As the Thoroughbred Makeover gets underway, there are so many things I hope for this year’s competitors.
Today marks the start of the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.
Sure, competitors have been arriving at the Kentucky Horse Park over the past few days and ticketed, scheduled schooling took place yesterday, but today is the day. Competition began at 8:00am for Show Jumpers, Show Hunters, Dressage, Eventing Dressage and Barrel Racing. Freestyle, Field Hunters and Cross Country are under way as well.
I remember this day. I was one of those competitors last year. Although shows like this may be old hat for some riders, it wasn’t for me. This was my first big show and it was the first time I had worked to restart a horse on my own.
I was nervous. I was so nervous that I spent the entire drive down with stomach cramps. I was overwhelmed by the number of competitors, the quality of the riders and horses I saw, the size of the TCA Covered Arena, the Rolex Stadium and everything, really.
Looking back, there are a fair number of things I would have done differently as I prepared for the Makeover, but here’s the thing: there’s not much at all I would have changed about my time once I got to the Horse Park.
Being at this event is an incredible experience (so much so that I decided to come back this year as a steward). When I pulled into the Horse Park on Monday and saw people hacking around the park and riding and lunging in the schooling arenas, I felt a stab of jealousy. I missed being here as a competitor and all that that entailed.
I got over that pretty quickly — to be honest, I am relieved that I am not worrying about my horse’s comfort and health in the sweltering heat and schlepping hay, grain, water and muck to and from my horse’s stall.
But I am excited for those competing this year, especially the first-time competitors. And there are so many things I hope for them as they go into competition.
I hope they see the work that goes into making the event accommodating and welcoming to riders across 10 different disciplines. There may be a few hiccups along the way, but catering to so many disciplines is quite the feat. One small, but mighty staff develops guidelines and designs courses for horse/rider combinations from a variety of backgrounds. Think about the sheer volume and breadth of questions that get asked on a daily basis. It’s astounding.
I hope they take the time to ride their horses around the Kentucky Horse Park and really take in the magnitude of this facility. Although some of this cannot be done until preliminary competition is over, this opportunity should not be missed. Whether it’s the cross country course or riding past the Rolex Stadium, there is something awe-inspiring about hacking around the park.
I hope they recognize the common bond that brings everyone to the Horse Park this weekend. Whether we’re here as competitors, event managers, veterinarians, stewards or support staff, we’re all here to promote the breed. We’re all concerned about the well-being of the horses and committed to their success in second careers. I hope they realize that is what drives the event and all the decisions that are made here.
I hope they make the connections with their fellow competitors that so many of us do. For as much as this event is about raising awareness about the versatility of off-track Thoroughbreds, it’s also about making connections with others who are passionate about the breed and forging relationships that can extend beyond the few days we spend at the Horse Park.
For the first-time competitors, I hope that they manage to take a breath and get beyond the sensory overload that can accompany this event. I hope that they walk away from the Makeover hungry to do it again or find another way to contribute in the future.
For the veteran competitors, I hope they enjoy the experience as much as they did the first time, I hope they take the time to show the newbies the ropes and I hope they continue to work to build up the event and make it what it is.
And no matter what happens during everyone’s rides, I hope all the competitors are able to enjoy and appreciate their time at the Makeover. I hope they walk away with the feelings of pride, accomplishment and having been a part of something greater than themselves that I felt at the culmination of my trip last year.