Dappir Ridge Road to the Makeover: It’s Not All Sunshine & Rainbows

For trainers accepted to the hybrid 2020/2021 Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, the work continues after a weird last year. The 2021 event will take place at Oct. 12-17 at the Kentucky Horse Park. Between now and then, this team of four trainers will be blogging their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers.

In 2020, we met the team of trainers from Dappir Ridge Eventing in Charlottesville, Virginia, and now their sights are set on 2021! Here’s the latest Dappir Ridge Eventing update.

Shake and Spin (“Ole”) and Crafty Oak’s Run (“Ronin”) in the miserable February sleet.

Recently, I’ve been noticing a pattern across-the-board on social media platforms as well as in equestrian articles in regards to how training horses is being portrayed. When scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and blog posts, one might come to the wrongful conclusion that bringing a horse along, especially a baby OTTB, is a glorious cakewalk that follows a linear path from racetrack to sporthorse glory, all in a timely manner! This is a complete delusion brought about by the fact that most people only write/post about their horse when things are going well. 

I think that it is important to illuminate the truth of the matter, which is twofold: Firstly, there is no one singular path or formula. Each horse is different, and each rider is different, therefore the timeline of bringing a horse along is undoubtedly going to be vastly different from one to the next. Secondly, baby horses (and horses in general!) are terribly self-destructive creatures that have a knack for taking our carefully formulated plans and aspirations and turning them upside down. This is normal, people — take it from us! 

I hope that our testimonials below regarding the cursed month of February will grant a smidgen of solace to our comrades across the country on their journey to the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover. At the very least, it will validate the truth behind the old adage “misery loves company”!

Adriana Nannini

Since our last blog post in January, I must admit that I really haven’t made a ton of progress with Wicked Soprano (aka “Raven”). There are a couple of reasons for this; firstly, at the end of January, Raven came up very lame. Dr. Giunta determined that Raven had an infection in her frog, which required several weeks of treating with Thrush Buster, as well as endlessly soaking, packing and wrapping the foot. 

As soon as the frog infection finally cleared up, Raven banged the inside of her hind cannon bone while flailing around in turnout, which was enough to make her unsound yet again. The wound seemed pretty superficial at first, but as time went by, it didn’t seem to be healing — it kept scabbing over but wouldn’t heal underneath. I spent a few weeks scrubbing, dressing and wrapping the leg, plus treating her with SMZs, until the wound finally began to heal. 

On top of it all, the month of February was a miserable, rainy, icy mud pit here in central Virginia. It seemed to precipitate every single day for an entire month. Unfortunately, this resulted in very limited turnout time for Raven. In an effort to get her out of her stall to stretch her legs, I would attempt to hand walk her every day, which was more akin to flying a kite than actual walking. 

Now that the sunshine has returned and Raven has healed from her myriad of physical ailments, she is back to work. However, I must say, she can be rather tense and nervous under saddle at times. I try to combat this by maintaining a consistent routine for her, and keeping things simple. I also make a conscious effort to keep a “zen” attitude while in the saddle, and try to not react at all when she gets tense. 

It is easy to compare one horse to others in the past. For example, when I reflect on this time last year, it seems like my 2020 Makeover horse, Sevennotrump (“Tricks”), was already cantering around little courses. However, the reality is that Tricks had plenty of setbacks of his own, and we also had a perfect, dry, balmy winter last year. 

I am fully aware that some horses just take a little more time, and my number one goal with Raven is to be patient and let her dictate the timeline of our progress. There is absolutely no rush, and I have a feeling that if I take my time with her, it will pay off in the long run.

Wicked Soprano (“Raven”) battling a month-long frog infection. Photo courtesy of Adriana Nannini.

Adriana Nannini riding Wicked Soprano (“Raven”). Raven can be tense at times, but when she does relax, boy is she lovely! Photo courtesy of Ashley Balazs.

Raven makes me smile! Photo courtesy of Ashley Balazs.

Dr. Kelly Giunta, VMD

Not much training has happened since my last post. Robbie Jones had an abscess and we all thought he was dying for about two weeks! He had plenty of rest to heal his sore foot, given the terrible weather we had in February.   

