For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover was a journey of epic proportions. Between the beginning of the year and the Makeover, which took place in October at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers have blogged during their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey Burns, Hillary McMichael, Clare Mansmann, Jennifer Reisenbichler. Want to become a RRP Trainer for the 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover? Click here to find out how.
Golden leaves drifted over walkways, hot wind scuttled through the barns, and dust whirled up from under the hooves of 400 thoroughbreds. There was a battle of the seasons raging in Kentucky as trainers from sundry different locations bathed and braided and polished their OTTBs.
Fans were hung, bags of ice were bought, bottles of water consumed at an astonishing rate, and then suddenly after two days of preliminary competition came to a close, so did the record-setting heat. Friday morning dawned cool and crisp and the line to buy sweatshirts at the RRP booth seemed to stretch around the indoor.
Autumn had arrived, and what a fitting emphasis as the culmination of months of hard work and dreaming. There is something I love about autumn. It’s an honest season that looks for the good in things. It admits to the end of summer and the end of the growing season, but it celebrates instead of wailing. The trees glow crimson and saffron, the light takes on an amber hue. The very earth seems to take a deep breath, relishing in the accomplishments of the brighter seasons and preparing to regenerate through the winter so that the following year can again be filled with growth and harvest. Maybe I personify too much, but centuries of poetry seem to support my case.
If I had more of a poetical inclination you might be subjugated to lines in iambic pentameter paying homage to the #TBMakeover experience; luckily for you I’m more of a prose lady. I could give you a play by play of how Crash performed, but that could be rather boring. On second thought though, maybe it wouldn’t be boring.
We didn’t win any fancy ribbons, we didn’t place top twenty, we didn’t even snag the top California bred award. What we did do was laugh, and smile, and cheer on friends, and have many wet eye moments watching others live out a big dream. Crash was so brave on his long long walks from the barns to the Rolex stadium and the head of the lake. He was happy to stand around on the buckle while I talked with friends new and old. He even got a five out of five on rideability in competitive trail (or slow motion eventing for baby horses, as I call it)!
Crash earned many 7s on our dressage test impressing everyone with how fancy he can be, but we also scored as low as a 3.5. Apparently you aren’t supposed to fling your head in the air and bolt into the canter — must have missed that memo. At one point both the judge and I were laughing mid-dressage test. Crash had finally relaxed in the canter, brought his head back down out of the ozone layer, and then promptly tripped and almost fell on his face.
I could have been frustrated and sad that we had no shot of making it in to the finale, and maybe I was for a moment as I know in my heart that Crash is a nice enough horse to win at dressage every time (after he gains some maturity). I’ll be honest here, I was disappointed with myself, falling right into that trap of comparison. I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t be training horses if I can’t get at least a 70% in their initial dressage tests, maybe I’d failed Crash, maybe I was a failure. Luckily before things got any more bleak I remembered that I had eaten next to nothing and we were nearing 4pm. One chicken, bacon, ranch sandwich and bananas foster blended coffee (from the awesome KHP concessions stand) later, I’d regained a healthy perspective and could focus on the positives again. Forget being hangry, I get hangpressed.
It’s hard to stay upset while at the Makeover. There are just so many smiling faces. I’ve been to a lot of shows where those smiles are hard to find, people milling about focused on nothing but blue ribbons and being upset about not getting them. The focus is far removed from blue ribbons at the makeover, instead it’s focused on building your horse up for a bright future. On top of building up successful horses the makeover builds up successful people! People who arrive strangers leave as friends, instead of worrying about giving away an advantage, knowledge is shared about everything, training tips, grooming tips, confidence tips, etc. The cross discipline camaraderie should be #lifegoals for equestrians everywhere!
Another thing I’ve noticed at the makeover is that people don’t take being there for granted. We are a thankful bunch. We understand the journey to get there and a year’s worth of work can get sidetracked by an abscess before you can blink. We can’t reroute to a different show in two weeks, or I guess we could but it won’t be another Makeover. People save and scrape and skimp to get there. Some of us are serial attendees and for some it’s a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t think that pulling into the Kentucky Horse Park with a horse in my trailer will ever lose its thrill. I’m so thankful for every laugh, every memory, and every friend that the makeover has created.
If there is something we can learn from the Makeover and from the Retired Racehorse Project itself, it’s this: Choose a dream, chase the dream, surround yourself with people who also chase dreams. From four horses to 400, from local to international, from the sport of kings to the kings of sport, thank you to everyone at RRP for teaching us how to bring dreams to fruition. Thank you for promoting the Thoroughbred. Thank you for the education, thank you for the platform, thank you for the experience.
Don’t forget to keep track of important dates, updated rules, etc for next year’s makeover at tbmakeover.org.