Crucial Advice to Myself: Marcella & Nessi

In this week’s TB Makeover blog, Marcella reflects on trying to follow her own advice.

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. Marcella Gruchalak works on following her own advice in this week’s blog.

Photo by Nicole Cammuso

All of the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover trainers can agree: It’s hard work retraining an off-the-track Thoroughbred for a second discipline. We invest hours upon hours of time into educating our horses so that each of them can transition smoothly into his career off the track. Large quantities of blood, sweat and tears are shed while making these magnificent animals into successful show or pleasure partners. Sometimes we can lose sight of what is most important.

We’re all experiencing the same time crunch. If we’re lucky, we got our Retired Racehorse Project Makeover hopeful in November and are able to start training December first, giving us the maximum time of ten months to retrain our horse.

For most of us, that isn’t the case. Whether it’s taking a longer period of time to choose the perfect horse or dealing with body and health issues, most of us do not get to utilize the entire ten months for training. So here we are; it’s the end of June. Some of our horses (Nessi included) have just enough rides to make them ineligible for 2020, but they don’t have a consistent enough training schedule to make us feel comfortable showing at the Makeover this year.

If you’re caught in what feels like a catch-22, here’s some advice I’ve been trying to tell myself. Hopefully it’ll help other trainers who may be fighting the same battle:

Health first, training later. No matter how behind I feel, I try not to lose sight of the fact that Nessi’s health comes first. It’s been an uphill battle. I feel like I have dealt with every health issue I could have possibly encountered. Ulcers, weight gain, body soreness, abscesses and bruised soles have all been addressed and have given Nessi more time off than not. However, I know if Nessi is feeling well, she’ll be more focused and willing to learn.

Photo by Nicole Cammuso

Give your horse plenty of let-down. Some Thoroughbreds have a difficult time adjusting to the changes of retiring from the track. On the track, they’re used to a particular and extremely precise routine. When they first retire, everything is changing. Workout routines, feeding schedule, turnout time, etc. are all different. Some horses <cough> Nessi <cough>  take a longer period of time to adjust to those changes. It’s important and will help your Makeover hopeful succeed later down the road if you give them adequate time to adjust.

DO NOT give up on your horse. This is a difficult task at times. The constant ticking of the clock to be ready for the Makeover along with watching everyone else’s progress on the trainer page is enough to dampen your spirits. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “we’re never going to be ready,” or “Nessi’s never going to be trained enough to make the Makeover,” but EVERY ride, she amazes me. I have to remember that the experience of the Makeover alone is enough to take Nessi and show up. Each trainer there is doing what’s best for his or her OTTB and just about every single trainer is helpful and encouraging, making the Makeover a show like no other.

The Makeover is not the final goal. This is so important for each and every one of us to grasp. Each of horses will not perform at the highest level she can achieve by the Makeover. The Makeover, while fun and competitive, is just the beginning of our horse’s new career. The first year I competed at the Makeover, I spent too much time focusing on the Makeover when I should have been focusing more on being correct and educating my horse to be successful after the Makeover. The second year I competed, I really focused on developing my horse for success AFTER the makeover and he is astoundingly successful in whichever discipline I point him. This year, I’m really putting Nessi’s health and wellness first. The Makeover isn’t our top priority. Our top priority is making sure that she is healthy and happy so that she can transition into another home with minimal stress and setbacks.

Be proud no matter what. As trainers we are doing so much more than retraining an off-the-track Thoroughbred. We are bringing awareness to the breed and how versatile it is. We are that crucial step in our horse’s career where we transition her and set her up to succeed when her career in racing is complete. So, no matter what – whether you don’t make it to Kentucky, you make it to Kentucky and you’re successful, or even if you make it to Kentucky and you aren’t successful – be proud of the journey, yourself and your horse.

We’re all in this journey together and of course the Makeover is a goal for each and every one of us, but we all need to take a step back and appreciate the process. All of our paths are drastically different. Some of us are participating in Field Trip Fridays while others of us are accumulating ever growing veterinarian and farrier bills. But if we put the horse first, we will all eventually end up with the same result: a well-rounded, versatile, successful OTTB.

Photo by Nicole Cammuso

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