Journey to the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover 2020: Marion Edel’s April Update

The journey to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover 2020 continues! Read on for our second update from Marion Edel.

It’s amazing how quickly the world can turn upside down. When I wrote my last post, things with COVID-19 were just starting to escalate in the United States.  The borders weren’t even closed yet. Now, a month later, life looks completely different than it did back in mid March. 

Though it’s easy to become discouraged given the current situation, I’ve tried to stay as positive as possible. The CEO of the company I work for introduced me to “gratitude sprints,” where you start each day with a few minutes dedicated to thinking of everything you’re thankful for. Incorporating the gratitude sprint into my daily routine has helped me appreciate the little things during this challenging time.  

My husband, Chris, and I are both working from home, which gives us the opportunity to have lunch together every day. Our families are healthy. We’ve completed home projects that we’ve been putting off and now have beautiful tea lights strung over our back porch. I’ve read more books in the last month than I’ve read in the past year. I’m especially grateful that I am still able to ride. The barn where I keep Grey is small, with less than 10 boarders. There are some new safety protocols in place, and everyone is careful to practice social distancing. 

The hardest part of working remotely. Photo by Marion Edel.

Every ride on Grey brings me indescribable joy and given the circumstances with COVID-19, I’m more thankful than ever for Grey’s steady temperament. He is arguably one of the safest and quietest horses I’ve ever been around. He rarely gets bothered by anything and is gentle and polite enough for the Pony Club kids at my barn to handle safely. 

Since my last post, Grey has continued his unicorn ways but did have his first “real” spook. In his typical fashion, it was over in seconds and he went right back to work like it never happened. We were lucky enough to catch it on video.  If you need a good laugh, press “play” below:

As he builds muscle and gets fitter, Grey’s gaits continue to improve.  His trot has more suspension, and he is starting to truly push from behind. He is beginning to hold a soft connection for a few steps at a time, and when everything comes together, he has a beautiful frame.

Putting it all together under the watchful supervision of ZaZu. Photo by Chris Edel.

Grey’s cadence at the canter is what hunter dreams are made of. If I keep my body steady, he matches the rhythm beautifully and never changes his stride, even over canter poles and little cross rails. He naturally goes to the base and rarely leaves long. His medium canter is a perfect 12-foot stride and if we miss a distance, it’s almost always my fault… oops! Coming from my Hanoverian gelding, Albert, who changed his stride every step and loved to take a “flyer” distance, Grey is a welcome change. I’m finding myself relaxing while jumping Grey around, and for the first time, I can see my distance to a fence four strides out. 

The magical canter. Photo by Chris Edel.

Perfect example of Albert’s favorite distance, The Flyer. Photo by Carrie Hunt.

The main challenge with Grey continues to be his lack of muscling. I can’t tell you how much I obsess over this horse’s booty. I’ve read countless articles trying to absorb as much information as possible about correctly building muscle. Grey’s hind end has gotten much better, but building muscle takes time and patience, especially with his enormous frame. I’ve been toeing a fine line with him – if I do too much under saddle, Grey will get sore to the point where he is slightly off behind. If I don’t do enough, he won’t build the muscle he needs. My vet keeps reminding me that his hind end may never look like the Hanoverians I’m used to. While she’s probably right, it’s my personal mission to get Grey as close to a warmblood booty as possible. 

Grey’s hind end from above. You can see how much muscle he needs, especially the closer you get to his tail. Photo by Grace Buchanan.

Grey’s hind end from the side. Photo by Marion Edel.

My retired Hanoverian gelding, Albert, who is booty goals. Photo by Carrie Hunt.

I’ve been focusing on transitions and hill work to help build up his hind end. We also do a lot of backing on the ground, since he gets a little “stuck” when I ask him to back up under saddle. In the last couple of weeks, Grey has become strong enough to carry himself on a loose rein at the trot and canter and has started stretching at the trot. This time last month, I think he might have fallen on his face if I wasn’t helping him balance!

We’ve also recently started trotting poles, which is a big deal for him. When I tried to do poles back in February and March, Grey would just canter over each one instead of trotting and would get a little anxious, not sure what to do with his feet. He now understands my body language and I can feel him listening for me to tell him what to do before we go over a pole. Over the weekend, I happily discovered that Grey has perfect flying lead changes over a pole. Before I ask for changes without the aid of a pole, I want him to have a better understanding of lateral movements. Right now, he doesn’t understand moving off my leg as well as I want him to.

In addition to the exercises to build up his muscle, I’ve been doing what I can to keep him comfortable. For Christmas a few years ago, my mom gave me Beyond Horse Massage by Jim Masterson. That book has earned a permanent spot in my tack trunk and is starting to show signs of wear from how much I reference it. Learning more about the Masterson Method of equine bodywork has helped me be more in tune to Grey’s body and where he holds tension, and the effect that tension may have on his work under saddle. Before I tack Grey up, I’ve been doing bodywork exercises to relieve tension, and do them again when he’s been untacked and hosed off. We also do stretches before and after a ride. All in all, it takes about 45 extra minutes, but these days I have plenty of time to spend at the barn! 

Working on his stretching. Photo by Chris Edel.

Enjoying his bodywork. Photo by Marion Edel.

With horse shows canceled for the foreseeable future, I have no agenda with Grey except to take it day by day. I’m choosing to see my empty calendar as a blessing in disguise. Any self-imposed pressure to horse show is gone, and I can focus on going as slow as my horse needs me to. Today, I’m just thankful that I can still ride and share my journey with you. I hope everyone stays safe and healthy.   

About Marion

Marion Edel is an adult amateur who lives in Greenville, SC with her husband, Chris. They share their home with a Rhodesian Ridgeback and two cats. Marion grew up on a Hanoverian breeding farm and has been riding her entire life, focusing mostly on hunters and jumpers. Marion recently purchased her first OTTB and is a first time trainer for the 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover.