Lindsay Gilbert
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Lindsay Gilbert

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About Lindsay Gilbert

Lindsay Gilbert is a young professional and owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Georgetown, Ky. She is an advocate for the OTTB and has been participating in the Thoroughbred Makeover since 2016. She has successfully competed on the hunter/jumper, dressage and eventing circuits and brought along dozens of OTTBs for success in multiple rings.

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Making It to the Makeover: What I Look for in a Prospect

Ripley (Now Bella), a warmblood X TB mare I raised and sold as an eventer. Currently going Training Level. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Ripley (Now Bella), a warmblood X TB mare I raised and sold as an eventer. Currently going Training Level. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

So, you’ve decided to embark upon the process of finding a mount, a competitor, an athlete, a partner.

This part is hard for me. I am the type of person to never turn away a horse. Bad conformation, vices, untouched for years, it didn’t matter. I could see the potential in anything, I could find a career or a future for whatever came my way.

But this time, it’s different. I have to search for a mount with eventing potential and one that I can uncover that potential in a matter of months. So what in the world am I going to look for? Do I want a war horse who has proven themselves on the track time and time again, or do I want a youngster with very few starts who is a clean slate? It’s time for me to sit down and decide what I need and what I want in an RRP prospect.

First, I need to think about the job that I’m asking my new partner to do. My sport of choice this year is eventing, a combination of dressage, stadium jumping and cross country. I need a horse with nice, relaxed gaits for dressage, a careful ability over fences who will leave rails up in stadium and the heart to gallop over any obstacle a cross country course designer will throw our way.

Patriot, a Saddlebred gelding given to me sight unseen, found his calling in dressage! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Patriot, a Saddlebred gelding given to me sight unseen, found his calling in dressage! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

So many Thoroughbreds have excelled in eventing because of their heart and ability to gallop. But there are a few things I look for when selecting a horse for the sport of eventing.

  1. Soundness: The very first thing the horse must be is sound. I cannot, in good conscience, ask a horse to gallop and jump that is not comfortable doing so. So I will look for a horse who jogs freely, that tracks up nicely (meaning the hind feet fall in the hoof print of the front foot) and who has a nice, swinging gait. I will look for a horse with no heat or swelling in the legs or feet and who has few, if any blemishes or “track jewelry” which could inhibit their longevity in a sport that tests a horse to the fullest.
  2. Conformation:
    • I like a horse with good overall proportion meaning the horse is made up of 1/3 shoulder, 1/3 barrel, 1/3 hindquarters.
    • I look for a powerful hind end, and a long, upright shoulder that is tied in above the chest. My ideal horse will have a deep chest that will allow them to gallop for long periods of time and breathe freely as they’re doing so.
    • Lastly, my partner should have straight legs that are well set, meaning the front legs show a straight line from the shoulder, through the knee and ending right at the heel of the hoof, with a nicely angled pastern that is identical to the slope of the hoof, if possible. The front legs carry the majority of the horse’s weight, so they are of utmost importance, but hind legs are also key because they are what propels the horse forward, and for jumping, upward. The hind legs, from behind, should be straight from the buttocks to the hoof, with the hocks and rear hooves equal distance apart. From the side, there should be a straight line from under the buttocks, down the back of the cannon bone to the ground, a few inches behind the heel.
  3. Personality: Most horses can overcome flaws in conformation by sheer heart alone. The horse has to love it’s job and want to work. But I, for one, rarely ride the OTTBs I see before I purchase them. So, it’s hard to determine heart before you get the horse home and start introducing them to their new life. Yet, I do look for a few key things.
  • Kind Eye. In a situation with time constraints, like the RRP, it is imperative that the mount you choose be trainable. I always look for a horse with a kind eye, who shows a sense of understanding and a level of relaxed thinking. These horses are better able to take things in stride without becoming overwhelmed and uneasy.
  • Forward Thinking. For eventing, the horse must possess a sense of forwardness. The last thing I want when galloping cross country is to be exerting all my energy just trying to get the horse to GO! Additionally, a more forward-thinking horse is more likely to take me to the fence and help me out of a bad situation rather than refusing a fence because the bravery and forward momentum was lacking.
  • Relaxed. Having touched on relaxed thinking when talking about a kind eye, there is also the element of a relaxed body. I like a horse who does not generally carry tension in its muscles. Muscle tension can be a sign of anxiety or nervousness which can then manifest itself in “explosive behavior” such as rearing, bucking, taking off and other scary tactics.

