The journey to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover continues — now slated for 2021. Read on for our sixth update from Amy Smith.
Journey to the RRP: Chief Tarhe’s October Update
As I sat down to write our first blog since July’s announcement that the 2020 Retired Racehorse Project would be moved to October 2021, what first struck me is how much we’ve taken our foot off the gas since then. Our work and progress has been steady – but when we removed the pressure of “He needs to get off the farm so much more before we go to Kentucky!” and “We need to be comfortably jumping a 2’6” course ASAP!” the result was a more relaxed, gradual growth curve.
Ghost. Photo by Amy Smith.
I’ve watched Ghost fill out through his entire body these last couple of months as he continues to build muscle in different places and makes the most of the late summer grass in his paddock. He was 5 when I brought him home and now, as a 6 year old, I’d swear he has grown another inch and a half, as well as filled out. This has resulted in the Pandemic Saddle Challenge – trying to find the perfect saddle with a tree for his wider frame (the main issue with our current/my long-standing ‘go-to’ saddle – as he fills out, he needs a wider tree) while still clearing the traditional thoroughbred shark fin withers.
A comparison! Photos by Amy Smith.
The last blog update (in July) covered Ghost’s first real horse show, which we had to haul (and overnight) 2 and ½ hours away to tackle. Horse show proximity continues to be a big challenge. Our primary local venue is publicly-owned and has been very resistant to permitting any events, and I’m determined not to spend money at USEF shows when Ghost and I are still in ‘schooling’ mode in non-rated classes and would spend hundreds of dollars more than if I could find legitimate schooling show options instead.
Our best option has been the local shows at Swan Lake Stables in Pennsylvania, roughly 90 minutes away. Our first time up there (and Ghost’s second real horse show) was at the beginning of August. It was another overnight experience for him, and this time it was in a big, beautiful permanent stall and not a tent structure!
Once again he had his barn mate as a travel buddy, which made the loading and trailering go very smoothly (honestly, between the shows and our trips to local farms, the trailering part has become seamless). And he seemed much more settled in his overnight stall. After a terrific schooling session the evening before, I was feeling very confident. Piece of cake! I thought. I was doing the same things I would have done with my schoolmaster if I’d brought him to a show. And then – Ghost issued a reminder that when it comes to horse shows, he’s still very green.
It’s easy to forget how unexposed he is to a chaotic show environment when he goes around so easily now at home, and even gets comfortable at local farms. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, we would have experienced an entire local circuit (9 shows) mixed in with a few random shows elsewhere by now, but that part of his education has not kept pace with his education at home. On show day, when mask-wearing pockets of people spread out around the in-gate and riders on horses waited their turn, something about that end of the ring gave Ghost a good scare. His first round went relatively smoothly but melted down after that and refused to pass by the in-gate or even exit the ring. I was genuinely shocked by this turn of events…Ghost has always been a very level-headed horse with minimal spook in him. This seemed so out-of-left-field.
But – deep breath – as I bathed him off and loaded him onto the trailer to return home, I reminded myself that this was only his 2nd real horse show, and working through apprehension of the strange, sometimes chaotic scene is part of the learning process that he had been denied as shows were canceled.
At Swan Lake. Photo courtesy Amy Smith.
We returned to the scene of the crime a month later. This time I focused on giving him the ‘green horse’ treatment. Not gonna lie, the weekend started off rough as Ghost made it clear during the day-before schooling session that he remembered his apprehensions about the in-gate end of the same ring. There was more activity on schooling day this time than the show before, which probably helped us to confront the issue. We trotted and cantered in lots of circles using aggressive inside leg pressure and inside rein until he stopped struggling to look outside the ring.
Photo courtesy Amy Smith.
We resumed again on show morning, getting him out of his stall and riding off his excess energy. In the hours leading up to our division we hand-grazed ringside and I tried to expose Ghost to the bustle of show activity over the extension of the day.
By the time our division rolled around, I had spent 24 hours giving Ghost the ‘green horse’ treatment and our September appearance at Swan Lake went much, much better. The in-gate issue and his general nervousness were conquered, at least for this show and incrementally, I’m sure, moving forward. We had three nice over-fences rounds and placed in all of his classes in a 14-horse division. I was exhausted, but very proud.
Our act of ‘taking our foot off the gas’ in reaction to the RRP delay has sometimes felt like a step backwards instead of slower progress forward. That old ‘stay in your lane” advice comes back into play when I see photos and videos of other RRP hopefuls who kept pressing and are now jumping bigger fences and getting out and about in various exciting settings. But we ARE making progress, at our own amateur pace (now uninfluenced by a once rapidly-approaching trip to Kentucky). We’ll do ‘green horse’ things at shows, we’ll keep the fences low with a focus on the basics and the comprehensive horse show experience, and I know the reward will be there in the end, at our own speed.
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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.