Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Teamwork Key to Overcoming Obstacles

Pop Pop and Shanghaied in the final weeks before the Makeover. (Photos courtesy of Mellissa Perrin-Keithly )

This year, America’s Best Racing and the Retired Racehorse Project will be sharing diaries from several trainers preparing for the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover competition, scheduled for Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park. Mellissa Perrin-Keithly and her father-in-law are preparing Shanghaied to compete in the Competitive Trail discipline at the show.

At St. Patrick’s Racing Stable, teamwork will be the key to our success in the last two months of training Shanghaied. We are overcoming all obstacles, great and small. 

Shanghaied going over something he may see at the Makeover.

Physically, we are separated by 426 driving miles between Portland, Maine and Media, Pa.

Pop Pop and I talk several times a week on the phone and text videos and photos back and forth. We talk about our progress and our challenges, like riding without stirrups and cantering up the hill. I work weekly with Shanghaied to accommodate the lesson work that Pop Pop is doing on his own. Our weekly communication closes the distance gap and has been working.

Pop Pop traveled to Maine in August and we spent several days working together, discovering the strengths and weaknesses in our plan. Together, we were able to make adjustments. Pop Pop rode Shanghaied over new obstacles every day in the arena, round pen, and out in the open field. He worked together with Shanghaied on their gaits and transitions up hills and down. At one point I had to say “OK, slow down … easy.”

It gave me a vantage point of where I need to concentrate with Shanghaied in the last month to prepare the three of us for new obstacles which may come our way. 

There is a 23-year age difference between both riders, and Shanghaied is the youngest of the team at a mere 6 years old. Staying fit, eating right, hydrating during the summer rides, and getting enough rest is vital for any elite athlete. We are all elite athletes and are taking our health seriously. 

Each one of us has obstacles we have to overcome to stay on track. Shanghaied is going to be traveling 10 days prior to the Makeover so we are working very hard to keep his body score above average to accommodate any stress. We do this by managing his diet, supplements, teeth and workouts, and making sure he gets enough rest.  

Pop Pop is maintaining his health by hydrating during hot riding lessons, packing energy snacks and making sure he gets enough rest between workouts too!

I have been practicing yoga, eating clean, and meditating to hold space for our team and trying to stay focused and calm. Truth is, I am not always good at it: having two teammates depending on me can either give me more stress or inspire me to do a better job.    

Regarding Shanghaied’s training plan, we have been focusing on surprising Shanghaied with new trail obstacles, including bridges, water features, moving the obstacle he rides over out of the arena and setting them up in weird places in the field, the middle of the barn aisle, in the driveway, etc. He has made us laugh and feel excited and proud with his responsiveness.    

We have a horse show next week and a couple of off-site lessons planned to make our way around, under, through, and over all the obstacles in our path to success. 

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