There are several other factors to consider when purchasing a prospect, but I won’t bore you with every single detail. As I comb through the hundreds, if not thousands, of OTTB sale ads I come across on a daily basis, these general principles will guide my way and, hopefully, land me an eventing machine!

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Following the Money

Danger starting to understand self-carriage. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Danger starting to understand self-carriage. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

As a small-scale eventing trainer, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of a dollar. There’s good money in finding a diamond in the rough, polishing that horse until it shines and then finding the horse a spectacular person who will enjoy the fruits of your labor. But it seems this idea has attracted many riders looking to make a quick buck.

The issue is this: Those trainers are less focused on correctly polishing their diamond, or truly training their project horse, and more focused on a quick flip and a fast profit. The result is underdeveloped, overfaced horses without a correct foundation of training.

Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge on the part of trainers. Maybe it’s today’s society, with everyone expecting instant gratification. Maybe it’s buyers’ unrealistic expectations. It seems everyone wants a younger horse, jumping higher fences, with a lengthier show record … all on a smaller budget. But these things take time. And, in the horse world, as in every other industry, time is money.

Whatever it is, it’s causing a problem. And that problem is moral hazard. (Bear with me as I indulge my inner business student.)

Moral hazard occurs when one person takes risks because another person is going to incur the costs associated with those risks. This is happening in masses in the horse industry. Trainers take on a young prospect with the intention of selling it. Knowing the extra profit they can enjoy if the horse is going at higher levels, the trainer pushes their project too fast too soon. They skip important, but maybe somewhat boring, steps in training and jump right into the fun stuff. They jump higher fences, force “head carriage” and ask more technical questions of horses that just aren’t ready.

Milo figuring it out over a baby jump. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Milo figuring it out over a baby jump. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

And why? Because once the horse is sold, it’s the buyer who has to deal with all the shortcomings in training. The buyer will pay for a broken down horse because it wasn’t correctly developed both physically and mentally.  These trainers are taking unnecessary risks with their horses because they won’t have to pay the price later on down the road.

It’s really tough to sit by and watch it happen. I cringe when I see trainers making decisions knowing their motive lies somewhere other than the horse itself. But for every trainer taking shortcuts and ignoring the best interest of the horse, I know there are several trainers taking their time, listening when the horse says they’re ready for the next step and actually developing quality horses without overfacing them.

I hope that I am one of those trainers. I may be the turtle in this race, dragging along at a pace others find comical, while the hare zooms by trying to get to the finish line. Little does the hare know, there is no finish line and no one’s keeping score. I won’t judge my training by the number in my bank account, but rather by the health and happiness of my horses. And although it may be hard to make a living with these moral shenanigans, I know that following the money very rarely pays off for the horses in the end.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Making It to the Makeover: What’s in an OTTB’s Name?

Sudden Danger proving she’d rather lope around a hunter ring than gallop over a cross country course. (She’s a great sport, though!) Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Sudden Danger proving she’d rather lope around a hunter ring than gallop over a cross country course. (She’s a great sport, though!) Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

What’s in a name? No, I’m not here to quote Shakespeare, but rather to ponder the equally age-old question of equine pedigrees and if they really matter.

For years, I went on my merry way, paying no attention to the lineage of the horses I was riding. Someone offered me a ride, I graciously agreed and focused on the horse I was given, not the ghosts of horses past that all came together at a certain time and place in order to make the perfect beast.

But as I grow older (and hopefully, wiser), my goal is to bring up the best equine athletes that I can. It used to be that the horses I adopted, bought or were given told me exactly what they wanted to do in life. I felt my job was to uncover, layer by layer, where their true talent and potential lay and then steer them in that direction, eventually finding them a home that would allow them to succeed in their chosen sport.

That was fun while it lasted, but now it’s clear that, while it’s made me a better and more well-rounded rider, it has done nothing to further my competitive career. There’s an eventer inside me just dying to be let out to gallop on a cross country course, but unless I start choosing horses that show talent in eventing it’s just not going to happen.

