay them? It should be with honesty, integrity, and with every effort made to secure them a bright future and a long, happy life. There is no animal in this world that deserves to be misrepresented and no buyer who should be blinded to the truth.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Misrepresenting horses is annoying at best and downright dangerous at the worst. Just yesterday, I was speaking to someone about a horse I have for sale. One I advertised as green but willing, with a solid foundation who would make a wonderful youth horse in the near future. So when the buyer asked me if the horse had a bucking problem, I was as a little taken aback. When he mentioned he can’t handle a horse who puts his head between his knees and acts like a bronco, I was confused.

Did he not read my ad? Did the words “Youth Horse” mean something different to him?

It hurt me knowing that this buyer had to question my word because it meant that, at some point, someone had lied to him. They had put him on a horse who was not a youth horse and had a dangerous habit. When buyers have to question the validity of my statements because somewhere along the road they were lied to, that’s not OK.

Here’s the thing– I understand the frustration. I know what it’s like to have horses that are hard to sell. In fact, I have two standing in my barn right now. Two horses that may live out their days with me because they’re unsellable. They’re tough, mentally and physically, and it’s my responsibility as their current owner, their trainer, and their person to see they never end up in a bad situation. I owe that to these horses. And so does every single other person with a horse they call their own. If you can’t offer a safe place until the right home comes along, if you can’t afford to wait it out and ensure your horse is placed in the right home, then don’t own a horse.

Because every time you resort to lying to make the sale, every time you cover up the truth or misrepresent your horse, someone is hurt. It might not be you and it might not be the person next to you but somewhere down the line there will be pain.

Perhaps it’s physical pain — broken bones on a person who was uninformed about the nasty flipping habit a horse had. Maybe it’s emotional pain — sleepless nights and tears cried over a horse that will never be what the buyer was promised. Financial pain — the money spent on vet bills for an undisclosed injury, or on professional trainers to fix problems no one told them about.

And if this is you, if you’re in the business of selling horses, you owe it to that animal and to every other horse owner out there- to every buyer, seller, trainer, and rider- to tell the truth, to be honest and let buyers make an informed decision about whether that horse is right for them. Anything less than that, even the smallest white lie or tiny misrepresentation, can have huge consequences.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Basics of Baby Jumping

Milo figuring it out over a baby jump. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Milo figuring it out over a baby jump. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Heels down … up in two point … hands pressed into a crest release, knuckles white around the reins. Eyes up … remember to breath … trot, trot, trot … and pop over the fence.

We all remember the first time we ever jumped. The saintly school horse that made us fall in love with the feeling of flying. The over-before-it-started adrenaline rush of the 6″ cross-rail that made us smile bigger than ever and beg our trainer to let us do it again.

There’s an art-like science to teaching the basics of jumping to a new rider. Building their confidence, keeping them excited for the sport, all while training their body and mind a very specific skill set. It’s no different when starting young horses over fences.

It’s getting to the point in Rebel’s training where it’s time to start popping her over small fences, building the foundation and laying the groundwork for an actual future in eventing. Every trainer hopes that first cross-rail will knock their socks off, leaving their jaw on the ground and increase their horse’s price tag tenfold. We all hope for a careful jumper, with a knack for seeing distances when the rider can’t, who is bold but focused, and when asked to jump replies with “How high!?”

But, every horse slated for a jumping career has to start somewhere. With the first pop over a ground pole, the first steer towards a baby jump, with fingers crossed and a silent wish that the horse underneath you happens to put their feet in the correct place and keep their brain in their head.

In my years of training and the dozens of young horses I’ve held on tight and wished for the best with, I’ve compiled my insights in what I like to call “The Basics of Baby Jumping”:

Figuring it out without worrying about a rider. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Figuring it out without worrying about a rider. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

1. Start at the beginning

Like most things in life, we must start at the beginning. And if that’s not vague enough for you, here’s what I mean: Do not flip to the end of the book, do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars.

This is the boring stuff, but it must be done. I’m talking ground work, lunging over poles, lunging over cavalettis, making sure the basics are instilled on the flat and under saddle before you ever even mutter the word “jump.” It’s imperative for the sanity of your horse that they can understand, without a rider on their back, that they can make it safely from one side of an obstacle to another without the world ending.

