With The Makeover in the rear view mirror, we have all had a couple of weeks to reflect on what was one of the most unique and spectacular weeks of equestrian sport we have ever been a part of. All four of our horses exceeded our expectations in their respective performances, especially the phenomenal Robbie Jones, who made the finale in the 2020 Eventing division, finishing an impressive third overall.
Aside from the actual competition component, I think that the real takeaway for most of us was the camaraderie of it all; participating in something that was bigger than ourselves, cheering on our teammates and friends, and watching hundreds of lovely Thoroughbreds from around the country perform in ten different disciplines, demonstrating their versatility, athleticism and heart. Most of all, The Makeover enabled us to help promote and celebrate this breed that we all love so much, on a National stage. We are all so grateful for the opportunity, and hope to return again next year!
Thank you to Eventing Nation for giving us the opportunity to blog about our journey to the Makeover over the past two years. It has been quite the ride!
Wow, what a week. I can’t believe it’s over after two full years of preparation. Let’s rewind for a sec — for those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning, you might remember that, for me, it all started with my 2020 mount, Sevennotrump (“Tricks”). Tricks unfortunately did not get to participate in The Makeover, due to its postponement to 2021, and my decision to sell him. He is now successfully charging around Training level Eventing with his new owner and a new name- “Card Shark”. (It suits him perfectly!)
After selling Tricks, I decided to find a new mount for the 2021 Mega Makeover, and in late December of 2020 quickly fell in love with the beautiful, sensitive filly Wicked Soprano (“Raven”). We then spent ten months together attempting to work through issues such as: major trailering woes, injuries, foot/shoeing problems, and anxious behavior that comes with the territory of choosing such a hot, spicy type. (What can I say, I have a type!?)
With horses, there are no guarantees, and the fact that we actually made it to Kentucky for The Makeover felt like a huge milestone. Raven passed her arrival exam (phew!), after which I deposited her in her stall so that I could start unpacking and getting settled. That is about the time that s**t hit the fan.
Almost immediately, Raven had a claustrophobia attack and began panicking in the stall. I still have no idea why. Yes, she has lived outside 24/7 for the past 6 weeks or so at my farm, but she lived in a stall before that, and has been stabled at multiple venues this season without incident, including the Carolina Horse Park, Loch Moy and the Virginia Horse Center. Nevertheless, Raven simply lost her mind in that stall. She was running back and forth, rearing straight up, scrambling, dumping her water buckets, and raking her face against the bars of the stall. Every time I would remove her from the stall to hand walk, she would breathe a huge sigh of relief and walk around the Horse Park quiet as can be. But every time I would try to put her back in the stall, she would, without fail, regress to her panicked, psychotic state of mind. I feared she was going to seriously hurt herself.
As luck would have it, it was at that inopportune time that CANTER PA appeared at our stabling block to interview us, since 3 of 4 Dappir Ridge horses had been obtained via CANTER. If you go on the CANTER PA Facebook page, you will see video footage of that interview, wherein Robbie Jones and Shake and Spin both appear cool and composed as cucumbers, as do their respective trainers, Kelly and Kiki. Then, you will see the pretty black mare acting like a crazed, neurotic freak, and her very worried, stressed out trainer (me!) gushing about how much I love mares. That pretty much sums up how day one went for us!
After about 24 hours of this behavior, it seemed as though I had two options: sedate Raven, and thus forfeit the competition before it even began, or try to find her alternate living arrangements for the week. I opted for the latter. I called around, and was able to secure a local farm/layover facility that had a paddock for Raven to live in. So little princess Raven got to spend the week 10 minutes down the road in her own private paddock.
The only catch of that arrangement was that it logistically prevented me from being able to school Raven in any of the competition arenas prior to showing. The ring familiarization in the Rolex Stadium, where we would be performing our dressage test, was something that I had especially wanted to do, because there is so much atmosphere in there, but alas- Raven missed out on that. I would just have to go in there cold turkey.
To my surprise, on competition day, Raven trotted down that centerline in the Rolex Stadium without batting an eyelash, and laid down her most relaxed, consistent test to date. I was so proud of my little Sting Ray. Dressage was followed by the stadium portion of the Eventing discipline, which Raven attacked confidently and with style. Last up was cross-country. Raven put in a clear round, and even received a score of a 9.5 for her gallop at the end! That gallop was the highlight of my week; it felt so uphill and effortless, like we were flying. Raven’s performance in the enormous 2021 Eventing division earned her a top 20 placing overall. I couldn’t have been more proud.
On Thursday, we competed in our secondary discipline- Showjumping. For the showjumping, we first had to complete a flatwork pattern, which incorporated lengthening and collecting in the canter, a change of lead, a halt and a rein-back. Raven executed this obediently. Next, we proceeded to the gridwork portion of the test, in which we had to trot two different grids. Trotting poles/grids was something that Raven had been struggling with leading up to the competition; she is much more confident jumping out of the canter. She obediently executed the grids, but they were a little more tense than I would have liked.
Immediately following the gridwork was the coursework portion, in which we had to execute two rounds over full courses of jumps, the second being the “jump-off”. Raven zipped around those courses like her spicy, agile self, offering perfectly clean flying changes and showing off her careful manner over fences. While we didn’t make the finale in either discipline, I am so smitten with my mare’s performance in both. I was, and still am, honored and proud to be her person, neuroses and all!
The cherry on top was finding out that Raven won reserve champion overall for the CANTER USA award at the Makeover, which is awarded to the top placing horse obtained via CANTER.
We got to stay until the bitter end to cheer on our Dappir Ridge comrade, Kelly, with her unicorn, Robbie Jones! Watching the finale, which showcased the top 5 horses in all 10 disciplines, was an incredible experience. It was truly a world class competition, complete with a live video broadcast and commentators, as well as an amazing trade fair. The finale was affirmation of what I already knew; that Thoroughbreds can do anything. They have the versatility and the heart to excel in literally any discipline.
Currently, Raven is grazing happily in my field, her shoes pulled for a much-deserved winter vacation. Come Spring, she will continue her education in the sport of Eventing as a big, bad, 5 year old! I will continue to be an OTTB advocate for as long as I live, and will cherish the memories of my first Thoroughbred Makeover forever. It was an honor to represent Team Dappir Ridge at such a special event. The teamwork and camraderie that went into preparing for this was hands-down what I enjoyed the most. Will there be a “next time”? HELL YES!
Dr. Kelly Giunta, VMD
The Thoroughbred Makeover was a fun and well organized horse show with a wonderful group of people who love Thoroughbreds. Everyone was smiling and having a great time from the moment we got there. Justine and Sue from CANTER PA stopped by to visit with us and gave us some great CANTER swag. Robbie even got his own custom horse shoe ornament with his name on it from the wonderful folks at CANTER.
We arrived on Monday afternoon and our first task was to check in and have an arrival veterinary exam performed to make sure the horses were healthy and in good body condition. Then, on Tuesday, we did some schooling in the hunter ring and the dressage ring in the Rolex arena. Robbie loves the Kentucky Horse Park and was on his best behavior all week.
On Wednesday, we showed in all three phases of Eventing. Robbie came out with his tail over his back and prancing that morning, which made everyone a little nervous, but as soon as we got to the warm up ring, Robbie was all business. We received scores of 72% in dressage, 69% in showjumping despite one unlucky rail and 97% on cross-country. This landed us in 5th place in eventing, so we made it into the finale! (Only the top 5 in each discipline advance to the finale).
On Thursday, we showed in the Show Hunter division, receiving competitive scores despite a few rider errors. Robbie was given 9s and 10s on his manners by both judges in both over fences rounds and the under saddle class, despite having a loose horse gallop by the ring. We ended up tied for 5th place in the hunters, and ultimately finished 6th overall.
On Friday, we had to jog for the finale, and by the performance given by Robbie, you may have thought we were at horse inspection for a 5* event. After the jogs, our group managed to sneak over to Keeneland for the day to watch some horses race.
For the finale on Saturday, Robbie and I were the very first ride of the day! The footing was deep and the arena was scary, but Robbie gave his best performance, scoring a 76% which landed us in 3rd place and top Amateur for the 2020 Eventing Division. I couldn’t be more proud of my horse!
About two weeks after his Makeover success, Robbie won his Novice division at the Virginia Horse Trials, finishing on his dressage score of 25! We plan to move up to Training level at River Glen Horse Trials for our last show of the year. We have been practicing jumping down banks into water, which has proven to be one of the most difficult training issues that we have faced so far…maybe second to getting run away with a few times during 2020. I am confident that Robbie will soon understand the question and be fine with it like he is with everything else. After that, Robbie will get some rest and relaxation for the winter.
I still can’t quite believe that our magical week at The Thoroughbred Makeover is already over. It seems like MONTHS of planning out details, meeting deadlines, etc – and now I’m happy to reflect on a wonderful week.
To start, I want to highlight the professionalism of this event. Over the decades I have traveled to a number of venues in different areas. There is a lot of “behind the scenes” work that goes into making these events possible. While this wasn’t a traditional “event”, the caliber of organization and attention to detail was unprecedented. To be able to hold multiple disciplines while doubling the usual number of entries is no easy feat. Every judge, official, and volunteer was professional and kind.
The check-in process was easy and accessible, especially after hauling for 6+ hours and feeling a bit discombobulated! The courses were challenging in a perfect balance for the level, asking just enough while not over facing these young horses. There were ample opportunities to school in both the competition rings, lunging pads, etc. And we cannot forget about the dressage ring! The feeling of trotting into the Rolex Stadium for our dressage test was indescribable. Maybe it was the good ju-ju of all the famous tests that had been laid down, or the gargantuan stadium seats looming above you, but it made my horse, Black Spartacus (“Zeus”), just want to dance!
