Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Turning Heads at the Reining Show

The author with Pied N True. (Courtesy of Meghan McNamara)

Those three little words: “She’s a Thoroughbred.”

I know to everyone in this community, those three words bring a huge sense of pride and honor. That is exactly how I felt sharing them at the reining show we took Pied N True to in Waco, Texas, full of the flashiest and most talented Quarter Horses and Paints I’ve seen. Pied was a show-stopper, and many reining professionals approached me asking about her. When I told them she was an off-track Thoroughbred just getting started in her new career, these trainers were blown away. “A Thoroughbred reiner!?” someone remarked. I don’t think I’ve been so proud as to answer, “That’s right!”

Courtesy of Meghan McNamara

This past month has presented the most opportunities for growth since we began this journey. Though we were just schooling and not competing, we operated as if we were going to step out there in the show ring. Our trainer would have us school at 4 a.m. to ensure we had a quiet arena, then again in the afternoon in a busy warm up pen. It’s no surprise that Pied did EXCEPTIONALLY well. In those early morning hours, Pied was a complete professional, dutifully practicing her maneuvers and standing calm when we watched our barn-mates work. On one of those early mornings, we even got our first lead changes! At that point, I was so happy, I was ready to celebrate! Then was quickly reminded the sun wasn’t even up and the margaritas would have to wait maybe a few more hours.

In the afternoon when the riders who were showing schooled for their classes, we would tack up again and move to the warm-up pen. Dozens of horses were schooling, and not just hacking around – there was action EVERYWHERE. This was an entirely new experience for both of us! Horses were fast loping and slow loping by us, backing up, galloping into their sliding stops feet in front of Pied’s nose with dirt flying everywhere. It was madness! Personally, I felt totally overwhelmed, but Pied was so cool, calm and collected it was as if she had been a reiner her entire life. One of my favorite parts was when a horse would lope by, Pied would pin her ears at them mildly annoyed as if to say, “I don’t want you to pass me because I’m a racehorse, but fine… this is my new life now.” 

We both came away from that long weekend learning and achieving tons. Pied noticeably matured in many ways, it was as if it her “new job” clicked and she now knows what she is set out to do when we walk into an arena. I think the most remarkable aspect of the weekend is how safe I felt with her. We were taking care of each other. Everything that entire weekend was new for the both of us, but she never panicked or wavered. Pied gave me the confidence to go out there and school like the horses and riders who have been doing this for years.

Some of the most comical parts of the weekend were the comments I’d get: “Did you pour bleach on that horse?” And, in a world of tiny Quarter horses, “I think I’d need two mounting blocks to get on that horse!” (Which is even more hilarious because Pied is the smallest Thoroughbred I have ever been around). It blew people away that she was off the track, not just because most people have never seen a Thoroughbred at a reining show, but also because of her professionalism. I could not have been more proud!

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I consider myself an all-around amateur with a proclivity for western disciplines. I realized this past month, that the specific discipline we are focusing on (being reining) might literally be the antithesis of racing, and because of that, it dawned on me that I may have chosen one of the more difficult paths to the Makeover. The self-carriage with minimal contact that Pied is learning, and the acute accuracy of aids that I am focusing to attain certain movements, is incredibly challenging for both of us. There was a second during a ride where I was asking Pied for a specific movement and EVERY SINGLE muscle in my body down to my fingertips was burning, while staying as light as humanly possible on her back and mouth. Who needs a gym!?

Courtesy of Meghan McNamara

In any case, it’s these moments that make me confident that we are becoming a complete team. I am not asking anything from her that she is not equally requiring of me. Pied is so hard working and honest, and whenever is asked to learn something new, she tries with all her heart. She motivates me to be the best jockey I can possibly be for her. Though she doesn’t let me forget she’s a red mare! If at any point she dislikes something, she is sure to let me know!

Aside from our progress under saddle, we have begun to work on our liberty. She has quickly begun to pick up the Spanish walk at liberty as well as seeking out certain items to “touch.” I will toss my hat to the side and she will meander on over to it, brushing it with her nose. My goal here is to teach her to pick items up and bring them to me. I find she enjoys these challenges and she likes to use her brain creatively. I can see her demeanor change and she has started to look forward to these games we play. 

The Thoroughbred Makeover is quickly approaching, and I am getting more and more excited. I can’t wait to meet people who I have met and been communicating with online. I am thrilled to see people’s progress with their chosen equine partners. But most of all, I am getting excited to share what Pied and I have been working on. 

Coming back from a recent horse shopping trip for another client, my trainer told me another trainer asked, “How’s that Thoroughbred you have in your barn?” and I think my heart just about burst with pride. Those of us close to Pied know how special she is, but I am ecstatic that she is becoming an incredible steward for the western Thoroughbred. 

There is absolutely nothing a Thoroughbred can’t do! And those three little words… well those are some BIG words and the only three words that make my heart explode!

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