I will admit that I am in a bit of denial that our Thoroughbred Makeover experience has come and gone. There’s just something about working so hard and so long to accomplish a goal, and finding the way to put those feelings and experiences into words has been challenging. That being said, the two best words that I can come up with to describe how I feel about our experiences are proud and thankful.
We decided to leave Wytheville on Monday morning to aim for a Monday afternoon arrival. It was such an unseasonably chilly morning, and of course, Fin was very excited about the change in the weather. I had picked up our friends and fellow Makeover competitors Sara and Lynnbrooke, and the last step before leaving was to load Fin. She is usually so great about loading up at home, but the weather had her feeling frisky about it. We spent about 30 minutes convincing her to load and while she was stubborn, there was minimal drama. I decided to take a route that was a bit longer through far southwest Virginia and Kentucky to avoid tolls and we had a great trip and it felt like both girls hauled great!
When we arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park, Fin was very happy to get settled in her stall. I quickly unpacked the truck and trailer, got our tack stall set up, and set out to drop the trailer over in no man’s land. Once we settled, I went to check in. I was pushing it on being close to the end of check-in for the day, but I really wanted to get the arrival exam behind us and on with the week. The vets came around and did the stall portion of the arrival exam and I held my breath while they decided on her body score on the Henneke Scale – horses needed to be a minimum of a 4 to be cleared to compete. Fin looks very thin at home compared to her pasture puff friends, so I was very worried about this part. My worrying was for naught, as she scored a 6!
The last step was her soundness exam, so we set off for the barns to complete this process. As you all know, dealing with Fin’s feet has been quite the journey so this was another area of concern for me. I felt like the exam went well, but when we got back to the vets, Dr. Shannon Reed asked to see her left front foot. Turns out, Fin had BROKEN half of her glue shoe off on the trailer. The vet students noticed it was missing as they watched her walk away from them. I was mortified that I hadn’t noticed myself, but she had been walking soundly and with her bell boots on I hadn’t seen it. Dr. Reed reassured me not to feel too bad because she hadn’t seen it either and her vet students were the ones who pointed it out! Still, it needed to be fixed before she could pass the soundness exam. I immediately went back to her stall and called the farrier for the event and texted show secretary Rayna Erasmus to let her know what was happening. The farrier assured me that he could fix her up the next day and Rayna was so helpful with accommodating our chaos, but I still did not sleep a wink that night.
Tuesday morning felt like the longest week of my life. Finally around 1 p.m., the farrier arrived to start the process of fixing Fin’s shoe. He told me he got the last set of 000 glue shoes that the store had and also commented that he had never seen a horse break a glue shoe like Fin had…she is a very talented girl. Another issue that Fin has with her feet is being very sensitive and reactive due to their tiny size. Because of this, we sedate her at home to have her feet done so it is a safer and slightly more positive experience for everyone. Obviously with the Makeover, we needed to be in compliance with the USEF’s medication rules.
After discussing with Rayna we came up with a game plan: it was determined that the Hagyard Equine Medical vets would be able to sedate her, have a medication report filled out for us, and that our ride times would be moved back to Thursday afternoon. Fin was swiftly and expertly fixed up, and I was able to breathe a small sigh of relief. Dr. Reed wanted to do our soundness exam first thing Wednesday morning after the sedation wore off, but very kindly gave me the go ahead to school Fin around the Horse Park. By the time Fin was alert again, I had just under an hour to get to Rolex and school. Even after such a long day, Fin handled the big environment like she had been ridden every day of her life in that arena. I was so incredibly proud.
After another night of minimal sleep on my part, I arrived at the Horse Park at 6 a.m. Our soundness exam was not until 9 a.m., but I wanted to go spend time with Fin and see how her new shoe was holding up. One of my favorite parts of the Makeover were the quiet mornings I spent with her in her stall before everyone else got there and the sunrise hand walks we took around the park. When 9 a.m. arrived, we headed over to the barns to complete our exam. I was so nervous the entire time, but when Dr. Reed pulled out a blue sticker (to indicate we had passed the exam) I was finally able to relax. While our first day and a half at the Makeover was not an ideal experience, I cannot say enough great things about how understanding, reassuring, and accommodating Rayna, Dr. Reed, and the entire RRP staff were for us. I was understandably really on edge about our situation, but they were so friendly and helpful through all our problems and I am so thankful for all their help and reassurance along the way.
