Jen & Louise: Moving On and Meet Ribeye!

Although Jen Cleere and her horse Louise are reaching the end of their journey together, Jen has examined what her goals as a rider are and and what she wants to get from riding. This self examination has led her to her next horse — meet Ribeye!

Following the announcement that the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, will be postponed to 2021, competitors have been working to decide what comes next for them and their mounts. Today, blogger Jen Cleere discusses where she’ll be headed as she looks forward in her riding career.

With Louise (JC: Sweet Hall) still casually for sale and Kielbasa on the mend, and now the postponement of the 2020 event till 2021, I have done lots of thinking about what my personal goals were for the Makeover. Kelly and I had not attended until 2019 and over our nightly beers in the Kentucky Horse Park campground, we kept marveling over the caliber of horsemanship that was on display. Through all the barn aisles and arenas and across all ages and disciplines of riders, neither of us had seen such consistently fantastic horsemanship in such a large group of competitors. And folks were so friendly and warm. And the most stupendous part? All of the horses are retired racehorses — yes, that is the point of the competition — but when you are actually there, it is this physical realization that strikes repeatedly throughout each day.

As an event that learns from itself and evolves from year to year, the RRP staff have done an amazing job with their trainer selection process. Of course, I have had moments with Louise where my self doubt floods in and I feel that I must have tricked my way into the competition, because this particular racehorse is proving to be beyond me. But then, I put those thoughts away and move Louise back to the Luck of the Draw category. I was looking for a horse that was on the chill side, not some magical schoolmaster, but a horse that I could learn with and grow alongside. It’s called a Makeover and I embraced that — I wanted to make myself over as a rider too! I wanted to get rid of the narratives that I carry that keep me in a cycle of fear-based responses, weed out the “what ifs” that erase my fun, get fit, lose weight, ride better, get stronger, dig deeper into my disciplines, learn a new discipline, ride better, ride better, ride better. . . I wanted to deserve my spot amongst those high caliber competitors, come October. And those goals are what led me to lose 18 lbs (so far) and acquire a fat paint horse.

So, as we hit pause for a bit on the Thoroughbred front, let’s load the saddle bags with some adult beverages and hit another trail, shall we?

Big grins and beers on the trail. Photo by Kelly Burns.

In late summer of 2018, we were horse shopping for our family friend and teenaged riding student for a gelding to be boarded at our farm. Her lessons were going well and she wanted a paint horse with a flowing mane for pony club and other adventures. Jake popped up in the right price range and just 30 minutes away, so we all piled in the car to go check him out.

Jake’s Sale Ad. Photo by Jen Cleere.

There was a lot to love — all four of us, Kelly, kid, mom and me ended up having a little go on him and he fit the bill perfectly for our first-time horse owners. As encouragement for the purchase, Kelly said, we all love him and this is an unknown horse that Jen felt safe enough to canter on her first ride — that is a huge selling point! (Admittedly, this was a rare thing!) And so the sale was made. Fast forward two years through lots of family horse bliss, “Rowan” was loved and ridden by both teen and mom. Unfortunately, our teen rider had a series of injuries that along with some pre-existing symptoms, eventually led to a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and riding became too painful and strenuous. Her mom picked up the reins for a while, but months home for the pandemic finally led to the difficult decision to sell the horse.

So Kelly and I pulled the grazing muzzle off of the fat boy and hauled him to nearby Ashland Farm to make some sale videos. I rode him. It was nice riding him. He was agreeable, pleasant and then some fun started to seep in as I popped him over some (small!) logs in the cross country field. Y’all, I am not a popper-over-of-logs on a strange horse. While not an unknown quantity — we have lived with and cared for this guy for two years — I haven’t been riding him. In fact, I have largely ignored him, petting and giving treats to my horses in his pasture as I rebuffed his attempts at connection. He had his own people after all. And, I am just not a paint fan. Is that awful? I was deeply un-attracted to him aesthetically. My eye would skip over him in the field as I gazed at my own gorgeous beasts. And he is the most swampy, stinky, clover slobbery, muddy, pond-roller pigpen of a horse that you can imagine.

Ribeye and Chester enjoying the watering hole, every day. Photo by Jen Cleere.

And yes, he is on the fat side. He has such a thick daily layer of mud and dirt that he must be brushed outside the barn before he can come in for grooming. So imagine my surprise, while riding him, when I turned to Kelly and said, “What if I kept Rowan as my horse?” I would have to change his name. And did I mention my dislike of paints? But if I described what I wanted in a horse — the thing that I had hoped that my Makeover horse would end up being someday — a steady eddy, easy keeping all-arounder, a horse to fox hunt, to show, to do some competitive trail and tricks, a horse that I would feel comfortable popping over a log. . .

Thus began some weeks of me erasing what I knew of “Rowan” and moving toward not just buying him in an easy deal that pleased us all and calling him mine, but actually coming to like him. Ok, maybe even like him a lot.

Ribs at trailer. Photo by Kelly Burns.

But he is a Beginner Horse: Have I demoted myself to a new low in riding by grabbing this kid’s horse out of the field after failing with my OTTB? Kelly scolded me on this one — this is not a “beginner horse”, he is simply a horse with the temperament to be safe for a beginner. We actually don’t know what he is ultimately capable of — he is a surprisingly good mover. I had this idea of talent and potential being some bigger flashier things that looked more like, well, like Louise or Kielbasa. And there was that pesky color bias. I certainly know the saying, A good horse cannot be a bad color, but I have not lived it till now!

The Name: after very nearly calling him Bruce Springsteen (reason: well, he’s not my favorite singer, but who doesn’t love to sing Born to Run?), the name Ribeye won out. Who’s that paint horse that Jen is on? RIBEYE!

A month into our relationship, I am still a bit startled by the splashy white bay who comes hurtling toward me in his nice big trot each time I set foot in the field, but I am getting used to it. And we’re getting ready for our first show in mid-August — good old Ribsy Ribeye has convinced me to try a little eventing for the first time. . .

Look out, eventing, here comes Ribeye! Photo by Kelly Burns.

P.S. We applaud the very thoughtful decision made by the RRP organization to postpone and reimagine the 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover for 2021 and look forward to participating. Thank you for all that you do, RRP!

 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!