Jennifer’s Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: At the Intersection of Courage and Fear

“Producing a happy, sound, sane horse, while also producing a horse that can win and be marketable is not as easy as it looks.”

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover is underway! Between the beginning of the year and the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, three of those trainers have been blogging their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Horse Nation readers. This week, we bring you a cross-over blog from Eventing Nation blogger Jennifer Reisenbichler.

I saw it on a church sign, not far from my house on a little country road: Courage is Fear, after you’ve said your prayers.” It’s stuck with me ever since. I don’t think people grasp this when they first start riding horses. Riding is scary, and it takes a heck of a lot of courage. And if you think riding is scary, try training a horse from the ground up, or from “the track” up. 

The fear of getting seriously injured is only part of the battle. I think a lot of times the fear of failure, the constant wondering if you’ve made the right training choices, and the regret of a bad ride where you put your horse two steps back instead of half a step forward is louder in my head. But as my boss likes to say, you gain confidence in doing things right, and you CAN turn fear into courage. 

I’ve been “going” with my horses since early March. Liam and I have had a bumpy ride through our spring season, starting with a lovely Novice run at River Glen, a complete disaster at our Training move up at IEA and then another lovely Novice run at Fox River Valley. George and I have been plugging along, working on the basics and showing off his amazing natural jumping ability at the local mini trials.

I am so lucky to have both horses in my barn. Liam and I butt heads two rides out of every five, but we’re developing quite the bond. Hey, drinking beer and watching your horse eat cause you really needed a cold one after “that ride” counts as bonding right?  

George giving me the side eye after finishing 6th going Beginner Novice at the Flying Cross mini trials in June.

I had a big place holder on my calendar this July, going to Alaska on a cruise with my husband Nic and his family. His grandmother passed away last year and sent the whole family on a cruise in her will. See what happens when you don’t own horses? Accordingly, I planned to give the horses 10 days off while we were gone. OMG, 10 days. In July. With the Makeover less than 90 days away.

When I was running Prelim with my mare Callie, we ALWAYS had our worst show of the season in August. And I always regretted not giving her a little time off over the summer. It’s HOT here in Kentucky and the ground is rock hard. I don’t usually get to go South for the winter, but I feel like at this point, my horses have been going for awhile.

Liam is seven and is very much a teenager and George has changed so much in his body since we started this spring. So after a great week of rides on George before we were scheduled to leave where the light bulb went off in the canter, and an amazing school after Champagne Run on Liam where we jumped the WHOLE Training course and a Prelim jump on accident, I made the decision. They were going to get a little over two weeks without me messing with them. We were ALL THREE going to get some time off. 

You never know who you might meet on vacation.

Yes, I know I am a bit crazy. And no, my horse is probably not much further along than yours is. And, yes, I realize the Makeover is in 60 days, I promise! And, yes, I swear, I realize so many people are freaking out because Kentucky is ONLY FIVE WEEKS AWAY! But I have decided to not worry about it. I felt like we needed a break, and so we took a break. I tend to second guess myself a lot because I’m an amateur who does most things on my own. But I’ve learned through observation that the best horses are the horses that people listen to.

I watched a good friend of mine win the 2*-L at Fox River Valley on a horse she produced herself. And then the next weekend I watched another friend finish out of the ribbons on a horse she had been working with for two years. If you had put those two ladies side by side after their shows, you wouldn’t have been able to tell whose horse won and whose horse didn’t. They were both equally proud of what their horse accomplished on that day, given their goals.  

Liam hamming it up at the Fox River Valley Horse Trials.

Producing a happy, sound, sane horse, while also producing a horse that can win and be marketable is not as easy as it looks. Doing the Makeover sale this year has added that little bit of extra pressure to look good on the score board and to check off some boxes. And don’t get me wrong, I am working diligently to accomplish all of the above! Ahead of our first ride back from our “summer vacation” I entered two clinics and a recognized event. We’re ready to take the fall season by the horns and kick some butt! But first, I’ll enjoy sitting here, writing this, while sipping a beer. Because tomorrow is back at it, so wish me, and all of my fellow RRP Makeover competitors a successful, safe and happy final five weeks! Cheers!!

He’s perfect – George’s sale photo for RRP. Photo by Clare Pinney.

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