The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past ten months to bringing them along — Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill!
One aspect of the Makeover that I may have been a little bit glib about was the fact that Jobber’s back in a stall. If I stalled him part-time at home, this probably wouldn’t be a big issue, but taking a horse that lives out 24/7 on a beautiful, massive pasture with his small herd and putting him back in a stall has been an interesting challenge for my horsemanship. Jobber is still the same level-minded horse he is at home, but he has a lot of go here — still no buck (knock wood) and he’s always willing to work, but he could power-walk the trails and hills here all day long and still want to power-walk after a good ride.
Now that more neighbors are moving into our shedrow, Jobber’s settling down much better in the stall. Nevertheless, in this morning’s pre-dawn, he was the only horse in his row, and we shared a quiet moment watching a sudden strong rain fall, taking a moment of quiet together to get ready for the day. Jobber would have a few more hours to stand in his stall, unfortunately. It was volunteering day!
Every show needs volunteers to run efficiently and smoothly, and with ten disciplines taking place in multiple rings and areas all over Kentucky Horse Park, there’s a lot of set-up that needs to get done quickly. Sure, while I could have used my morning to hack Jobber extra and get him out and about more, I also felt that with so many extra days in my schedule here, the least I could do was give the Retired Racehorse Project a few hours of my time and help the show go smoothly.
Volunteering is a unique opportunity to get intimate with a discipline you may not practice much on your own — this morning, I loaded jump wagons, then helped other volunteers and members of the Kentucky Dressage Association build three dressage rings in the iconic Rolex Arena. Many hands make light work, and we had all three rings squared away within two hours.
Yep — the Rolex Arena. The dressage folks, plus eventing dressage, are getting the star treatment this week and get to show in the big ring, which I’m sure is a rite of passage for many of those riders. (It may also be super terrifying for some of their horses, but they’ll learn a lot.) While I’m not competing in dressage, I’m happy that I could help build the rings and be part of the dressage riders’ experience in my own little way.
…and then I decided to get a little piece of the Rolex Arena experience for myself later, on one of my several hacks around the park. How can you not? I mean, it’s there, and it was open for schooling, and while maybe some purists are rolling over in their graves to imagine my scrubby little ranch horse meandering across that hallowed ground, but there I went. #YOLO
In the afternoon, we were able to get into the indoor arena, where both the working ranch and the freestyle will be held, conveniently getting to meet some of the folks I had been following and been inspired by all year. Jobber schooled really nicely in the indoor, but I made the mistake of practicing the working ranch pattern — which I had not ever run prior to today, and then made the mistake of trying to run it a second time. He anticipated the lope departures, so I made the executive decision to not practice the pattern again — just the transitions.
While chatting with some spectators — everyone is SO friendly here — I mentioned I wanted to go explore the park and trail ride, and they pointed out their family member riding a lovely, easy-going bay gelding. I snagged Tashi and her horse Nexen, a four-year-old gelding who trained but never raced, and with whom she had accomplished eventing, dressage and an endurance race in the past year. She’s competing in dressage and the freestyle this week, and we had a lovely hack around the park.
After Tashi and Nexen headed back to the barn, I picked up a few more new friends — Kyle and Binky, a mare who survived Hurricane Maria in Puero Rico, and Dakota and Ziggy, a super sporty little mare (offered in the sale!), who were handwalking, and we went for a second lap around the park.
I haven’t had a single class yet — I won’t until Thursday — but the Makeover has been such a fabulous experience already for the opportunities to meet friendly people, hang out and meet people I had only e-met until now, and of course, share time and conversation about these brilliant, brilliant horses that we’ve been lucky enough to ride. Everyone here feels so passionately about racehorse aftercare — not only for the sake of the horses, but also for the sake of the riders who are blessed with athletic, willing and good-minded mounts. I’ve had some great conversations today with some great people about just how mind-blowingly good these horses are.
The park is really starting to fill up now — more horses are arriving and tomorrow will be a real crush as the last big wave of competitors moves in. Every day has been better than the last; Jobber is schooling great and loving riding around the horse park (even if the whole living-in-a-stall situation is not quite what he was looking forward to). I’m looking forward to another morning of volunteering, and plenty of riding in the afternoon!