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!