Retired Racehorse Project Showcase: For Better or For Worse, Part I

Our spotlight Retired Racehorse Project trainers share their highs and lows from the training experience so far — because as we know, life with horses isn’t all sunshine and rainbows!

Spring is in full force and so are our showcased Retired Racehorse Project Makeover trainers! With many exciting events on their calendars, they are experiencing all the highs and lows that come with retraining a Thoroughbred fresh off of the racetrack. This month, our trainers give us a quick update as to what they are working on and summarize their highest and lowest moment with their partner so far — and what they did to balance out all of the chaos!

Kallie Zeinstra – Competitive Trail, Professional

“We are now approaching our fourth month together and Jacob’s outlook on life has begun to change.”

 Despite great progress, Kallie feels she and Jacob haven’t had their BEST moment so far. Their biggest improvement together has been adjusting Jacob’s mentality regarding life, work, and his new human companion. When Kallie first acquired Jacob, he wasn’t the most affectionate horse. Four months later, Jacob “talks” to Kallie when she visits the barn and enjoys a nice walk and navigating obstacles in hand with her. Thanks to the recent improvement in weather, Kallie was able to take Jacob on his first real adventure. She hauled Jacob and another horse of hers to a local park. He was alert when exiting the trailer, but respectful. Kallie led Jacob while her mom rode beside them on their other horse for 2.5 miles. To her surprise, Jacob was very bold and confident, showing off his swinging forward walk as they explored.

Handsome Jacob enjoying his first trail outing! Photo by Kerri Zeinstra

Kallie shares that often one positive with Jacob is followed by a few negatives. While Kallie once felt it was a positive step in the right direction to turn Jacob out in a large field with a friend after her acclimated to the property, he quickly proved her wrong. He came in lame with a swollen pastern and sore foot after a feisty play session in the field. A few days later, Jacob was systematically cornering and kicking his best friend Baxter the Percheron. As if Kallie didn’t have enough work with the one lame horse, she now got to wrap and Epsom salt both horses! Keeping his multiple personality issues in mind, Kallie is moving at a slow pace to allow Jacob to be at his most comfortable before pursuing heavy under saddle work.

While working with Jacob has at times been an uphill battle, she is sorting out the balance between his very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personalities. His mood swings leave him a bit unpredictable at times, but rather than let those episodes defeat her Kallie reminds herself of his past and looks for ways to improve his future and his attitude. Thankfully, Kallie has a wonderful gathering of friends, family, and fellow professionals to encourage her and offer her guidance along the way. When she is feeling down, she reminds herself of where Jacob might have ended up had she not found him and knows that working with him will only improve her abilities as a horsewoman.

Victoria Gomez – Show Jumping, Amateur

“My horse had every reason to behave badly and instead she walked calmly up and down the aisle, beside my stroller, stopping every so often to sniff my 6 month old.”

A few setbacks in their original plan won’t stop this pair! Victoria and Athena are continuing to make progress in their partnership together. They actually shared their record best moment together this week, which was an event that didn’t happen under saddle. To start the day off, Athena nickered at Victoria for the first time when she walked in the barn. After three weeks of stall rest, Victoria brought Athena out for her second day of hand walking. Balancing a tight schedule, Victoria was only able to go to the barn in the afternoon which meant the kids had to go along with her. Even with a scary stroller full of noisy children and stallions screaming at Athena from across the hall, the pretty mare plodded along calmly. Once returned to her stall, she leaned her head out the door and let Victoria’s two year old daughter love on her. If you remember, Victoria purchased this horse off the track after seeing a photo of a leaping “unicorn,” but the mare also has a patient side. Moments like that are what make everything worth it.

One heck of an abscess has kept the pair from under saddle work this month. Their veterinarian had to open the abscess twice, but after three weeks of stall rest, lots of soaking and hoof packing, they finally found their light at the end of the tunnel! Athena is sound again. She is currently only cleared for hand walking, but they are hoping Athena can enjoy some light turnout in a few weeks. The abscess and lack of work has taken a toll on the mare’s weight, so the pair has to work hard to get Athena back into prime shape — but what a blessing that it was no more serious than an abscess!

Athena showing her softer side by allowing the adorable Paisley to enjoy some pony cuddles. Photo by Victoria Gomez.

The highs and the lows of working with horses is stressful, but Victoria keeps herself level headed by constantly reminding herself that Athena is young and green and will experience setbacks along the way. That’s just the way of the horse world! She doesn’t have to work hard to keep herself positive, because even though their short term goal is the Makeover, Athena is a long term project for Victoria. For now they are just focusing on securing soundness and then they will get back into a program and get to the Makeover! The pair is stuck together for quite some time — after all, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey along the way.

Katie McIntyre – Field Hunter, Amateur

“Our photos this month might not be of big jumps…but I have had a great time all month with a wonderful group of friends! And for me, that is the experience I want for Porter and myself as we get closer to the RRP.”

 Katie and Porter are continuing to soak up all of the supplemental education that they can in preparation for the upcoming Makeover. She has been able to haul the handsome gelding off the farm to try something new almost every weekend! Porter attended day one of a Nora Bettig XC clinic after almost two months off due to weather and Katie’s work. They also attended a working equitation clinic at AOPF Stables. Then they attended a schooling jumper show to get some more exposure to large gatherings of horses and people. While he was a bit confused by the fancier jumps, he settled in and had a great trip. Rounding out the month, they attended a paper chase in Unionville, PA. Their best moment together so far, however, has been riding at Fair Hill with friends. Porter listens to his rider and never gets overly excited, which Katie appreciates as an Adult Amateur who wants to have fun along this process.

