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Hillary McMichael


About Hillary McMichael

Eventing Background

USEA Rider Profile Click to view profile
Area 5
Highest Level Competed Novice
Trainer Amanda Merritt - Anchor Equestrian

Latest Articles Written

Hillary’s Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: Stay in Your Lane

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Between now and the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

Long time no see. Well, long time no blog I guess. Two weeks turned into three, and before I knew it it had been over eight weeks since my first post. I am not going to lie … The past two months have been a bit of a struggle. I had a really hard time being motivated to write about just how much I was struggling with how I was feeling about my riding and goals.

When I first signed up for the Makeover I honestly didn’t think that the Makeover veteran saying of “stay in your lane” would end up being my own motto. All of the more seasoned Makeover trainers kept commenting those four simple words on post after post of people asking what everyone has done so far or when someone was panicking that they didn’t have their horse yet.

I didn’t imagine that being in a group of other Makeover “trainers” I would get sucked into comparing my journey to others. I felt secure. I had my horse before I applied. He was perfectly healthy and sound. This wouldn’t be my first time restarting a horse or introducing it to a new job. I even felt pretty confident in my ability to bring along another OTTB with the help of my trainer.

Littleorphanannex was truly something else. Photo by Eric Nalbone.

Mid-March things kind of started to stall though. It felt like for every step forward I had two steps back. It was honestly hard to stay motivated to ride and push myself and I knew I needed help to get me over the bump in the road. My horse ended up going to my trainer’s for a few rides and what I now call the “giraffe exorcism” was a success! I still felt a bit discouraged though.

Day by day I kept seeing everyone making huge leaps “ahead of us.” It was, and still is, so easy to focus on what other people are doing and what we haven’t accomplished yet. I found myself not only comparing my progress to others but also my honest young horse to my super bold late Thoroughbred mare. It is unfair to compare one horse to another anyways, but it is totally unfair when literally everything in my life is different this time around.

It is only natural that the green horse journey would be harder for me both emotionally and physically now as a new mom. I spent weeks feeling inadequate and second guessing myself. Who was I to get a big young athletic horse off the track as a new mom? Did I really want to be bringing along another green horse at this point in my life? How could I have believed I could be successful in doing this?

Not feeling very qualified in this moment — no one was hurt. Photo by Amanda Chance.

When I was doubting myself and struggling to get to the barn I started to really ask myself what I was doing. In that self reflection, or to be honest self doubt, I realized just how much I do really want this. It would have been a lot easier to just throw in the towel. Yes, I am lucky but it’s not all luck. I have to want it so much more now. I have to try so much harder. Things might be bumpy along the way but the highs are so much higher now and every small success means that much more.

If you focus on the struggle, in summary, the past two months have brought a mild shipping fever, four flat tires – pulled shoes, a rider fall, and a rained out show. Despite all of that I have made more progress with Whiskey Wu (Flatter x Stay Here – Dehere), or Dobby as I call him, than I could have hoped for. We have gone from jumping the occasional cross rail to now jumping courses. Dobby hauls like a champ and takes new places in stride even if he is sure every one of them is the weirdest track he has ever been to. He has a great brain and is proving to be very amateur friendly. This baby horse is a different ride than what I have been used to the past 4+ years but is making me a better rider one day at a time.

Photo by Dusty Brown.

I know in my heart that I want to continue to be a better rider just as much if not more than I did before having my daughter. My goals might be smaller that they were before, even insignificant to some, but they mean exponentially more to me now and that is all that matters. At the end of the day I have to want it and if the past few months have taught me anything it is that I really do want this. All of it. Even the blood, sweat, and tears. It doesn’t matter what other people are or aren’t doing as long as I am doing everything I can to be the best that I can be.

We keep going for moments like this. Photo by Dusty Brown.

My answer to anyone else who is also asking “How did I think I could do this?” would be simple. It is 100% the people. My family and friends who support me through all the ups and downs and are the real stars in my story. I don’t have enough thank you’s for the incredible people in my life that make this dream of mine possible every day. From my husband, my trainer, and barn buddy to all of the baby wranglers in between, it truly takes a village. I would never have considered getting another horse off the track without each and every one of those people and I certainly wouldn’t have set sights on the Makeover.

