For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next eight 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 Jennifer Reisenbichler.
Hi Eventing Nation! My name is Jen, and I’m a Thoroughbred addict. When I was 5 years old, I told my mom that Kentucky Derby Day was better than Christmas, and that’s never changed. I grew up with one goal: to be a jockey. I practiced on my poor mutt pony until she was in good enough shape to run around Prelim (she never jumped over 2’, but that’s irrelevant). However, there were other plans for my life as I am 5’7” and love to eat!
I bought my first Thoroughbred at 15 years old, from ReRun Kentucky, then after a break for college, bought my first event horse off the track. I had NO clue what I was doing, but he put up with me and we ended up successfully competing at Training level through 2011, with the highlight of our career being a top five placing at the 2011 Indiana Eventing Association Training Three-Day.
Before I dive too far into horses, let me get the boring part out of the way, introducing y’all to yours truly. I’m an adult amateur in my 30s with five-star dreams, but is still aiming for that first FEI event after several years of successfully competing at the Preliminary level.
I work a full-time job with a large team of financial advisors in Lexington, Kentucky, and last summer was blessed beyond words to have the opportunity to buy a 20-acre farm with an eight-stall barn about 45 minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park. My husband quickly converted four of the stalls into a shop; he knows me too well. We also own and operate a maple syrup farm in Indiana — believe it or not, the survival skills of “horsing” translate well to “farming.” Balancing horse goals with life goals is a consistent juggling act.
I owe a huge part of my success with horses to a little mare named Callie. She was the only horse I’ve ever evented who was not a full Thoroughbred. She was a tiny Holsteiner-Thoroughbred cross who stood 15.1 with her shoes on, if I was in complete denial about what the measuring stick actually said. But we jumped the green numbers and I owe her so much. Sadly, we lost her early last year to kidney failure, but I know she still jumps every jump with me.
I did my first Makeover in 2015, with a friend’s gelding. He wasn’t the easiest horse in the world, and I didn’t completely grasp the Makeover concept at the time (they ran it on Team Challenge weekend that year, talk about tired!), but the journey with Digger was so rewarding. We didn’t place too well, but it didn’t matter. I took a year off in 2016, then bought a gelding from Amy Paulus for the 2017 Makeover. Liam (my FEI hopeful!) took me on the Makeover journey of a lifetime, where we placed 12th and 15th respectively in the Show Jumping and Eventing. He is the big guy on campus now, as we are currently prepping for a move up to Training level early this season, if I can stop falling off.
I bought my 2018 Makeover horse before the 2017 Makeover, oops. I’ll try to keep a long story short. In 2011, Nic (hubby) and I won the Bet or No Bet contest at Churchill Downs and were given $1,000 to bet to win on a horse. We bet it on a horse named Thankfulness, who went off at 5-1, and won. They counted out the hundreds and we put a down payment on a diesel truck.
Fast forward to 2017, Nic and I were betting on Charlestown on our phones on a random Saturday night in September. Yea, we might have a small problem, don’t judge. Nic asks how often the Jockey Club recycles names — Thankfulness was running in a $5k claimer at 45-1. I found his trainer on OTTB Connect and gave her a standing offer, no questions asked. She ran him one more time, then put him on a trailer to me.
I had no idea what to expect — I paid for the horse via Western Union. I was half prepared to put him down. Hank stepped off the trailer looking like a million bucks, and we had an amazing journey in 2018. We ended up entering Ranch Work and Field Hunters, where we placed 10th. He has a lifetime home with me, and will be competing this year with several young riders.
I once again found my 2019 hopeful before the 2018 Makeover … sensing a trend here? I met Natasia Linnd when looking for a house sitter — she worked at the time for Jim and Susan Hill, who were retiring one of their successful race horses. He had won nearly $500k on the track, racing on the flat for several years, then racing over fences. They offered him to me, and I jumped at the chance.
After some soul searching, I realized that in order to keep doing the Makeover, I had to start selling my graduates. So “George” will be my first sale entrant. He is 10 and stands a shade under 16 hands. I know he might not be the big, young sale prospect everyone looks for, but he is special. I am so excited for another Makeover season, and the journey that gets us to October!
To wrap this up, I’ll leave you with several hints I’ve learned over the past three Makeovers.
- Don’t panic if you haven’t done much with your horse by March, or April, or May. I haven’t even put 15 rides on George yet. Both Liam and Hank got their start in mid-March and they were TIRED by October. Don’t fret and don’t push, you’ll get there.
- Have the saddle fitter out early and get their teeth looked at. Their backs will change so much, having a fitter’s expert eye on your horse will save you from a lot of trouble over the summer as they develop. Hank had some teeth issues that I didn’t get on top of fast enough, it will make everyone’s life easier if their mouth is comfortable from day 1.
- When in doubt, feed more hay.
- Try something new. Even if you’re not an Eventer who ends up in Ranch Work, you and your horse will have fun learning something new together.
- And last but not least, remember to have fun. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have highs and lows, but you’ll have the journey of a lifetime!