Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Rewarding Experience and Reminder That Horses Change Lives

Odin and author Leah Alessandroni compete at the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover. (Courtesy of Leah Alessandroni)

Just like that the 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover is done and over. My first impression is that I’m tired — like, new level of physical exhaustion tired — but also at the same time I am lifted up, encouraged, and inspired.

I’m not sure I could accurately describe all the emotions and thoughts that I had throughout our week at the Kentucky Horse Park in just one final blog entry but I’m going to give it a shot.

The best part about working with horses, and one of the reasons I chose it as a career, is that you are constantly learning. The bar is always moving. Nothing is set in stone and even the most experienced lifelong equestrian can still be humbled and still learn something new. If I had to pick one overarching theme for our Thoroughbred Makeover experience it would be that – education.

After an entire year of blissful soundness, it was of course three weeks before the makeover that Odin took his first lame step. Some minor hoof issues coupled with a bruised heel very nearly derailed our entire Thoroughbred Makeover experience before it even started.

Odin and Leah Alessandroni at the 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover. (Courtesy of Leah Alessandroni)

I was kicking myself for that optimistic last paragraph of my previous blog where I exclaimed “we made it” like a total novice who doesn’t know that horses always have other plans. But thankfully, the combination of bodywork, podiatrist, and good old-fashioned horsemanship had Odin back to 100% in time for the Thoroughbred Makeover … but without any final prep work.

I think I got three rides in before we shipped to the Kentucky Horse Park and as we passed the arrival and soundness exam with flying colors I thought of how much we’d been through just to get here in the past month, let alone past 10 months and decided that all expectations of a big performance were unfair and that the one goal must be education and education alone. And boy, did we get that.

If you were looking at scores alone you might think we had a disappointing week, and admittedly there were times when I wondered where my mature and composed horse had gone. Odin was perfectly happy to hack around the Kentucky Horse Park and see the sights, but the warmup for Dressage proved to be a bit much for his baby brain to handle. For followers of the blog, you know that he’s been well-exposed this year in terms of shows, but we definitely haven’t seen anything like the warmup for this show and I think the nervous energy played a much bigger factor than I anticipated it would.

Like I’ve said in previous blogs, much like in the racing industry, sometimes you just need a race and this certainly felt like a major step up in class. The best I can liken it to is running well in allowance races during the week and then entering a stakes race on the undercard of a major weekend race day and not only having tougher competition but also a much bigger environment.

At the end of the day, I just had a slightly overwhelmed horse who was happy to do simple tasks but mentally couldn’t tackle many hard ones. And that’s OK. Odin is the type of horse that is cool, calm, and collected so often that I think I underestimated his greenness. On the bright side, it very well could have taken us years to learn that about him had I not taken him to something like the Thoroughbred Makeover. Always have to find the silver lining, right?

All in all, our judges’ comments were very positive and encouraging, and I ended the week feeling like I knew my horse better than ever. On top of that, I was also feeling more confident in myself as I had to ride through more than a few blow-up moments that quite frankly would have unnerved me in January. It was nice to know that I still had the ability when it counted. As a fellow makeover trainer said triumphantly, “you didn’t even look like you were going to fall off!” It was probably the best compliment I got all weekend to be honest because that’s really what this year has been about – growth.

Odin and Leah Alessandroni at the 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover. (Courtesy of Leah Alessandroni)

What a journey this has been. An exciting, humbling, thrilling, exhausting, emotionally fulfilling, emotionally draining, and all-together wonderful journey. It was truly an honor to spend a week with so many fans of not only Thoroughbreds, but of racing! Being stabled across from Breeders’ Cup winners and Eclipse Award champion Whitmore was an experience that I will never forget. It never got old seeing the joy and excitement as people got to meet him, and it was so great to see the entire Moquett team supporting their boy. Their obvious love and respect for him made me emotional more than a few times. Horses change lives, isn’t that why we all do this?

Before the Thoroughbred Makeover, I had considered myself one of the better-educated people in the Thoroughbred industry when it came to understanding what goes into the process of aftercare. As I’ve said before, this experience has shown me that I still had so much to learn. Spending a week talking to my fellow Thoroughbred Makeover trainers, hearing their stories, watching their beautiful training jobs, and cheering on the incredible Finale participants reignited the desire in me to continue to push the conversation of aftercare within the Thoroughbred Industry and to continue advocating for education in these areas.   

And so that’s it, our whirlwind 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover year is over. But new journeys are just beginning. Thanks to everyone for your support this year. Thanks to Retired Racehorse Project and ABR for giving trainers a platform to chronicle their journeys with; thanks to all the Thoroughbred Makeover trainers for their hard work and wonderful service they provide the Thoroughbred industry. And finally, thank you to Odin for getting me back in the saddle, back in the show ring, and back in the trainer’s seat for the first time in far too long. I can’t wait to see what the journey holds both for our partnership and for aftercare! Go riding! Go racing! Go Thoroughbreds!

The Jockey Club supports many aftercare initiatives including the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the only accrediting body in aftercare, and Thoroughbred Incentive Program (T.I.P.), which encourages the retraining of Thoroughbreds into other disciplines upon completion of careers. View all of the initiatives supported by The Jockey Club.

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