I spent a lot of time over the winter studying for an exam and can now announce that I am a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation! Now it is time to get back in the saddle. Robbie is just starting back into a regular riding and fitness routine, which includes lunging in the Pessoa system, and long lining. Robbie has also perfected his trick of “smiling”, which increased his fan club of human carrot suppliers. 

Robbie Jones demonstrating his signature smile at War Horse last year. Photo courtesy of Kelly Giunta.

The things we do when we’re bored. Photo courtesy of Kiki Osbourne.

Alex Austin

This winter has been challenging for a variety of reasons, one of which being Virginia’s terrible weather. If it wasn’t raining it was sleeting, if it wasn’t sleeting it was snowing. So overall, riding was limited. 

In early February, Crafty Oak’s Run (“Rōnin”) came in with a knee the size of a football! Though fairly sound on it, we gave him some down time with wrapping and meds. Our best guess is that he and his young pasture mate got to rough housing, which is one of their favorite pastimes (much to their older, wiser, and more mature “babysitter”s chagrin)! 

Immediately on the heels of Rōnin’s injury was the onslaught of terrible weather that left everyone stabled for longer than usual and sheets of ice everywhere. However, we’ve hopefully made it through the worst of it, and the weather has been getting warmer and sunnier bit by bit. 

Rōnin took his first field trip this past Sunday to a local combined test just to hang out and see the sights. He was a perfect gentleman and even got to pop over a couple of cross rails while there. There is lots to work on and plenty of catching up to do with this big redhead!

Rōnin sporting a very comprehensive wrap job following his knee incident. Photo courtesy of Alex Austin.

Rōnin spent quite a bit of time hand-grazing in the month of February. Photo courtesy of Alex Austin.

The sun finally came out, and we got to play with our ponies! Adriana Nannini riding Wicked Soprano (“Raven”) and Alex Austin riding Crafty Oak’s Run (“Ronin”). Photo courtesy of Ashley Balazs.

Alex and Ronin make a very picturesque pair! Photo courtesy of Ashley Balazs.

Kiki Osbourne (Our Fearless Leader)

The month of February wasn’t at all what any of us caring for 35 horses wanted to deal with! Thanks to Mother Nature, we experienced nonstop rain, snow, and as a result, MUD. I kept hoping the mud would freeze, as even though that’s not ideal either — at least the horses won’t have their shoes sucked off, or strain a tendon sliding into a gate or fence in turnout. Not to mention, if my fields have any chance of growing grass this spring, they can’t be uprooted by sliding horse hooves.

All of this weather nonsense resulted in many horses spending way too much time inside their stalls. I was frustrated, the horses were frustrated and their owners were frustrated. Not only could they not go out much, there were very limited places to ride. Up and down the gravel road can only be so productive (and so entertaining) for almost three weeks straight. Our rings had quickly turned to lakes, and frozen lakes on the cold nights. 

Every once in a while the temps dipped down below freezing at night and we were able to get them out, but nothing consistent. If anyone knows me, I love the horses to be outside as much as possible! So it was a really difficult three weeks! Riding lessons were scarce. I typically teach 25-30 lessons a week. Instead, I was only able to teach two to three a week if we were lucky enough to find a dry place and moment in time. 

My sweet Makeover mount, Shake and Spin (“Ole”), got hacked down the road two times the entire month. The bright side of all of this is that it made me realize what a lovely mind this guy has. What 3 year old can you pull out of the stall after limited turnout, hop right on and walk down the road on a loopy rein? He had a buddy, just in case, but never put a foot wrong.  

About two weeks ago, we were able to start to get back to normal with turnout, riding and lessons, thankfully! Ole learned to long line, and not surprisingly, acted like he had done it all his life. He has had a few more hacks and rides, and is so willing and smart. Even though he won’t be able to do a lot at the Makeover because he is so young, I’m excited to slowly bring him along for October’s event! On to warmer, drier weather … I hope!

Our arena under snow cover. Photo courtesy of Kiki Osbourne.

Our arena under water! Photo courtesy of Kiki Osbourne.

Ole looking very picturesque in the snow. Photo courtesy of Kiki Osbourne.

Until next time … Go Thoroughbreds and Go Eventing!