How To Turn Your Zero Into a Hero

When horse shopping turned into buying and retraining a green OTTB, Meagan DeLisle had no idea just what sort of journey she was in for — but she’s learning every step of the way!

Meagan and Joey at their last (and best to date) schooling show. Photo by Cassie Zimmerman

Meagan and Joey at their last (and best to date) schooling show. Photo by Cassie Zimmerman

When I pictured my return to the saddle, I definitely didn’t envision bringing along a green OTTB while retraining myself. After my husband Wayne uttered those fateful words “sure, we can horse shop” I spent two weeks scouring the internet, searching for my perfect partner. We knew that OTTBs would probably be my best bet with my large ambition and shoe string budget, but my goal was to find something restarted with some show miles under its belt.

And then I found myself signing that check for the skinny 17 hand, eight-year-old bay gelding at the barn that my coach had purchased as a project but hadn’t really worked with. I remember the first day I rode him, my coach told me to just hold on and turn in circles if he got to moving too quickly and after one semi-controlled ride I fell in love. I have officially owned Joey (JC: Texas Holdem Joe) for two months now and while the journey hasn’t been seamless, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Step One: Understand that both you and your horse thinks you are each the boss.

I am very thankful that Joey had several months of turnout to just be a horse before I bought him. My coach Cassie pulled him off the track last November and drug him out of the field every now and then to work with him or to put one of our more advanced riders on him, but he spent most of those months winding down from track life. Our first few rides were … interesting. We spent a long time trying to figure out the best way to communicate our goals with one another. My goal: to make it over the fence safely. Joey’s goal: to get over that fence as fast as possible and then charge to the next one.

I took a few weeks off of fences and strictly worked on our flat skills and played around over some poles to really find the best way to work with Joey. I can recall the exact moment when we “clicked.” We were jumping small courses in a lesson and Joey was charging around like he was in the jump-off of a lifetime. He was frustrated with me always getting in his face and I was frustrated with feeling as if he wasn’t listening. Frustration = failure, if you are in the saddle. Nothing good can come about wanting to give up, but Cassie broke it down clearly for me: stop thinking like a junter and think like a jumper. Half-halt, half-halt, half-halt, release. We went around again and I thought I could hear a choir of angels as we sailed over the fence — we got each other.

Practice makes perfect! Photo by horse show husband extraordinaire Wayne DeLisle

Practice makes perfect! Photo by horse show husband extraordinaire Wayne DeLisle.

Step Two: Swallow your pride or get off the horse.

I am so blessed to have Joey as my first project. He is so athletic and willing; I can’t imagine other horses are this simple to work with. But it hasn’t all been easy: he has been wonderful at home and we have hauled off to shows only for him to have a mental breakdown because there was a pony riding too close to him (I have never met a horse with such a hatred for ponies until Joey came into my life). We have jumped a fence perfectly only to come again and he glares it down like there was a dragon underneath it. We can nail that right lead change every time, but gosh darnit I am not sure that we will ever get that left.

There have been several moments where I had to “check myself” and remind myself that Joey isn’t going to do everything perfectly like a made horse. He is going to have oops moments and so am I, so being happy with a well-earned fourth place was going to have to replace striving for that blue. I temporarily had to trade in my dreams of cantering 2’6″ for crossrails as we let Joey adjust to his new life. I had to learn to put his needs first so that he rounds out to be a well-trained horse for our future. That sacrifice has been nothing but beneficial for the both of us.

Step Three: Prepare yourself for the unthinkable!

It takes a combination of patience, understanding, strength (mental and physical) and perseverance to bring along a green horse, but this whole process has been so rewarding that I can’t imagine it any other way. There is a strong sense of achievement that rises in me when we accomplish new goals, stronger than the feelings I would get riding my made horse. Knowing that with your help, this horse is progressing along and happy with their new career keeps me going on the tough days.

There are going to be moments when you look up from the ground at your horse and think, “Uhhh, what just happened?” And then there are going to be the times you are crying as you make your way out of the arena because your noodle of a horse won the hack. Working with a greenie improves your abilities as a rider and make you a strong equestrian over all. So buckle up! Take on the adventure at hand and document every little moment. Because just like kids, one day you’re going to wake up and they’re going to be all grown up and you are going to wonder where that time went!

I think Joey might be experiencing the typical human “teen years:” I never know what I am gonna get!

Working with a green horse has it's challenging days, but it's all worth it at the end of the day! Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Working with a green horse has it’s challenging days, but it’s all worth it at the end of the day! Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Meagan DeLisle has spent her whole life clipping photos of horses out of magazines and dreaming of the day that her photo appears in one. She spends her days balancing her new marriage, a demanding career, and a desire to spend every free moment in the saddle.

Meagan and Joey. Photo by Cassie Zimmerman.

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