2021: Safe for Hope? Aubrey & Boomer

“Maybe come October, the bay cousins will be stalled next to each other in the Kentucky Horse Park. Maybe, this year will be more about joy and progress than patience and simply going forward to get through. Maybe, just maybe, this year it might just be safe to hope.”

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 talks about looking forward to the rest 2021 and the glimmers of hope it offers.

Last year brought with it its own vocabulary — doozy, yard sale, suspensories, COVID and stall rest for humans and horses. With 2020 rolling out and 2021 kicking off, it seems possible that there is room for hope to sneak in. There’s the potential for moving forward with the things that matter, even if those forward steps might have been hard to envision through the fogs and impacts of last year.

Fletcher and Boomer enjoying turnout. Photo by Greg Lyon.

For Boomer (JC Vanderboom Ridge), 2021 has brought turnout. To say that he is happy is an extraordinary understatement. Fletcher (JC Reflection), however, is a bit less thrilled with this arrangement. That classy beast is still at the farm and is proving to be worth his weight in gold for his ability to tolerate general foolishness. Despite being three years Boomer’s junior, Fletcher rolls his eyes and steers clear of inciting more idiocy when Boomer tries to kick up his heels in their small dry lot pasture.

Boomer enjoying turnout; Fletcher wondering what he did to end up with this job. Photo by Aubrey Graham.

Fun fact: Unless it is bloody freezing, Boomer shouldn’t go out in a blanket. His ample excitement at anything other than his four walls translates to soaking through the rug and covering himself in froth. One epic occasion left patterned foam across his flanks; when brushed to the floor, it stubbornly retained its structure and stood upright for days.

Boomer’s froth-ability when turned out in a rug is quite impressive. Photo by Aubrey Graham.

While Boomer would probably be just fine settling on turnout, for me, his 2021 is full of knife-edged hope. Has the suspensory injury healed enough to pursue an eventing career? Is it safe to think that maybe, just maybe, it has? Paying off massive vet bills leftover from last year means that the next ultrasound confirmation might still be a month or two away. In the meantime, I’ll hang onto “maybe” and keep taking small steps pointed not in reverse to where we were this time last year, but rather, pointed forward towards a new, hope-laden type of potential.

Importantly, I’m looking forward to allowing him to set my expectations for the Retired Racehorse Project’s MegaMakeover. That’s one of the things I love most about that show — helping the horses find their best career fit. If eventing isn’t in Boomer’s cards, and those jump-rail yard sales continue, perhaps we’ll stick to the flat and let him make the dressage arena his home. I have to admit that that would still be a very pretty sight.

Boomer does look good in dressage gear (photo from 2020 before the suspensory). Photo by Aubrey Graham.

Also, in regard to this year’s RRP, I submitted an application for one 2021 horse. Assuming soundness and training progress well enough, I’ll have two horses already going for the 2020 classes (Boomer and Ranger  — Cowboy Night owned by Kelly Lupton). My 2021 entry remains open-ended, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll end up flipping my usual big-hot-redheaded script (ahem, Forrest and Juice) and bring Rhodie (JC Western Ridge). This pony-faced little tank has athleticism and heart written all over him.

Rhodie (JC Western Ridge)’s sale photo from Winchester Place Thoroughbreds. Photo by Laura Newell.

Rhodie is Boomer’s younger cousin, also bred and produced by Winchester Place Thoroughbreds in KY. Laura Newell alerted me to his awesomeness and availability a while back, but it took me until mid December to get my act together and organize a trip to go pick him up. In the meantime, he hung out at their retirement facility, collecting cockelburs and mud clumps.

The mud on this pint-sized (16h) tank was impressive. Photo courtesy of Aubrey Graham.

This “little dragon” as Laura used to call him as a colt, brought two surprises: On one hand, his floaty movement caught me completely off guard (I had chosen to purchase him from a single picture and her recommendation alone). On the other hand, as I came back from my truck ready to pay Laura, she gave me a funny look that made me pause.

“There’s one more thing you need to know about this horse…”

And I was like, well shit… what could that be…?

“He’s free.”

It took a minute to process… free, like wild and free…? or free like there’s something wrong with him? Free like for some crazy reason I just don’t have to pay?

“Merry Christmas,” she grinned, “I didn’t have time to get a bow.”

Turns out, Greg, my partner who had just then spent a number of grinch-like weeks associated with a new late night patrol detail, had gathered enough info and Christmas spirit to go around me and already have him purchased before I arrived at Winchester’s main facility. Pretty sure my next moments were full of comical expletives and a lot of head-shaking.

Once Rhodie made it home, we managed to dig up a bow. Photo by Greg Lyon.

After a long drive in the steady rain, Rhodie took his first steps off the trailer in Georgia at the Atlanta Police Mounted Patrol Unit. He showed off his good brain and stood quietly in the barn while the men commented on how little and shaggy he was compared to their enormous drafts. He then loaded back up like a champ and headed to his new home at Kivu Sporthorses, where he now loves nothing more than racing around my big field, playfully terrorizing the other geldings.

When the rain made my arena unridable, Rhodie went to work in the driveway. Photo by Aubrey Graham … or possibly Pivo. Either way Pivo and Rhodie are pretty cool.

One of my goals for 2021 was to build up my sales program. Rhodie was supposed to fit in that group: a simple resale horse. Technically, he still is. But maybe, just maybe, there is reason to hope that this little, good-brained dragon might just house the type of talent I’m looking for. Maybe come October, the bay cousins will be stalled next to each other in the Kentucky Horse Park. Maybe, this year will be more about joy and progress than patience and simply going forward to get through. Maybe, just maybe, this year it might just be safe to hope.

Rhodie’s first jaunt under saddle certainly wasn’t a bad way to kick off his potential RRP journey. Photo by Greg Lyon.

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.