Retired Racehorse Project Showcase: Training Begins, Part I

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Our spotlighted trainers who are repurposing former racehorses for the 2017 Retired Race Horse Project Makeover are well on their way into retraining their new partners. While each one has a theory and timeline of their own when it comes to training, they all share one thing in common: their passion for the Thoroughbred! Let’s check in on how our trainers are doing…

Kallie Zeinstra – Competitive Trail, Professional

“I’m most excited to see Jacob change and grow in his new life- to be a part of this process with any horse makes me feel very special.

Being a professional, Kallie is no stranger to training or retraining horses for their new careers. She always starts by building an outline that factors in the time period she has to work with the horse and the end goal. Her first priority with Jacob was to give him a few months of downtime to just be a horse, to treat his ulcers (a common issue in off the track racehorses), and to fix his unbalanced hooves with natural hoof trimming methods.

Just because he gets a tiny bit of a break from saddle work doesn’t mean he gets a few months to goof off, however! Kallie intends on using this downtime to her advantage by laying down a solid foundation of groundwork with him. With the goal of showing in competitive trail, Kallie is going to introduce Jacob to a conglomerate of obstacles and patterns to desensitize him to new objects, both in hand and under saddle. She has already lined up a list of off-property shows and trail riding opportunities that will help acclimate him to travel and new experiences.

With a set plan, she and Jacob are ready to move forth and conquer! She has already begun with a considerable amount of ground work. Jacob has been introduced to stopping square, backing up and walking and trotting in a relaxed manner in hand. To keep things fun and exciting, she has already implemented a few obstacles into his training regimen and uses anything she can find laying around to place in front of him, including pool noodles, cones, tarps, and even a live pet turkey! Jacob is getting quite an education early on to make him bomb proof — a necessity with competitive trail.

With a recent break in the poor weather, Kallie decided to hop on him just one time (her ultimate goal is to officially back him in March) to see how he would respond. So far, he has been slow to move forward and has needed a little encouragement. To build his confidence under saddle, she intends on keeping with groundwork as her schedule originally planned so they can have a solid trusting relationship and he will lose a bit of that hesitance.

Kallie is most excited to watch Jacob develop into that brave and confident horse he can be and hopes to fill in a few gaps in his history along the way. All she truly knows about his past is that he raced 59 times in six years and changed ownership 14 times along the way. Whatever happened in those first eight years have made Jacob the horse he is today, and Kallie hopes that in the time that they are together that she can help him become an even better horse in the future. That dream isn’t always without a few challenges, however. She knows that Jacob’s stoic personality (while pleasant and easy to appreciate for the most part!) is going to take a little bit of persuasion to inspire him to move forward freely under saddle.

Kallie's first ride on a very confused Jacob. Photo by Kerri Zeinstra

Kallie’s first ride on a very confused Jacob. Photo by Kerri Zeinstra

And of course, these updates aren’t complete without a little humor! When Kallie backed Jacob for the first time, he was a hair…. confused. You see, his last jockey weighed a whopping 119 pounds and Kallie admits that she isn’t quite jockey sized. Once she swung a leg over, Jacob stood with his legs splayed out, his back dropped about three inches, and his ears were out to the side like a mule. He seemed quite confused by the experience and eventually grew accustomed to carrying her 5’9” frame, but she will never forget his expression the first time she rode him!

Victoria Gomez – Show Jumping, Amateur

“I fully believe that a well-trained horse on the flat makes for an easier horse to train when introducing jumps.

With training two horses for the Makeover, being a full time mom to two rambunctious youngsters, and adding a new puppy to their family, Victoria is becoming a pro at juggling her ever-changing schedule. Her first step to setting up a training schedule was making the tough decision to board her two horses at different barns due to their needs. Her jumper mount Athena needed a more regulated schedule and was going to benefit more by being in a formal hunter/jumper barn while her hunter mount Sailor was happy in the more relaxed atmosphere of their original boarding facility.

Once she had both horses settled in, she created some open-ended goals for Athena. Victoria allows the horse to catch on at its own pace and determines the next step from there. Her first goal with Athena was steering and moving forward. Once her rides are consistently showing improvement in those areas, she will factor in aids and the horses ability to move off of her leg without going forward. A firm believer in flatwork, she has a list of things both her horses will accomplish on the flat prior to being introduced to jumps.

