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!
Earlier this month we heard from the first half of our showcase trainers on their ups and downs during this retraining process. Continue reading on to hear the second half’s take on the challenges they can be faced with while molding these former racehorses for their new careers!
Nicole Valeri – Barrel Racing, Professional
“Emotions always play a huge role when it comes to horse, or any animal for that matter. They will read you like a book and know when you’re trying to fool them. They know your heart.
Everyone’s personal best moment varies, but for Nicole and Sly their best moment all came down to a new pair of shoes. Nicole has been fighting with Sly’s thin hoof walls, paired with a minor infection in some of the old nail holes, therefore putting shoes on immediately was not an option. Thankfully, Nicole has a wonderful farrier (Jamie Colder) who helped Sly’s condition quickly improve. When her shoes were able to be put on, Nicole was ecstatic as the health of her hooves were truly a testament to a good diet, hard work and a pinch of patience. With those new shoes on, the pair were able to go on two trail rides this month: one solo and one with a friend. Despite a few scenarios that could have led to less than ideal reactions from Sly, both opportunities off the farm were equally impressive and uneventful. It was a great bonding moment for the pair of them.
Sly and Nicole needed a positive step forward after Sly healed from cutting her back leg in the pasture. That was a disappointing moment for Nicole, as they had just healed up Sly’s sore track ankles and she had hopes of riding soon. Another three weeks of healing stared at Nicole dauntingly, which didn’t help the feeling in the back of her mind that they might be falling behind their competition. Sly grew increasingly frustrated with the healing process as she had just gotten a good taste of freedom and was now limited to her stall. In fact, her nature took a turn for the worse as she took no shortcuts in showing her dissatisfaction by kicking out frequently.
Nicole found peace throughout the whirlwinds of changes by detaching herself from her emotions before going to work with Sly. When she feels frustrated or disappointed, she always takes a moment to center herself and focusing on the moment at hand rather than worrying about the past or future. Nicole’s words sum it up the best, “It’s easy to get caught up in competition pressuring yourself and your mount to be where everyone else is in their training. But the fact of the matter is it’s an individual journey and you can’t rush a horse into a pace it is not prepared for.” She loves to take a step back and enjoy the little things, like watching a horse in the pasture or just enjoying their company to help herself find peace.
Lauren Turner – Eventing, Professional
“The pathway to success is always a roller coaster — and with horses, it seems to be even more dramatic!
Joining us for the first time is Lauren Turner, an FEI rider based out of Georgia who after riding Gift at a cross country clinic permanently took over the reins on the adorable grey gelding. Lauren is passionate about OTTBs thanks to her heart horse, Gallivantor, who she took from Novice to the 1* level. Her first official outing with Gift was at a schooling show in which Beth had already entered him. In typical Gift fashion, he had a bit of a struggle focusing on the flat, but he rocked it out during the cross country phase. This gave Lauren a good idea of how her training process with Gift would need to be structured in order to shape him into the best horse he can be.
Working off of that frustration during their flat phase, Lauren has spent the majority of this month working on achieving a relaxed horse on the flat that is obedient in the bridle. In order to accomplish this, Lauren is pairing a combination of groundwork and an appropriate bitting system. A huge believer in Myler bits, she appreciates the different mouth pieces they offer to help find a balance between the horses happiness and rider control. She currently has Gift going in the Myler mullen mouth piece, but she doesn’t object to changing that as their needs as a pair change. She intends on continuing the groundwork to give Gift the opportunity to work through his back and create his own suppleness prior to being ridden. Lauren can’t wait to test out his progress at their next show on April 29th!
Despite the roller coaster of a ride that can come along with working with horses, Lauren keeps her goals in mind and continues forward on a positive path. She acknowledges that it can get difficult to do when each horse in your barn comes with their own individual issues and sometimes funding can add to the frustration, but she pushes on. Success is not an overnight journey, but with long hours of work, heart-wrenching sacrifice and unwavering ambition it is closer than you think. No matter how hard it might get, Lauren continues to remind herself of that mindset and uses her passion to keep her going.
Savannah Ranes – Junior, Dressage
“The moments that I’m down and worried if we will make it or not are the moments that inspire me to work harder and to let nothing stand in my way.
Savannah knew when she brought Bentley on that he had just wrapped up recovery from a right medial sesamoid fracture from January of 2016, so when he joined her family he came to her after 10 months of rehab straight. Starting in January of this year, he was very stiff on his left side — a result of overcompensation to account for his injury. Realizing what was best for Bentley, a month ago Savannah limited their workload to simply walking and trotting so he could build himself back up in strength and balance for a better canter. Finally, Savannah felt like Bentley was ready to give the canter a try, and to her pleasure he went right into it when she asked for the transition. This was a huge moment for the pair which left Savannah ecstatic.
