Journey to the Thoroughbred Makeover, Part 10: Looking Back

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hartford. Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hartford.

Kaitlin Hartford, a 16-year-old eventer from Callahan, Florida, is blogging about her journey to competing in this year’s Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover  with her OTTB Family Foundation, better known as Sven. 

My journey to the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover has been much like building a string of pearls. A pearl can’t exist without discomfort and irritation.

My journey began in November of last year when I acquired three OTTBS. Gaston and I were not a fit, Sven was a sale horse, and Evie was drop-dead gorgeous! She was definitely my dream horse. In a short time, she went from head straight up in the air to showing upper-level potential and I knew she was going to be an amazing eventer.

Unfortunately, God had another plan. On Jan. 29 everything changed. We had to rush Evie to the UF vet school. Later that night I lost her to the most horrible colic I had ever seen. My heart was broken. I refused to ride or even touch Sven. I didn’t think I was going to compete in the Makeover, let alone fall in love again.

Sven (JC Family Foundation) has been life changing for me. He has taught me about the ups and the downs of working with a green horse. From the get-go, he would attempt anything we asked of him. Ditches? No problem! Banks? No problem! Water? You get the idea.

Until … enter … “The Pink Sparkly Hearts.” We found the first thing he was scared of. It ended in a cracked jaw. Mine of course — don’t worry, he was fine! Sven decided to tell me “Ladies first!” as I went through the jump and he didn’t. Our confidence was a bit shaken as we headed to our second show together. We had no reason to worry as we took both champion and reserve at The Run for the Ribbons Thoroughbred show, a show series in Ocala designed for OTTBs.

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hartford.

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Hartford.

Other horses, sports, school, and family have made it difficult to take field trips. Other than one intense weekend with my trainer, Hilda Donahue, there never seems to be enough time to take a two-hour trip to school cross country. Therefore, we haven’t yet gotten to where I pictured we would be at this point. There have definitely been discomforts, numerous falls, sore body parts, and popped air vests as the green horse learns the ropes of one of the toughest sports in the equestrian world.

In learning how to train him, I have had to learn his strengths and weaknesses, as well as my own. I have learned how important it is to ride each horse as an individual, not just how I ride one horse because all horses require a different ride.

In preparing for the Makeover, I have learned the horse choose what they love, not you. Your plans will change. If you truly love your horse, you listen to them about what they like and dislike. I have fallen in love with this horse and what the Makeover means because it shows I can be a “nobody” and still change a horse’s life. The Makeover has shown me what I want to do and what I am called for. I’m only 16, but when I grow up I will work with and train different OTTBs through the various levels of eventing.

At birth, my grandmother started a pearl necklace for me. Each year she adds new pearls. Those pearls symbolize what I’ve accomplished and have been through each year. As an adult, I will have a gorgeous string of pearls to remind me of my life’s journey. The pearl necklace Sven and I are creating doesn’t end with me at the Makeover, but rather will continue on throughout life.