Monday, December 7, 2015

Winning the Thoroughbred Makeover 2015 at Kentucky Horse Park – the inside scoop

As you probably already know, I just competed at the 2015 Thoroughbred Makeover at Kentucky Horse Park with my two former race horses Lion of Wallstreet (Cupid) and Soar (Kahleesi) – and we won!

I wanted to give you an inside scoop to this incredible journey and what it’s like owning America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred from the horse’s mouth.

When I bought Kahleesi in February of this year, I was excited about the competition but wanted a back up horse for the competition just in case so I bought Cupid. I spent the rest of  February, March, and April putting foundation skills on both horses – making sure they knew their A, B, C’s – or in horse language that’s things like go, stop, yield right/left, move your hip over, move your shoulders, and go sideways.

In May, June, and July I took them to many clinics, workshops and shows to grow their confidence and dabbled in different disciplines to see where they exceled. I tried showing Kahleesi hunters and jumpers, but in August decided to commit to obstacles so I competed both horses in obstacle shows and extreme cowboy races for the rest of the season.

Even though I am a trainer, certified centered riding coach, Level 3 Parelli student, Gold certified NHA trainer/coach, Equine Canada rider level 8, etc with years of experience coaching & training, I still think one of the most important things for any coach or trainer is to value lifelong learning with horses and look for more knowledge. That’s why I took lessons/clinics with natural horsemanship trainers Todd & Maureen Owens, Don & Randee Halladay, Kathy & John Baar, and David Cowley to spruce up my horsemanship skills. I took lessons with Susan Caldwell to learn extreme cowboy racing, and with Esther Johnson, Margreet Boumeester, and Sam Morrison to improve my riding position.

Originally I thought I would be competing in jumping because that’s what I typically show in – however, Cupid isn’t super athletic over jumps but proved to be great at obstacles so I decided to go Western and learn Competitive Trail. Kahleesi could do anything, but it was easier to train her for obstacles at the same time so I could take both horses to the same shows and workshops. 
Although Competitive Trail is a sport you can do English or Western, the easiest place for me to practice in Ontario was in Extreme Cowboy racing because of the creativity and difficulty of the obstacles – and that’s a western sport. This meant that I pulled out some western gear from my former days when I used to do western speed events, trail, and western pleasure as a teenager with my first horse Generals Mission.

Because I work a full time job as a Public Health Nurse, I was only spending about 2-3 hrs a week training each of my horses (except show/workshop days), but once September hit I thought ‘oh shoot its nearly here’ and started to work with my horses 5-6hrs a week.

The Crisis
September 13th Kahleesi ended up with an abscess. I spent the next few weeks working closely with my farrier and vet to help get her sound. She would go super lame to slightly ouchy and if was incredibly stressful.

The abscess went through a pre-existing crack in her hoof. I had been keeping my horses barefoot and using Cavallo boots on rough terrain to keep them sound and happy. This had worked wonderfully until then. October 17th Kevin Alcock saved the day and put Acryllic shoes on Kahleesi to help her bruised heels and fragile hoof. I still swear by Cavallo boots and I love to keep my horses barefoot – but I recognize that there are situations when a horse can be helped from a shoe.
I then had 5 days to practice with her after weeks off in which I had lessons with Todd Owens and David Cowley to get her back into her groove. You can imagine was pretty stressed, I didn’t sleep much, and was pretty anxious to ride.

The Trip
I was super fortunate to have so many fantastic people from our Partridge Horse Hill family to jump on board and volunteer to come and help me at the show. Esther Johnson helped organize the crew of Yvonne, Kim, Danica, Franny, James, Laurie, and Raine for our complex obstacle routine set ups in my freestyle – I really could not do it without them… and I suppose they are now America’s Most Wanted ring crew J

Despite leaving at 4:30am, we didn’t arrive at the horse park until about 9:30pm and after getting the horses settled didn’t get back to the hotel until about midnight…. Where I found a message on my Facebook telling me that my first ride for trail would actually be at 9am and not the posted 11am.
So that night I didn’t sleep much and was back to the horses early in the morning to prep them for my ride.

Friday - Competitive Trail
First up was Kahleesi – she completely rocked all the obstacles. The only one we didn’t do super awesome was the tarp with pumpkins because I didn’t steer too well so she knocked one over. Cupid went 2nd and I was a pro at the course so he did everything pretty much perfect.

I was super proud of my horses and what an honour it was to ride through the Rolex derby waters. I was extremely psyched to hear Cupid placed 1st and Kahleesi placed 2nd in Trail – wow! All that hard work and preparation over summer really paid off.

Saturday – Freestyle
That morning Danica and I went for a trail ride around the Horse Park to give the horses some morning exercise. What a fantastic experience riding from ring to ring, watching all the action, watching some eventing while horseback, and browsing the grounds.

Then it was time to ride freestyle. Cupid was up first and he had the most complex course set up. My crew was awesome and got everything up. Cupid did fantastic – a little bit of pulling because he was nervous and our canter got a bit rusty in the corners but other than that I was so impressed with my flashy fellow. I was later surprised to see the awesome video Retired RaceHorse Project shared that at this time has 30,000 views!

Kahleesi rode her freestyle but things didn’t quite go according to plan, the song started before I was ready so I had to sort of make up the first part of my routine and there wasn’t much time to do anything too cool with no bridle.

Either way, it was still awesome fun and Cupid was 10th place in a large group, and Kahleesi was 2nd place (in a 3 way tie).

Sunday – finals
I was pretty nervous and excited to ride on Sunday. I frantically put together a new routine for freestyle wanting to show some different skills then I did on Saturday because the judges would be the same.

First I rode Kahleesi in the Obstacle Challenge which she totally aced, next was Cupid – I knew he wouldn’t be as amazing because we wasn’t feeling 100% relaxed. He wasn’t as precise as Kahleesi and had a spook at the tent so he dropped to 2nd place and Kahleesi went into 1st – this proved to be a super important thing. Placing 1st in trail meant that Kahleesi was eligible to be America’s Most Wanted Thorougbred.

For my freestyle, I rode a lot of obstacles and wanted to show off a lot of Kahleesi’s skills – we did really well despite the wrong song being played lol, to be honest I didn’t even notice until the end – so I ran out of time for my bridleless riding, so I went to plan B and did a little of it after the song finished.

Kahleesi finished 3rd in freestyle and I was super proud – the other competitiors were really fantastic too.

Then we went into the ring to make our case to be America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred – for my piece I don’t remember what exactly I said…. But something along the lines of Kahleesi being an easy, calm, quiet Thoroughbred with the ability to do any discipline – which is exactly what she is.
When it came time for them to announce the winners and they named Soar America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred I was completely overwhelmed. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I don’t cry very easily, but the tears started rolling. What a dream come true.

For the rest of the night I was on cloud nine – heck I am still on cloud nine! I am super thrilled about the success of my horses and hope that their performances help both promoting the awesome Thoroughbred breed and natural horsemanship.

Thank you to everyone for your support!! 

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