When it comes to the horse world, social media is a blessing and a curse. It’s a great way to share your progress and connect with others, but it’s also very easy to get sucked into the never-ending circle of comparison and self-criticism.
The Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover has been a breath of fresh air for me, mostly because all of the accepted trainers are starting from scratch. There are online groups that allow trainers to connect, seek advice and feel less alone during those “WTF” moments. But outside of these training circles, it’s tough to find evidence of others struggling. Our sport is so focused on making everything look effortless, that we sometimes forget that everyone has had to overcome obstacles to get where they are. I mean, I can’t tell you how many posts I see on social media that feature a perfectly calm horse, cantering or even JUMPING along sweetly during their first ride off the track. Meanwhile, I don’t remember a week of my life because of the concussion I received being thrown into a fence for MY horse’s first canter (read gallop) off the track… three months after he retired.
A very spicy Rency. Photo by Sage Brown
I don’t know about you guys, but our everyday ride looks a lot like the “before” part of a “before vs. after” video. My horse knows how to cause a scene in an arena, and even on the ground he knows how to turn heads. Bucking, bolting, squeaking (yes, he squeaks. It’s extremely embarrassing). Little Ren can be a handful, he’s a baby after all! It’s way too easy for me to look at Rency and say, “You came off the track six months ago, why are we still trying to master walk, trot, canter?”. But I’ve made a rule for myself; before I criticize where we are, I have to compare it to where we started. And the difference between a track-broke toddler and a walking, trotting, cantering toddler is a big one.
Sure, he spooks and bolts at scary sounds, but he calms down so well afterward! He’s learned to look to my sister and me like the leaders of his herd. When he’s afraid, he quickly tunes into what we are doing. And yeah, he bucks when he canters… but the fact that he can actually canter at an acceptable pace is a HUGE accomplishment! He used to gallop so hard that I could only ask for the canter in a small circle. The second he saw a straightaway he was off to the races, literally. It took weeks of tiny circles and big half-halts to teach him what a canter was, and now he knows exactly what pace to keep! The squeaking… well, we haven’t made much progress with that. I’ll keep you guys posted on that one.
I wanted to write this as an invitation to everyone, especially my fellow Makeover trainers, to go easy on your horse! This new job is hard for them, and they only do it because they love us and they want to be good partners. They have no idea that they are being compared to others, and it’s unfair to hold them to a standard that they can’t yet reach. Be so kind and soft with your baby horse, and never let him/her forget that they are a rock star. Every single baby step should be answered with a celebration. The worst thing we can do is look around at everyone else’s progress and get down on ourselves. It’s just not fair to anyone.
Photo by Sage Brown
On the track, our horses wore blinkers so that they could focus on their own race. A lot of times, I feel like we could use some blinkers of our own. No matter where you’re going, you are running your own race. A big thing among Makeover trainers is the expression “stay in your lane”; basically, don’t pay too much attention to how others compare to your journey. Look ahead at your goals, and be okay with the fact that you may move slower or faster than others!
Sure you may be dealing with some problem that you thought would be solved in ten minutes, but think about how awesome it’ll be when you finally get there. Think about the pride you’ll feel when your horse’s little brain finally wraps their head around it. Join training groups, vent about your struggles and ask for help! Every problem you have has been solved by others 100x over, you just have to find the right people to ask. And if you’re going to compare your horse to something, compare him to himself. Look back at where you guys came from and revel in how much progress you’ve made. The key to being happy in this sport is to always find a positive note in everything you do, even when you want to pull your hair out. Scratch that, especially when you want to pull your hair out. Love the horse before the sport, be proud of him always, and stay happily in your lane.