Retired Racehorse Project Showcase: Strengths, Weaknesses & Advice for Future Trainers, Part I

With just a month to go until the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, our spotlight trainers are sharing their advice for future Makeover/OTTB trainers.

And just like that, October is nearly upon us. With just one month to place the final touches on each competitor, our trainers continue on with their training and prepare for each horse’s strengths and weaknesses. The Makeover has been such a beautiful challenge for each horse and rider team and this month the trainers also share their own advice to riders of all ages who are considering participating in the Makeover in the future.

Kallie Zeinstra: Competitive Trail, Professional

“Remember this journey is about the Thoroughbreds we can help and the relationships you can create not only with your OTTB but with many of the people involved with the RRP Makeover and what it stands for.”

With the Makeover just a month away, Kallie and Jacob are still moving along with their training. They intend on spending their final few days of training focusing on Jacob’s fitness level and confidence with obstacles. Jacob continues to make positive strides as they focus on their side passing and canter work, but he still has his moments where he grows frustrated if he does not understand what Kallie is asking of him.

To keep things fun and the pressure off of her ever-growing mount, Kallie has taken Jacob to many different parks in Michigan for trail rides, especially ones with water crossings. They even competed in a trail class at a local horse show and will compete at another one here in a few short weeks. He handled the new atmosphere wonderfully, but did struggle keeping focus with many horses cantering around in the ring next to them.

Jacob and his girlfriend, Arya, with Kallie! Photo by Karl Zeinstra

Jacob has his fair share of strengths and weaknesses, but Kallie loves his unflappable nature towards the obstacles she challenges him with. In regards to his weaknesses, his self-criticism has always given the pair a bit of a struggle to overcome. When he grows frustrated, he shuts down usually resorting to being stuck in reverse. Kallie feels they will have a 50/50 chance of being successful at the Makeover. “I do not say that because I doubt Jacob’s abilities; we have worked very hard and I feel he has the skills and knowledge to eat up the obstacles in the trail class without issue. Since he can still revert to his ‘obstinate personality’ if he feels pressured or overthinks a maneuver it will really depend on Jacob and how he is feeling that day.”

For those who are considering entering the 2018 Makeover, Kallie offers up these few bits of advice: Be prepared for a roller coaster ride of emotions, be prepared for people to criticize you and make you doubt your abilities as a trainer, and consider what your social media interaction regarding the Makeover will be. Kallie and Jacob have definitely had their ups and downs, but seeing the pair succeed despite adversity has been nothing short of wonderful. While social media has been great to share Jacob’s story, Kallie had to prepare herself to have thick skin. No matter what, she just remembered that this journey was all about Jacob and kept her chin up!

Victoria Gomez: Hunters, Amateur

“I definitely say don’t focus on how far you still have to go,  focus on how far you have already come.”

In preparation for the Makeover, Victoria took Ally to her first horse show last month! There, the pair competed in a 2’ hunter division and one 2’6 jumper class to test her readiness for the upcoming contest and Victoria was pleased that Ally acted like a seasoned professional in the new environment. Currently, the pair is heavily focusing on pole work to keep her striding consistent and only jumps once a week to keep her sound and happy. They also are giving a lot of their focus on their flatwork and improving Ally overall.

Victoria has no doubt that Ally’s laid-back demeanor will be her biggest strength at the RRP. She has never shown her age or acted like a horse who last raced in May, she has been brave and respectful throughout their time together. She has had a lot of exposure to summer camps, driving horses, birthday parties, and more at their multi-breed/discipline boarding barn and Victoria couldn’t be happier with her progress. Of course, there is always the concern that their lack of time together could pose some issues at the RRP. Many of their competitors have been in training since December of last year, but Victoria isn’t pushing Ally to be like the competition because of her age. She knows that the Makeover is just the first step in their journey together.

Ally and Victoria had a fun photo shoot this past month – all we can say is wow! Photo by Ashley Miller Photography

The Makeover is all about the journey and Victoria shares that she hopes any future Retired Racehorse Project trainers recognize that. “It’s so hard not to get caught up in the time crunch or competitive side of this sometimes,” she said, especially in the day and age of social media where one can follow along with their fellow competitors’ progress. Rather than let herself fill with doubt, she started going through the photos from when she first got Ally to where they are now. That is when she was filled with confidence and pride again as she saw the progress her horse has made in their short time together.

Katie McIntyre: Field Hunter, Amateur

“He has been the best 4 year old ever during the move to a new state and taking all the changes in stride, but at this point, it is not really fair to him to expect him to perform at the horse park.”

Last month Katie and Porter made a huge move back to her home state knowing that this may result in the pair withdrawing from the Retired Racehorse Project. Sadly, Katie has made the final decision to do just that with Porter’s best interests in mind. She is pretty disappointed, as she was looking forward to ticking off one of her horse goals for 2017, but she finds solace in the fact that had she not signed up to compete in the Makeover, she would have never found Porter.

Porter on his first big adventure in Virginia. Photo by Kristine Slovis

The move has obviously been the best decision for Katie and Porter. She has more flexibility in her schedule and is able to ride six or seven days a week now which has resulted in a great amount of progress in both Porter’s flatwork and over-fences work. Had the pair completed a few more shows, she has no doubts that they would have been successful at the horse park next month. Porter has acclimated to the long haul and his new surroundings beautifully. In fact, Katie can now check power boats and water skiers off of the list of things that Porter is not fazed by.

Despite this year not working out according to plan, Katie hopes to put the Makeover back on her radar in 2019 or 2020 and has a bit of advice she would like to share with any adult amateurs who hope to compete in the future. First, make the decision regarding if your mount will be for resale or one you will keep: if you are considering resale, pick a horse with the best marketability. If work can often throw a wrench in your schedule, select a horse that will fit well with your goals and your life. A spooky horse who needs lots of daily work may not be the best selection if your time is limited. Also, find a horse with good feet, as hoof issues can put you back a good three or four months if you need to wait for more growth. Lastly, have fun with the whole process. Attend as many clinics and off property adventures as you can and just enjoy the ride.

We are one month away from what these hard-working teams have been training for. While life has made some changes for each and every one of them, the growth and potential of each of these horses is undeniable. Seeing them come so far from fresh off the track race-babies to well-polished and mannerly riding mounts has been so much fun to follow along with. While the Makeover itself works under time constraints, there is no doubt that these horses will continue to achieve great heights in the years following their RRP appearance.

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