Journey to the Makeover: Kate & Luis

As Kate Coldren prepares for the 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover, she also begins an educational journey to learn as much as she can about equine body work and barefoot trimming.

For 480 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2021 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, meet blogger Kate Coldren and her horse, Luis (JC New Prince). 

Kate and Luis. Photo courtesy of Kate Coldren.

I am so excited to share my journey to the Mega Makeover this year with the equestrian world. The world has been going through a difficult time with a global pandemic weighing heavily on our shoulders, still it is a great time to celebrate the gifts these majestic equines give us every day.

This will not be a typical blog. I am not a typical equestrian. There are particular goals I have set out for myself this year to help me on my path to the 2021 Mega Makeover event in October. The first is to learn how to perform bodywork. The second is to achieve a better understanding of the equine hoof, by actively learning how to perform a balanced barefoot trim. And thirdly, to document the journey over the next few months with you. How does this have anything to do with the makeover? Just simply — everything. They say, “No hoof, No horse.” And that hoof and leg supports a body designed for movement, so what better way to build a partnership with an incredible equine athlete than to provide a mechanism for them to feel good within their body. 

Beau, Kate’s 2019 Makeover graduate, at a cow clinic in the fall of 2020. Photo courtesy of Kate Coldren.

I want to acknowledge that I am not a “big competitor.” I have a small private hobby farm I call home and I generally attend clinics versus horse shows. I have shown in the past, but I have always competed with amateur status. Now, with the emergence of “social media influencer,” I do wonder what the word “amateur” will mean in a few years as the industry changes. These types of issues will affect the willingness of individuals to share ideas and knowledge as we categorize them into their respective competition boxes. For me, the most important part of the equation is kindness. If we are always bracing for the attack, how can we improve ourselves or the equestrian community?

I am interested in the feedback my horses give me about what brings them joy, besides the basic hierarchy of needs. Engagement can begin here and you can begin to build a relationship. I have found that becoming aware of your horse alone can bring about a profound change in the human-equine partnership. This can be as simple as a blink or as obvious as a swish of a tail. I am sure I will do many deep dives into the importance of observation in future installments.

The Thoroughbred Makeover is fascinating in its construction because it allows for you to explore 10 different disciplines (actually more because Freestyle opens the door to other, less traditional disciplines) for seven to eight months before reaching a decision on which path to follow. Will it be the discipline your horse is best suited to for movement or ability level? Or, will the rider use their experience in a discipline to build the confidence of the horse? For me, this is a game changer in the equestrian world. There isn’t anything comparable to this particular event. And, this event brings attention to equines that need a new purpose after their racing career has ended should they not be able to contribute via the breeding shed. It also opens doors of collaboration between disciplines if we chose to be open to the experience. 

Luis. Photo by Kate Coldren.

Now, let me introduce you to Luis, JC New Prince. He is a 2016 gelding, standing at about 16.2 hands. I acquired him back in February 2020 in hopes of attending the 2020 Makeover. This event, like many others, needed to be postponed. Safety of gathering was compromised by a global pandemic that has interrupted everyone’s normal in some way. I sincerely appreciate the tough call to postpone the event to 2021. In the meantime, Luis enjoyed an extra 10 months of let down and became a part of my herd at home. Not such a bad life, eating grass, goofing off with friends, and getting his silvery gray coat a little muddy. He is a classic, stately gentleman, with adorable floppy lips. Overall, he is just a character you want to be around.

Thoroughbreds have been bred to specifically meet human needs for hundreds of years. Luis is no exception and he is incredibly in tune to the desire to please. One of my big breakthroughs preparing for the 2019 Makeover was learning how to teach a horse how to cope with pressure. Horses learn from the release of pressure. This can be anything that puts a horse outside of their comfort zone. Some examples: loading on a trailer, walking through water, or carrying a flag while riding. All of these tasks can be broken down into smaller and easier exercises to build the horse’s trust and build their confidence. Thoroughbreds generally have so much innate effort to try that it is easy to ask too much on the first attempt. Because they are sensitive animals, it is a fine balance to grow their comfort zone while not pushing them into an explosive or worried state. Remember we are working with horses that were trained to explode from a starting gate! In the past that was a correct response especially since they were bred to run.

Trail riding with friends winter 2020. Photo courtesy of Kate Coldren.

Luis only had two starts. In his second start, he was slow to break from the gate, yet he still placed second. Maybe, that was part of the reason why they retired him. A great way to describe his demeanor is contemplative. I know this is a strange way to describe an equine personality, but he processes in hours/days and not minutes. Maybe every horse is like this and maybe I have been the one not to have observed this earlier. I have come to find observation and a lack of judgement can enhance your communication ability.

Here’s a perfect example of his personality. We spent a few days with Charlotte Cannon in her relaxation clinic. If you are not familiar with Charlotte, she has competed in the Show Hunters division of the 2017 TB Makeover, winning the division by a long shot on points score. Since then, she has dedicated much time to the study of equine relaxation. Much of this work comes from trying to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. I have found many horses in general, not just Thoroughbreds, have an overactive sympathetic nervous system, functioning as most prey animals do in “flight or fight”. By waitingeventually the horse’s parasympathetic nervous system engages. It is possible to observe visual cues that show the horse is in a state of relaxation. This is a very brief overview and I encourage everyone to investigate and explore this topic as it has been incredibly valuable for all my horses.

Luis. Photo by Kate Coldren.

Luis’ behavior was so interesting to me as a horse woman, because he wasn’t really functioning in either side of his nervous system. He was just not very present. It was as if he was daydreaming about what was going on in a far away land. He was just not engaged with his environment. As we watched him, it was as if he was stuck between two different very natural states of “fight or flight” and “relaxation”. This behavior could also be considered a freeze response. 

In our most recent clinic together, we had a major breakthrough. We introduced a flag for him to interact with. He became present, but it came with an interesting emotional reaction. He trotted towards the flag and tried to catch it with his mouth as I moved it away from him. It was interesting to observe him and the emotion associated with becoming present in the moment with the flag. A few weeks later during his next encounter with a flag, he was totally relaxed and present, which I found most interesting. Also hours later during the clinic, he started mimicking the other, more extroverted horse. It takes him much longer to begin to engage with his environment in a curious way.  

I am still exploring disciplines with Luis and we still have until July to decide what path we want to travel at the Mega Makeover. I have some exciting ideas, but for now it will have to remain a secret! There is always a possibility we may have to go back to the drawing board. I am looking forward to sharing more stories about our progress and what Luis teaches me over the next seven months.

Kate grew up in rural New Hampshire where she rode Morgans competitively until the age of 14. She worked at a small private farm caring for Norwegian Fjords and Morgans through high school, while also enjoying her personal horses. She attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and continued her equestrian journey by taking hunter/jumper equitation classes every semester for four years. After college, she discovered her love for the OTTB in 2014 when she purchased JC Trickish, her first mount that started her on the path to become a member of the Retired Racehorse Project. In 2019 she was a first time competitor with JC Somebody’s Beau. They earned Best Conditioned in Competitive Trail while also competing in Show Hunter, placing in the middle of a huge class of over 100 horses. Kate is looking forward to sharing her experiences preparing for the 2021 Mega Makeover with Luis ( JC New Prince). 

Kate Coldren and JC Somebody’s Beau before the 2019 TB Makeover. Photo by Sean Coldren.