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.