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

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


OK, I’m going to just put this out there, right out of the gate (no pun intended). A big part of my own personal Coronavirus Fatigue is defined by my desire to get Ghost off the farm. It has now surpassed the struggle to find preferential grocery items. He’s ready. He needs it. It’s the developmental step we’re missing right now. 

In a world where someone could travel back through time and sabotage a lab in Wuhan or encourage better dietary options than bats, we would have at least four local shows, a handful of trips to the nearby state park, and outings to other farms under our belt. I’d probably have a horse that was much better at loading and trailering at this point (something we need to do a lot more work on…during the handful of pre-Coronavirus times we’ve taken a trailer ride somewhere, he was very anxious when we arrived at a new place — we are in need of some serious short-term repetition there). This statement will shock my friends who have knowledge of my daily coffee intake – but I would, in fact, trade my coffee creamer for a #fieldtripfriday with some strange horses and/or unfamiliar fences to jump at this point.

With all of our work kept in the confines of our home barn, we keep moving the ball forward on a consistent canter and form over fences. It has been several years since I’ve needed to teach a horse to “carry himself” and I’ve had an extensive amount of work to do on myself in adjusting my seat and my riding to keep a big, strong horse balanced and jumping off his hind end. Easy and familiar rides apparently make for bad habits when you’re an ammy rider who kept the fence heights on the conservative side as your self-propelled schoolmaster (who will do the job for you both as long as you leave him to it) ages. 

Jumping on May 5. Photo by Amy Smith.

WOW have I felt the reward of the homework lately, though. I feel balance and adjustability, and how Ghost now naturally keeps his weight to the outside as we navigate bends through curves instead of wanting to shoulder-in through a turn. Compared to my other two OTTBs, he can counter-bend now like he’s Gumby. It’s still hard sometimes to keep him straight through his body when I’m adjusting his stride (especially over poles), but the ability to straighten him with appropriate leg pressure has grown exponentially. 

His canter is fantastic when he puts it together. Most days, it feels like we’re floating and he’s light and forward, adjusting easily in the pole lines. But every once in a while, he reminds me that his hind end is still getting in shape, and we’ll need to go back to basics to get him off his forehand through the well-worn process of sit back and half-halt.  I know it can take many months to develop consistency in the canter, and Ghost is proving an example of that, while rewarding my patience with more and more rides where the right feel is there on demand.

Cantering a fence. Photo by Amy Smith.

The conservative “stay in your lane” approach over fences has progressed to in-and-outs and bounces this month. We’ve been cantering more fences, but when putting multiple fences together into a mini-course, we mix it in with trotting some to keep developing form and hind end strength. We have also started to incorporate lines, trotting in and cantering out.

Today we introduced Ghost to a great hind end exercise – the bounce!

Posted by Chief Tarhe: Road to the 2020 RRP TB Makeover on Saturday, May 9, 2020

Video by Amy Smith.

Could we canter around a course throughout, lines and all at this point? Sure. But adjusting strides in a short line has seemed like one of the more advanced achievement to check the box on, and the “baby steps” approach has made almost every ride a success.  It has built a lot of confidence in Ghost. All those small steps are adding up to some big changes with patience and time. 

Yesterday’s work: Trot-in, canter-out lines. I thought it went great…very proud of the progress he’s making.

Posted by Chief Tarhe: Road to the 2020 RRP TB Makeover on Monday, May 18, 2020

Video by Russ Smith.

My husband came out the barn with me this weekend to take the “navigating the lines” video clip I shared. He’s a Horse Husband (not to be confused with Horse PERSON).  As a Horse Husband, he has mastered the art of hooking up a trailer; brushing off my boots ringside at a show; taking charge of human and equine hydration and being a good and loyal cheerleader and photographer. He is NOT going to be able to explain why I didn’t pin over fences but he IS going to provide “Horse Husband assessments” left for the equestrian spouse to interpret such as “It looked like he was hard to ride today” or “His jumps were pretty today. Like an equine ballerina.” (This last one was, in fact, once said.)

Russ, the Horse Husband. Photo by Amy Smith.

It had been two months since he’d last ventured out to the barn to watch Ghost. Back then the assessment was “He’s very pretty. But I like the way Thunder moves better. Like it takes less effort. And Ghost doesn’t have the same jump you talk about [round] like Thunder.” (Keeping in mind that this was a Horse Husband assessment based on 18” fences and cross rails, I quietly laughed that last one off).

This weekend, after watching us hack around and then navigate a course, he volunteered a new assessment. “He looks like a different horse now from when I last saw him. He look very smooth now. And his jumps look good. He looks like he might be as good as Thunder.” (This is very high praise for a Horse Husband who owns a “Silent Thunder Pit Crew” ball cap and pullover).

Ghost. Photo by Amy Smith.

Baby steps and small affirmations….It’s all progress, and I’ll take it.


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.