It’s a 20-hour round-trip journey from Wytheville, Va., to Troy, N.Y. As it turns out, that’s also the perfect amount of time to impulse purchase a horse.
I have a rather unfortunate track record of my personal horses becoming unsound (pasture accidents, navicular, etc.) and had recently come to terms with needing to retire my horse Blade in the very near future. My two most recent personal horses had been OTTBs, and as I casually began the search, I knew I wanted another one for my next partner. I have loved Thoroughbreds since I was given and restarted my first OTTB, Larry, while I was in high school. They have huge hearts, are great athletes, and make wonderful partners. As a public school teacher, I also realistically knew that a horse right off the track would be all my budget would allow. For me though, that was not a problem as I love the journey and work of restarting OTTBs.
I came across Changing Saddles LLC while scrolling through Facebook and her ad was at the top of the page. Hot Gurl Summer had been posted a few days earlier and was a striking chestnut filly complete with adorable face and lip markings and a video that made her look like she was absolutely full of herself; I was in love. I sent the payment and found out quickly that she would be arriving at the farm on Monday, Oct. 4, which left me with no time to question my decision making skills.
What I did have time to consider though, while she was making her trip to Virginia, was the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. She was never entered into a race but had published track works that made her eligible to enter. It sounded like such a wonderful opportunity and experience, but I had a hard time convincing myself that I was capable of being accepted.
I have been riding horses since I was 4 years old. Growing up in rural southwestern Virginia though, I had very limited options for showing (think fun show at the lesson barn). When I was a teenager, I had my first OTTB, Larry, at my grandparents’ farm but no trailer. So showing still was not an option for me. Throughout college, I took dressage lessons when I could and rode my own horse during my summer breaks.
After I graduated college, I lived in Washington, DC, for four years. I quickly grew tired of the city life and greatly missed riding. When I finally convinced my now husband, Mike, to move home to Wytheville with me, we bought a farm. Shortly after acquiring the farm, Blade, an OTTB, and his trusty quarter horse friend Midge made their move to live with us. I had high hopes of accomplishing some of my dressage dreams with Blade, but an old pasture injury laid those dreams to rest the further we got into our training.
Fast forward to the day of her arrival. I knew that I would need to come up with a barn name for Hot Gurl Summer. She had been in training at Belterra Park near Cincinnati, and as a self-proclaimed Jimmy Buffett fanatic it made obvious sense to me that her name would be Fin. As she made her way down from Cincinnati it felt like Christmas Eve while I tried to wait patiently at work. The hauler was wonderful about sending me pictures and updates during her journey and it helped to make the waiting more bearable. It was late and dark when they arrived, but she unloaded like a champ in the middle of our country road. I led her down the farm road in the dark and to the round pen for her to spend her first night.
The next morning, I was able to finally get a good look at her. She was really beautiful in person, overflowing with personality, and had the droopiest lip I had ever seen on a horse. The boys were absolutely fascinated by this high-strung filly that had been brought into their territory. For the next several weeks they spent their days reorganizing their pecking order and settling into their new roles. Fin currently jockeys back and forth with my mini and her nemesis, Bert, for the bottom spot.
The first month and a half was spent letting her adjust to her new farm life. Understandably, she had a lot of spunk about her for the first few weeks she was there, and I was worried about the red mare syndrome that I had heard so much about. Quite quickly, and to my surprise, she calmed down to the point of seeming mature way beyond her years. Once we started groundwork and began getting to know each other better, I knew that the bond that was forming would be strong. I have not had a mare in 10 years and had forgotten what that partnership was like.
After she settled in and I got to know her a little better, I figured I had nothing to lose by applying to the Makeover. I did not have a sound horse to film my entry video on though, so I roped my friend and fellow 2022 Makeover participant, Sara, into using her lovely gelding for the entry. I had never ridden her horse before and we got the videos filmed the day before a big snowstorm hit our area – just in the nick of time! I spent the week off of school filling in my application and getting my ducks in a row for submission. My hopes are for Fin to become my dressage partner, so that is what discipline I selected.
While I waited for the decision date, I had told myself I would not be disappointed if we did not get accepted. I have no show record to my name, can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ridden in a covered arena, and do all my riding out in the fields so I was not expecting to be accepted. After all, my plans for Fin would be the same whether we got in or not – minus a very awesome week in October.
Trainer acceptance day came and I refreshed my email every 30 minutes. Finally, around noon, there it was…accepted. I was floored. I still cannot believe we get to be a part of such a wonderful event. Working towards the Makeover this fall will be such a great way to kick off the first year of our partnership together and I am so excited to watch her grow and mature over the next few months. Off we go!