Track Failure: Marcella & Nessi

Who’s the track failure? Marcella or Nessi?

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 examines how what it takes to overcome hurdles in this week’s blog.

American Lioness aka Nessi. Photo by Marcella Gruchalak.

I feel like that individual on the track team who’s in the last heat of hurdles because of her lack of motivation and athleticism. Every hurdle I get to, instead of jumping over, I just run right into it. I’m behind. I’m really behind. And I’m not talking about being behind the other trainers, although watching numerous trainers showing and doing upper level movements at this point is daunting. I’m behind the training point at which I like to be by summer. My previous Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover horses, even with setbacks, at this point had a decent handle and were successful in the show ring. But Nessi’s journey has been different. She’s at a disadvantage and at this point in the process, it’s not her fault. She is sound, spirited and gaining weight. I, however, can identify five areas where I have done a disservice to Nessi. Some issues I can work on improving while others are just wrenches thrown in the crunched timeline.

Hurdle Number One: I’ve been spoiled for too long. Both of my other horses are well trained. I point and they go. There are minimal adjustments to maneuvers most of the time and they know their jobs. And this didn’t just start. They have made riding easy on me for at least one or two years. This makes it so extremely difficult to go back to riding a green horse. Who wants to drive the hand-me-down Oldsmobile when they could be driving the Cadillac? Lately, it isn’t me, which leads me to my next hurdle.

Marcella’s seasoned horses, Boon Town Tilly and Funny Bunny B. Photo by Marcella Gruchalak.

Hurdle Number Two: I’m an amateur trainer. The only horses I have ever trained are horses that I bought for myself. Horse training is not my occupation and I don’t do it for the public; therefore, I am not as experienced and it takes me a bit longer to correctly teach any given maneuver. What a seasoned trainer can do in one week takes me a month.

Hurdle Number Three: I started a new job. This is a HUGE adjustment to my lifestyle. My drive is longer, my work hours are different and I’m trying to keep up with home orientation assignments. These variables leave me limited time to ride Nessi when I get home. My schedule looks well planned on paper: work eight hours until 3:30pm, get home by 4:30pm and ride, but there’s so much more to it. See hurdle number four.

Hurdle Number Four: Barn work is time consuming. Once I get home from work, I start working on the farm. The horses are led out to their respective pastures, stalls are cleaned, sawdust is added, feed is rationed, manure is spread and hay is divvied up. By the time these chores are complete, one of two things occurs: it’s either dark or I’m too tired to ride.

Hurdle Number Five: The farm flooded. Mother Nature has been ruthless on Western Pennsylvania and my little farm has been no match for her wrath. In less than a 24 hour period, my grassy pastures turned into five foot deep swimming ponds and Mother Nature didn’t stop there. The hill directly behind the barn collapsed, the barn flooded and all the water washed out the arena. Damage control is still being completed. Between fixing footing and not having a desirable arena, it makes it even harder to put training rides on Nessi.

Five foot pond in the middle of the pasture. Photo submitted by Marcella Gruchalak.

I have not jumped and cleared any of these hurdles. I have hit each one and each one has taken me down. Because of my lack of motivation, time and resources, Nessi and I needed some serious help clearing the hurdles and I wasn’t afraid to seek it (okay, maybe I was terrified to seek it out).

One of my sponsors, NC Equine LLC,  is first heat and runs the horse training track with ease. She is local and she’s exceptional at training horses. Nicole has trained horses for successful careers in barrel racing, polo, dressage and other English events. Not to mention she’s been extremely successful with off-track Thoroughbreds.

Nicole Cammuso and Diabolic. Photo by Marcella Gruchalak.

Nicole is no stranger to the Retired Racehorse Project; she’s been around the track a time or two…or six. In 2015 she competed in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover on her good horse, Diabolic. The team finished second in barrels and fourth in freestyle. Diabolic then sold to a teenage girl for 4-H. In 2016, Nicole and her Makeover hopeful, I’m A Sinner, didn’t make it to Kentucky because Sinner needed some extra time off but she is now excelling in the Hunter/Jumper ring.

Nicole Cammuso and I’m A Sinner. Photo by Rebecca Francis.

With Nicole’s expertise and success showcasing the versatility of the breed, Nessi will be up to speed in no time…by July 30th. Per the makeover rules, “the Trainer must be the primary rider of the horse after July 30, 2019.” Nessi is going to be making her way towards the finish line while I’m still caught up in the hurdles, but with hard work and practice, we’re going to be in the same heat and finish competitively together.

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