JN’s newest contributor, Victoria Gomez, reflects her experience during the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover and shares some food for thought for this year’s competitors.
Every year, fall begins its descent on the state of Kentucky. The leaves change and fall from the trees, the mornings become brisk, the days shorter, and the Kentucky Horse Park becomes the place to be if you have any interest in off the track Thoroughbreds. The Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover takes place in early fall and brings horses and trainers from all over to one place for a competition with over $100,000 in prize money. This year the show will run from October 2nd-5th and has the potential to feature 673 accepted trainers accepted and their 723 horses. Of those accepted, there were 171 Show Hunters and 95 Show Jumper entries. This time of year hundreds of recently retired racehorses, all with no more than ten months of retraining, begin anxiously counting down the days.
In some ways, the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover is similar to other horse shows, but in truth, it’s unfair to compare it to anything else. The atmosphere is unlike that of any show I had been to before I attended the Makeover for the first time in 2017. I had been looking forward to retraining a Thoroughbred and competing since the first time the show was run a few years prior. Unfortunately, I ended up having some horse trouble and didn’t get my Makeover horse until June, leaving me with only three months to prepare. Somehow the horse Gods smiled down on me, and I ended up with a young horse who had the brain and demeanor of a seasoned show horse from the first day I sat on her. With only three months to teach her a new career, we placed in the middle of the pack in both the hunters and jumpers. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Looking back now, the one thing that stands out to me the most is the quote I lived by those short months beforehand and still do today.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Victoria and All Rock – RRP Thoroughbred Makeover 2017. Photographer: Molly Worek
The Makeover was not my first time retraining an OTTB. I quite frequently have people ask for advice when it comes to working with these horses and how I can accomplish some of the things I do with them. That mantra is always my go-to, especially when the horses are young. It’s all about finding a good place to stop with babies. Even if you only ride for 15-20 minutes; get them relaxed and listening to you, then stop for the day. The year I competed, and the years since, I have seen people get stressed and feel as though they will be looked down on or that they shouldn’t attend in the first place because they feel as though their horse isn’t ready to win. Common concerns run rampant through their minds: What if my horse doesn’t have a lead change? Will he spook at the new environment? Will he stop at the fences he hasn’t seen before? He’s never even been to a horse show! The list goes on and on, reasons why they feel the horse isn’t ready and they shouldn’t come. Here’s why you still should.
1. The Makeover is full of other trainers who will go out of their way to build you up rather than tear you down. I have seen people who have never spoken before help each other in the schooling arena. I have watched as trainers took time out of their own warm-ups to help an amateur who is feeling the weight of having an inexperienced horse at a large venue. I have heard everyone watching a class cheer as someone coaxes their nervous horse around a course. I witnessed strangers be the first to lend a hand when another rider is overwhelmed. At the Makeover, you will not be looked down on; you will be encouraged to do the best that you and your horse can. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see.
2. Remember when I said it’s unlike any other show I have ever been to? I meant it. It’s welcoming, no matter who you are, where you are from, what you are competing in, etc. You can come knowing no one and leave with more friends than you could have ever imagined. We aren’t just a bunch of people showing horses, we are a family, and the second you are accepted as a trainer, you become a part of that family.
3. It’s inviting, all of it. From the schooling areas to the courses, the finale arena, and even the clinics, everything that takes place during the Makeover is set up in a way that challenges these horses just enough, but never too much. It is inviting to even the youngest and most inexperienced horses competing. As someone who competed in 2017 with a young horse who had only one month of jumping under her shoes before we took on the Makeover, I was impressed as both a trainer and a competitor. The Makeover truly is a steppingstone placed correctly at just the right point in time for these horses.
4. The Makeover isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning. Whether you plan on selling your horse at the RRP or not, making it to the show is still only the first stop on a long ride. You did it. You made it here with a horse that you put so much time and effort into. You helped transform an athlete from one career to another. You made the adjustment for that horse easier than it would have been without you and with an incorrect start. You did it, and now you get to watch as that horse takes on the rest of its’ life and does so in a way that makes not only you proud but also those who support you and the Thoroughbred in itself.
Victoria and All Rock – 2’6” Hunters RRP Thoroughbred Makeover 2017. Photographer: Molly Worek
It isn’t just another horse show; it’s the real thing. Enjoy it, relish in the feelings of overwhelming pride in the horses standing beside you, and do it again next year. After all, marathons are reoccurring.