Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Wex Shines at Dressage, Begins Hunter/Jumper Training

Wex after his first dressage test. (Dan Sheidy photo)

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. Here’s the latest installment from Michigan resident and lifelong Thoroughbred lover Jessica Sheidy, who has owned OTTBs (Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds) since she was a teenager and currently is training the former racehorse Country Fast, now named Wex.

When we started this journey to Thoroughbred Makeover, we had ten months to go. We now have about ten weeks left. This process has allowed me – almost forced me – to keep one eye on where we started. Progress was slow at first, but today, I barely recognize the horse I started with. The last month has been full of successes for Wex and me. We still have a long way to go, but good things are happening!

The Makeover has also forced me to have a solid plan, as we have a deadline. I try to plan one month at a time. Planning any more than that is futile. If I’ve learned nothing in the seven months that Wex has been in training, it’s that a lot can and will happen in a month. Each month, I try to plan so that I’m contributing to each of three categories that will help us be successful at the Makeover:

  1. Dressage training
  2. Hunter/jumper training
  3. Exposure

Wex has been focused primarily on dressage since January. I had planned to start Wex in dressage, but I didn’t really have aspirations of pursuing dressage at the Makeover. As the weeks march on though, it has become a viable option. Dressage is not my primary discipline. I am a hunter jumper rider, who happens to have recognized the benefits of dressage as “cross training” for myself and my horse. (Some think of dressage as ballet – it is a discipline in itself, but it is also wonderful basis from which to build any style of dance or movement. In this case, it lends well to any discipline.)

Wex at his first USDF recognized show. (Julia Varaday photo)

My little hunter prospect has now shown successfully in two dressage shows. He did well, and would have gotten even better scores, had his rider not panicked and turned a 20m circle into a 12.5m egg. We have several more dressage shows on our radar between now and the Makeover. Fingers crossed that our geometry gets a little more accurate with practice!

Up until this week, I haven’t explicitly worked on hunter/jumper training. However, all of the dressage training is helping us get ready to jump. I board at a dressage barn, so I have limited access to jumps. This means my husband has been enlisted to build jumps for me. He’s completed the first installment, and Wex has progressed enough to get started. We recently had our first jump school, and Wex handled it like a professional. I was pleasantly surprised by his demeanor. I made mistakes, but he didn’t hold them against me.

As we are constantly reminded by the RRP team, it is so important to expose these ex-racehorses to everything we can. Go all the places, see all the things. I happen to think racehorses can be very adaptable. The racetrack can be a very busy place, but most of these horses have had time to grow accustomed to a quieter life. Changing the routine can be tough on any horse, no matter how adaptable. Wex has attended several shows now, and has stayed overnight on a few occasions too. This is especially important, as he will be staying at the Kentucky Horse Park for nearly a week. With a half-dozen more outings before we head to Kentucky, and some “de-sensitizing” strategies at home, I think Wex will be as prepared as he can be for the activity of the Kentucky Horse Park.

Wex achieved one more milestone this month. He made his leadline debut with my six-year-old! Next month, we’re tackling another dressage show, and our first hunter/jumper show.

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