The journey to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover 2020 continues! Read on for our fourth update from Marion Edel.
The second half of May in Greenville, South Carolina was WET. We had record rainfall, and the facility where I board doesn’t have an indoor or a covered arena. Even with less riding time, Grey kept me busy. The first time he was rained on, he broke out in hives, which quickly turned to a nasty case of rain rot that covered most of his body. Now, three weeks later, Grey is finally rain rot free –- Cue the “praise hands” emojis.
Finally getting some turnout after all the rain. Photo by Marion Edel.
At the end of May, I planned to go school (and hopefully show) at a local horse show. With many of the spring shows being canceled due to COVID-19, this was the first show to start back up. The show organizers decided to move the show from its original location to Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), where there was more space for social distancing.
Despite our lack of preparation thanks to the rainy weather, I still wanted to go. I wanted to see how Grey would react to a horse show environment, especially at a big venue like TIEC. In a perfect world, for Grey’s first show, I would have ridden consistently beforehand and started with a smaller, quieter show. I don’t have my own trailer (I’m currently shopping if anyone knows of an XL bumper pull trailer in the Carolinas!) and wasn’t sure when I would have the opportunity to show again. So, off to TIEC we went for Grey’s “baptism by fire” to the horse show world.
My mom, the wise woman that she is, taught me years ago that horses keep you humble and that especially when working with a young and/or green horse, you can’t have an agenda set in stone or an ego. I went into the weekend prepared to scratch at any moment if that was what Grey needed. If Grey was able to show, great! If he just needed to walk around all weekend to take in the horse show environment, that was fine too.
As we pulled up to TIEC on Friday morning, the first thing I noticed was how busy the unloading area by our barn was. I knew the show was going to be big, but I didn’t realize how big. I’m not sure how many entries there were in total, but I heard that over 500 stalls were booked for the weekend.
Just a little busy. Photo by Marion Edel.
Grey unloaded in the rain and despite all the activity around him, he was a complete saint. He walked right into his stall and settled in immediately. Seeing him so relaxed amidst the hustle and bustle of show stabling was already a win in my book.
Hanging out in his stall at TIEC –- How cute is that face? Photo by Marion Edel.
Friday was a schooling day and I started by hand-walking Grey around the facility. He jigged a little and had a “what planet am I on?” expression on his face but was very well behaved. He wasn’t concerned about the golf carts, dirt bikes, segways or any of the other horse show activity. After a short lunging session, I got on and rode down to the ring where all our classes would be.
Checking things out. Photo by Marion Edel.
I was glad to see that our ring was on the end with one side was open to the parking lot, which made it quieter. While initially being a little “up” during schooling, Grey was able to relax and give me some great moments, especially at the canter. He was more concerned with the people above him on the raised walkways than he was by anything else. We ended our schooling session by trotting and cantering a x-rail, which he jumped just as quietly as he does at home.
Originally, I planned to do the 2’ tadpole hunter division, but after schooling, decided that was too much for him. We scratched that division and entered flat and x-rail divisions.
On Saturday, the flat and x-rail divisions were last on the schedule for the day. The warm ups were so busy that I decided not to ride until right before my class, hoping that by the end of the day, it would be a quieter environment for Grey.
Seeing the place where all his oversized gear comes from. Photo by Marion Edel.
The show was running late and my x-rail division ended up being canceled due to lack of daylight. My flat division was moved to another ring that had already finished for the day. The change happened so quickly that I needed to tack up and head straight into the ring without a warm up. Obviously, that was not the ideal situation for a young horse at its first horse show, but scheduling changes happen all the time, and I figured I would at least try.
Our classes were in a ring that we had not schooled in the day before. Like most of the rings at TIEC, it had raised viewing areas going down both long sides. After walking in, Grey noticed all the spectators above him and had a mini meltdown. My class was made up of mostly kids and ponies, and I didn’t want to work through Grey’s little explosions with them in the ring. We left the class, scratching before judging began, and started schooling in the warm up area. Grey was still tense, but my focus was just on moving forward and keeping his attention on me. Timing was not on our side because right as Grey was starting to relax, the class was pinned. The cheers and applause triggered a few more scoots and explosions.
After that, I felt like Grey was mentally fried — It seemed like he had lost all focus, and only his flight response was left. I wanted to end on a good note and with the rapidly declining daylight, made the decision to ride back to our barn, grab a lunge line and let Grey get his nervous energy out without someone on his back. After a few minutes on the lunge and an additional scoot or two, Grey was back to his usual cool, calm and collected self.
After seeing how late the show was running on Saturday, I decided to scratch showing on Sunday. I had work on Monday and needed to get home. I took advantage of my open schedule on Sunday morning and planned to do whatever Grey needed to end his first show on a good note. I repeated the same warm up that was so successful on Friday – hand walk around the show, quick lunge session and then ride.
Once I was on, we just walked around the show and schooling areas, letting Grey take it all in. He stayed relaxed and even stopped on his own to hang out and watch a few of the show rings. I didn’t want to push it and decided that was the perfect stopping point for the weekend.
Note to self: Take more pictures next time. Photo by Lisa Bobbitt.
Even in his “worst” moments on Saturday night, Grey didn’t do anything bad, he was just scared. He scooted and leapt around, but he never reared or bucked. Overall, I thought he handled the environment of a massive horse show at an international facility incredibly well, especially considering the circumstances. His trailer loading and unloading was uneventful, despite how busy it was. At home, he lives out 24/7 most of the time, and he had no issues stabling overnight from Friday to Sunday. He ate his food, drank tons of water, didn’t tear his stall up and didn’t scream when he was alone. He didn’t have any traffic issues in the warm up and gave me moments of brilliance during schooling. For now, I learned what kind of warm up he needs and how much time to allot for it.
Hindsight is always 20/20, so of course, I would have done plenty of things differently if I could do it again. Regardless of what I would have changed, I still consider the weekend to be a great experience for me and Grey. I learned a lot about my horse and have plenty of homework to focus on moving forward… including making a “crowd sounds” playlist on Spotify.
Experiences like this are all part of my journey with Grey as he transitions to his new life as a sport horse. While I hope that we can actually compete at the next horse show, I’ll be going into it the same way… without an agenda or an ego.
Grey back home, exhibiting how graceful (and precious!) he is. Video by Marion Edel.
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.