And in laying the foundation for a solid citizen over fences, you must make sure your horse is able to perform basic movements on the flat. A solid walk, trot and canter, an understanding of steering, stopping, half halts and maybe even some bending and correctly using/balancing their body (if you want to get fancy!) need to be deeply ingrained in your horse’s mind. You need to have control over your horse on the flat before you can even begin to ask for it over fences.

Yes, I know dressage can be boring, but you’ll thank me later.

2. K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple, stupid.

The last thing we want to do is overwhelm and confuse our equine partners as they’re learning a new skill. You may have dreams of galloping down the to the water complex, dropping off the bank and soaring over the skinny brush, but for now let’s stick to single cross-rail fences. No crazy fillers, no weird distractions, just simple, easy, confidence-building fences.

Keep in mind, crossrail fences are the ideal jump for babies as they encourage horses to stay straight and in the center of the fence. Single obstacles are best to start out because the horse only has to focus on one thing at a time. When they’re ready for a line or a course, keep the jumps spread out with a straightforward approach as they have time to focus on their fence, recover and then focus on the their second fence.

3. Stay positive.

Just as all things in life, and especially where horses are involved, things may not go as planned. There will be roadblocks — duck outs, refusals, and weird deer-leap jump attempts. But no matter what your horse throws your way, keep your eyes up, your heels down and your tone positive.

The one thing I can’t stress enough is to keep trying and to keep an encouraging attitude. In order to build a calm and confident jumper, you need to overlook the missteps and the faults. A flat out refusal at a fence may feel frustrating and scary, but by reacting in a negative way, kicking and whipping your mount over the jump, they only learn to be fearful of the fence and not trusting of you as a trainer.

So when mistakes happen and things go awry, adjust, give your horse a pat for the effort and keep trying.

Channeling my inner “listener." Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Channeling my inner “listener.” Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

4. Listen

In learning a new skill, your horse will be looking to you for guidance and support. When they are confused or misunderstand the question, make sure you’re listening to what your horse is actually saying.

A runout doesn’t mean your horse is being “bad,” but rather that they don’t understand and you need more outside leg. A refusal doesn’t mean your horse wants you to jump the fence without them, but that they aren’t deriving confidence from you as their rider and that they aren’t in front of your leg. A rushing horse is probably one that is nervous or scared and just holding their breath and hoping they get to the other side of the fence in one piece.

There are a million ways your horse can tell you what they’re feeling and what they need. Attempts at communication from the flick of an ear to the swish of the tail. When you are able to pick up on these subtle cues and acknowledge them, adjusting your training methods accordingly, your horse will thank you in the form of their best effort.

And at the end of the day, you may not end up with a knock-your-socks-off upper level eventer. But, maybe you will. That first jump, and the dozens after them, will make or break your horse’s confidence, directly affecting their abilities in the future.

So, there you have it. My insights into teaching your green bean how to jump. Oh, an one last thought … keep the wine handy!

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Making It to the Makeover: A Month (of) Down (Time)!

Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

A month has come and gone since Java officially started her life as an OTTB. And in true Thoroughbred Makeover form, it has flown by in the blink of an eye. Thirty-something days together and we have logged two rides under saddle. But that’s OK, because even though we have a timeline and a goal we are working towards eight short months from now, I’m in no rush.

When Java’s trainer pulled her out of her stall at Turfway, she was obviously sore, possibly lame, and had a heart of gold. I had no idea if the slight lameness was purely soreness from her race three days earlier or if there was an underlying problem that would affect her in a second career.

But one thing I did know was that she desperately needed down time. Time to unwind from the stresses of running 43 times in three years, time to let her muscles relax, time to let her brain recharge and time to learn what was expected of her in this new role as sport horse to-be.

Following my gut and my vet’s opinions, I took a chance. I skipped the pre-purchase exam, loaded her up and took her home. Maybe I’m a little risk-averse, maybe I’m slightly crazy (that’s another blog). But no, instead I just believe that the track is not the best place to test for soundness. In my opinion all the poking and prodding, flexions and other various tests are better carried out after muscles have had a chance to heal, any drugs have left their system and their body has had a chance to recharge. So instead, I opted for a post-purchase exam.

