“I am just too close to the day to day. Feeding, watering, grooming, trimming, handling, and riding. I don’t see the progress the same as eyes that are not so intimately involved in the care.”
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. This week, blogger Kate Coldren reflect on the final weeks heading into the Makeover.
The road we have travelled has been slow and steady. There has been much progress. It is so helpful to get feedback from a clinician that saw you first in April and again in August and now sees the difference. For me, I am just too close to the day to day. Feeding, watering, grooming, trimming, handling, and riding. I don’t see the progress the same as eyes that are not so intimately involved in the care.
Occasionally I will think back to early on. In April, Luis (JC New Prince) and I attended our first Robbie Potter Clinic where the garrocha pole and Luis were like two positive charges repelling one another. Luis was insistent that was as close as he was willing to proceed, but with the development of trust and respect over the last five months, now we are turning, trotting, and beginning to canter with the pole. Take it back even further, look at the first picture of Luis prior to his purchase in February of 2020 compared to his Makeover photoshoot. The change is evident. Under a microscope, things are always magnified, the good and the bad. Sometimes the change this close up is nearly impossible to discern. Consistency and time can bring great things, and in time we will see the dapples turn to a beautiful flea bitten gray.
Luis now. Photos by Sean Coldren.In August, I joined Robbie’s benefit clinic in Blowing Rock, NC, and it was my first time bringing a horse up into the North Carolina mountains. The cool morning mountain air, the fog rolling in and intermittent thunderstorms seemed to borrow the southern humidity just long enough to tease me into thinking I am back in New England.
I got up early on day two and did some groundwork in the large sand area. Luis, our flag with the image of the earth, and I ran around the area. The nylon fabric being caught by our own breeze and synchronizing the rippling sound to our foot falls where we then pause in unison. During our rest I gently rolled the 10-foot poplar pole across Luis’ topline, aiming for the bladder meridian (my first attempt to find a garrocha was too short). It was a great introduction and provided a much-appreciated massage. Luis, alert, looked off into the trees were the facility backed into a residential area. There was a unique bird call, which then in my mind registered as a whistle. A gentleman taking his spaniel out for his morning stroll had noticed the two of us, mostly Luis, just stretching our legs, just messing around with some props before the work of the day began. It is hard not to miss the regal presence of a silver Thoroughbred, even if the morning sun had not crested the tree line.
Now, we are in the final stretch. The mental game of visualization and staying present under moments of pressure during competition has begun. Finding focus in a sea of energetic chaos and keeping Luis’s attention – with me, on the task at hand – has been what we have been so diligently training for, finding the connection.
The physical game and the mental game go on simultaneously in any sport. Coming down to the wire, the weekend field trip planning has gotten more frequent. There is always the underlying fear — have we done enough to prepare? The self-doubt is always humbling, but in all of the hard work and time spent preparing, balance can be found.
There have been limited obstacle competitions in NC this year, so I had to improvise. We entered an Extreme Cowboy Race, put on by members of the Extreme Cowboy Association (EXCA) — not for speed or to win, but to get exposure to atmosphere and a chance to work some obstacles under pressure. He has only had a handful of rides under western tack (which is required for this type of event), yet he just went with the flow.
We didn’t place in our class, but we moved through the whole course and at each obstacle Luis put forth effort. With two more EXCA races to go before loading up for Kentucky, I think we will be getting much more confident in the competition atmosphere by seeing indoor and outdoor venues.
I couldn’t stay away from the mountains. Luis and I found our way to Robbie’s Trail Clinic held at Springmaid Mountain. Hauling up those twists and turns are always a bit more exciting than I care to admit. Lucky Luis has gotten to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway twice now, both in very short stretches, but I am sure he still prefers highway travel. There is such raw peace, watching deer grazing alongside the equine herd and acoustics of the river held by the valley. It almost made me appreciate the lack of cell signal, a reminder that life still exists outside of social media.
Reflections on this journey do bring up emotions. I can feel the pressure behind my eyes and the saline liquid just on the glassy surface. Sitting with emotions is a new practice of mine and allowing space for them to exist has brought me a new sense of tranquility. Eventually they pass, and there is a sense of peace in not fighting back and allowing them to exist.
The days go by so fast, even when your day is consumed by everything horse. It’s learning how to listen with not just your ears and standing alongside the King of Sport with patience and kindness. It isn’t about the task at hand, but the relationship to get the task accomplished as a team, safely, without worry.
I have found little tokens of wisdom along the way. Finding the line from my navel to the outside ear on a circle, and the natural balance that lives there, is one of those tokens even if I may not physically get my body correctly positioned every time. Another being a navy bracelet that I have worn all summer that no longer has the white print: Breathe. Soften. This is a new mantra to live by, between the podcasts, books, and all the dedicated horse people that have spent their lives devoted to the hyoid and the thoracic sling. Not to mention the four hooves that have taken me from knowing just enough to be dangerous to understanding that there is so much more to learn and uncover. I have really just touched the surface of the nature of horn, as well as more technical conversations about functions of western bits, working one handed while horseback and how this changes the demand on the equipment and the rider.
I have been doing mental rehearsals of our five-minute freestyle. I have a timer and I am building music options. The time is so short! And the time for set up and tear down is even less. I am still trying to feel the order of how we want to put the required movements together. In the past freestyles were extremely elaborate, and I suspect mine will be on the conservative side. But we do still have a few more weeks to rehearse.
On to the Kentucky Horse Park. See you all soon.
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).