Riches to Ribbons: Winning at the Thoroughbred Makeover

Amanda Cousins pens her final blog after returning home from a successful week at the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. 

Winning: 1. Gaining, resulting in or relating to victory in a competition or contest.

Note that the definition of winning says nothing about prize money or a blue ribbon. And while we did walk away with a beautiful ninth place ribbon for our performance in Ranch Work, that was actually the least of the things I won while there.

Photo by Canterclix

Let’s start off with the biggest win of all, and that was pride. I walked out of each ring with a huge smile on my face, and in some cases, happy tears in my eyes. That may sound cheesy, and for the trainers whose horses were less than stellar, you may roll your eyes. Let me be clear, Artie was not the picture of equine perfection and our performances were not without flaws. However, by the start of the competition, I could tell he was giving me his all. Sure, maybe his anxiety prevented our dressage scores from being higher, but Artie gave me what he had to offer. Despite a tense dressage test, we ended with a perfect square halt. We had three rails down in stadium, but Artie was so keen and attentive for his first time at Novice height; how could I walk out disappointed? The most fun of the entire week was our cross country. There was not a part of it that Artie could have done any better. It was the best feeling in the world. If that wasn’t a win, I don’t know what is.

We survived and I was happy about it! Photo by Beth Takacs

I won some amazing memories with some of my best friends. I don’t think Clare, Ashley, Crystal, and I stopped laughing. A tour of Taylor Made Farm led to an unexpected meeting with California Chrome. I’m now allowed to consider Amy Paulus, Liz Mras, Lara Filip, and Amber-Lynn Jacobson friends instead of people I just stalk on the internet. And as a proud South Jersey native, I got to support my childhood trainer’s amazing daughter.

The only thing I love more than competing at the Makeover is seeing the people I hold dear being able to compete as well. I’ve oogled over Alyssa Shelton’s braids for years, and Artie got to rock them this year (and I know they brought us luck). The Makeover is considered the Happiest Show on Earth, and that’s largely because of the volunteers. So each one of you that I’ve seen year in and year out, I hope you know that you helped make it an awesome week for me.

Competing in a completely new discipline brought me the opportunity to conquer a goal I set this year, and that was a top ten finish. Not only did I want a top ten, but I also wanted to do right by the Ranch discipline and trainers and show off just how hard I worked to make Cornerstone Horsemanship, and the ranch trainers at the Makeover, proud. I didn’t take it lightly entering that discipline and didn’t assume it’d be a cakewalk, and boy it wasn’t. I came out of the ring from my Ranch Riding pattern knowing that other then one minor mistake, I rode the heck of that test, and Artie gave me his absolute best. The obstacle test was not without flaws, but boy did Artie show off on his side pass, gate work, cow work, and ground tie. I couldn’t have been prouder. When we entered the ring for the final time to take our victory gallop, I couldn’t help but feel immense pride about my placing but more so to be surrounded by such exceptional horses and their humans. We weren’t the most ranchy looking pair out of the division, but our hard work got us that top ten.

Photo by Amanda Dieterich-Ward 

If you’ll allow me to get super sappy with this last one, I won a better understanding of what I’m capable of as a trainer and rider. When my husband and I first started dating, I really struggled with my competitive side. I didn’t know how to enjoy learning new activities, like rock climbing, because I hadn’t been a beginner at something in so long that I disliked being bad at things. I sort of had to relearn how to just enjoy things and not look at everything like a competition.

While Ranch Work required me to ride, which I do well (most days), the rest of it I felt subpar at. I have really bad cow sense, when I dally a rope, I do it like a person with two left hands and only thumbs, and for some reason, I always want to leap off of bridges, etc. instead of stepping off like a civilized person. Not only did I not look like a bull in a china shop, but I helped Artie look as good as possible. I took the pressure off and just rode. I proved to myself that not only could I learn a new discipline, but I could excel at it with my own personal flair (and using my unicorn stock tie as a wild rag was icing on the cake).

So if you left the Makeover, not feeling like a winner, I challenge you to dig deep and look at what your motives were for competing in the first place. Were you trying to win a discipline? Beat a specific rider? Have YOUR pick be America’s Most Wanted TB? There are a lot of motives that could have left you feeling defeated and let down. I can promise you that if your goal was making new friends, challenging yourself, growing as a rider, or getting a killer tan, last week would’ve been a win for you as well.

All the love in the world for this horse. Photo by Canterclix

Winning can be defined in many ways, so as you start to hype up for the Makeover 2020, make some goals that’ll help you have a productive, successful, and FUN Makeover next year. My hope is for all of you to have the winning experience that Artie and I did.