Necessary Safety Systems: Jen & Louise

Every rider has their necessary safety systems — the things they never leave home without. This week Jen discusses hers, those she recommends for others and how those safety nets help her make decisions about the horses she rides.

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 safety systems she deems necessary when she rides, and how they help her make crucial decisions about the horses she rides.

First, the Sausage update: JC: Kielbasa went to UGA this week for more diagnostics and likely surgery. Pandemic style curbside drop-off had such an eerie feel, even with an equine. For me it was sort of a tiny echo reminder of what so many thousands of folks have endured worldwide, heartbreakingly handing their loved ones off to medical professionals and having to go home and wait for a call.

The Sausage bravely strides into the halls of medicine. Photo by Kelly Burns.

In our case, the call was a Hallelujah! as the vet team saw no cause for arthroscopy! Next week, Kielbasa will get that pesky fetlock injected and fingers and hooves crossed, we will have a sound horse sometime soon!

Kelly and I are tossing around the idea of changing to a Team entry with him at the Makeover, should all the stars align. . .

Some Silver Sausage Love! Photo by By & By Art.

Now this part goes out to the adult amateurs like me. I had a gap in my riding from college to my early 30s, so I now have been riding “again” for about 20 years, and I have been actively improving my riding for the last five years. Prior to this era of improvement, I have been to the ER for X-rays and such after a couple of painful spills. In my peer group of adult amateurs around my age, I personally know eight or more folks who have broken their backs and or multiple ribs in riding falls, several of whom were bucked off near the beginning of a ride. I don’t even mount a horse without a helmet and I wear an inflatable vest for about 85% of my rides, with careful consideration about footing, other horses with us, pace, goals, etc.  Is it a short bareback walk to our fave swimming pond? Maybe it is just a brief walking ride, but is Kelly on a young training horse that could “flap” my “unflappable” babysitter horse?

My vest definitely has saved me from major injury on at least one occasion, when cantering uphill on trail in a group and my mare stepped in a rut and did a massive trip in front. I did a full flip endo over her head and landed on my back — one of those falls where you’re on the ground before you even realize you were coming off. The fall and deployment and my total lack of injury were so impressive that a couple of people in the group immediately ordered the same model of vest (Hit-Air).

I also use another safety system that I want to recommend, especially for women like me in the re-rider or first-time rider categories: The Trusted Advisor. While this person does not necessarily need to be a professional in the business of horses, they should definitely have the experience of one. While some trainers, instructors and clinicians certainly fulfill this role in addition to teaching, I also see many who simply work with the rider and whatever horse they rode in on, regardless of mismatches. Here is the pact that I made with my trusted advisor, when I bought a certain handsome steed for myself for my 50th birthday. I said, “I have fallen for this creature, I love the look, feel and very idea of him in such a way that I think I could miss the cues that would let me know that I am on the wrong mount and am putting myself in danger. I want you to tell me if and when that happens, because I am smitten.”

Jen with 50th birthday present, Early. Photo by Kelly Burns.

And when my trusted advisor was able to make the assessment, after a few months, she did: I was, in fact, over-horsed. Was it easy to hear? No. Did I argue and ask, “What if we try ______?” Yes. Was the decision that I made to sell said beloved equine quick and painless? Hell no. But that is where the trust part of the Trusted Advisor comes in: I know with complete certainty that this person has my well-being, SAFETY and best interest at heart. Full disclosure: I am married to my particular advisor, so the trust does run pretty deep. And I really do understand that accidents do happen, but being on the wrong horse, repeatedly, is not an accident. At worst, it is flat-out life threatening, at best, it is having low-grade anxiety, acknowledged or not, during all time spent on or around the horse.

This year’s Makeover is a family project for us, and while I had a couple of off-site trainer resources lined up pre-pandemic, Kelly was tasked with helping me get Louise (JC: Sweet Hall) to the point where we could safely haul out to them. Her Trusted Advisor role kicked in pretty early in the training process, with “Jen, while you may be able to get this horse to the Makeover and have a nerve-racking week there, and that is a big maybe, this horse is never going to be a good match for you. The ‘project’ is always going to be working through the fact that you are just not suited for each other.”

So, while Louise got her first shoes post race-plates this week, instead of us being in the leaps and bounds stage of Makeover training, her personal ad is up, casually seeking a person who is a better fit.

Louise sporting the style of her OT people: double bell boots. Photo by Jen Cleere.

And let me add this: in Louise’s (and Kelly’s) defense, Louise does not fall into the “dangerous mount” category, she is simply a very UP horse who would be much better suited for a more forward, brave and stronger rider. It is a classic case of “it’s not you, Louise, it’s me.” I simply do not have the skills and muscle memory to ride forward through our combined anxiety and me not accepting that fact would set us both up for long term stressful riding.

Louise drinks. Photo by Jen Cleere.

Honestly, this decision allows me to continue our sweet relationship on the ground without the pressure of trying and not being the rider she needs. I can find success in being her first loving home off-track, the place where she got to peacefully rest and recover from racing with her own band of mares. I can seek the very best home for her at a relaxed pace, unlike “the race meet is over, this horse must go now” timeline. And I can still love her, even when she finds a new home.

 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!