So, in order to buckle down and get serious about the sport that I’ve chosen, I think it’s time to take a closer look at pedigrees. In Thoroughbred racing, there is a lot of importance placed on the horse’s lineage, and horses are bred with an expectation of success based on their ancestors’ past performances.

Sometimes this pans out and sometimes it doesn’t; but it makes a lot of sense to me why they would care so much about names on a piece of paper. Why would you breed two horses that never won a race in their lives, never showed much talent for galloping, and would rather sunbathe in their pasture than break from the starting gate, with an expectation what their offspring would be the best racehorse you’ve ever seen? Most sane people probably wouldn’t make that assumption. And in an industry based on beating the odds, there needs to be something to back up your crazy assumption.

When taking a horse off the track in order to retrain it for a specific discipline, such as what is asked of trainers in the Thoroughbred Makeover, it’s also a game making educated guesses in an attempt to beat the odds. (This isn’t to say that quality training isn’t important because, after all, that’s what we are all here to do. This is solely speaking to the assumptions made when choosing a horse.)

Yes, it’s important to examine the horse’s conformation, to watch the way the horse moves and to try to understand its personality, but in order to give yourself and your horse the best odds of being competitive in a specific sport, why not go further and try to understand the horse’s lineage while you’re at it?

The pedigree of my current OTTB eventer, Search The Lou. Screenshot via Equiline.com.

The pedigree of my current OTTB eventer, Search The Lou. Screenshot via Equiline.com.

For example, since my goal is to compete in the eventing portion of the Makeover, I want to find a horse whose pedigree is riddled with successful distance horses. I’m looking for a horse that will be eager to gallop miles around a cross country course instead of sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs and calling it quits.

I’ll also be looking for horses known to produce athletic offspring that hold up and don’t break down very easily, as eventing is physically and mentally demanding sport. And, just for fun, I’ll be doing my research on what the siblings of whatever horse I choose are doing, if they’re successful racehorses, if they’re living out their days broken down in a field, or if maybe, just maybe, they have shown an aptitude for eventing.

But for now, I’ll research my little heart out and hope that my educated guesses pan out.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

The Struggle Between Comfort and Growth

A tired baby pony and a happy Lindsay. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. A tired baby pony and a happy Lindsay. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

My heart pounded as I looked at the entry form I had just submitted. My voice caught in my throat as I wondered aloud about the decision I had just made. There’s no way this could go well. Could I scratch right now?

You may be wondering what big show I was attending, what huge move-up I was making. I’ll let you in on a little secret … the answer is none. My slight panic attack, my stress and nerves were all centered around a Starter Level combined test.

That’s right, Intro Test C and a 2′ jump course. Let the ridicule commence. But here’s a confession for you — it’s been a long time since I’ve shown at all, let alone above crossrails. And I was terrified. Ten years ago I thought nothing of cantering down to a 3’6″ combination, and I laughed it off when my trainer kept inching the last fence up until it reached 4′. I was a different rider then — dare I say a normal rider? But she is no longer.

You see, soon after that it became apparent that I had a knack for starting young horses, for schooling greenies, for working with the worst of the worst. Some combination of patience, stubbornness and just plain insanity. Whatever concoction was necessary to get on anything and everything, I had it. I guess I still do.

Ripley (now Bella) being backed for the first time! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Ripley (now Bella) being backed for the first time! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

So, my focus had shifted. The big airy oxer I was comfortable tackling slowly morphed into backing a 3 year old for the first time. I no longer focused on nailing the extended trot in a First Level test or galloping an intimidating cross country course. Instead, I focused on instilling the basics, teaching babies how to steer, how to stop, how to function with an extra 100 lbs on their back. Getting from one side of a ground pole to their other, sailing over a tiny crossrail — that was cause for celebration. And when they got to that point, when my projects were comfortable and had good, foundational training, they moved on. Other people showed them, other people enjoyed them, but never me.

Day in and day out, month after month, year after year, as I watched my babies grow and develop, little did I know that I was changing too. I always felt like I was still the rider I used to be — I was still brave, I was still bold. I could still put the fences up and make things happen if I wanted to. But there I was, shaking in my tall boots just at the thought of showing anything above crossrails. Who the hell was this girl? Didn’t she know who I used to be, what I used to do?!