Of course, with every positive somewhere lurks a negative. Bentley has always been a bit of a grump when it comes to his personal space. After hauling him home from having his teeth done Savannah decided it was the opportune time to clean his sheath while he was still under some of the sedation. As she was finishing up, she turned for split second and of course that was the moment that Bentley found his clarity. He hauled off and cow kicked Savannah right in the thigh. Thankfully, despite a bruise the size of a tennis ball and some swelling, Savannah is okay. She took that negative, however, and molded it into an opportunity for him to learn. She has spent quite a bit of time desensitizing him around his stomach and sheath, which he has finally come to accept and be polite about.
Bentley is the first horse that the 15-year-old Savannah has ever trained solely on her own, aside from a once a week lesson with her trainer. It can grow frustrating for her to log on to social media and see her competition progressing and showing and feeling like she might be behind. Rather than getting down on herself, Savannah uses those moments to motivate herself to do right by Bentley. She has dreamed of the opportunity to compete at the RRP for three years now, so she bottles up that passion and her determination and makes the best of every situation and keep moving forward confidently towards their goals.
Lindsy Behrend – Hunter, Professional
“I would like very much to continue with this breed: I have definitely fallen in love with the trainability and the willingness to learn.
As a general practice, Lindsy likes to keep her horses at the 2 foot mark for the first six months of training to help build confidence. This plan wasn’t really working for Fergie, however. The longer they stayed at that height, the more bored she grew and decided to take things into her own hands by growing rushy at the fences which lead her to tap some rails. Keeping Fergie’s personality in mind, Lindsy set up some gymnastics and the pair began schooling 2’6” fences on the backside of the lines to help her draw in her focus. It was like a light switch had been flipped. Fergie began riding the fences slower and quieter, a big step in the right direction.
Aside from Fergie growing grumpy with Lindsy’s “grandma” speed of training (as she calls it) and bouncing back from giving birth to her son, she feels the pair haven’t quite had a huge disappointment so far. She did mention that she refuses to fight with her horses, so when Fergie began picking up the pace to the smaller fences she took a step back to analyze the situation and take a deep breath. The weather has been a bit of a bummer for them as well as they had a show scheduled but a drastic overnight drop in temperature altered their plans.
Any time Lindsy is putting in a training ride, she always focuses on both her and her horse walking away in a positive mood. When she feels like her horse is taking steps backwards, she works towards ending the training session on the same note that they walked in on. She likes to have small goals for each ride and feels that large goals leads to fights and frustrations. Keeping things positive and simple are the best things you can do for a green horse in training in Lindsy’s mind.
Oliver Keithly – Polo, Amateur
“This is a great thing that people are doing with Thoroughbreds, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t meet your goals on time.
Of all of our RRP trainers, Oliver has been faced with quite the challenge with his non-compliant weather, but you won’t see that stopping his and Fitzy’s progress. While under saddle work has been quite limited for this pair, Oliver is still working each day to make Fitzy a better horse by allowing him to have the proper downtime to relax and enjoy being a horse. As we spoke, Fitzy was sprawled out in a grass field enjoying the sunshine. This is a true testament to his progress, as when he arrived he was your typical off the track horse pent up with energy. They have made lots of progress as far as connecting with one another goes. Fitzy is now relaxed and comfortable with Oliver and his surroundings. Oliver knows that Fitzy being in this great place mentally will lead to better under saddle work together.
So as you can imagine, their worst enemy has been the not-so-wonderful Maine winter and spring weather. Oliver as spent the past few days working on clearing up paddocks and stripping down the round pen. Everything is a soggy, muddy mess. It is quite frustrating for him to not have somewhere to take Fitzy to stretch his legs. Normally, Oliver and his wife take their horses out on the beaches to ride but unfortunately they closed to horses on April 1st. Their property has a nice straight, dirt stretch that was once a runway for small planes and Oliver has high hopes that at the first sign that the weather will take a turn for the better that he can take Fitzy out and let him show off his stuff. Oliver lives for the thrill and while it might scare the crap out of him to let Fitzy bring out his turf racer side, he loves it all at the same time.
While many others would be frazzled by the lack of time to work with their RRP mount, Oliver is cool and collected. He doesn’t let too much work him up, and while he plans on coming back with a vengeance to this year’s Makeover event, he isn’t going to let a little poor weather phase him. He isn’t worried about losing a few days or even a month of saddle time, because he knows this relationship he has built with Fitzy during their off time will prove worth it once they get to work on the polo field. He has plans of potentially doubling up his training days to two-a-days if necessary when the under saddle work comes along, but for now he is enjoying seeing his partner be a horse and enjoy his new life.
Would we do it if it was easy? Probably not. All of our trainers knew the challenges they might face when they took on this challenge, but they are all handling it with grace and poise. We are excited to see each of them progress in one way or another with their mounts as our countdown continues. Countdown to the RRP: 6 months!