The first order of business was transitioning her to a life of turnout. The small herd setting would help her with basic ground manners and show her how to start enjoying her new, relaxed lifestyle. The ample grazing opportunities would help her gut health and give her a much needed reset after the high-energy diet and possible drugs she was exposed to at the track. The room to move would help her sore muscles recoup and heal from the hard training day in and day out. So, with these benefits in mind, she went outside to make some friends.

Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo by Lindsay Gilbert.

And a few weeks later, when I felt like Java was in a better place mentally and physically, I loaded up on muffins and mimosas to calm my nerves and my wonderful vet came to tell me whether Java would ever be an eventer. As luck (and a trained eye) would have it, Java’s x-rays came back clean. Other than some body soreness, Java was perfectly healthy and ready to tackle our new adventure.

So with the all-clear and some muscle relaxants to help her transition easier, Java is officially an eventer-in-training! So far, that training has primarily been ground work as her muscles continue to heal. We are forming a partnership and I’m setting expectations before ever stepping into the stirrups. She’s learning how to use her body differently on the lunge, how to steer and stop while ground driving, and how patience really is a virtue, no matter what her buddies at the track might say.

But all this slow and steady work of seemingly not doing much at all has paid off already. Our first real ride together was cool, calm and collected! Java offered me a nice walk and trot, was steering like a pro and tried her best to offer me brakes when I asked for them.

So, with eight months to go, two rides down, and a happy healthy horse on my hands, we are heading in the right direction!

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Here’s to the Haters

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Hey you, yes you … random stranger that is just a little bit too nosy. And you, close friend who rolls your eyes at my dreams that are maybe slightly too big for your imagination. And you, family member who snarkily suggests I actually use my degree. All of you wonderful, well-meaning individuals who really don’t get it. Today, I salute you.

Here’s to those who don’t understand. To those who ask questions like “why are you wasting your time and money, it’s just a horse” or those who share my passion but not my crazy obsession with taking on difficult horses.

You fuel my fire, you are the reason I do what I do. To you, it’s just a horse. To you, it’s a waste of time. To you, my talents are better utilized elsewhere. But I will prove you wrong.

I may not have the fanciest barn or five-figure warmbloods. The nickers coming from my stalls may not be from graded stakes winners or grand prix jumpers, but they are horses bound for greatness nonetheless. You may not see it, but I do.

You may not be able to see past the outer layer, the hard candy coating, to the soft center inside. You may not want to spend the time and energy figuring out the puzzle, putting it together piece by piece until everything fits seamlessly. Instead of broken pieces scattered on the ground, I can see the end result, the beautiful masterpiece that could be if someone cared enough to try. I revel in the little moments, the daily victories that my horses and I share. I know they are destined for greatness in their own way and it’s my job to get them there.

You see a frightened pony that doesn’t trust anyone’s motives. I see a horse that will one day be a little girl’s best friend. You see a gangly Thoroughbred that doesn’t know where to put his feet. I see an upper-level eventer in the making, destined for eating up a cross-country course like it’s second nature. You see a horse that’s hard to understand, one that no one has bothered to figure out just yet. I see my calling.

We may just be walking our lives away, spending our days hacking and trying to stay calm. We may be working through trust issues instead of working on getting that six stride line just right. But, all these days spent doing what you think is nothing will lead up to something great.

And the tears I shed over the difficult horse, the one who rears instead of walks, who can’t seem to relax, who doesn’t quite get it — those tears will be the same ones I cry when we actually finish a cross country course, and the same happy tears that well in my eyes when those difficult horses go on to make someone else the happiest they’ve ever been. That’s what I do, that’s what I live for.

