Finding Myself Again: Catherine & Nova

“I finally feel like I’m finding myself again, no longer a stranger to that excitement and passion I once had around horses. I’m still a work in progress but so is my mare and I couldn’t ask for a better partner. RRP Thoroughbred Makeover here we come!”

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 Catherine Eagleston and her horse Nova (JC Care About This). 

Photo courtesy of Catherine Eagleston

There I was, standing at the mounting block, contemplating if I should get on or not. My mare, Nova (JC Care About This), intently looking at me wondering what was taking so long. As I stand there fully tacked and ready to ride, I listen to the snow sliding off the indoor roof and hitting the ground. I was so determined to ride this morning. I was dressed to ride before I even dropped my kids off at school. I was proud that I pushed myself to the barn. So many times I prioritize everyone and everything else, but today I was doing something for me. I was going to ride my Makeover horse.

The minutes are ticking by. My fear is growing I start over thinking. Since having kids and taking a six-year break from actively riding, I wasn’t the rider I used to be. The days of me eagerly hopping on green and feisty horses seem to be a faint memory. I’m not as confident, fit or balanced as I was in the past, and my overthinking brain started casting doubts in my mind. I find myself questioning my abilities constantly. I hold myself back, which only grows my fears, making it harder to move forward.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Eagleston

As I stood at that mounting block starting to feel defeated, I realized I needed to take control of my thoughts. I knew I had to get on or I would keep setting myself back. I will admit it was incredibly hard to override my fear. I did make a compromise and cut the ring off where the ice was falling the most, but I rode. I got on my mare and we worked on our pole exercise. We made it through the ride without a single bad step. My love grew for her in that moment and so did my confidence.

My overthinking brain didn’t just turn off though. I knew we would have other challenges. The ice may have been my first challenge, but it wasn’t going to be my last. Our next challenge was the dreaded open garage doors of the indoor arena. My mare doesn’t get bothered by much. She usually takes everything in stride. She adapted to the indoor and busy ring quicker than I ever expected. However, when that door opened on that first warm day, I could sense right away this was going to be different.

As soon as I walked into the arena her head went up and her muscles tensed. She planted her feet and didn’t want to go near it. Our plan for a relaxed quiet hack had changed.

I knew I had to be her confidence. I watched her body language and behaviors so I would know if she was relaxing or getting overwhelmed. We started with just walking towards the door with the occasional stop for her to take it all in. Her nostrils were flaring and her eyes were wide. When stopped I would talk to her while stroking her neck in hopes to show her everything was fine. When we got to the door we just stood there and hung out for a while. She stuck her head out checking out the scenery. Finally, she nudged me for a peppermint, which she always knows I have at least one. Step one was accomplished.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Eagleston

I decided it was time to get on. As soon as we hit the middle part of the ring, she wasn’t going any closer. This challenge was going to be more difficult than our last. This time we both had to work through our fears and worries. I needed something that not only would work for both of us, but also would accomplish our goal of defeating the dreaded door. So I cut the ring and got to work. As she relaxed, I slowly moved us closer and closer to the door. Any time a person or a horse would walk past she would tense up and want to go the other way. I would reassure her the best I could and talked her through our situation.

I’m the rider who will have a whole conversation with my horse while riding around the ring. As I told her how beautiful her mane was and how proud of her I was for being so brave, she exhaled a large breath right past the door. It took us the whole ride but we did it. Although we never even cantered that day, I felt our bond grew along with my confidence. I can do this. We have had a few other adventures such as our first ride around the barn and riding in the big outdoor area for the first time. Sometimes I achieved these on my own, and other times I asked a trainer to help guide me.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Eagleston

I will admit I didn’t work through all this alone. My team members, trainers, and barn family are still supporting and guiding me in this journey. I finally feel like I’m finding myself again, no longer a stranger to that excitement and passion I once had around horses. I’m still a work in progress but so is my mare and I couldn’t ask for a better partner. RRP Thoroughbred Makeover here we come!

Photo courtesy of Catherine Eagleston

Catherine Eagleston grew up in Massachusetts riding and competing horses in a local 4-H group. Her love and addiction to horses only grew from there. She attended Post University and received a degree in Equine Management and Marketing and while competing on both the IHSA and IDA teams. She bought her first OTTB, named Wild Willy, while in college. He started her love and passion for Thoroughbreds. Since then, she has operated multiple equestrian facilities, including her own. Catherine has trained and competed in the hunter, jumper, equitation, and dressage ring over the years in both rated and non-rated competitions.

She took a break from working full time in the industry to start her family. Currently she is teaching courses at Post University in the equine department and riding lessons at Oakendale Farm LLC, a local eventing barn. Catherine has a small farm at her home called Eagles Equestrian, where she keeps her two OTTB mares and POA gelding. She is excited to share her ups and downs as she navigates this Thoroughbred Makeover.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Eagleston