In Limbo: Jen & Louise

“… if there is a way we can tape a 2020 horse together, train in little bursts and get that sucker both on and off of the trailer in one piece — oh, and survive a pandemic — we just might see you in Kentucky. For now, we’ll be over here in limbo.”

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 being in limbo — between horses and decisions about Kentucky.

One of the most thrilling aspects of the Thoroughbred Makeover, if you love a rollercoaster of doubt and dashed plans, is “If all this Training Stuff comes together, Will we even make it to Kentucky?” When last we met, my Louise (JC: Sweet Hall) was “That Horse” and our riding was limited to our home arena in a lesson setting.

Louise May. Photo by Jen Cleere.

And this month? Louise and I have been trailering out and putting the miles in through the lovely Springtime woods and pastures of Georgia. She routinely settles, a little bit, at about 1.5 miles — not too bad, right? Did I mention that I am on foot for these trail excursions and sorta hate walking?

Louise getting ready for and enjoying her walk. Photo by Kelly Burns.

So yeah, we are just hand walking off the farm. And we have shifted her to a diet even lower in non-structural carbohydrates (mine too). And she has some new Scoot Boots for her tender toes. And she had a dental. And, frustratingly, she is still That Horse. It is becoming increasingly more evident that her baseline “upness” may just be her and we just don’t click as a riding pair.

Louise walking some more and getting her teeth done. Photo by Kelly Burns.

So, you might wonder, have I given any more thought to the wife’s offer of her Kielbasa? Yes, I have! Kelly and I have discussed the possibilities of a team entry with the Sausage and all of the fun things that we could do together. Except. Dear Kielbasa has been footsore, he last raced at the end of January, so a battle for good hooves is to be expected and he hasn’t disappointed in that! He is stalled at night and his little crumblehoofers are taped and/or booted for his daytimes in the pasture and his few rides have been tack walks for the most part. Kelly, who is one of those hawk-eyed obsessives about teeny wounds, micro gait changes and hairs that may be out of place, finally decided that statistically, the Sausage has been more often off on the left fore.

Kielbasa. Photo by Jen Cleere.

So, you know the drill: we had the vet out — hoping it is just a hoof thing — but the nerve block put us onto the fetlock. X-Rays showed a pretty good looking joint, thank goodness, but there are a couple of what we will now call “areas of concern” just above and below. We will call them that till we get the opinion of a surgeon, then I am thinking the language will get much more flowery.

So, here we are — A Horse! Another Horse! Our kingdom for a horse?

And this seems as good a time as any to tell you the harrowing tale of Wilbur’s (JC: R Double Trouble) not so auspicious arrival at the KY Horse Park for Kelly’s 2019 Makeover. Wilbur came to our Prize Turnip Ranch just a few days after his last race in December 2018. He had 11 starts, and, as I have mentioned, horrid feet. He was also a playful three-year-old (thus this year’s possibly-not-effective move toward slightly older RRP candidates) who seemed to find an injury or mystery lameness every other day. His neck blew up like a weird infected football the week he arrived, he then broke into the mare field and suffered a kick to the shoulder, and his feet were mostly made of gorilla tape for months. Kelly would literally plan his training in bursts, allowing time for rest from whatever he would do to himself next. She was and is SO patient with him, and he was and is a horse with some serious dressage potential. Two weeks before the Makeover he took a kick to the knee that looked like we would not be making the trip. But it turned out not so bad, until it blew up a few days later, and we were at the vet crossing our fingers against a sequestrum.

We paid that man what amounted to several more last-minute entry fees and a few days later, with a rigid but amazingly effective wrapping protocol and extra antibiotics, we loaded reluctant traveler Wilbur onto our LQ trailer for the trip to Kentucky. I drove. Wilbur was unhappy — jostling around at every stop and slow-down. As we finally pulled into the barn area at the Horse Park, I made a wrong turn and his kicks rang out like gunshots. I still wonder if I had turned the right way if we would have unloaded a whole horse off the trailer and maybe the whole week would have been different — hitting those scores in Dressage that we knew he could. But instead the horse we unloaded was gushing blood from a rear hoof, where a thumb-sized CHONK was newly missing from the bottom.

Photo by Jen Cleere.

So that was it. We made it to Kentucky and while the truck sat running with the dogs in it, we saw the emergency vet before we even put the horse in his stall. It was devastating. I remember looking at Kelly’s calm (British) face and thinking I would be bawling at this point. Actually, I probably was crying a little. Then suddenly a magical team of hot veterinary farriers appeared, consulted, and for the equivalent of a few more last-minute entry fees, installed a hospital plate and two rear shoes.

Photo by Jen Cleere.

They said that the corium was just barely nicked and left us with detailed care instructions for the daily removal of plate, cleaning and packing of the HOLE and assurances that he could probably do Dressage, but Show Jumping would not be as likely. Which was true. Kelly and R Double Trouble placed 36th out of 120ish entries in Dressage, and because of a slight (invisible to me) gait change at canter that could have been from the plate or bruising or both, she elected to scratch from Show Jumping to preserve his young mind as much as his body. It was a good call, as Wilbur will soon start his career at rated shows, when they start up again.

Wilbur in the Rolex. Photo by Jen Cleere.

So believe me, if there is a way we can tape a 2020 horse together, train in little bursts and get that sucker both on and off of the trailer in one piece — oh, and survive a pandemic — we just might see you in Kentucky. For now, we’ll be over here in limbo. . .

Photo by Jen Cleere.

 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!