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Retired Racehorse Project Showcase: Reflections on the Journey, Part 1

With time ticking away before the Thoroughbred Makeover in October, we’re pausing to catch our breath this month so our spotlight trainers can reflect on their progress so far.

We are in the final countdown as trainers and horses hurriedly prepare and polish up before the Makeover in October. We thought this was a fine time to reflect back on where each trainer started and see what challenges and triumphs this process has brought them and their equine partners along the way. Some have overcome multiple challenges while others have had to make tough decisions, but all of them have stood strong and made the best decision they could with the horse in mind.

Kallie Zeinstra: Competitive Trail, Professional

“My greatest achievement with Jacob is the bond we have formed with each other.”

Kallie and Jacob started out this journey with probably the most unpredictable future ahead of them. Jacob was cranky, aggressive, and unmotivated when he first arrived at Kallie’s farm, but she didn’t let that deter her. With a great deal of patience, she moved along at a pace that was comfortable for Jacob which led him to be the loving and sweet gelding he is today. “Being able to walk up to his stall, scratch him on the forehead and give him a cookie without fear of aggressive retaliation has been our biggest achievement,” expressed Kallie.

Jacob bravely tackling some trail obstacles in preparation for the RRP. Photo by Kerri Zeinstra.

Of course, that lack of motivation definitely made Jacob’s retraining process a bit of a challenge. He lacked the inspiration to move out under saddle; in fact, his go-to reaction when asked to go forward was to stop or go backwards, refusing to go forward. While many might have resorted to using aids such as spurs or a crop, Kallie knew this was not the method that would create a bond with Jacob. Instead she incorporated long walks with lots of opportunities to use his brain, such as obstacles, has really encouraged Jacob to be a forward mover. Their slow and steady progress has paid off, as Jacob is now a wonderful trail mount who is willing to try almost everything Kallie asks. They have recently started cantering and Jacob has taken to the new gait under saddle quite well.

As a trainer, Kallie doesn’t enjoy working within time constraints and when a client asks for a finished horse within 30, 60, or 90 days she knows that the pressure could lead to negative feelings on both her end and the horses. She knows from experience that if you push a horse too fast, there can be major roadblocks down the road. So when Kallie opted to do the Makeover, she didn’t think of her training regimen as having a timeline. Rather she gave herself set goals which she could adapt and move around based off of Jacob’s needs. While they may go to the Makeover and not be the most perfect pair around the trail obstacles, she is eager to show the versatility of the OTTB.

Victoria Gomez: Hunters, Amateur

“Ally has become my heart horse, I am enjoying the barn again for the first time since losing Mattie two years ago this month.”

While Ally is still fairly new to Victoria, their time together has proven to be fruitful in more ways than one. Ally has quickly become the best equine partner Victoria could have asked for and has brought her so much joy in a normally sorrowful time. Two years ago this month, Victoria lost her previous heart horse, Mattie, but Ally seems to be a gift from above to bring her peace and joy. Seeing Ally brightens Victoria’s day and she has been able to enjoy long trail rides and rewarding arena work with the young mare.

With their partnership having started so late, Victoria and Ally have been working in some tight time constraints which has definitely been a big challenge for the pair. Ally is coming along well, however, despite her later start and has really come into her own both on the flat and over fences. Another challenge that Victoria has had to face while preparing for the RRP was balancing her riding with her responsibilities as a mother of two young children. Her husband works full time and attends school, but thankfully her mom has stepped in to help make her dreams possible. With her mother’s help, Victoria is able to go to the barn between four and five days a week which would not be possible without her mom’s help.

Despite her young age, Ally’s loving and willing personality has quickly led to her becoming Victoria’s much needed heart horse. Photo by Heidi Rockhold.

While many of the pair’s competition has already begun showing and fine tuning their training, this month-old pair is building up the basics such as strengthening her right lead canter. Rather than get frustrated by their short period of time to train before the competition, Victoria reminds herself of a quote that a good friend told her: “the RPP isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning, a stepping stone for both of our futures.” With Ally being just three years old, Victoria is keeping her future in mind and not pushing her for too much in their training time for the RRP. They hope to attend a horse show at the end of the month to practice what they have been striving for at home.

Katie McIntyre: Field Hunter, Amateur

“Looking back at the past year, nothing has really turned out the way I expected it to when I was getting started last November.”

