The Best Laid Plans: Michelle & Sadie & Peewee

“[M]y training journey thus far has reiterated that plans — with horses in particular — are subject to change. And that’s okay. I’m learning to enjoy the ride.”

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, blogger Michelle Michael discusses how plans need to change… and that’s okay. 

The past six weeks have been full of highs and lows, and at times it feels like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back en route to the Makeover. As an amateur equestrian, with a full time professional career outside of the sport, there are times when life gets in the way of my riding aspirations. As a type A personality, I love to have a set plan. However, my training journey thus far has reiterated that plans — with horses in particular — are subject to change. And that’s okay. I’m learning to enjoy the ride.

Working with a 2020 and 2021 hopeful has been fun in that I get to experience various stages of the training process. My 2021 hopeful, Change of Venue (“Peewee”) recently celebrated six months since his last race. We have had so much fun in our first six months together, and it is easy to see why he was so loved by his connections at the track.

Peewee the gentle giant. Photo by Michelle Michael.

Unfortunately, the start of this spring has been a little rough for Peewee. We were making great progress in March. His canter was getting more balanced and transitions smoother (we started with some “yeehaw!” moments in the beginning). We were starting to pop over little cross rails, and the plan was to get into the show ring in April. However, with just a few days left in the month as I am writing this, we are not going to realize this goal … and that’s okay.

We closed out the month of March with a minor colic scare. I am very fortunate that this was caught early, the vet came out immediately, and Peewee was fine. I spent the night sleeping outside of his stall to make sure he stayed comfortable while waiting for things to… move along. Luckily, it was just a case of “spring grass gas,” and Peewee is doing much better now. It’s so easy to get caught up in goals and where you think you should be in the process. However, having a scare like this really put things in perspective and made me grateful for a healthy, happy horse.

Camping out of Peewee’s stall for the evening following his colic scare. He just wanted to have a sleepover. Photo by Michelle Michael.

In conjunction with his minor colic episode, we have had a few days where he just feels slightly “off.” Nothing crazy, but certainly nothing I wanted to make worse. At the end of the day, he is a forever horse, and I just want him to enjoy his job. To be certain he is healthy and limitation free, a comprehensive exam was done and various images were taken, which ruled out any underlying issues which would cause him to be unfit for his second career. With any serious physical limitations ruled out, my focus has been on keeping him happy and comfortable as he develops his new muscles, and further progresses in his new career. At this time, he is enjoying monthly chiropractic sessions, conditioning-focused rides and carrot stretches. He seems to be enjoying the pampering and not sad at all about a little downtime this month.

Peewee enjoying a “spa day”. Photo by Michelle Michael.

We are just now starting to get back on track and have been making progress at home. While we may not be jumping courses or showing, he has made significant progress in his flat work. Our focus has been on relaxation and transitions. He has started to become much more relaxed and is starting to wrap his head around moving laterally.

Time has also been a help, as I am starting to figure out what produces the best results in him and makes him tick. He is certainly a creature of habit and thrives on consistency. So for now, we will focus on consistent baby steps. Peewee is tentatively set to compete in the show hunter and show jumper disciplines, but this can, of course, be adjusted based on what he most wants to do. The old “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” cliché is proving to be true (and let’s be honest, Peewee never wanted to sprint anyway). Our next goals are to venture out on some field trips and some schooling shows this summer.

Peewee hacking around the farm. Photo by Michelle Michael.

Peewee figuring things out. Photo by Michelle Michael.

While things are just ramping up for my 2021 hopeful, I’m hoping to build on last year’s progress with my 2020 hopeful, Sadie’s Magic. Sadie is tentatively set to compete in the show hunter and show jumper divisions of the Makeover.

In March, Sadie went on her first ever hunt. When she stepped off the trailer into a brand new environment and heard the hounds, she was a little bit….excited. Honestly, I was not sure how this was going to go. It took her a little while to settle in the schooling ring, but once she did, she blew my expectations out of the water and I am so proud of how she behaved.

For context, this is a horse whose nemesis was once the simple act of standing still. Contrary to my 2021 hopeful who prefers to take things slow, Sadie has a very refined go button, and prefers to be on the move. She has the best work ethic of any horse I have owned; however, we spent the first year of her time off the track working on slowing her brain down.

Going on her first hunt, it was rewarding to see our work on basics and time out of the ring exposing her to things pay off. At the hunt, she went out in a large group of horses and hounds and walked, trotted, cantered…and even stood still. We’re going to consider this “cross-training” for our hunter under saddle classes, and I am looking forward to hopefully heading out on more hunts in the fall, and had a lot of fun exploring a new discipline.

Sadie at her first ever fox hunt. Photo by Michelle Michael.

The “plan” was to be back in the show ring this month, with the goal of competing in the 2’6” hunters and stepping into the jumper ring. Our first horse show, which was supposed to be April 11, was sadly rained out. A rainy New Jersey April, in combination with being busy in my professional career lately, has resulted into our 2021 horse show debut being postponed.

Sadie showing off the result of a rainy April in New Jersey, while participating in her favorite pastime of puddle splashing. Photo by Michelle Michael.

However, we have tried to make lemonade out of this month, and have been spending as much time on the trails as possible and are continuing to work on our basics at home.

Sadie out enjoying the trails. Photo by Michelle Michael.

Moving forward, our plan is to get to some horse shows this summer and to continue to go on field trips and other adventures. As I have learned throughout this journey, plans sometimes require recalibrating and that’s OK. I am learning to enjoy the ride and am very fortunate to have two amazing hopefuls as partners.

Michelle Michael lives in New Jersey with her husband, Andrew, four horses, three dogs, and four cats. She is an amateur equestrian who has been riding since the age of two. Michelle became hooked on off-the-track thoroughbreds when she acquired her first ottb, Cams Queen, at thirteen years old. She now balances her full time career as an attorney, with training her two ottbs, Sadie and Peewee to compete in the 2021 Retired Racehorse Project Mega Makeover this October. She chronicles her riding journey on her Instagram page: “three_bay_thoroughbreds”.

Sadie schooling over fences in the summer of 2020. Photo by Sarah K. Andrew.