“I will risk looking silly or incompetent to benefit myself and my horses all day every day! Anyone who considers themselves to be a horseman should be okay with that also. There is no resting place where you know it all — you never do.”
For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the training period, three of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Horse Nation readers. Casey French faces her challenges with Alvie, including her turn to cross-training in dressage to improve her horsemanship in barrel racing.
In March we were about 30 rides in to our training when I thought that I would ask the slightest bit more out of Alvie, aka “Awesome Choice.” I felt as if we were very idle in our training by that point. We were not really improving much, but not declining either.
I thought, okay, he may not be ready for anything too dramatic, but he should be able to respect my inside rein a bit. Let’s work on that! Well, again I found myself completely stumped. The things that I had normally done to achieve this were NOT working! “Not working” really wasn’t as good of a description as “making it worse” might have been.
He really wanted to lean to the inside of my circles at the lope. He would lean and then I would try to help stand him back up. Then he would lean MORE! I thought maybe I would try different-sized circles: some small, some large, even threw in a few squares. I tried a variety of bits that sometimes assisted in giving me a little more shoulder control in the past. I thought maybe I just hadn’t found anything he likes? He didn’t seem to mind much what I put on him, just never really landed on one he loved or responded to any better than the other. But that didn’t really help me much either… still falling to the inside. After a couple of weeks, I again found myself looking for some outside knowledge and different ideas to figure him out.
So here we were yet again!! I knew I was in that very same boat I’ve been in quite a few times with this guy before. It’s been said that the most difficult horses have the most to give… but Awesome Choice definitely doesn’t deserve the label as a difficult horse. He’s actually quite the contrary. His easy nature and fun-loving personality have made me push myself further to obtain knowledge more than any horse other has before. I call him pleasantly challenging! His patience is what I admire about him the most. If we aren’t on the same page, it’s like he would say “nope, try again.” He makes me laugh in those moments.
Once I felt that we had more confidence and control, we started to venture out and we even went to our first horse show a few weeks ago. That was really an eye-opening experience because that was when Alvie came to life! He has been one the calmest, bravest horses to ride that I have owned… but he quickly made a liar out of me once the environment changed. A few friends of mine have made the statement “when they get to the Makeover they turn into different horses.” I can totally see that being true.
We weren’t “the crazy” horse at the show, but we definitely weren’t the same horse that I’ve come to know at home. With that being said, I’ve made it a point to get him on the road more. He now goes to roping practice a few times a week with my husband even if I am unable to go. He gets to stand tied, be around cattle, hear loud gates bang that sound eerily similar to the ones he broke from at the track. Each trip he goes on he seems to relax more and more.
I am always searching for new ways to get desired results with Alive. With this search for knowledge, I have found so many weaknesses — in myself, my training, my riding, and even my conditioning of horses. As a result of this discovery, I recently started to take dressage lessons with a trainer. I started on an older horse, but I plan on bringing Alvie as well. I found there is sooo much that I just really haven’t considered because, quite honestly, it’s placed on the wayside in my discipline of barrel racing. I’m finding that much of what I am learning should be and needs to be in the forefront. I really hope that one day I’ll be one of the few that successfully merged these worlds more closely together. It’s truly a missing link, if not THE missing link, in my opinion.
With my quest for knowledge I have been completely humbled, sometimes talked down to, maybe even thought less of. I truly believe this is 100% why some people never get to the next level. This IS the uncomfortable part about training horses. You can’t just sit in the dark and let the world pass you by. I will risk looking silly or incompetent to benefit myself and my horses all day every day! Anyone who considers themselves to be a horseman should be okay with that also. There is no resting place where you know it all — you never do. You learn more and gain more experience but this is a game that will never be beaten entirely.
When you feel that there’s no more to learn, that’s exactly where progression stops and the competition not only catches up, it surpasses you and will leave you in the dust.