Makeover Moments with Flashback Justice: Day 1 and I’m Already Crying

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Jumper Nation editor Meagan DeLisle reports with her project Flashback Justice. 

After what seemed like a never-ending six hours on the road, Flashback Justice and I made it to the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park late Tuesday evening. For the most part, the barn aisles were desolate with just a few stragglers here and there unloading the last bits of their tack and hay. Flash traveled quite nicely and was eager to settle into his new abode. Thanks to the help of my friend (and Horse Nation editor) Kristen, we unpacked in record time. I took a few brief moments to soak up the quiet atmosphere before making my way out for the night. With around 5oo horses projected to compete this week, I knew that the quiet moments would probably be few and far between from this point on.

Wednesday was our first official day at the KHP. I arrived bright and early for my favorite part of horse ownership, barn chores. Flash was happy to see me (or happy to see that I was bringing him breakfast… ehh, either way I will take it) and happily munched on his morning hay while I picked his stall. Slowly but surely, trucks and trailers began to fill the barn aisles and the environment transformed to that of a busy horse show.

Kristen was set up to volunteer for the majority of the day, so I opted to go on a mid-morning trail ride and check out our surroundings. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of Flash as we embarked on our big adventure. All around us the commotion was growing. The arenas were full of schooling horses, tractors and golf carts were whizzing by, but Flash plodded along on the buckle more interested in trying to grab a snack here and there than the world around us.

We made our way to the covered arena where a handful of horses were acclimating to the show ring and I decided to have a light flatwork session and assess Flash’s mental state. Normally he is very chill and I often forget that he is a green five-year-old who has only been off the track for a year, but every now and then he humbles me. Today was not one of those days, however. After we flatted on the buckle in a nice frame walk, trot and canter, I decided not to get too greedy and to just allow him to relax and enjoy a quiet ride for the remainder of the morning.

So around the park we went. We went everywhere without a care in the world. We ventured down horse paths, we plodded down roads, we even made our way up to the legendary Rolex arena, all on a loose rein. As we hacked alongside the cross country course on our way back to the barn, I felt tears spring into my eyes.

Entering the Rolex arena. Photo by Meagan DeLisle.

Just a year ago, this horse was tripping over crossrails and pulling back when tied. I was combatting some confidence issues myself at the time and never imagined that a year from that point I would be enjoying a leisurely ride on my OTTB without having to worry about what he might do next. All of those emotions paired with the beauty of the horse park definitely got me in my feels.

The day drifted on at a peaceful pace. While everyone around me seemed to be rushing to cram as much schooling in as possible, I was enjoying hanging out by Flash’s stall and knocking some work out. All day long beautiful horses passed by me, horses that in no way looked like they have only been off the track just a short year. I give mad props to all of my fellow competitors. I have yet to see a horse who looks under-conditioned at this year’s Makeover.

A fellow writer from our Eventing Nation side of the family, Kate Samuels, is also here competing this week so Kristen and I made plans to meet up later in the afternoon for a trail ride. As all of us work remotely this is the first time, to our knowledge, that a representative from all three branches of the Nation Media family has been at the same event together. I quickly coined our group as the “United Nations,” (my best wordsmithing to date). We had a blast hacking all around the property with one another, laughing and joking about our horses and the many adventures we have gotten ourselves into.

The United Nations! Photo by Eileen Cody.

After tending to Flash for the night, I rolled out of the horse park and made my way a Waffle House for a late night smorgasbord of breakfast food. As I sat in the back of the restaurant in a booth all by myself with a warm cup of coffee, I was able to decompress from the day while reflecting on our first day at the KHP.

Today was pretty much perfect. I met new friends, reconnected with old friends, had two great rides and enjoyed a day full of ponies. Who knows what else this week has in store, but one thing is for sure. I am so proud of my little horse. The ribbons don’t matter, just the fact that he has come so far and brought me so much happiness is all I need.

Go Jumping.

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