Riches to Ribbons: Makeover Bound for the 4th Time

Hello, JN friends! I’m Amanda Cousins, and I have the distinct honor of sharing my journey to the Thoroughbred Makever. I run Ashland Equestrian, LLC in Warrenton, VA, where I’ve been able to fully commit to my love of re-training the OTTB (and other breeds) and their owners. My roots run deep with hunters and jumpers, but my goal is to correctly and thoroughly restart my horses so they can conquer the world, or any discipline their new human chooses.

2017 Makeover grad Aunt Glee, 2018 grad Tiz That and 2017 grad Red Tassel. Photo by Seth Taylor

Like most of you, I’ve had a horse addiction from before I can remember, and much to my bank account’s dismay, I never outgrew it. Growing up in South Jersey made it possible for my middle class parents of three to not only allow me to ride but to also own my horses over the years. A large majority of them were Thoroughbreds. I’ve done a plethora of disciplines from hunters to jumpers to fox hunting to team penning to western pleasure to polocrosse. The Thoroughbreds, along with the wide range of disciplines I experienced, helped shape the trainer I’ve become, and am still becoming. #neverstoplearning

On February 1st I received my fourth acceptance into the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. In previous Makeovers, I’ve participated in the Show Hunter, Show Jumper, and Eventing disciplines with Aunt Glee, Eve, and Cover Shoot. For 2019, my Makeover journey actually started on September 19, 2018 when my PayPal account authorized payment on a 4 year old gelding, Art Imitates Life, aka Artie.

2018 TB Makeover entry Eve, in Show Hunters. Photo by Beth Takacs

There are many ways to horse shop for Makeover hopefuls. I don’t necessarily advocate following my method for the faint of heart, since I buy sight unseen and don’t do a pre-purchase exam, but I like to follow my gut. The only real rule I stick to is buying from a source I trust, a source who stands by the fact that the information the track trainers provide, is true.

I’ve gotten a couple horses from Turning For Home and thought I would again this year, but Amy Paulus had a bay gelding that caught my eye. I’d heard great things from personal friends who’ve bought through Amy, so I had no hesitation in making my first purchase from her. In his ad, Artie was thin, gangly and all legs in the photos, hardly a horse that would make the public swoon. The jog video showed a big, slow trot paired with a happy, relaxed horse. She took the time to write about what a good mind he had, which was also a huge selling point. After doing some digging through his Equibase profile, I was sold and contacted Amy so that he could be too.

Artie’s track photo. Photo by Amy Paulus

Almost two weeks later Artie was on a trailer from Indiana to Virginia, which is when his first test came. The hauler’s truck broke down on the side of the highway about ten miles from my farm, so I had to drive out and get him. This type of thing can never happen during light traffic times or quiet roads. The only blessing was that we had a nice big shoulder to unload Artie and then reload him onto my trailer. Without a second thought, he hopped in his second trailer of the day with traffic whizzing by. Once he got home, he spent the evening in a well-deserved grassy field.

The next couple of months went smoothly. He was easy to live with, had great feet, got along with the other horses and was easy handle, though I wasn’t pleased with how slowly he was picking up weight despite good quality grain, alfalfa in his stall and free choice hay and grass outside. Everything seemed to be going smoothly when he started having lameness issues. One day he came in from the field stiff as a board and didn’t want to eat; a few days later all of his legs were swollen; a couple days after that he had a fever and was going on and off his feed.

Artie’s first night home. Photo by Amanda Cousins

Lab work showed what we all suspected in a very high Lyme titer, and I ordered 30 days of doxycycline. Within nine days, I had a different horse than the one I loaded into my trailer on the side of a highway. His eyes were brighter and not only did he go back on his grain but he was eating like he was hungry instead of picking through his feed. He had more personality and seemed happy to hang out with me when I came to snuggle with him. I now had a horse who was acting like a healthy four year old should (in a good way). We were ready to begin the real work of learning about life off the track, and I can’t wait to show you all what he’s been up to.