When Katie started this journey last November, she expected to purchase a horse that would be easy to work with and a quick resale at the RRP this October. So she sought out Porter from After the Races, a big gelding which was what seemed to be the easiest to sell. To her surprise, the four year old gelding quickly proved his worth and has exceeded her expectations. While not every ride has been perfect (Porter has an odd little twirl he likes to do if he feels uncomfortable which has allowed Katie’s neck strap to be put to good use on occasion), Porter has always been up to the challenge. She describes him as one of the happiest horses she has ever had the privilege to own and she adores his try-hard personality. She feels their best moment together to date has been their first cross country outing at their first intro event together. Despite having some fences that were not so pretty, she sported a smile the whole time because of how fun Porter is to work with.

At the end of every storm is a rainbow. At the end of every rainbow is a….Porter? Photo by Katie McIntyre.

Katie is about to face a new challenge — a move to a new state, leaving her job of over ten years, her wonderful barn family, and many of her friends who have helped make preparing for the RRP such a fun experience. With that move came the difficult decision to only bring one horse with her and despite her original intentions, Porter made the cut. Because she has spent the past six or so weeks focusing on their move, she hasn’t been able to stick to a strict schedule with Porter and with his age and the move in mind, she most likely will not be making the trip to Kentucky this year.

The most difficult thing about preparing for the RRP for Katie was the timeline and when you factor in all of their upcoming life changes, she doesn’t want to put pressure on Porter to perform if he isn’t ready. She wants to take her time to build his confidence in the field for hunting and his future in cross country. Ultimately, she plans on making the move and seeing how Porter adjusts to the new lifestyle and in his training before making the final decision as to if she wants to withdraw him from the Makeover. Even if they don’t make it to the RRP, the experience of working towards the competition was more than worth the application fee in Katie’s mind. “It has been really fun to see everyone’s updates and the whole community has been welcoming. And finally, I ended up with a really awesome OTTB who I will hopefully share many many more miles with.”

Amy Lent: Freestyle, Professional

“I prepare the best I can in the amount of time I have with that horse and I am happy if they behave at the Makeover.”

With having to start over twice now, Amy has definitely faced her fair share of challenges in preparation for the Makeover. She was thrilled to see that despite their short time together that Edeline was making such positive strides in the barrel pattern. They attended a barrel race at the end of July just to do the warm ups and she was running the pattern quite well. Amy chose not to push her as the footing was very deep and it was her first time asking Edeline for more speed. Unlike many barrel horses, once Amy asked her to walk she put her head down and walked out on a loose rein. She showed an immense amount of progress to be a handy barrel or ranch horse. The pair also spent a good amount of time working over the obstacles that she would do in the freestyle.

Unfortunately, life happens sometimes and makes other plans for you. Edeline has had her moments in the past when it came to line driving and one day she flat out refused to do them, laying herself down four times rather than moving forward over them. The last time she laid herself down, she rolled over some breaking Amy’s harness. The mare was making so much progress under saddle that Amy really wanted to focus on the driving again.

On July 30th, Amy hitched her up and Edeline pulled the cart with Amy leading her. After seeing that she was a bit nervous in the turns, Amy unhitched her and began to work with her in the lines which she did beautifully the first way, but not so much the second way. They worked through their challenges and by the end of the path Edeline was showing off a nice long and low trot. Amy began to drive her towards the barn and Edeline began to act up again, as they entered the barn the mare became frazzled and locked up, refusing to move so Amy took the harness off, but the mare still wouldn’t move. Suddenly, she reared up, slipped, and fell onto her side. When she finally got up, she was holding her right hind up. Amy had the vet check her out, only to find that she broke the wing of her ilium in her pelvis and will need 6-9 months of stall rest with rehab. She will only ever be a light riding horse because of this injury, but she has a forever home with Amy.

Edeline, the day before her injury, at a barrel race. Photo by Elaine Eddy.

The time constraints of the RRP are definitely a challenge, but Amy refuses to push her horses too fast. She makes the best of the time they have together and as long as she has a good experience at the Makeover, she feels accomplished. Last year she did not have the time she would have liked to have spent with her mount and still wound up second in the Freestyle. Now with Edeline on stall rest, she only has two months to prepare her next mount. She has some other options for retraining and hopes to fill her two entries for the RRP by the time of the competition. Amy’s time with us will be ending as she places her focus on her other mounts, but we wish her the best of luck in her preparation and hope to see her there with happy, healthy horses that fulfil her goal of making the Makeover a positive experience.

Saying goodbye to these pairs that we have grown attached too isn’t easy, but seeing them make the best decisions for their horses is moving. You can’t argue with the quote that Victoria shared with us this month: the RRP is much more than the competition. The experience and opportunities it opens up for each of these trainers and their mounts are endless. We know that each of them will thrive in their own way, even if the RRP isn’t in their cards.

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