Journey to the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover 2020: Amy Smith’s June Update

The journey to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover 2020 continues! Read on for our fourth update from Amy Smith.


As a first-timer with the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, my favorite part of the journey so far has been watching the progress of others through various social media outlets. Beyond the general feeling of camaraderie with fellow OTTB lovers as we restart our track projects, I think it’s a part of the overall Makeover experience to observe how others approach the task of introducing a thoroughbred to a second career. Even though we all hope to end up at the same destination, we’re traveling on different roads at different speeds. 

Ghost and I have been on a very slow and steady path, but thanks to the deliberate approach, it has been a smooth one. I have to admit that Coronavirus confinement was a contributor to the success (to date) of that path, because it has been easier to appreciate each little triumph and progression when we aren’t measuring it against how well we can navigate a course at a show, and the progression at home wasn’t muddied up by tackling all the challenges and frustrations to conquer on various forms of field trips. But…it’s time now for a mud bath.

As travel restrictions eased, the first field trip opportunity in three months materialized. We were given clearance to trailer over to a nearby barn with a beautiful ring, which meant that Ghost would get to try out a course of unfamiliar jumps. Pre-Coronavirus, we had been to that barn a couple times before – but at that time a few months ago, we were not challenging him with much more than 18” trot fences, isolated to a couple of plain poles without any filler. 

Riding to the ring during our field trip. Photo by Russ Smith.

Ghost’s canter and hind end strength have developed since those days. He has learned how to use himself over a fence as the fence height gradually increased and fillers were added at home. The weeks and weeks of trot fences have built in a default willingness to go to the base, and his adjustability – and his Ammy rider’s ability to adjust his big, leggy body – have come a long way.

Speaking of adjustability, Ghost graduated to canter-in, canter-out lines this month. We introduced lines as slowly and deliberately as everything else he has learned: trotting in and out at first, then trotting in and allowing him to canter out, and working adjustability by breaking down into trot intervals.

We’ve had to work hard at this. Ghost’s willingness to be adjusted is not always reflected by his Ammy rider’s ability in the moment to adjust him. I’m working on sitting back and keeping proper leg on him, but breaking the bad habit of a slight tilt and long reins has been my own personal hurdle.  (My point-and-shoot schoolmaster probably stands next to Ghost in their stalls and proudly says, “I trained her well to leave you alone so you can just pilot yourself!!”) Thanks a lot, Thunder. Now please tell the new kid that he has miles to go before he earns his Mom’s bad habits the way you earned them over the years.

One of the best things about committing to this blog is that it has forced me to get more video of myself riding than I ever had before….and a Groundhog Day-like opener with my trainer at the beginning of each lesson has become “I watched the video from last week, and I understand now why you’re telling me to [insert correction here].”  

I didn’t really need video demonstration of my need to keep Ghost’s giant stride contained – but this Ammy rider made some for you anyway (now preserved in the “Bloopers” file).  This line rides in a “rolling” 4 strides for a mature, balanced horse when the fences are 2’6”+ and this should absolutely be a 5-strider for us right now. But when I let him jump into the line without more balance and connection, his big stride just ate up the ground and this is what I got. (The apology at the end was, in my head, directed at both trainer Linda and Ghost simultaneously).

This is how it’s supposed to ride (for us, at 2’-2’3)….

Here’s the second video of the day, and the first video-documented canter-into-and-through a line properly! I learned my lesson from the ‘flyer’ and came in more softly (off a turn – trainer’s trick to make sure I had him properly measured this time.) Also very proud of that lead change. 😉

Posted by Chief Tarhe: Road to the 2020 RRP TB Makeover on Sunday, June 7, 2020


Back to the field trip. This past weekend when we journeyed to that nearby farm, we were finally ready to check out the beautiful course of jumps that we had previously only been hacking around and admiring. First, we had to get on the trailer to get there…a bit of a struggle for us in the past. He was MUCH better this time – we had several minutes of “leg lock” and then agreed to walk the rest of the way on after about five minutes. (It helped that his barn mate was already on the trailer).

Please get in the trailer!  Photo by Russ Smith.

Once at the farm, we had a short but beautiful ride through the woods to get to the ring, which Ghost handled in stride. He has always enjoyed trail riding around our farm at home, and some trips to state parks are on our horizon as COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift.

And then….the jumping!  Days like this are when you see how much it’s all coming together and feel the reward of the patient approach.

Finally – a field trip!

After a very long stretch of our work being confined to our home barn, today we were able to venture out to a nearby farm for schooling in a different environment and different fences!

Posted by Chief Tarhe: Road to the 2020 RRP TB Makeover on Sunday, June 14, 2020


By our next blog, I hope to be reporting out on our first “real” horse show classes.  (Back in December, I took Ghost down to our local show grounds to expose him to the scene and do the little Green Horse hack division. Our gaits were still a work in progress back then, but it was good exposure for his brain).

Ghost’s jump has improved so much..and he is teaching me to improve, too! Photo by Russ Smith.

I hope that me poking fun of myself as an Ammy rider comes across as more than self-deprecation…what I really want people to take away from it is that you don’t have to be a professional or have great form or even great confidence in your abilities to restart a TB straight off the track. My now-24 year old Thunder may have encouraged bad habits over the years, but he taught me how to really ride. And how to jump. Ghost is now elevating that to a new level. You can come into this process already having the developed skill set and bring a TB to your current destination as a project, or as an Ammy rider you can actually make the journey with them. Different roads, different speeds.

Want to follow along on Amy and Ghost’s journey before their next blog update?  Click here to “like” and follow their Facebook page!

About Amy

Originally from Homestead, Florida, Amy  Smith moved to the DC area after college and went on to work on Capitol Hill for almost 17 years.  She now works for The Boeing Company.  She also is an active duty military spouse married to her husband, Russ, and is involved in several volunteer activities/charitable organizations, including serving as a board member for the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and a Tragedy Assistance Program Ambassador.  Amy has ridden horses since she was a young child and has purchased and re-trained three OTTBs since 2005: Silent Thunder, National Standard, and Chief Tarhe (Ghost). She began volunteering for CANTER Mid-Atlantic in 2007 and became the Executive Director for CANTER Maryland in 2016. She visits the backstretch of Laurel Park approximately twice per month to take listings from trainers looking to rehome their horses, and has helped place homes for hundreds of horses in her years at both Laurel Park and Pimlico.