I definitely didn’t see myself in this position six months ago, but one sweet gangly baby Thoroughbred later here I am doing the thing and loving every single, sometimes frustrating, minute of it.

New Mom, New Horse, New Goal: Meet 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Trainer Hillary McMichael

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 Hillary McMichael. 

Hillary and her daughter Beatrix with Whiskey Wu, AKA Dobby. Photo courtesy of Hillary McMichael.

First off, I want to say hi and introduce myself. My name is Hillary and I am an adult amateur eventer living in Texas. When I was 8 years old I got my first riding lesson and somehow I am even more obsessed with horses now at 28 than I was as a kid. I have been riding for over 20 years now but this last year brought the most change. I am still trying to get my sea legs back after having a baby but I am really excited to be aiming for the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover this year. On top of that I get to share that adventure with you all! I have been reading Eventing Nation for years so when the opportunity to be a contributor came up I jumped.

Hillary and LittleOrphanAnnex at Chattahoochee Hills H.T. in July 2017. Photo courtesy of Hillary McMichael.

Life with horses never seems to go as we plan, and last year I had to say goodbye to my amazing thoroughbred mare. LittleOrphanAnnex (“Annie”) was my first OTTB that I got directly off the track myself. I chose her off of a short video while I was on my honeymoon — sorry Kyle! — and  purchased her with money that my grandfather gave us as a wedding present (with the explicit instructions to not spend on “those damn horses”). Annie taught me so much and reignited my love of eventing. She carried me safely through my first Novice horse trials and gave me confidence I never imagined I could have. I didn’t think that I would be coming back to eventing as a new mom without Annie, but I carry a piece of her with me every time I swing a leg over the saddle.

When I found myself looking for another event horse I knew I wanted to get another Thoroughbred. Bonus points if he/she was Makeover eligible. My next Thoroughbred would have some huge shoes to fill, though, and I was really particular about what I wanted. After my trainer Amanda Merritt let me ride her competition horse Flat Gone, a Flatter gelding, I became pretty obsessed with finding my own Flatter. I distracted myself from the grief of losing Annie by throwing myself into the horse search. Conservatively I would say that I searched over 250 names of Flatter offspring to see if they were listed for sale anywhere. Somehow that was a bust.

Totally normal to have pedigreequery lists on your phone/

I missed out on a few horses due to timing and then things got interesting. My Flatter obsession went totally off the rails. That is when I started to search for horses that had been running in claiming races around my budget and reaching out to their trainers. I am so grateful for all of the trainers that responded to my messages. Luckily my stalking paid off, or I would just be that weird girl that was bothering everyone trying to buy their horse.

The first photo I was sent of Whiskey Wu. Photo courtesy of Hillary McMichael.

One of the messages I sent was to Susan Cooney of Cooney Racing Stables about a 2015 Flatter gelding in her barn. Susan responded with a picture (above) that had me drooling and told me that technically Dobby (Charlie to his racing connections) wasn’t for sale. I had already spent hours, seriously HOURS, searching and really didn’t want to miss out on this nice gelding. As a shot in the dark I asked her if she thought his owner would consider selling him for his last claiming tag. That was Dec. 9, the vet came out for a pre purchase exam Dec. 13, and Dobby was officially mine on Dec. 14. I am so happy that his owner decided to let me buy him. Susan was so honest and easy to work with and will definitely be my first contact if/ when I am in the market again. Heck — I have already asked her to keep me in mind for his siblings!

Dobby’s first bareback ride. Photo courtesy of Hillary McMichael.

So far I am really enjoying getting to know Dobby. We are about 15 rides in and he has proven to be pretty easy going. Like with any green horse there have been ups and downs, but we have realistic expectations. We are taking things one day at a time and trying to “stay in our own lane.”

I do occasionally feel totally insane for getting another young horse at this stage in my life. I will have my hands full between an almost 1-year-old little girl and two horses between 3 and 4 years old. Luckily I know that I have the right team in Anchor Equestrian to make the most of this exciting adventure. I literally would not be able to do this without all of the support from my friends and family. Team work makes dream work though and I am grateful to every person that is helping to make this possible for me!

We have a lot of fun things planned for this spring so I will be sure to report back soon!