Our week started with our first day in the Showjumping division on Tuesday. Our last outing at the Kentucky Horse Park back in May did not start or end very well. I had been competing with two horses that weekend, and my focus fell on my other horse for the first few days. This left a semi-cranky, pent up energetic baby Zeus. I was determined to not allow this to happen this time around.
After a hack around the park the day before, I started Tuesday morning with a quick lunge session. I was impressed with how calm and stretchy Zeus was off the bat. I then hopped on him and flatted him for maybe 10 minutes – frankly because the ride was just lovely. He was soft and swingy and just pleasant. I warmed up Zeus later that afternoon for our Show Jumping Test. The weather had changed a bit and the wind had picked up. While our warmup was steady and reasonable – the test itself was not what I had hoped. He was quite against my hand and just not settled when we came into the ring. All of the transitions in the flat work pattern and adjustability that we really had had down just were not there. He jumped all the jumps and left almost all the rails up and overall settled.
Wednesday was our Eventing competition. We had one of the best dressage warm ups ever, followed by a very reasonable test in the Rolex Stadium. With how reactive he was to my seat the day before, I tried to ride more conservatively to create a fluid steady test. Besides a few baby bobbles, it was a strong, solid test. Our jumping phases were MUCH improved than the day before. He was acting much more like the Zeus that I expected. We jumped a clean, confident show jumping round, followed by a lovely, confident trip around the cross-country course. Zeus is extremely rideable and bold out on cross-country.
To conclude – we had a great time. It was great to travel with our group while proudly representing a great team. I must admit I think we had some pretty cool swag as well. It was an experience I certainly hope to repeat again. I’m incredibly proud of my horse, my teammates – and especially thankful for our wonderful coach, Kiki, who continues to be our fearless leader.
The Thoroughbred Makeover has been on my bucket list for several years, so I was very happy to be able to finally make the trip with friends/students and their horses to one of my favorite places, Lexington, Kentucky! After entering the barrel racing division instead of the dressage division by accident, due to the difficult and confusing entry process, (maybe this was only difficult for me, since I’m pretty much technologically illiterate), it was all smooth sailing from there. The check in process and everything else about the competition seemed to run very smoothly. Within the first hour we were there, we managed to score tons of free stuff (free stuff is always fun!) just for being part of the RRP, as well as from competing horses that originated through the CANTER program! Who doesn’t like some nice saddle pads and fancy polo shirts! We were interviewed on a Facebook live post by CANTER while we set up our fun stall area with banners naming each horse and rider. Sometime after sunset, we were set up and ready for dinner and an upcoming day of competition!
Frijole aka “Ole” (or as the Jockey Club likes to call him- Shake and Spin) traveled well, as usual. He has a bit of a stall walking habit- which I like to think of as extra fitness work- so I ordered him stall mats and heavily bedded his stall. I only had time for hand walking on day one, but there was plenty to do under saddle in the coming days.
I have to admit, when I learned that dressage tests were to be performed in the Rolex Arena, I was a bit worried. Ole’s dressage ring experience is minimal at best, and now we had to tackle the big, fancy ring as well. I used both of my ticked schooling opportunities to take Ole in the ring to get used to the atmosphere. He was completely unfazed. He marched in the arena like he did it every day and went right to work! Maybe this was going to be easier than I thought, as far as general behavior and anxiety, thankfully!
The other horses in our group got to compete Tuesday and Wednesday. Frijole had to wait until Thursday for his appearance. I have very little to complain about. He’s a 3 year old at the Kentucky Horse Park, in the Rolex Arena, putting in a relatively solid Training level test. Other than two baby horse hiccups that consisted of one kick out at my leg into a left canter transition, and one step into the canter when I asked for more trot, he was as good as I could have ever expected. Finishing with a 68% in the test and a 45/50 in the “movements” demo, Ole solidified a spot in the top 25 in a field of 85+ dressage horses! I was so happy to be sitting on one of the nicest horses at the competition, In my opinion. Not only could he perform without too much stress, he could hack wherever I took him on a loose rein, which may have been the best part! Since our teammates, Kelly and Robbie Jones advanced to the finale, I spent a few extra days laying low and seeing the sights of the Kentucky Horse Park from the back of Ole.
I’m embarrassed to say, but since we have been home, Ole has been on vacation. I think he’s ready to go back to work soon, when I get back from coaching all the fall events. Maybe now we can start to learn how to jump! I can only hope that he’s as agreeable to jump as he is to go in the dressage ring! As for his future, who knows. He’s a super talented young horse, and I feel lucky to be his person at the moment. I’m sure we will see more of Frijole out and about with me or some other lucky person in the irons! I’d like to think I’ll have the time to devote to producing this lovely horse, but reality may be different than what I’d like it to be. For now, I’ll keep feeding him his carrots and reminding him how beautiful he is, and maybe one day before the new year get his tack out again!
Thank you to the Retired Racehorse Project, CANTER, and our sponsors, Nutrena feeds and Word Equestrian Brands, as well as Keen Davies, and Laurie McNeil for their super groom/support crew efforts!