While there isn’t one day or one moment in particular that has been their worst moment together, Katie admits that often times Porter doesn’t always understand the question that is being asked of him. In order to keep a healthy balance of education and enjoyment in their program, Katie makes her best effort to select exercises that will not leave Porter over faced and scared. With social media, Katie claims it is easy to go online and see all of the new things their competitors might be doing which can leave you worrying if you feel you might be behind in your training. She tries to not let that mentality catch her and guide her to introduce things to Porter that he isn’t ready for. She just wants to enjoy the ride!

Porter giving his best effort over a crossrail at the Grove Point Stables Jumper Show. Photo by June Rice

In order to keep herself and Porter at the pace they find comfortable, Katie frequently reminds herself that every horse moves at a different pace and are talented at different things. She knows that even if her training is moving a hair slower due to her balance of work, home life, and riding her Novice level OTTB, that she is still moving in a positive direction towards her goals for both of her horses. Her goal was to have a happy, well rounded horse after the Makeover was over and so far she is meeting that goal.

Heather Louisiana – Working Ranch, Professional

“I had a lot of people come up to me and say how much they loved seeing the transformation in a nervous racehorse the first day to a horse pushing a cow the next. Everything we do in training in home or out is a training moment.”

 After being selected to ride with Van Hargis in two clinics at the Northwest Horse Expo in Albany, Heather and Henry packed up their things and set out to learn! The first clinic was called “creating a winning attitude in your horse” and the other “intro to cows,” so the pair had a lot they could combat in just one weekend. After a five hour trailer ride and a night to settle in, they were ready to go. Saturday was their first day riding and Henry faced quite a few stressors that day. The crowds, the length of a clinic (not many racehorses are good at standing for long periods of time), the speakers — it all led him to be a bit nerve-wracking. Despite that fear, however, Henry never ran off. He focused on Heather and by the end of the day was going around on a loose rein. Even when he was introduced to cattle on Sunday, he stayed calm and relaxed and even got a cow split from the herd!

Heather and Henry were the recipient of plenty of praise while at the clinic, as their transformation over just a few days was noticeable to the audience. When asked what their biggest struggle was so far, Heather offered this piece of sage advice, “I don’t see anything we have done as being a bad moment. Everything we do in training at home or out is a training moment. Things to learn from. I even need reminders from time to time about relaxing and to let Henry make a mistake. He won’t learn if I don’t let him fall.”

Henry and Heather working their first calf together. Photo by Alise Lamoreaux

After many years of putting others in front of herself, Heather is so thankful to have the opportunity to work with Henry towards this impressive goal. It is much more to her than just playing with a racehorse, its about bringing herself back to what she loves- horses. She sees this year as her year to have fun and reach the goals she has set for herself that have previously been pushed aside. With a positive attitude, she pushes forward through the successes and the struggles to make this dream come true!

Amy Lent – Freestyle, Professional

“I know there are going to be days that we have our problems to fix, but the days that are good are the reason I keep going.”

Amy hasn’t had the easiest month, but she continues to work in a positive manner with all of her horses. To start off, the pair have officially joined up in the round pen. After previously working with Dan James last year on her liberty work, Amy felt it was important to introduce that work to Azumi. Now the once-hesitant mare comes to Amy if she backs up and follows her around. Despite some obvious frustrations that Azumi harbored from her past life, she now willingly goes over or through any obstacle that Amy faces her with. The pair have finally gained what Amy feels is complete trust and she feels the liberty work she did with Azumi has definitely helped to establish that bond.

Azumi might have been a little hesitant in the beginning, but this feisty red mare has built a great bond with Amy. Photo by Elaine Eddy

Sadly, Azumi has been on the back burner a bit this month as Amy has made her way through some difficult times with her other horses. They lost a broodmare to colic at the beginning of March, only to lose the premature foal the next day. Another Makeover horse that is staying at Amy’s farm had a “moment” in the round pen, causing him to lose of part of his hoof. Thankfully, the injury will heal but it will take some time, which caused them to find a replacement Makeover mount. As if that wasn’t enough, another broodmare foaled and then rejected her filly and without a nurse mare to care for the foal, Amy has been caring for her day and night. While Amy hasn’t had the most difficult of times with Azumi yet, her struggles with her other horses are a reminder to us that working with these animals is never easy. Our Horse Nation family hopes that some sunshine makes way into Amy’s life so she can get back to working with Azumi.

Of course, they have had highs and lows so far, but Amy takes each day as it comes. She is no stranger to the fact that they will have their fair share of bad days. As a true horsewoman, Amy tackles those bad days head on and reminds herself that good days are soon to come. Through all of the hardships, working with Azumi and feeling her click with Amy has been worth it all. With any of her horses, Amy is just happy to find what they do best and help them make a new life out of it.

It’s not always fun and games when it comes to retraining a racehorse off of the track, but all of our trainers are looking forward to more progress as they each tackle their own set of obstacles. Keep an eye out for our second edition of our trainers update on April 28th!

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