Right now, Victoria and Athena are working on building a relationship both on the ground and under saddle. Athena has quite a few nervous tendencies while in crossties, while being led and during mounting, so Victoria’s first piece of business is to build her confidence up so that she is trusting of her. She has several goals for her special mare on the ground including stall manners. Victoria wants to feel comfortable with a novice being able to enter Athena’s stall and groom and blanket her. To adjust Athena to her new life, Victoria does everything in small increments and spends a good amount of time in her stall blanketing her, spreading shavings and feeding so that Athena grows accustomed to having someone in the stall. Thankfully, Athena relaxes nicely while under saddle so they are working on impulsion and stretching through her back for the next few rides.

Despite a few anxious tics, Victoria is very excited about how naturally the retraining process seems to come to her. Even on her first ride post-track life, she began to relax and work from her hind end into the bridle, allowing her neck to lengthen some. She has a natural balance and a smooth placement of her feet in every gait. When trotting and cantering, Athena is very powerful, but uphill and collected, while still feeling dainty and not too overpowering. With each step they take together, Victoria grows more and more eager to see her partners’ natural ability cross over into the Jumper ring.

A successful first ride for Victoria and Athena. Photo by Heidi Rockhold.

A successful first ride for Victoria and Athena. Photo by Heidi Rockhold.

Victoria knew when she bought Athena that she physically resembled her former jumper mare, Mattie, but she figured the comparisons would stop there. She was wrong! Athena is just as sensitive and sometimes moody as Mattie was, so much so that Victoria’s mom has accidentally called her Mattie and her husband calls her MJ for Mattie Junior. She has high hopes they share one other thing in common: Mattie’s springs in her feet when jumping!

Katie McIntyre – Field Hunter, Amateur

“At the end of this experience, I still want a horse that is curious and enjoys his job. So a lot of the schedule is up to him!

Portly Porter is setting the pace when it comes to Katie’s retraining process with him. Her immediate concern is getting Porter to see as many new things as possible and hauling him to various places. Porter turns four on February 10th (happy birthday Porter!) and never actually raced, so he didn’t get as much experience as many former track horses might.

She is spending some of the winter non-riding time looking at schedules for potential schooling shows they can attend, but she always keeps a backup plan. Balancing her work/riding schedule isn’t always easy, as she has limited flexibility to get out and ride during the day due to work. She also has another OTTB who she competes, so she is working on merging both horses’ schedules with her own. Creativity is a key factor when laying out Porter’s training regime!

Currently, Katie is keeping Porter busy with several trips so he can experience some new situations to better prepare him for traveling off the security of the farm. While her trainer spends the winter in sunny Florida, she came back north to help her students who had to stay behind, so Katie and Porter started retraining with a two-day Nora Battig clinic. There was a whole group of young Thoroughbreds in the clinic and they all had a great time working on flat work and small jumps. Nora tailored the clinic exercises to each riders mount, which was very beneficial!

They also took several trips to allow Porter to hack out. With their end goal of competing in field hunters, Katie plans on taking Porter to see as many trails as she can. Fortunately, they live near Fair Hill. When not hosting a 3*, Fair Hill allows them to use their 5000+ acres to ride. Porter loved hitting the trails and has been a solid citizen, tackling bridges, water, tunnels and even deer running beside him!

Porter’s friendly, in your pocket personality has Katie very excited about the future. While she has limited history on his connections prior to coming through the New Start Program at Penn National and on to After the Races, she wants to extend a thank you to everyone who played a part in who he is now. They obviously took excellent care of him and gave him a great start. He is game for anything and has a great brain, which is perfect for an adult amateur with a changing schedule. She is so excited to have a horse who is not overly concerned by new situations and is happy to get off the farm.

Porter exploring a whole new world with Katie! Photo by Kelly Komisor

Porter exploring a whole new world with Katie! Photo by Kelly Komisor

Driven a little by stir craziness, Katie took Porter out with a friend and her three-yea- old TB, Coal, who has been under saddle only three months. Without a proper pony horse to help guide the babies around, both riders were prepared to dismount and lead Porter and Coal through anything that might worry them. But both of the boys were extremely unfazed by everything around them! Shout out to Jo Ann, a Fair Hill Ranger, who helped the girls tack up and saw them out to their trail safely.

Heather Louisiana – Working Ranch, Professional

“Having this goal and journey of heading to the Makeover has really lifted me back up. I have felt stuck the last few years without a set equine goal to achieve after all the years I spent on and off deployments and other military obligations.

Heather may have to combat some snow and military commitments, but she isn’t letting that stop her from her aspirations of seeing Henry success at the RRP Makeover! She is already planning and applying for certain events that will help give the two of them solid deadlines to work towards in preparation for the Makeover. That being said, between her being gone for extended periods of time, there may be little prep time right before some events — but she is confident that Henry will take it all in stride.