With our shoe troubles behind us, it was time to get down to business. I was able to school Fin only once in the Rolex arena, so Wednesday afternoon I took her down to school in the Rolex’s warm-up. She did not mind at all being around so many other busy horses and we had a really wonderful ride. Since the weather was so nice, after our ride I took advantage of that by giving her a bath and washing her disgusting tail. After her little spa afternoon, she enjoyed a nice snooze in her stall and we capped the evening off with a hand walk and her dinner.
I was so excited to compete on Thursday that yet again I hardly slept the night before. I was so tired heading to the park Thursday morning that I almost fell over picking up my heavy saddle out of the truck! Fin had been braided overnight (her first time ever) and looked super adorable in her sleazy. I spent her breakfast time sitting in the stall with her and telling her just how proud I was of her and what a good girl she is, and then we set off on our morning stroll around the park.
Fin was so relaxed on Thursday that she spent the majority of her day sleeping. I wanted to give myself at least an hour to hack over to Rolex and have time to warm up before our test. When I took her sleazy off to tack up and saw just how pretty she was with her braids in, I teared up. Seeing her like that made me stop to realize that we were about to do what we had spent the past year dreaming of and working towards. Our ride times came, and we had two successful tests. We had not done Training 2 in front of a judge before the Makeover, but I was really pleased with how we did, earning a 61.379%. In our demo, Fin kicked up her heels during one of our canter transitions but otherwise remained steady throughout. I’m so proud to say we finished 17th out of 32 amateurs in the Dressage division!
Finally I slept on Thursday night – a very welcome thing. Before leaving for the Makeover, I had commented on a Facebook post in the trainer group asking for volunteer riders for the polo Master Class with Jorge Vasquez. To my surprise, Fin and I were chosen to participate. So, early Friday morning we rode down to the covered arena for the clinic. Fin had never been ridden in such a big indoor space and the loud music was definitely new to her. I could tell that she was uneasy, but even then she was still responsive to me. Fin is not generally a nervous horse, so I didn’t want to push her too much through the class. The more we worked in the arena, I could tell she was settling in. Her favorite thing though, was seeing herself and the other horses on the giant TV screen; she just stopped and watched for several seconds in amazement. While I do not think we will become polo players anytime soon, I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in such a unique Master Class!
To take full advantage of our time in Kentucky, I also signed us up for the TIP Championships that were running at the Makeover. I decided to do Intro dressage, since our canter was questionable at the time of entry, and western halter! While Fin was very exhausted from our polo clinic, she had a great Intro B test and scored a 65.625%. After our test, I had to quickly go complete a costume change for our halter class. Luckily, I had shown my mini in western halter the previous summer and had all the gear. Fin was so unamused with being asked to do a halter class that she literally fell asleep during the judging. Somehow, we came away with 7th place in a large class and I think she would prefer all of her competitions to require such minimal effort on her part in the future. Saturday morning I was able to coax one more test out of her and we managed to get a 62.750% on our Intro C test; we were both exhausted.
We had a safe trip home to Wytheville on Saturday afternoon, and Fin was happy to be reunited with her boys. Our plans for the rest of this fall and winter are minimal. Fin is young still and I want her to have some time to rest and (hopefully) grow those tiny feet out over the winter. She has certainly earned a lot of relaxation and I’m just so proud of how she handled herself at the Makeover.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who helped us along on our journey this past year. First and foremost we could not have done any of this without our wonderful vet, Dr. Jenna Moore. She is always there for us both – even when I have an off the wall worry about Fin – and she does such a good job caring for her. Our farrier, Corey Sheets, who has not at all had an easy job dealing with Fin’s ridiculous little feet but has always remained positive and optimistic. Katherine Abrams, our excellent trainer, who has helped little Fin grow into a budding dressage horse and is always so supportive. Dr. Jennifer Bensen, Fin’s chiropractor, who helps to keep the sensitive queen feeling her best. Sarah Ryan, who let Fin crash at her farm for a month while she blew two abscesses. Sara Roberson, who I talked into entering the Makeover along with me and who provided emotional support along the way. Pam Umberger, my lifelong horse mentor, for giving me a solid foundation and supporting me through this journey. Jeff Cox, for letting us use his arena for some of Fin’s first outings, keeping Fin while I went on vacation, and helping us get a start on good trailering. My mom Stacy, for spending the week with Fin and I in Kentucky and being my helper throughout the week. My husband Mike, for unwaveringly supporting my crazy horse dreams. Kristen Kovatch Bentley for allowing me to tell our story on this blog and Retired Racehorse Radio. Joy Orr for helping me tell our story on the podcast. And last, but most importantly, Fin: my dear, sweet girl who has become my best partner and is making all my dreams come true. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for us together and I could not have found a better girl.