So, thank you, naysayers. Thank you, disbelievers. Thank you for everyone who questioned me or my horses. This ride’s for you. I appreciate your unwillingness to see what I can do and what my horses can be. Because of you, I tack up every day with a fire in my belly and a determination in my soul. My bank account might be empty, I may not be using my fancy degree, and the fences I jump might be comical in size — but my heart is full. And one day, when we make it, I’ll toast every single person who didn’t believe we could.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Making It to the Makeover: What I Look for in a Prospect

Ripley (Now Bella), a warmblood X TB mare I raised and sold as an eventer. Currently going Training Level. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Ripley (Now Bella), a warmblood X TB mare I raised and sold as an eventer. Currently going Training Level. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

So, you’ve decided to embark upon the process of finding a mount, a competitor, an athlete, a partner.

This part is hard for me. I am the type of person to never turn away a horse. Bad conformation, vices, untouched for years, it didn’t matter. I could see the potential in anything, I could find a career or a future for whatever came my way.

But this time, it’s different. I have to search for a mount with eventing potential and one that I can uncover that potential in a matter of months. So what in the world am I going to look for? Do I want a war horse who has proven themselves on the track time and time again, or do I want a youngster with very few starts who is a clean slate? It’s time for me to sit down and decide what I need and what I want in an RRP prospect.

First, I need to think about the job that I’m asking my new partner to do. My sport of choice this year is eventing, a combination of dressage, stadium jumping and cross country. I need a horse with nice, relaxed gaits for dressage, a careful ability over fences who will leave rails up in stadium and the heart to gallop over any obstacle a cross country course designer will throw our way.

Patriot, a Saddlebred gelding given to me sight unseen, found his calling in dressage! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Patriot, a Saddlebred gelding given to me sight unseen, found his calling in dressage! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

So many Thoroughbreds have excelled in eventing because of their heart and ability to gallop. But there are a few things I look for when selecting a horse for the sport of eventing.

  1. Soundness: The very first thing the horse must be is sound. I cannot, in good conscience, ask a horse to gallop and jump that is not comfortable doing so. So I will look for a horse who jogs freely, that tracks up nicely (meaning the hind feet fall in the hoof print of the front foot) and who has a nice, swinging gait. I will look for a horse with no heat or swelling in the legs or feet and who has few, if any blemishes or “track jewelry” which could inhibit their longevity in a sport that tests a horse to the fullest.
  2. Conformation:
    • I like a horse with good overall proportion meaning the horse is made up of 1/3 shoulder, 1/3 barrel, 1/3 hindquarters.
    • I look for a powerful hind end, and a long, upright shoulder that is tied in above the chest. My ideal horse will have a deep chest that will allow them to gallop for long periods of time and breathe freely as they’re doing so.
    • Lastly, my partner should have straight legs that are well set, meaning the front legs show a straight line from the shoulder, through the knee and ending right at the heel of the hoof, with a nicely angled pastern that is identical to the slope of the hoof, if possible. The front legs carry the majority of the horse’s weight, so they are of utmost importance, but hind legs are also key because they are what propels the horse forward, and for jumping, upward. The hind legs, from behind, should be straight from the buttocks to the hoof, with the hocks and rear hooves equal distance apart. From the side, there should be a straight line from under the buttocks, down the back of the cannon bone to the ground, a few inches behind the heel.
  3. Personality: Most horses can overcome flaws in conformation by sheer heart alone. The horse has to love it’s job and want to work. But I, for one, rarely ride the OTTBs I see before I purchase them. So, it’s hard to determine heart before you get the horse home and start introducing them to their new life. Yet, I do look for a few key things.
  • Kind Eye. In a situation with time constraints, like the RRP, it is imperative that the mount you choose be trainable. I always look for a horse with a kind eye, who shows a sense of understanding and a level of relaxed thinking. These horses are better able to take things in stride without becoming overwhelmed and uneasy.
  • Forward Thinking. For eventing, the horse must possess a sense of forwardness. The last thing I want when galloping cross country is to be exerting all my energy just trying to get the horse to GO! Additionally, a more forward-thinking horse is more likely to take me to the fence and help me out of a bad situation rather than refusing a fence because the bravery and forward momentum was lacking.
  • Relaxed. Having touched on relaxed thinking when talking about a kind eye, there is also the element of a relaxed body. I like a horse who does not generally carry tension in its muscles. Muscle tension can be a sign of anxiety or nervousness which can then manifest itself in “explosive behavior” such as rearing, bucking, taking off and other scary tactics.

