Silver Linings: Aubrey & Boomer

2020 seems to be delivering hit after hit — globally, nationally and individually. Blogger Aubrey Graham certainly has not been exempt from this, but that doesn’t keep her from recognizing the silver linings that present themselves.

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 Aubrey Graham discusses the silver linings that have become apparent in a year when the hits just keep coming.

That the horse industry is challenging is news to no one. It takes enormous amounts of hard work, the ability to make difficult decisions, money however it can be come by and a damn good smattering of luck. 2020 in the equine world has been, well… a bit like my ride on Juice the other day: bronc-buck down the long side, then as soon as you get his head up and breathe a sigh of relief for still being in the saddle, straight up he goes onto his hind legs.

Pic of the bronc-happy Juice (JC: “Pulpituity”, 2019 Makeover Grad). Photo Credit by Alanah Giltmier.

For my friends, clients and — oh yeah, me too — vets have been in high demand, tractors have failed to start, pensions have been cut and trucks have been breaking down left and right. Moreover, it seems like every time I bring horses in from the field, new limbs are swollen or shoes are gone… and it is only July. Even folks who don’t believe in astrology are starting to ask if the entire sky is in retrograde.

Forrest (JC “Don’t Noc It”) a week ago after receiving a swift kick just above the knee from his pasture buddy. Photo by Aubrey Graham.

And yet, there’s some light and plenty of silver linings. Amidst all the exasperation, bruises and break-downs has come extraordinary kindness – kindness enough to inspire the ability to put one foot in front of the other, sweat the swollen leg, call the farrier one more time and send that show entry in anyway.

The situation with the Retired Racehorse Project’s Makeover seems to follow suit. As is likely well-known by now, the 2020 Makeover will be delayed and combined into a Mega-Makeover in 2021. I can’t imagine how difficult the decision must have been for the Makeover organizers. What I can tell you though, is that the response to the decision made me love this wonderful, oddball community of Thoroughbred enthusiasts even more. For many, this was their year to do this and the decision to kick the Makeover can down the road is devastating. Nonetheless, current and former trainers met the news with open-minds and acceptance for the difficult decisions the team had to make. More than that, they offered kindness – to each other and to the organizers.

Gratuitous photo of a kind horse (Boomer, JC Vanderboom Ridge) to stand in for not having an image to use of kind RRP folks. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

I have to admit that while the news brought conflicting feelings, mostly it generated a sigh of relief. On one hand, sure, not having a Makeover is disappointing – October won’t quite be the same without flurry of activity/anxiety while there. And I’ll undoubtedly miss the friends, activities, vendor booths and comradery that come with it. Equally, Ranger (Cowboy Night) has been coming along well; he just made it to his first horse trial (running Beginner Novice at Poplar Place Farm) where he showed off both his quiet demeanor and his cross-country bravery. So, it’s too bad that he’ll not see the KY horse park in all its RRP glory until next year (if, in the end, he ends up going).

Ranger (JC: “Cowboy Night” owned by Kelly Lupton) being awesome at Poplar Place Farm in the Beginner Novice division. Video still by Greg Lyon.

On the other hand, the delay means that Boomer might actually make it to KY after all. Next year, as logistically challenging as it might turn out to be, I intend to take 2020 and 2021 horses, and that Boomer will hopefully get to be one of them is one hell of an exciting silver lining. This patient saint of a horse has been passing his days in his stall, letting the stem cells do their work on his suspensory ligament so that he has a chance at a second career. These days, he mostly munches an enormous amount of hay, messes with Forrest over his stall guard and keeps packing on the pounds.

Boomer showing off his new “stall rest fit” body and snazzy post-stem-cell-injection wrap. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

He looks amazing, and it certainly could be worse. With any luck in a month or two, he should be back outside and slowly coming back into work. I’ll be excited to see him join in showing off the athleticism and development of all these newly minted sport horses after having had nearly two-years of retraining. Perhaps, in these weird, challenging times, getting to go to a Makeover that is happening OUTSIDE of this absurd year is exactly that thing we need to look forward to.

Boomer heads back into his stall to keep healing his suspensory. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

Because from where I have been in the last couple weeks, thinking of positive things happening a year away sounds great. I’ll spare you the exhausting details, but three weeks ago, my F250’s engine sputtered and partially broke down. Then a couple days later, it stalled, popped, sizzled and quit entirely while hauling a horse after a show. Stranded in the middle of a busy street, two southern gentlemen en route to a bowling alley (people still do that?!), pulled over and put their big ole lifted truck to use, dragging the whole rig to safety in a turn lane. In the end, we were rescued (thanks, Megan). Turns out that replacing my engine is quite the ordeal. It took multiple weeks, various recommendations and a lot of “how the hell am I going to get through this?” tears. Fortunately, though, as of the end of last week, I have a running truck again and the ponies are back on the road.

The “easy” solution, just get a new truck engine. Photo by Aubrey Graham.

Broken trucks and postponed shows indeed throw wrenches in the smooth operation of the already tricky horse industry. But as with the Makeover, this frustratingly hard situation (with a nearly comically simple (but so not easy) solution: just buy a new engine, just postpone), exposed the quality of community that I am so lucky to have, and which so often goes unrecognized. With no tow vehicle, my people (friends, family, repair folks and even my vet) stepped in to help, even if they had to use a figurative battering ram to get past my “I can do this on my own” ridiculousness. (Note to self… say “thank you,” shut up and accept the help.) And while every offer of assistance warmed my heart and simultaneously shook my “I got this solo” confidence, in hindsight, there’s another huge silver lining here: learning that this powerful, diffuse and compassionate community “has my six” (I also got to learn the meaning of that nifty phrase in the process, thanks, Greg).

Apparently, the horse industry takes not only an enormous amounts of hard work, the ability to make difficult decisions, money however it can be come by and a damn good smattering of luck, but also one hell of a community to see you through. So, for all of you (you know who you are), thank you. Now, time to get back on the road and build towards a mega-makeover and a 2021 that doesn’t feel like a rehab ride on my 5-year-old OTTB coming off of eight months of stall rest.

Or, as a backup option, we could always emulate Pig Pig: settle into a muddy hollow and just wait 2020 out entirely, Photo by Aubrey Graham.

Aubrey Graham is an Anthropologist and eventing/hunter-jumper trainer located just south of Atlanta, in McDonough, Georgia. Based out of a farm built for the 1996 Olympics, she runs APGraham Eventing and Kivu Sporthorses & Training. She parlays her 30+ years of riding experience into training students and working with young, green, and challenging rides, but her passion lies in the retraining of the off track thoroughbred (OTTB). Aubrey has competed through preliminary level eventing and keeps her eyes on the upper levels while enjoying the small successes that come from getting the green horses ready for lower-level competition. In 2018 and 2019 she competed in the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover with both personal and client horses; this year for the 2020 Makeover, she plans to enter two OTTBs.