Staying in Our Lane: Michelle & Peewee
“As I’m sure others can relate, I struggle with feeling like we are not where we should be … I am grateful for the supportive environment that the Retired Racehorse Project cultivates and have embraced the mantra ‘stay in your lane.'”
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 maintaining perspective and remembering not to compare her journey with Peewee to that of other competitors or even that of her other horses.
Since my last update back in April, I am happy to report that we finally are hitting our stride. Following a rocky spring, I have sought to find consistency this month with my 2021 Makeover hopeful, Change of Venue (aka Peewee). This goal has been complicated by the fact that I, too, have “changed venues” as my husband and I recently bought our first horse farm. While this is a lifelong dream, the practical realities of balancing a move and getting a farm set up, with a professional career, left me with some considerable horse mom guilt, as I was not at the barn as much as normal. In order to balance my riding goals, I had to reprioritize and recalibrate. As Peewee requires more fine tuning than my 2020 Makeover hopeful, Sadie’s Magic, he has taken priority in my riding schedule this month, while Sadie has enjoyed some well-deserved down time and light trail riding.
As I’m sure others can relate, I struggle with feeling like we are not where we should be. Peewee hasn’t been to a show yet, we’re not jumping courses and we have not gone on extensive field trips. Instead, we spent a ton of time on his foundation and focused on getting him relaxed, sound, happy and feeling good. It is difficult not to fall into the comparison traps and dwell on where you think you should be in the training process (especially if you’re a perfectionist like me). I have reevaluated what our short-term goals are, and have broken things down into smaller steps, working toward the larger picture. I am grateful for the supportive environment that the Retired Racehorse Project cultivates and have embraced the mantra “stay in your lane.”
We started off the month of May with Peewee celebrating his seventh birthday. He is a very goofy, people-oriented horse. Having such a kind horse to work with has made even the tougher days and I am lucky to have him as partner.
Finding consistency is difficult with horses and really is a wishful thought more than a goal. Peewee is a very tall, lanky guy who is still figuring out how to use his body. He is still strung out at times and sometimes and gets stuck and tense. We have had some really great moments…and some that are not as pretty. At our best, you can really see the fancy hunter pony starting to develop, and that’s the most exciting part of this whole thing. At our worst, we do a pretty good charging ostrich impression (said as affectionately as possible).
Peewee tries very hard, but as his trainer from the track has said, “He’s never been in a rush to get anywhere.” I could not agree more. Some days he likes to pretend he’s a 17.2 hand Welsh Pony stopping at the in-gate. After ruling out any physical limitations, and providing consistent chiropractic work, we spent the beginning of our time together just working on moving forward at a consistent rhythm. Developing this consistency has been a slow and steady process. We could be trotting along just fine one moment and “war dancing” sideways the next.
With this said, he is one of the more difficult Thoroughbreds I’ve brought along (said in the best way possible, because I believe he has a great amount of potential). He requires a firm ride (think Welsh Pony), but also a supportive and soft one because he gets nervous and benefits from reassurance. Breaking things down into baby steps and not asking a question that will over phase him has been the best way forward. I have started to see more consistency, and he is starting to figure out things like bending and moving off my leg, and is becoming more supple, relaxed and — in fleeting moments — even stretches for contact.
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Our biggest milestone this month has been gaining a more consistent and balanced canter. Our canter in the beginning was limited. We would canter a few strides at a time and tried to stop before he got strung out. The right lead canter, in particular, has been a challenge. Getting him to pick it up in the beginning was struggle and we spent a lot of time just trotting to the right and building up his strength. Recently, he cantered several times around the arena on his right lead. This, to me, was celebration worthy. It’s been rewarding to see and feel his canter develop, and to see the physical changes he has gone through as his musculature changes from racehorse to sport horse. We’re now starting to incorporate more transitions and changes of directions and will continue to work on this slowly.
My original goal was that we would be jumping courses by now. I am well aware that I cannot compare the two horses, but it is difficult not to think about how my 2020 hopeful, Sadie, was showing over fences at this time last year. Sticking with the theme of recalibrating your goals and staying in your lane, Peewee as an individual has required smaller steps. I have continued to incorporate lots of ground poles into Peewee’s routine and have recently started to pop over some tiny cross rails. He is definitely a slow and steady kind of guy and, at this point, I could see him excelling in the hunter ring. While we are not jumping any substantial jumps right now, he has very willingly trotted over various fillers, and him having a positive experience is good enough for me. There will be lots of gymnastics in our future this summer.
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I would be remiss if I did not mention what I believe to be Peewee’s favorite part of our training. Perhaps if you do not see us in the hunter ring, we will make an appearance in competitive trail. To break things up, we have been doing a lot of groundwork and getting out of the ring as much as possible. On the ground, we have worked a lot with tarps, exercise balls, flags and little bridges. The groundwork has been beneficial in helping to develop a relationship with him, build his confidence and break up the day-to-day monotony of training. Peewee really seems to enjoy getting out of the ring, and I love seeing his little ears perk up on the trails.
Most recently, Peewee made the move to my farm, where I will be able to care for and work with him every day. Our goal moving forward is to prepare for summer shows and to get out on more field trips. It’s been wonderful having both of my Makeover horses in one place, and I am looking forward to continuing the journey to the Makeover!
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”.