That’s the thing about getting comfortable. You don’t realize it’s happening until you’re given an other option, until you’re faced with growth. And growth is an intimidating monster. It keeps you up at night and makes you question everything. It sits on one shoulder, urging you to take the risk to step outside your comfort zone. Meanwhile, comfort sits on the other shoulder, reminding you how nice that zone is — it’s warm, it’s easy, it has cookies!

NOT a crossrail! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

NOT a crossrail! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

It’s a constant struggle between comfort and growth. One that never ends because the second you choose growth, comfort creeps in to take over again. And there you stay, blissfully clueless until you find yourself ready to throw up over the smallest step in a different direction.

But growth will always be the right answer — take it from me. Rebel and I went to that show, we cantered in our dressage test, we jumped verticals and oxers, we didn’t die. I might have cried walking out of the arena, but those happy tears came with conquering something I hadn’t done in over 10 years. They came with the conscious decision to try something new, to grow as a rider. So, I may have walked away with a ribbon that wasn’t blue, but in my mind, we won.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!

Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover: Meet Hot Java

About this time last year, I was standing in a stall, pitchfork in hand, pulling my gloves off my frozen hand to check my phone that was buzzing in my pocket. Ignoring the bitter cold, I opened my email and scrolled through the unread messages and there it was — my acceptance email from the Retired Racehorse Project! I had entered on a whim, hoping to be able to participate but not actually knowing if it was in the cards for me.

The next 10 months were a whirlwind.From purchasing Rebel Annie sight unseen in April, to spending six months getting to know each other, learning and growing together. And finally, actually making it to the Makeover!

Throughout the process, Rebel earned a permanent place in my heart. Not only did she take me through the Field Hunter division at the makeover, a discipline I knew nothing about and had no experience in, but she also changed my life in a million other ways (cue the eye-rolling from my husband!) She taught me how to have fun, how to let my guard down, how to really love my job again. Rebel reminded me why I fell in love with horses in the first place.

Rebel at the track. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Rebel at the track. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Applying for the 2017 Makeover meant a million things. It meant the opportunity to learn and grow as a trainer and rider, to make dozens of new friends and to be changed by yet another amazing OTTB. But, it also meant saying goodbye to Rebel. It meant sleepless nights and lots of tears wondering whether I was making the right decision and hoping for the perfect person to come along who would let my little red-headed mare work her magic on them the way she worked her magic on me.

Racehorse turned field hunter! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Racehorse turned field hunter! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

And just as I was questioning letting Rebel go, trying to convince myself that four horses could be a possibility or, just maybe, that the Makeover didn’t need to happen this year, that perfect person I had been wishing would come along strolled right into our lives. She fell in love with Rebel’s laid back personality, her never-ending pony kisses and constant searching your pockets for treats. So, off she went to her forever home, leaving me a bumbling mess in Kentucky.

But thank goodness for good friends who support your unhealthy horse habit, because just days earlier I was encouraged to take a chance on a lovely mare and brought her home from Turfway Park as my 2017 makeover hopeful.

Hot Java is a 2011 16.2 hand mare by Heatseeker and out of an AP Indy granddaughter. She was nearing war-horse standards with 43 starts under her belt when her trainer decided it was time for her to move on from racing.

With only two wins to her name, both at route distances, and pretty incredible conformation, we decided she might like a career in eventing. I decided to overlook some minor ankle rounding and slight soreness at the trot as she just raced days earlier and some wear and tear can be expected with such a high number of starts.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

For now, Java is learning to love her new life as a sport-horse-to-be! She is getting some much deserved downtime after four long years on the track. Java is learning how to be a horse, which means figuring out what turnout is, eating a totally different diet, and learning that ground manners and personal space are real things!

I like to use my OTTBs down time to work on our relationship and start some really important foundational training that is easy to overlook. So far, Java has totally impressed me with her willing attitude and generally laid back personality! From lunging to ground driving, learning the word “whoa” to leading with just a rope around her neck, Java gives it her all!

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

The next few weeks will consist of more down time, ground work, light riding and a post-purchase exam from the vet before we jump into under saddle training. Stay tuned as we work towards the 2017 Makeover!

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!