Road to the 2020/2021 Thoroughbred Makeover: Don’t Be Shy, Willie!

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. Today, we’re kicking things off and welcoming Stephanie Linsley, a trainer and educator based near Denver, Co. who specializes in developing young horses and rehabilitating challenging cases. 

Stephanie entered the Retired Racehorse Project – Thoroughbred Makeover for the first time this year and will be competing with seven-year-old gelding, Don’tbeshywillie (Understatement – Bearlee Naked, by Old Trieste). Stephanie hopes to compete Willie in Eventing and Freestyle at the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover, but will honor any discipline that Willie shows aptitude and interest for. You can follow Stephanie on the Infinity Horsemanship Facebook page and website

Willie navigating obstacles at liberty.

In 2016, Willie (Jockey Club name: Don’tbeshywillie) was beginning his first career as a racehorse like thousands of other Thoroughbreds across the country. Likewise, in 2016 I was beginning a career at a Mustang Sanctuary & Training Center training wild horses and managing the nonprofit. Just like Willie, I burst out of the starting gate and sprinted towards my goals in this career for over four years bringing success to the organization, myself, and those around me. Then just like Willie, the life I knew changed right out from under me. For reasons that had nothing to do with me, my job came to an end and I was left feeling lost and struggling to find my own self-worth. I gave everything I had to my previous career… so what did I have left to give to my future?

This is what so many Thoroughbreds retiring from the racetrack go through every day. Willie was a fairly successful racehorse. He won over $60,000 for his owners, stayed physically sound for 5 years of racing, and was easy to maintain throughout his career. Then for reasons that had nothing to do with him, his job came to an end. He was posted for sale and his entire life changed without his input. He gave everything to his racing career… so what did he have left to give to his future?

I entered the Retired Racehorse Project – Thoroughbred Makeover to find out. I want to find out what Willie and I have left to give to our futures. We’re both still young, full of energy and potential, and if we can give the amount of heart and passion to our next careers as we did our last careers, then we both will be unstoppable.

Willie’s exuberant draw at liberty!

I wasn’t expecting this sudden life-pivot when I acquired Willie and entered this competition. In fact, I most definitely would NOT have taken on such a commitment if I had known I was about to lose my home, job security, and would need to reassess my path. But now I’m thankful that things worked out the way they did, because I feel absolute compassion for Willie as he tries so hard to figure out what is expected of him moving forward. Some days, there is harmony and balance and it seems that Willie has a clear direction towards his next career. Other days, there is struggle and confusion as he tries so hard to stick to old patterns that brought him success in the past. And every day, I feel like I’m looking into a mirror as I personally flop back and forth between harmony and confusion in my own life.

At this early stage in the Makeover, I don’t know yet what disciplines Willie may excel in and what we will compete in. My personal goals would be to develop his skills in Eventing and Freestyle, however it would be unfair of me to drive Willie to these goals without taking the time to discover which disciplines he shows potential and interest in. We are taking the time to develop a connection, build language, and create softness so he can be successful in any discipline he shows aptitude for.

And as for me, I know my future remains in training horses and humans, but as for the specifics, I’m taking the time to let those details work out. I’m retraining myself to let go of my need to control everything and have a solid plan. I must learn to trust that if I just take steps forward, I will get to where I am meant to be.

Learning to jump from the ground.

I’m so incredibly grateful that I have the Thoroughbred Makeover to focus and channel my passion into. I’m excited that Willie and I can help guide each other through this difficult transition period and regardless of where we end up in October (and beyond), we will be stronger and more prepared for future transitions because we shared this experience together.

So Don’t Be Shy, Willie… let’s leap into the unknown together and see what the future may bring!