Weekly barrel races will start up again soon, so Heather hopes to take Henry so he can see and adjust to the commotion and maybe participate in a few time-only runs as the pattern can help with future exercises. Her biggest training factor is the cattle work. She knows of people who own cattle; it’s just the matter of getting consistent time to train with them to best prepare Henry. For now, she is planning on solidifying the basics down for a solid reining-type pattern, lead changes, and roll backs.

While the snow has kept them from seriously reintroducing saddle work, Heather isn’t letting that stop her and Henry from growing and learning together. She spends a lot of time on the ground building their relationship in as fun and interactive of ways as possible. Henry is always giving her 100% of his attention and has latched on to her pretty well. He has begun following her around while doing chores, even trying to “help out” every now and then! This extensive amount of ground work has most definitely helped to build a trusting relationship for the few times she has ridden him.

Heather is enthusiastic about the transformation that will come throughout the year once all of the key pieces fall into place. Henry’s personality has brought her so much joy and knowing that she has an end goal to work towards has uplifted her spirits. As the two work and progress together, she knows their bond will continue to grow. Despite their circumstances, Henry has already shown how patient he is — no fuss, jump, spook or flinch.

Henry playing Lobster Tag with Bullet. Photo by Heather Louisiana

Henry emjoying a rousing game of Lobster Herding with Bullet. Photo by Heather Louisiana

Refusing to let the massive amount of snow hold them back, Heather has had to find alternative ways to train Henry. Thankfully, her little dog Bullet is willing to lend a helping hand by participating in what Heather calls “Lobster Herding.” Henry already shows a natural willingness to track, so that when it’s time to remove the little lobster Bullet and factor in cattle, the transition will be easy!

Amy Lent – Freestyle, Professional

“I let the horse help guide what we are doing for training along with their career choice.

Since losing Beck’s Mill, her previous selection for the Makeover, Amy had to start over to see which one of her other horses would accept the cart. It is very important to her training philosophy that the horse is happy and accepting of their new career, so it was time to introduce a few of her other RRP eligible training projects to their potential new life. Amy knew she wanted to drive a Thoroughbred in the freestyle to break some of the breed barriers, so she began testing each horse to see who would tolerate the cart. She took each Makeover candidate up to the cart and let them touch it and have a good look at it. Once the horse seems to be accepting of those new scenarios, she pulls the cart while walking with the horse.

It was easy to select Azumi, a 4 year old liver chestnut filly whom she adopted through Second Stride, as her new freestyle horse. Second Stride received Azumi as a neglect case about a week and a half before Amy adopted her. At first, she was very defensive but is already coming around. She was the last horse Amy thought would take to the cart as Azumi always seemed so mad at the world around her and wasn’t very eager to have much human contact. Amy intends on taking the retraining process slow and steady; as long as Azumi will drive with the cart two months before the Makeover she is happy.

To get Azumi ready for the novelty of driving, Amy has begun introducing the harness to her. She didn’t necessarily have the most positive first reaction. Amy put the surcingle with the crupper on her and Azumi turned into a bucking bronco. She quickly realized that Azumi isn’t exactly thrilled with anything under her tail, so Amy has been putting the gear on her every other day and walking her around the farm to get her desensitized to the new equipment. Azumi has finally settled in with the surcingle and crupper and no longer has a negative reaction when harnessed up. Every day, Amy adds a new piece of the harness to Azumi’s get up so she will adjust slowly but surely. Once she has calmly accepted the pieces of the harness, Amy takes her over a few obstacles to gain her trust and thankfully she has yet to find anything that the little mare is afraid of!

Amy can’t wait to see Azumi fully trust people again. Each day as she accepts something new that Amy introduces her too, they gain a lot of ground in making her a well-rounded horse. While Azumi is bonding with Amy pretty well at this point, she is still wary of other people. Amy wants to see the mares confidence grow so that she will do anything Amy asks of her or be accepting of anything Amy puts on her. She is also taking this time to observe Azumi’s strengths and see what other disciplines she might excel in as she gets her strong enough to ride. Building these kind of trusting relationships are definitely some of the most beautiful moments when working with horses.

Azumi adjusting to one of her first experiences with the cart with patient Amy by her side. Photo by Elaine Eddy

Azumi adjusting to one of her first experiences with the cart with patient Amy by her side. Photo by Elaine Eddy

Amy realized that one of Azumi’s quirks is that she doesn’t enjoy hats… someone walked past her stall while wearing one and the mare charged the front of the stall until she realized she wasn’t going to get hurt. Amy might have her hands full with this redheaded mare, but she isn’t going to give up on her until she has 100% gained her trust.

Keep following along with monthly updates on each rider and their talented horses by visiting And be sure to watch for the update from the second half of our showcase riders on Friday, February the 24th!

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