There are several other factors to consider when purchasing a prospect, but I won’t bore you with every single detail. As I comb through the hundreds, if not thousands, of OTTB sale ads I come across on a daily basis, these general principles will guide my way and, hopefully, land me an eventing machine!

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Following the Money

Danger starting to understand self-carriage. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Danger starting to understand self-carriage. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

As a small-scale eventing trainer, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of a dollar. There’s good money in finding a diamond in the rough, polishing that horse until it shines and then finding the horse a spectacular person who will enjoy the fruits of your labor. But it seems this idea has attracted many riders looking to make a quick buck.

The issue is this: Those trainers are less focused on correctly polishing their diamond, or truly training their project horse, and more focused on a quick flip and a fast profit. The result is underdeveloped, overfaced horses without a correct foundation of training.

Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge on the part of trainers. Maybe it’s today’s society, with everyone expecting instant gratification. Maybe it’s buyers’ unrealistic expectations. It seems everyone wants a younger horse, jumping higher fences, with a lengthier show record … all on a smaller budget. But these things take time. And, in the horse world, as in every other industry, time is money.

Whatever it is, it’s causing a problem. And that problem is moral hazard. (Bear with me as I indulge my inner business student.)

Moral hazard occurs when one person takes risks because another person is going to incur the costs associated with those risks. This is happening in masses in the horse industry. Trainers take on a young prospect with the intention of selling it. Knowing the extra profit they can enjoy if the horse is going at higher levels, the trainer pushes their project too fast too soon. They skip important, but maybe somewhat boring, steps in training and jump right into the fun stuff. They jump higher fences, force “head carriage” and ask more technical questions of horses that just aren’t ready.

Milo figuring it out over a baby jump. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Milo figuring it out over a baby jump. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

And why? Because once the horse is sold, it’s the buyer who has to deal with all the shortcomings in training. The buyer will pay for a broken down horse because it wasn’t correctly developed both physically and mentally.  These trainers are taking unnecessary risks with their horses because they won’t have to pay the price later on down the road.

It’s really tough to sit by and watch it happen. I cringe when I see trainers making decisions knowing their motive lies somewhere other than the horse itself. But for every trainer taking shortcuts and ignoring the best interest of the horse, I know there are several trainers taking their time, listening when the horse says they’re ready for the next step and actually developing quality horses without overfacing them.

I hope that I am one of those trainers. I may be the turtle in this race, dragging along at a pace others find comical, while the hare zooms by trying to get to the finish line. Little does the hare know, there is no finish line and no one’s keeping score. I won’t judge my training by the number in my bank account, but rather by the health and happiness of my horses. And although it may be hard to make a living with these moral shenanigans, I know that following the money very rarely pays off for the horses in the end.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Making It to the Makeover: What’s in an OTTB’s Name?

Sudden Danger proving she’d rather lope around a hunter ring than gallop over a cross country course. (She’s a great sport, though!) Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Sudden Danger proving she’d rather lope around a hunter ring than gallop over a cross country course. (She’s a great sport, though!) Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

What’s in a name? No, I’m not here to quote Shakespeare, but rather to ponder the equally age-old question of equine pedigrees and if they really matter.

For years, I went on my merry way, paying no attention to the lineage of the horses I was riding. Someone offered me a ride, I graciously agreed and focused on the horse I was given, not the ghosts of horses past that all came together at a certain time and place in order to make the perfect beast.

But as I grow older (and hopefully, wiser), my goal is to bring up the best equine athletes that I can. It used to be that the horses I adopted, bought or were given told me exactly what they wanted to do in life. I felt my job was to uncover, layer by layer, where their true talent and potential lay and then steer them in that direction, eventually finding them a home that would allow them to succeed in their chosen sport.

That was fun while it lasted, but now it’s clear that, while it’s made me a better and more well-rounded rider, it has done nothing to further my competitive career. There’s an eventer inside me just dying to be let out to gallop on a cross country course, but unless I start choosing horses that show talent in eventing it’s just not going to happen.

So, in order to buckle down and get serious about the sport that I’ve chosen, I think it’s time to take a closer look at pedigrees. In Thoroughbred racing, there is a lot of importance placed on the horse’s lineage, and horses are bred with an expectation of success based on their ancestors’ past performances.

