RRP Feature Rider: Ella Swales

How did you get started retraining OTTBs (or horses in general)?

My first horse was an OTTB mare when I was 9, so I’ve always loved thoroughbreds! I was looking for a TB in 2014 but I ended up buying a tank of a Paint Horse named Louie, and he was everything I didn’t want (funny how it always works out like that!). When I got him he had 10 rides after a care lease gone wrong, so we started over. He ended up eventing through training level within a little over a year, and as a trainer, he is my proudest achievement and first truly self-made horse.

When Louie was winding down from competing at that level, I began training a chestnut OTTB gelding name Katzmetic. The goal was to get him nice and rideable for his owner.  He got going really nicely and went to his first show and came second! Katz has so much heart, talent, and the true OTTB determination, and I knew that I wanted to work with more OTTBs fresh off the track in the future.

How did you find your horse for this year’s makeover and why did you pick them?

I was looking for anything reasonably priced with a good race record, brain, conformation, and movement. There were so many horses online but none that were “the one”. I saw a post from a lady, Jan, who owned a full sister to a mare up for adoption by Turning for Home. She said that her mare is a “quirky chestnut mare” and “too intelligent for her own good” which really caught my attention! I hate the chestnut mare stereotype, so I was really hoping that a fancy one would show up (and Luck did)! I liked what I saw in the pictures of Jan’s mare, Faith, so I contacted Danielle at Turning for Home. She sent a picture of her face and a 12-second trot video which was pretty blurry but she looked sound enough!

To be honest, I’ve had a lot of terrible luck with horses, and I really liked her name, Count On Luck. I had a standard PPE done and nothing major was found so I decided to adopt Luck. This was my first time purchasing sight unseen so I was just really hoping that I would like what came off the trailer!  I hadn’t really seen any good conformation pictures of her, and honestly, I’m glad I didn’t! I am really picky on conformation, and had I seen the pictures I probably wouldn’t have bought Luck. I’m so happy that I didn’t miss this opportunity, because she is the sweetest horse and has so much personality, and she is perfect for me!

What is your favorite thing about the Retired Race Horse Project’s Makeover?

I love that everyone is on a level playing field because only 15 rides are allowed before December 1st. Each trainer gets to pick what they are looking for and train their horses however they see fit, and the competition in October is a fun showcase to see how much everyone has accomplished while rewarding those who have been the best in the competition. I think the makeover is a really great way to get people involved with OTTBs!

Do you have any advice for people retraining horses?

Definitely be willing to take it slow! Luck and I had a couple of months where it felt like nothing was progressing (she is quite stubborn), but it is definitely getting better. Pull race plates as soon as you can and when they first get turned out be ready for a lot of galloping and excitement! I put Luck in our arena with hay and water for a couple of weeks because it has good solid fencing, and if she ran around it wasn’t a big deal to drag it, rather than ripping up grass.  Work at the pace that is right for your horse, because there is no set way to restart an OTTB!

Do you have any funny stories from retraining a horse?

All of my animals have nicknames, so as soon as Luck arrived she became “Luck Duck” because it rhymes! Little did I know how much this mare loves water… On her first XC school, there was a big mud puddle you had to cross to get into the field. She splashed a little the first time but walked through. On our way back from schooling we went through the puddle again, and I let her splash a little more. Then she just laid down! I was shocked and definitely not expecting it, so I had to jump off into the mud water and got completely soaked. Luckily I got her up before she rolled, but everything was covered in mud so it all had to get hosed off after our walk of shame back up to the barn! She really earned the name Luck Duck!

What is your greatest challenge as a rider/trainer in this year’s RRP Makeover? How do you plan on overcoming this challenge?

I need to stay calm and confident when Luck has her baby racehorse brain turned on (she is pretty sensible but definitely has her days). Usually, that brain makes an appearance when we are off property, and if I let that get to me everything goes south. The more we are out and about the better it will be, so I’m going to take her on field trips as much as possible!

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