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Lindsey Burns

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Lindsey’s Road to the Makeover: Taking It Slow

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next nine months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Today, Lindsey Burns introduces us to Makeover prospect Here’s the Thing. Read Lindsey’s previous submissions here

Watching horses race is exciting. The thundering hooves, the cheering crowd, the beating hearts. It’s even more exciting when a horse from your own stable is running. You’ve spent months training them, grooming them, going over them with a fine tooth comb, finally you enter them in the race you hope fits them best.

Rainbows on the racetrack are also exciting. Photo by Lindsey Burns.

Here’s the Thing is a gorgeous bay filly that we bought at Santa Anita. She had run twice and shown much promise. When she arrived we were impressed with her calm brain in the barn and on the track. Our trusted gallop guy told us she seemed pretty uneducated on the track. He worked with her, getting her more comfortable near the inside rail, switching leads more consistently (this should happen four times with each lap around the track), and making sure she also stayed patient taking the time to stand her quietly before and after galloping, watching the other horses go by. She increased her muscle tone, finally leaning more into the bit wanting to go faster.

When it was time to “work” (a timed trip around the track of varying lengths getting up to racing speeds) she was unimpressive. She was always the slowest of the day. We checked her breathing by scoping her, we tried different riders, different tack. There was no change, she was always the slowest. Our vet could find nothing wrong with her and neither could my race trainer husband who can spot lameness sooner than anyone else I know. With nothing else to try we decided to try racing her — maybe she was just too calm in the morning. She had those two races on her record that seemed promising, maybe she only liked going fast with the roar of the crowd giving her wings.

Actually most of our racehorses would stand like this. Photo by Lindsey Burns.

Horse racing is not exciting when your horse trots over the finish line. My only thought was, ‘Wow, she looks like a fancy hunter prospect.’ I’m not kidding. Here’s the Thing was so uninterested in racing that she pulled herself up and trotted down the lane and across the finish line. I’ve never seen a more confused jockey, especially not one with over 4,000 wins under his belt. She was totally sound and just didn’t want to run. Even the track vet that watches the horses warm up for the race (scratching any that appear unsound) and come back after the race (putting any horse that looks unsound on the ‘vet’s list,’ that they have to earn the right to be removed from) was confused, he could see nothing wrong with her. We went back to the barn and had our vet go over her one more time. I’m not sure if ‘lazy’ can be a diagnosis, but that was hers.

Looking pretty fancy in western tack the day after her race. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Burns.

We decided that there was no reason to try again, so she came home to start getting retrained for a new career. I was blow away by how green she was. I’ve ridden a pile of horses straight off the track and generally you can walk, trot and even canter on the first ride — 20-meter circles don’t generally prove too difficult. She was the exception. We could pick up the trot on a straight line, as soon as I would try to turn she would break to the walk or even just stop. I’ll admit, at first I was extremely frustrated. I talked with our gallop rider, and he looked at me saying, “I told you she didn’t know anything!” Well, I didn’t think he’d been so serious, my bad. Hats off to him for making her look so easy, I honestly don’t know how he even got her to canter, let alone gallop.

I reset my expectations and we did work on the ground in the rope halter, I even rode her bareback with the halter. I treated her like she’d never been ridden and we relearned skills such as steering and moving off my leg.

We are still struggling to move forward and have connection to the bit at the same time, but patience is key. She has so much going for her: looks, calmness, good feet, soundness, and a cute face … now to just figure out what motivates her. She loves food, so I guess I can relate to her on that level. I’ve already taught some lessons on her and given pony rides with her, that is a total win for a baby ex-racehorse.

Riding the green horse struggle bus and still smiling, because we found a few canter strides! Photo by Marcie Dales.

She is bound to be amazing at something — it is my job to find out what. We will be going to her first show soon, I’ll be surprised if she gets excited. I always say that you should never stop learning and that you should put the horse first, well she is definitely going to help me reinforce both those things in myself. Training her will add more tools to my skill set and there is always room to add to the patience reserves. We’re making progress, one slow meandering walk step at a time.

‘Listen to Your Horse’: Meet 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Trainer Lindsey Burns

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

Here’s the Thing, my 2019 Makeover hopeful, and I posing in our first photo together at the track.

First I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Lindsey and I live in the never never land of horses. 