Sometimes this pans out and sometimes it doesn’t; but it makes a lot of sense to me why they would care so much about names on a piece of paper. Why would you breed two horses that never won a race in their lives, never showed much talent for galloping, and would rather sunbathe in their pasture than break from the starting gate, with an expectation what their offspring would be the best racehorse you’ve ever seen? Most sane people probably wouldn’t make that assumption. And in an industry based on beating the odds, there needs to be something to back up your crazy assumption.

When taking a horse off the track in order to retrain it for a specific discipline, such as what is asked of trainers in the Thoroughbred Makeover, it’s also a game making educated guesses in an attempt to beat the odds. (This isn’t to say that quality training isn’t important because, after all, that’s what we are all here to do. This is solely speaking to the assumptions made when choosing a horse.)

Yes, it’s important to examine the horse’s conformation, to watch the way the horse moves and to try to understand its personality, but in order to give yourself and your horse the best odds of being competitive in a specific sport, why not go further and try to understand the horse’s lineage while you’re at it?

The pedigree of my current OTTB eventer, Search The Lou. Screenshot via Equiline.com.

The pedigree of my current OTTB eventer, Search The Lou. Screenshot via Equiline.com.

For example, since my goal is to compete in the eventing portion of the Makeover, I want to find a horse whose pedigree is riddled with successful distance horses. I’m looking for a horse that will be eager to gallop miles around a cross country course instead of sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs and calling it quits.

I’ll also be looking for horses known to produce athletic offspring that hold up and don’t break down very easily, as eventing is physically and mentally demanding sport. And, just for fun, I’ll be doing my research on what the siblings of whatever horse I choose are doing, if they’re successful racehorses, if they’re living out their days broken down in a field, or if maybe, just maybe, they have shown an aptitude for eventing.

But for now, I’ll research my little heart out and hope that my educated guesses pan out.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

The Struggle Between Comfort and Growth

A tired baby pony and a happy Lindsay. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. A tired baby pony and a happy Lindsay. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

My heart pounded as I looked at the entry form I had just submitted. My voice caught in my throat as I wondered aloud about the decision I had just made. There’s no way this could go well. Could I scratch right now?

You may be wondering what big show I was attending, what huge move-up I was making. I’ll let you in on a little secret … the answer is none. My slight panic attack, my stress and nerves were all centered around a Starter Level combined test.

That’s right, Intro Test C and a 2′ jump course. Let the ridicule commence. But here’s a confession for you — it’s been a long time since I’ve shown at all, let alone above crossrails. And I was terrified. Ten years ago I thought nothing of cantering down to a 3’6″ combination, and I laughed it off when my trainer kept inching the last fence up until it reached 4′. I was a different rider then — dare I say a normal rider? But she is no longer.

You see, soon after that it became apparent that I had a knack for starting young horses, for schooling greenies, for working with the worst of the worst. Some combination of patience, stubbornness and just plain insanity. Whatever concoction was necessary to get on anything and everything, I had it. I guess I still do.

Ripley (now Bella) being backed for the first time! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Ripley (now Bella) being backed for the first time! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

So, my focus had shifted. The big airy oxer I was comfortable tackling slowly morphed into backing a 3 year old for the first time. I no longer focused on nailing the extended trot in a First Level test or galloping an intimidating cross country course. Instead, I focused on instilling the basics, teaching babies how to steer, how to stop, how to function with an extra 100 lbs on their back. Getting from one side of a ground pole to their other, sailing over a tiny crossrail — that was cause for celebration. And when they got to that point, when my projects were comfortable and had good, foundational training, they moved on. Other people showed them, other people enjoyed them, but never me.

Day in and day out, month after month, year after year, as I watched my babies grow and develop, little did I know that I was changing too. I always felt like I was still the rider I used to be — I was still brave, I was still bold. I could still put the fences up and make things happen if I wanted to. But there I was, shaking in my tall boots just at the thought of showing anything above crossrails. Who the hell was this girl? Didn’t she know who I used to be, what I used to do?!

