That Horse: Jen & Louise

“Louise, dear readers, is currently That Horse. As in, steer clear of That Horse, it looks like it may explode. Which horse did the trainer refuse to ride today? That Horse. OMG, I’m so glad I am not on That Horse.”

For 616 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, has begun! Over the next eight months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Horse Nation readers. Today, blogger Jen Cleere talks about the dilemma that occurs when you’re an amateur who has That Horse. 

Let’s start with the good news bullet points, shall we?

  • As you know, I did get into the 2020 RRP Makeover. I rode five different horses for my application video, including dreamy Wilbur (JC: R Double Trouble), our 2019 RRP grad for my flat work, a Jumper pal’s lesson horse for my jumping, two different horses for obstacles — one of which is a retired dressage horse & the finest trained horse I have ever ridden and one that lay down with me & rolled in a muddy water obstacle during the video (did not send that particular footage) — and my own mare, Wren, for a little fox hunting. It takes a village, y’all.

I am showing Louise our Makeover acceptance. Photo by Kelly Burns.

  • Louise has grown some nice hoof since October, she is barefoot and sound for the footing and training that we can currently access.
  • Louise is not spooky. She is unphased by novel objects, sudden noises, etc. She will, in fact, load right onto a flatbed trailer the first time you show it to her. Unexpectedly.
  • Louise and I have a lovely bond. On the ground, that is. Mostly while hanging in the pasture or barn aisle giving her scratches — she is affectionate and goofy and is quite serious about mutual grooming, giving delightful shoulder and leg massages with her lip.

Louise & Jen, on board. Photo by Kelly Burns.

  • For Kelly and me, “shelter in place” closely resembles our usual farm life, minus other human contact and most of our income, of course, as we live onsite with our horses in a barn apartment. We are also lucky to have a couple of locations that we can still trailer to and ride without close encounters with other folks.

And that brings us to the not so great. Louise, dear readers, is currently That Horse. As in, steer clear of That Horse, it looks like it may explode. Which horse did the trainer refuse to ride today? That Horse. OMG, I’m so glad I am not on That Horse. It is a little early in our relationship to know if she is That Horse because she is one of Those Mares, but it does not look that way at this point.

She is wonderful at our farm, great manners and totally chill in the barn, and she has come to understand that despite being able to see her pasture and mates from the arena, she can now have a full workout without focusing on them the entire time. Thanks to my wife and trainer, Kelly, she is really making strides on the longe and under saddle she is accepting contact and moving nicely off the leg. She loads perfectly, trailers quietly, steps off the trailer at the other end and she is That Horse. There is no question in those moments where we got this animal, she is the on-fire head in the sky sideways-prancing glossy-muscles-rippling epitome of a racehorse. She is not, in those moments, by any means, an amateur mount. She is That Horse.

On the left screen, Kelly does a brief trot warm-up, then Jen does walk-trot transitions and has a soaring heart rate AT HOME, on the right, Kelly works Louise on the longe AWAY from home. Screenshots by Kelly Burns.

From a purely training perspective, Louise is doing fine. All signs point to her becoming a rock-steady mount, given enough time and training. From the perspective of is this a horse that I personally can compete on at the 2020 Makeover, the Magic 8 Ball would say: Very Doubtful, or maybe even My Sources Say No. She will need to go to countless different places, shows, venues, in hand till she can be ridden, on repeat, to realize: I am Louise and I am Retired — there is NO RACE. Unfortunately, the pandemic has cut off our resources for the majority of these trips.

We did make it to watch a little of two shows at the Georgia International Horse Park in early March. Photo by Kelly Burns.

So Kelly has kindly offered me her Makeover prospect, Kielbasa. He’s a gorgeous 2014 chestnut gelding (City Zip – Fontanne, by Distorted Humor) who had 30 starts, earned $55k and last raced at the end of January 2020. Not only is he named after a sausage, he is also the horse that you could ride bareback in a halter while carrying a lit birthday cake and six kittens. He has a trot to die for and his pasture antics reveal an incredible cat-like athleticism and his sweet puppy-dog personality and metallic glow make him utterly swoon-worthy. He is the total package. Do I want him? Absolutely.

Kelly on her pal, Kielbasa. Photo by Jen Cleere.

I drilled down on Kelly’s offer. So we trade? You will take Louise to Kentucky and I will take the Sausage? Nope. Kelly’s deal is Louise gets back-burnered or sold, she skips competing at this year’s Makeover and coaches me on Kielbasa. Ouch. It’s a Sophie’s choice dilemma. I have revisited my own two-fold motivation for this RRP journey repeatedly: 1. Find out if I, Jen, can take a horse from the track, through this process, to Kentucky. 2. I want that horse to be a warhorse, who had limited prospects in retirement. And, dammit, I really wanted that horse to be Louise.

This pretty much sums up the difference – Kielbasa’s first ride with the GoPro on a stick, and Louise. Photo by Kelly Burns.

We’ve talked daily of the irony of me, the amateur, having the more difficult horse — it has become part of the darkly comic theme of our days, “stuck” here at the farm in its full Spring glory, eating beans prepared 83 ways. I know that by switching to Kielbasa, I would be limiting his prospects too, as paired with Kelly, he has the potential to be a real competitor, not to mention the fact that they adore each other. But what an offer, huh?

For now, I am sticking with Louise, and Kelly and I will decide together over the next weeks whether she and I can be a suitable, and safe, match. I am acutely aware of what it means to be over-horsed, especially these days when the emergency room could be a more deadly prospect than an accident. We’ve done some trail walking and obstacles in hand, but my Louise-riding is in lesson format now, in our home arena and most of the time, Kelly warms her up a bit first.

This photo does not depict any of the exactly three canter strides I have survived on Louise so far. Photo by Kelly Burns.

Although she does it daily, Kelly’s reluctance to work with Louise — she did not sign up for this job, this horse — and my fear of riding her is oddly so many things at once. There’s the tricky shift and strain from partnership to instructor/student, it’s embarrassing and scary to keep hanging out in the same vulnerability and fear. And yet, in trying to give this horse a shot together, there is tenderness, making hour-long deposits toward softness and balance. Longing for calm and certainty and finding little of one and none of the other, we reflect the larger world, as we are all trying to just keep each other safe these days and have a future together.

 Jen C. Cleere is a metal artist whose studio overlooks the pasture at Prize Turnip Ranch, a farm she owns with wife Kelly Burns, professional horse trainer and private eye. Jen makes keepsake and memorial jewelry and ID tags (for horses, dogs and humans, oh my!). She keeps Alpine dairy goats, loves cheesemaking, gardening and all of the homesteady aspects of farm life. Since 2005 she’s been an Eponaquest Equine Facilitated Learning Practitioner. Find her jewelry on Facebook and Instagram @byandbyart. And you can order tags from!