How did you get started retraining OTTBs (or horses in general) and is this your first year as part of the Makeover? What is your discipline area?
The first OTTB I ever retrained was my first horse. Her name was Cease Lass. She was an 8-year-old mare that had run at an allowance and claiming level. She retired to be a broodmare, but her offspring were not successful. I was 15 at the time and was also in the process of breaking a horse for the first time (a 2-year-old paint gelding). Cease Lass is now 26 years old and still being ridden by my sister, and that 2-year-old paint gelding is my pony horse for when I break and train horses on the farm.
I was entered in the Makeover last year with a horse named Mr. Discreet, but he was in a rather tragic accident resulting in him having to be put down. It was devastating, as I had known that horse from the time I was his assistant trainer on the track and we claimed him, all the way until he retired and came to my farm to be retrained. I was on the fence about doing the Makeover this year due to that accident, but JW Coop is a special horse who has a link to the one I lost so I wanted to give it another try. I will for sure be competing in Freestyle. Ranch Horse and Trail divisions I may consider as a secondary.
How did you find your horse for this year’s makeover and why did you pick them? What do you feel is the horses strongest quality? The weakest quality?
I worked at Parx Racing as an assistant trainer to Robert Reid Jr up until 2014. At that time we claimed JW Coop (Cooper) from Kevin Sleeter. I exercised him on the track periodically, and was there for his one and only win (with Mr. Discreet coming second to him, and we claimed Mr. Discreet in that race). When Reid decided to retire Cooper in April of 2016, he sent him to me to be turned into a pony horse for his wife to ride on the track. After some down time, and one or two rides it was decided that although he was extremely quiet and easy to ride, he was too timid around other horses to be able to be a pony at the track.
At this time I took ownership of Cooper to attempt to rehome him. At this point, I was not even thinking about the Makeover in 2017. Well, about four days after I took ownership of Cooper his airway swelled nearly shut and we had to do an emergency tracheotomy on him in the barn. But come August of 2016, I was able to get him off of all medication, and his future began to look a little brighter.
After my accident with Mr. Discreet was when Cooper’s health finally started to improve. Once I was able to stabilize myself from the accident, I knew that going to the Makeover in 2017 with Cooper was the right choice.
I would say Cooper’s strongest quality is his level-headed and willing attitude. He has a lot of try, and wants to do things right. Even when something worries him, he comes back to a calm cool and allows you to continue to work at a task or maneuver.
Cooper’s weakest quality…. I would say he can be a bit on the lazy side. The concept of “slow work” to practice maneuvers is taken to an entirely different level with Cooper. Sometimes, you go to break something down and he just says…. “Nah, I think standing here and dozing off sounds like a much better plan.”
What is your favorite thing about the Retired Race Horse Project’s Makeover?
I think that the Retried Race Horse Project’s Makeover has done a great job in improving the reputations of OTTBs. When I talk to non-horse people I explain it to them like this:
OTTBs have developed a reputation in the horse world similar to that of Pit Bulls. They are portrayed as this hot hard to handle breed. This is purely not the case.
I mean look at Cooper, he is 5 and giving beginner lessons to kids less than a year off the track. I think the great thing about the Makeover is that it gives OTTBs a platform to show their versatility across disciplines at not only a professional level but also at an amateur and youth level. To take ANY horse, and compete it after a year of training is hard. Ask any futurity trainer, and they will tell you that competing a horse with a year of training is difficult, and yet the horses competing in the Makeover are being trained to do something completely different than what they have ever known, and in some cases by people who are not professionally trained to do so. If that doesn’t say something about the amazing qualities of the breed and their past experience as racehorses I don’t know what else will.
What words of wisdom or advice would you give people thinking about retraining horses?
Absolutely, without a doubt I would say to not put any pressure on yourself or your horse. As much as I LOVE training competitions, I always tell people that I don’t train according to a timeline. This is why my horses remain willing and happy to perform. Which in turn results in a more trained horse. Don’t compare your progress to anyone else, and don’t feel like you need to have done XY and Z by any certain time. Your horse is going to be as trained as it is going to be come competition time, and it is your job to show the horse you have that day. All rushing does is complicate things in the horse’s mind, and make you as the trainer feel neurotic. Just breathe and enjoy the ride.
Do you have any funny stories from your work retraining this year’s horse?
I think one of the funniest things that I have done with Cooper would have to be riding him bareback and backwards on several occasions. Even as a professional trainer I believe it is important to have moments that remind us why we do what we do. I believe that if you take yourself too seriously, its going to make you crack.
So one day another trainer on our farm was doing gymnastic jumping exercises with her horse, and a friend was taking photos. I was brining Cooper up from the field and decided I wanted to watch for a bit. So, I jumped on bareback. Because why stand when you can be sitting on a horse? As the other trainer was winding down her training session we all just became three horse girls hanging out at the barn. One thing led to another and before I knew it Cooper and I were walking and jogging all over the arena with me backward and being rather surprised with how much control I had. It’s moments like that, which remind me why I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else with my life.
What is your greatest challenge as a rider/trainer in this year’s RRP makeover? How do you plan on overcoming this challenge?
I think my biggest challenge is going to be overcoming last year’s accident and being able to compete at the same level after the fact. I’ve had to relearn a lot about confidence in myself and in my training. There are still things that I am nervous about pushing for from my horses because of what happened.
I think the biggest thing I have been using to overcome that is following my own advice that I stated earlier, which is not put myself under so much pressure. I will (and already have) hit spots in training that will remind me of what happened. What will continue to get me though those moments, is knowing that no matter what bumps I hit, when I get to KY in October Cooper and I will still have made it through the roughest year of our lives together, and that is a victory in and of itself.
How can our readers connect with you and follow your progress with the RRP?
I am most active on my Facebook page. Anything I post from my blog is always on there. I am easily reached by email or Facebook Messenger as well.
Facebook: ReeLee Restarting and Training
Youtube: ReeLee Restarting and Training
Website and Blog: www.reeleert.com/blog