Thoroughbred Logic, Presented by Kentucky Performance Products: They Don’t Care If They Show

“I have to remind myself that if I’m not on top of my competition game for a couple months … they don’t care. They are safe, and fed and cared for.”

Welcome to the next installment of Thoroughbred Logic. In this weekly series, Anthropologist and trainer Aubrey Graham, of Kivu Sport Horses, offers insight and training experience when it comes to working with Thoroughbreds (although much will apply to all breeds). This week ride along as Aubrey shares her logic on getting horses back into the show pen (or not).

I ran into a fellow trainer a few months back who had been having a hell of a year. She has a powerhouse of a Thoroughbred and was lamenting that she ought to maybe sell her to a rider who can get her out and show her more regularly — do her talent justice, that type of thing. The trainer rides her horse beautifully, is a great home, and they bring each other joy.

I tossed my proverbial soap box down from my trailer tack room and told her as much, adding, “Your horse does not care if she shows. She doesn’t care what level she is running. She is not offended by the little jumps or the fact that there is not a USEA stamp on the competition. She cares that she has a partner who loves her and wants to ride her and pay attention to her and gets her experience however and whenever that happens.”

Apparently all these happy fools want is attention and to chew on eachother (Left to right: Western Ridge, Cowboy Night, Don’t Noc It). Photo by author.

I believe all of that. And I’m really glad that even though things are hard, she’s not actually thinking about selling her horse. But now I’m having to both stand on my soap box and listen to myself. These past couple months have given me pause about competing. It has always been a reflex — something that comes with the sport. You don’t think, you sign up and show. Add that this especially is the case when trying to get my green beans experience and get them to new homes and more my upper-level hopefuls towards their potential.

I have been looking at my bank account and looking around the barn and wondering which sale horse I needed to sign up and how I was going to figure it out. Shows provide great media, exposure and experience; but sometimes, for those who are around long enough to move up the levels, it’s a long slow slog. Sometimes schedules, training plans, and goals get lost in the fog.

Needles Highway has been legging back up and is getting ready to get out there, but he’s not quite ready for a three-phase, so we have been in a holding pattern. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

And then there are my top horses: Rhodie (Western Ridge) and Hudson (Primetime Spy). Both have been struggling with one thing or another, and I haven’t felt comfortable pushing them. There’s an annoying voice in the back of my head telling me that I’m not doing them justice — that they should be out and doing more (and probably hanging out with my vets more, too, to make that happen). That they should be conquering all the big things at speed and showing off just how amazing these Thoroughbreds are.

Yes, I miss this. Hudson (Primetime Spy) will get back out there, though ‘when’ is up for discussion. Photo by Cora Williamson Photography.

But when I can’t clarify their goals, it’s hard to keep pushing forward. So, recently there have been a lot of chats with my vet and walk-trot rides for Hudson and, in Rhodie’s case, lot of field workouts and fitness days. And I have to keep reminding myself that neither of them care if they show. Hell, Rhodie would gladly gallop hills in my field over focusing through a dressage test any day.

Picking on Rhodie — what he cares about is that he gets attention. He’ll watch me pull another horse from a stall and head to the cross-ties. This knucklehead will rattle his door, mess with his feed pan, and generally create a racket until he also gets groomed, ridden and given the “alright, you did well” treats. Does he enjoy showing? I like to think so. But I also am aware that he probably doesn’t care. He’ll compete for me, but his world of turnout, alfalfa, regular meals, attention and at-home hacks is no less complete without it.

Rhodie (Western Ridge) enjoying his refresher Novice track at Stable View this winter. Photo by Adela Narovich.

Sure, some horses love to show. Forrest (Don’t Noc It) is one of them. While he never really had the upper level edge, he still loved to get out there on cross country and gallop down the fences. But while he is home and groomed and ridden and hacked out in the field, does he care if he shows? Nope. And when we do show, I laugh most of the way through it. I bring him back to Beginner Novice every October just for kicks. And honestly, that is the most fun I have at a show (besides the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover) all year. Because there’s no pressure. Because I believe he enjoys it. Because that show is about joy, not about the places and heights he is able to go to or how we place.

Forrest (Don’t Noc It) very seriously taking on Beginner Novice at his annual return to eventing for the Big Cheese Eventing Halloween show at Ashland Farm. Photo by the Kivu Team.

So I look around the barn and take inventory:

Ramen (Plamen) needs to run a Starter. Uno (Hold Em Paul) needs to be putting in the legwork for a Novice move up. Wolf (Louisiana Moon) needs to keep chipping away at Beginner Novice. Curry (Curlin Lane) needs jumper show experience. Neumann (Bubba Bob) needs to be get over pulling that shoe so he can start showing in general. Needles (Needles Highway) needs to leg up and just get out there… and so on…

There has been a lot more of this than show entries recently. Photo by author.

And then I have to remind myself that if I’m not on top of my competition game for a couple months — if we don’t compete nearly every weekend, if enjoying these horses takes precedence over pushing them for a little while — they don’t care. They are safe, and fed and cared for. And they simply don’t give a sh*& if you sign them up for a show or not. And they aren’t bothered if it is recognized or not. And they don’t ever consider how much you spent, or how much pressure you feel, or how tall the jumps are (unless over-faced, of course).

All I think they notice is that when they do get to the start box, regardless of it is Amoeba level or Prelim, they know that they get to do one of the things they were born to be good at: gallop and bravely take on everything that is in front of them.

Forrest (Don’t Noc It) doing what he loves most — getting to gallop over and through all the things. Photo by Cora Williamson Photography.

So I’ll tuck that soapbox back into my trailer tack room for now, and I will also take a breath and remind myself that there are always more shows, more time, and more goals. And better yet, while I do mental and financial gymnastics, the horses will still prick their ears, rattle their gates and hope for a grooming and a ride. But about the rest of my goals and schedules and processes? Nah — they just don’t care.

Go ride folks – enjoy the horse and know that they don’t feel like they’re missing out.

Uno (Hold Em Paul) enjoying a temporary pause in his show schedule to hack out and explore the farm. Photo by author.

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