It's been a little while since we've updated everyone on Mr. Park and his journey to the 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover! As most of you know, the Retired Racehorse Project had to push back the Makeover due to the pandemic, so he will actually be competing against the other 2020 horses in October of 2021. This was a bit of a bummer, but I deeply feel it was the most responsible choice for the competition to make. We support them 100% as we know it was a super difficult decision.
So what has Mr. Park been up to? Lots and lots of good things! He competed at Otter Creek in Wheeler, Wis., in the Beginner Novice level of eventing. The venue is absolutely amazing and we push everyone to check it out. The staff is friendly and organized, the facility as beautiful and well manicured as they come, and the footing is FANTASTIC. Park gained his usual fan club quickly with exuberant jumping style. He is always quite ‘extra!’ He had a pretty relaxed dressage test (for him), and followed that up with three rails in show jumping on Saturday. That seems like a lot, but it can be pretty tough in that ring: there’s lots to look at, with it being surrounded by the cross-country course as well as a huge covered patio for observers. His rails were all honest and just a matter of figuring out where the feet go! We had some homework to take home. He followed that with a clear jumping round on cross-country. Prior to that day the water was a bit scary for him, but he jumped right in so I was very pleased.
We got home and worked on our homework to prepare for his move up to Novice Level at The Event at Archer in Cheyenne, Wyo. – we are a well-traveled team. Living in Nebraska and being an eventer means you have to be pretty dedicated to travel. We worked on some baby gymnastics, and a lot of canter poles in the corners. I could feel Park getting more and more balanced, and him getting stronger from behind. I was anxiously excited for the move up. It's always a bit nerve-wracking moving them up, but I truly felt he was ready.
August 21 came and it was time to make the six-hour trek to Wyoming to go see if we could conquer the Novice. It's a pretty beefy course there that tends to intimidate the riders, but I have competed there many times on many different horses so I know the fences ride just lovely for the horses. I walked the course a couple of times (it always looks more achievable the second time!). I knew the dressage was going to be tough because the show grounds double as rodeo grounds, so the horses have all sorts of smells and things to see they wouldn't normally, like a cattle chute for example. Park did a schooling event there when he was in just his first several weeks of training and it was everything I could do to keep him in the dressage ring. The stands are very loud and spooky, and run the entire length of the long side of the ring.
I prayed we were not in ring 2 so I could show the judge just how much more supple my horse had gotten on the flat… of course, we got assigned to ring 2. Park was much more mature about those dang bleachers this time, but still unable to truly relax. In my opinion, a super supple dressage test takes many, many months to achieve and we will just keep chipping away at home!
On to cross-country, Mr. Park's favorite. It's funny how some of their brains work. Park has never been nervous out there and really seems to enjoy jumping those fences. I actually had to work on confidence to the stadium fences! He's a quirky and sensitive horse, but I absolutely love that about him. My blood was pumping standing in the start box, hearing that "5-4-3-2-1, have a nice ride!" I knew there was no turning back.
Out the box we go and down to fence one... wiggle left, little wiggle right, add a good hug of the legs and BING, Park is on. His ears are forward and you can see him hunting what he thinks will be his next fence. I just love this little horse with a big heart. He goes on to jump a double clear cross-country round: this means he had no time penalties, and no jumping penalties. He was just one of seven horses with double clear rounds, out of a division of 19. I had tears streaming crossing the finish line. These horses never cease to amaze me and you just never get used to it. I had overwhelming pride in him and a genuine appreciate for the Thoroughbred as a whole.
On to show jumping. Once again we are in the ring where we have to ride along those terrifying bleachers. I know it will be much easier to keep his focus, as he has jumps to think about, and he really enjoys those. Jump one literally ran right next to them, so I knew it would be the hardest fence on course. Archer had a new course designer, Marc Grandia, and the course was very interesting and curvy. I was super impressed with his cross-country courses and also loved riding 2018 Makeover graduate Slew The Zodiac in the Preliminary division there as well. Park is very balanced and quite catty on his feet so I knew the course would show off our work.
I couldn't have been more pleased with him if I tried. He was brilliant, having just one rail, a result of me sitting down a second to early on the backside of a fence. How much this horse has grown up in just three short months of training is mind blowing. Allison Murphy runs an excellent and smooth show there, and we are so appreciative for all she does. She does several schooling shows, always has open cross-country and doesn't know a stranger. I haul babies up there pretty frequently as this course really helps prepare them for the recognized level and am grateful to also support them when they do a recognized show.
Park has a couple more events coming up and finishes in October. After that he is getting a two-month break. He has traveled a lot and competed a lot. I think it's very important for every horse to have at minimum a two-month break in work every year to mentally and physically rest. They are always better for it. We travel to Aiken, S.C., for the winter so he will start training hard again starting in the fall. This doesn't mean we won't do the occasional trail ride here or there, and he will still come into his stall for half-days and be spoiled rotten. His brother Zodi (recently competed at the 2-star level) started his break just after Archer. I'm so grateful to have both of these horses in my string and have huge plans for both of them.