How did you get started retraining OTTBs (or horses in general)?
I started riding when I was five years old. When I was 12, I worked at a barn where horses came in from auction quite often. I rode all the “crazies” and got really good at staying on mostly because I had long legs. I fell in love with OTTB’s during this time.
I had ridden many, but my first real retraining project was Keeno (JC Name: Kitty Zip). He was not attractive when I first saw him. He was severely emaciated as a 3-year-old. He got special privileges around the barn and was allowed to wander grazing. He put on weight and I got on him after a year of doing nothing…. bareback with a halter. His drive to please was greater than any other horse I had ever worked with! Unfortunately, a freak pasture accident ended his precious life at 7 years old.
Life continued and I started graduate school at Clemson University. I started searching for my next retraining project almost immediately upon moving and then I got Ozzy (JC: Photonic). He was completely different than Keeno. He had a history at the track and he was a challenge…. I joke that retraining him was harder than getting my PhD…. I’m not sure how much of a joke that really is 🙂
How did you find your horse for this year’s makeover and why did you pick them?
After five years with Ozzy, his arthritis from his track career was really limiting his ability to be comfortable doing dressage and eventing. I had to make a difficult decision to re-home him. It was devastating, to say the least, but he is now packing around lesson kids in hunter-jumper land in Chicago. It is funny how things just work better when the horse enjoys their job. When I made the decision to find a new home for Ozzy, I immediately started looking for a new horse. I didn’t have to look long because my college friend, Liz, had already found my new partner the day after I told her I was looking. Liz tagged me in a post on Facebook….
I saw this dark gray-ish?, tall, handsome gelding with this funny looking tail. He was exactly what I was looking for. His confirmation was exactly what I wanted. He was tall but short coupled. He had the cutest face. I told Liz she had to go meet him to determine if I should buy him. Strategery was in Florida at Alexander Farms, I was in South Carolina.
Liz went to go visit Strategery in November and met Becky. They played with him, made him run a bit, and tried to push his buttons. He didn’t really care much and just wanted to hang out with the people. Liz told me “I think this is what they mean by in your pocket”. So I took a leap of faith, had him vetted, and the rest is history. So I bought Strategery and call him Klein (which is small in German… the horse is not small or German).
What is your favorite thing about the Retired Race Horse Project’s Makeover?
My favorite part about the RRP is watching Klein transform. He has been so much fun to get to know. Klein is a complete puppy dog and would love to curl up in your lap. He wants to please and just always has his ears up. I love that the RRP is giving us something to work towards. I love that everyone is on equal playing field. These horses are just amazing. They run their hearts out (most of them…..) and are so willing to partner up with you and learn a new discipline. They are versatile athletes who give it their all.
Do you have any advice for people retraining horses?
I read an article Denny Emerson wrote about retraining a horse. If each week of training is represented by a card in 52 card deck and you stacked two or three cards, your stack wouldn’t be very big, but if you continue and you are consistent, all the sudden you have 20 weeks of training and your stack is a little bigger. I think consistency is key and taking your time. Reinforcing good habits/training, in the beginning, is more important than waiting to try and fill in holes down the line.
Do you have any funny stories from retraining a horse?
Klein is a character… He is such a people horse. When he sees me he nickers and starts power walking towards me! I like to think I am special, but he does this to everyone. We can’t walk by someone without him wanting to stop and get some love. He knows he is super cute.
When it comes to retraining, Klein has been a dream to work with. He throws tantrums when it gets hard but they don’t really last. He will leap across the arena, throwing his legs all sorts of ways when it gets hard, but normally only once…. Then, he acts like that never happened and gets right back to business. It is never mean, but it is always quite acrobatic! Silly babies!
What is your greatest challenge as a rider/trainer in this year’s RRP Makeover? How do you plan on overcoming this challenge?
I would say the biggest challenge is timing. Life can be tricky and there is a good chance that Klein and I will be moving to a new state right before the makeover. The change and a long trip would be stressful to any horse. Klein is a pretty laid back guy who doesn’t get stressed about much (except for entryways with raised portions that he can trip on… he hates those). I plan to try to give him as much time as possible to adjust to the new conditions and if that means going to the RRP a week early, then we will do that. There is still so much time before the RRP and Klein has been in a consistent riding program for about two months now and we have about 6 months left before the