That’s the thing about getting comfortable. You don’t realize it’s happening until you’re given an other option, until you’re faced with growth. And growth is an intimidating monster. It keeps you up at night and makes you question everything. It sits on one shoulder, urging you to take the risk to step outside your comfort zone. Meanwhile, comfort sits on the other shoulder, reminding you how nice that zone is — it’s warm, it’s easy, it has cookies!

NOT a crossrail! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

NOT a crossrail! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

It’s a constant struggle between comfort and growth. One that never ends because the second you choose growth, comfort creeps in to take over again. And there you stay, blissfully clueless until you find yourself ready to throw up over the smallest step in a different direction.

But growth will always be the right answer — take it from me. Rebel and I went to that show, we cantered in our dressage test, we jumped verticals and oxers, we didn’t die. I might have cried walking out of the arena, but those happy tears came with conquering something I hadn’t done in over 10 years. They came with the conscious decision to try something new, to grow as a rider. So, I may have walked away with a ribbon that wasn’t blue, but in my mind, we won.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover: Meet Hot Java

About this time last year, I was standing in a stall, pitchfork in hand, pulling my gloves off my frozen hand to check my phone that was buzzing in my pocket. Ignoring the bitter cold, I opened my email and scrolled through the unread messages and there it was — my acceptance email from the Retired Racehorse Project! I had entered on a whim, hoping to be able to participate but not actually knowing if it was in the cards for me.

The next 10 months were a whirlwind.From purchasing Rebel Annie sight unseen in April, to spending six months getting to know each other, learning and growing together. And finally, actually making it to the Makeover!

Throughout the process, Rebel earned a permanent place in my heart. Not only did she take me through the Field Hunter division at the makeover, a discipline I knew nothing about and had no experience in, but she also changed my life in a million other ways (cue the eye-rolling from my husband!) She taught me how to have fun, how to let my guard down, how to really love my job again. Rebel reminded me why I fell in love with horses in the first place.

Rebel at the track. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Rebel at the track. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Applying for the 2017 Makeover meant a million things. It meant the opportunity to learn and grow as a trainer and rider, to make dozens of new friends and to be changed by yet another amazing OTTB. But, it also meant saying goodbye to Rebel. It meant sleepless nights and lots of tears wondering whether I was making the right decision and hoping for the perfect person to come along who would let my little red-headed mare work her magic on them the way she worked her magic on me.

Racehorse turned field hunter! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Racehorse turned field hunter! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

And just as I was questioning letting Rebel go, trying to convince myself that four horses could be a possibility or, just maybe, that the Makeover didn’t need to happen this year, that perfect person I had been wishing would come along strolled right into our lives. She fell in love with Rebel’s laid back personality, her never-ending pony kisses and constant searching your pockets for treats. So, off she went to her forever home, leaving me a bumbling mess in Kentucky.

But thank goodness for good friends who support your unhealthy horse habit, because just days earlier I was encouraged to take a chance on a lovely mare and brought her home from Turfway Park as my 2017 makeover hopeful.

Hot Java is a 2011 16.2 hand mare by Heatseeker and out of an AP Indy granddaughter. She was nearing war-horse standards with 43 starts under her belt when her trainer decided it was time for her to move on from racing.

With only two wins to her name, both at route distances, and pretty incredible conformation, we decided she might like a career in eventing. I decided to overlook some minor ankle rounding and slight soreness at the trot as she just raced days earlier and some wear and tear can be expected with such a high number of starts.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

For now, Java is learning to love her new life as a sport-horse-to-be! She is getting some much deserved downtime after four long years on the track. Java is learning how to be a horse, which means figuring out what turnout is, eating a totally different diet, and learning that ground manners and personal space are real things!

I like to use my OTTBs down time to work on our relationship and start some really important foundational training that is easy to overlook. So far, Java has totally impressed me with her willing attitude and generally laid back personality! From lunging to ground driving, learning the word “whoa” to leading with just a rope around her neck, Java gives it her all!

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

The next few weeks will consist of more down time, ground work, light riding and a post-purchase exam from the vet before we jump into under saddle training. Stay tuned as we work towards the 2017 Makeover!

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!