Road to the 2020/2021 Thoroughbred Makeover: A New Level of Crazy & Some Progress, Too

For over 1,000 accepted trainers in this year’s unique blend of 2020 and 2021 competitors, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2020/2021 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, is underway! The event, which combines entries from 2020 with 2021 due to the cancellation of the Makeover last year, will take place at Oct. 12-17 at the Kentucky Horse Park. Between now and then, several eventing trainers will be blogging their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. To read other blogs from this year’s Road to the Makeover, click here.

Natalie Johnson hails from Area VI and is entered in this year’s Makeover with two horses: Caliche Lane (2020) and Princess Anne (2021). Natalie is a former pony clubber, working student, and professional groom. She has been eventing since age 12 and has competed through Prelim riding mainly Thoroughbreds. She currently works for an equine veterinary clinic. To read Natalie’s other blogs, click here.

Caliche at Brookside Farm. Photo: Daniel Li

This year my life has reached a new level of crazy. My husband and I AGAIN find ourselves looking for our future farm, with the second property we had a purchase agreement on falling through. Fortunately our horses are now located at one farm and we have decided to rent a house five minutes away. Our temporary move has thankfully taken over three hours of driving out of my day, let us live together again full time, and somewhat lessened the craziness in my life.

My 2020 Makeover entry, Caliche Lane, has started her show season moving up to Novice with our best dressage test to date, an almost foot perfect double clear cross country, and only one pole in stadium. We ended up in sixth place out of 18 starters at Otter Creek Farms Spring Horse Trials. Princess Anne, my 2021 entry, has had some setbacks with weight loss and ultimately a Lymes diagnosis, but fortunately treatment is underway and things are looking up. My long time partner, Louie, also had a set-back but is getting back to work.

Caliche at Brookside Farm. Photo: Daniel Li

Last year I was easy on Caliche with the flat work as she is a little butt high, with a short and thick body. It wasn’t until last Fall that I started to ask her for more contact and to engage more consistently. After her initial “attitude” getting back to consistent work this Spring, she bounced right back to her old smart self and reminded me how amazing she is. She retains everything from her previous rides, continuing right from where we left off. I haven’t ever experienced this with a horse before to this extent. Our dressage is coming right along with her now strong enough to sit down and rock back when jumping big enough fences.

Otter Creek Farm. Photo: Daniel Li

With the Mega Makeover only about four months away I still have only ridden Anne five times. This was due to my limited amount of time and energy driving across the cities and her reluctance to gain weight. Instead of throwing myself on her back when she was so thin, we have done lots of lunging and getting to know each other. I really like what horses can learn on their own without someone being on their back. Anne has a lovely way of going and naturally carries herself pretty balanced. Like most of the off the track Thoroughbreds and green horses I have worked with, anytime she is uncertain or off balance she would go faster thinking speed will save her. With time, repetition, and poles she is learning to trust that I won’t put her in a bad situation, how to use her body, and that slowing down can make things easier.

As the days quickly heat up in Minnesota Caliche has several clinics and shows in her future. I hope to get on Anne more as she gains weight, then introduce small jumps under saddle and field trips off the property. If things go perfect, which they rarely do, I would like to bring Anne to a schooling show or two in July.