Staying in Your Lane: Some Advice for First-Time Thoroughbred Makeover Trainers

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Trainer announcements for the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover class of 2018 have been made! A whopping 812 trainers applied to compete at this year’s event and 794 were accepted – the largest group of trainers in the event’s history! Within this huge group of trainers, less than 250 individuals have participated in a Makeover before.

Let’s think about that. Almost 550 people have opened up their e-mail to read those amazing words “Congratulations, you’ve been ACCEPTED!” for the very first time. And most of those 550 probably felt like a two-years-younger me, having been accepted to my first Makeover. Ecstatic and hopeful, but at the same time confused and worried. (You can read all about those first-timer emotions in my second ever blog here.)

Having two years of Makeover experience under my belt – and heading for my third year – I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a Makeover veteran. Each year is a totally new adventure, with lessons to be learned, friends to be made and wonderful experiences to be had. But, if there’s one word of advice I can offer first-time trainers its this: stay in your lane.

The next few days, weeks and even months will be a whirlwind. Chances are you’ve been on the RRP Trainers Facebook page and seen people discussing braiding, hotel rooms, stall assignments, and much more – and you may not even have your horse yet! You’ll see photos and videos posted of makeover mounts jumping courses, going around like lesson ponies, and prancing in the dressage ring. You’ll feel sick to your stomach, you’ll feel left behind, you’ll want to quit now. Don’t. 

In 2016, I struggled with comparing myself to the other trainers, even when there were a mere 488 of us. That year, I didn’t purchase my horse until April and watched as the other trainers hit milestones and found success while I remained horseless. But, by keeping my head down and staying in my lane, I was able to find a wonderful makeover mount in Rebel Annie and successfully completed the Field Hunter division, a discipline I had absolutely no experience in.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

In 2017, I prepared and planned a bit better. After selling Rebel, I purchased Hot Java directly from her trainer at the beginning of January. But even having four more months to prepare, I struggled with feeling left behind. We had setbacks as I worked to put weight on her, dealt with a nasty hoof abscess and popped splint. But again, as I reminded myself that my journey was mine and no one else’s, I kept on the path that made sense for me and my horse. Forgetting about timelines and the other trainers, Java and I successfully stepped into the Show Jumper ring in October 2017 and stepped out with two clear rounds.

Photo courtesy of Hillary Ramspacher.

This year, Tiny has been hanging out in my field since late August, needing time off to reset physically and mentally from his short-lived career at the track. As an outsider, you may see a partnership that has been developing since August, you may worry because you don’t even know your Makeover mount yet. But from my perspective, I see a horse overwhelmed by the track, whose confidence is lacking and whose large stature makes him unsure where his body is most of the time. I see a horse who needed months of down time and who is so unsure of himself that walking over a log is cause for celebration.

But social media may skew that perception. Trainers want paint their horses in the best light and to share their successes with the world. But, horses have a way of keeping us humble and messing with our manufactured timelines. As horse trainers we all experience the setbacks and the mistakes, we just don’t share them as vigorously.

So, as Tiny and I trudge on, facing our fears and working to overcome the specific hurdles we face, its soothing to know that we are all in this journey together… separately. We lift each other up, celebrating the accomplishments and rooting for our fellow trainers. At the same time keeping our heads down, working to compare ourselves to no one but who we were yesterday and staying in our lane, no matter how appealing your neighbor’s lane may look.