I’ve had the urge to ride since before I could walk, screaming when the cowboys, on the Texas panhandle ranch I was introduced to life at, would ride by without lifting me into the saddle. Fast forward 10 years and the model horses, horse books, horse pictures, and pretending my bicycle was a horse just weren’t cutting it.

Thankfully when I told my mom I wanted to learn to ride she had the foresight to make me clean paddocks first, saying if I couldn’t handle all aspects of life with horses I didn’t get to ride them. So I cleaned pens, treated wounds, fixed fence, cared for orphaned wildlife, and started riding endurance. About a year later we moved, I was given my first copy of a well-known equestrian magazine, and eventing entered my consciousness.

I started riding at the barn that would become my second family, started jumping and never looked back. I was there everyday, working to pay for lessons and my pony’s board. I rode every horse I could and eventually made a name for myself for getting on just about anything. I finished high school at 16 and soon headed east for a seven-month stint as a working student with prominent eventers.

Shortly after returning home to Idaho I made my first trip to the backside of a racetrack and purchased my first OTTB. He was totally nutty, but I knew I could aim him over literally anything and we would make it to the other side. He started what is now a 13-year love affair with Thoroughbreds. Soon I was working at the local tack and feed store and galloping at the track.

Getting race horses fit in early spring at Les Bois Park in Idaho.

I also thought I should get a college degree so that I could pay for horses, thinking medical school would be the best option. I did complete a Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a human emphasis, but it was never my passion. I finally gave in and committed to horses full-time. In between all those adventures I competed through Preliminary, married a racehorse trainer, coached Pony Club, and sat on the board for the Idaho Dressage and Eventing Association.

More recently I started spending my winters in Arizona and summers in Georgia. I’ve been expanding my OTTB sales business (Double Shot Horses) and this will be my third year competing at the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. I first competed there in 2016 — I had planned on eventing, but in classic horse fashion my mount decided he was a bit immature for jumping. Instead, we competed in dressage and freestyle. 

My 2016 Makeover entry, Slide Away, getting love after our final salute in the dressage ring.

While nerves got the best of both of us at the actual Makeover, the journey to get there was such an opportunity for growth. I learned about the importance of being your horse’s voice and advocate even when when riding with a famous clinician. I learned to rope in my jump tack. I made new friends and I tackled cross continent travel with horses. That journey to the Makeover truly helped reignite my passion with horses and trying to understand them beyond just riding perfect 20-meter circles in the show ring.

In 2017 I didn’t compete at the Makeover, but I went to cheer on my friend who was riding one of my first official Double Shot sales horses. While sitting on the grass Saturday evening, eating our bbq dinner after the finale, we got to talking about bucket list items and what our ideal lives looked like. I could honestly answer that I was already living my ideal life. There is something about the Makeover journey that really gets you living in the here and now.

Then 2018 came. I was happy, but I was also thinking that eventing was a highlight of the past. A slew of questionable horses and several heartbreaks that horses seem to specialize in had pushed me to think that maybe dressage would be enough. That maybe I’d already felt my final exhilarating head rush that comes as you cross between those final red and white flags and I hadn’t even known.

Enter Shefightslikeagirl. The little 14.3-hand mare that brought me grinning from ear to ear back into the start box and through those finish flags. Suddenly I was dreaming of eventing again. She seemed to create her own fan club everywhere we went. Instead of embracing those “character building experiences” that we call less than stellar shows, I was instead able to set my sights on clear jump rounds and improved scores and even blue ribbons. What was supposed to be a sales horse has instead become a long term member of the family.

Shefightslikeagirl and I galloping across the Kentucky Horse Park like a dream come true.

Almost every photo of my trip to the 2018 Makeover is filled with a smile. Icing on the cake was seeing the smiling faces of riders on five different Double Shot sales horses.

Now we are in 2019 and I think I may be addicted to the growth and journey that happen with Makeover participation. I have a beautiful bay filly that was a resounding failure in our race barn, and she is already showing potential to be a resounding success in the show world. She’s pretty, combined with a great brain and a name that makes people laugh — seems like a winning combo to me. Here’s the Thing, barn name “Hope.” I’d love to event her, but we will see what she excels at as the year progresses. If there is anything this journey has taught me it’s to listen to your horse.

A face anyone could fall in love with.