Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: A Week of Absolute Joy with Finnick the Fierce

Aftercare
Retired racehorse Finnick the Fierce and his owner Jackie Barr enjoyed a week to remember at the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover. (Courtesy of Jackie Barr)

Happy November and goodbye to another year of the Thoroughbred Makeover! Congratulations to all of my fellow competitors and a big thank you to everyone who made it such a wonderful event. It’s hard to believe we have made it to the other side of this big thing I’ve been anxiously – and I mean, up all night, crazy person, anxiously – awaiting for close to a year. So much has happened since I made a comment about bringing Finn to the Makeover in December of 2021 when he first came home to me at BTE Stables in Paris, Kentucky. 

Finnick the Fierce (Courtesy of Jackie Barr)

Now, if you haven’t already heard, Finnick and I didn’t have what most people would call a successful competition. I like to glaze over the fact that I landed in the dirt before we even went through the starting cones of the Competitive Trail course – but for you all, I’ll explain what happened. 

We shipped in to the Kentucky Horse Park on Tuesday, the day before we would compete. Finn looked amazing. We had a lovely hack around the horse park that evening when everything was a little quieter, and right there I told myself everything from here on out was just icing on the cake. I expected I’d get on him there and we’d both be too overwhelmed and we’d scratch before Wednesday even started. So when I dismounted with a smile on my face, I already felt like I’d won something. 

I was a ball of nerves on Wednesday morning, which I’m sure didn’t help Finn’s, but I lunged him a couple of times, and he handled it all so well. I was really happy and thought that even though I hadn’t taken him off property before the Makeover like I’d planned, maybe we could actually do this! He was a superstar as I rode him down to the Head of the Lake, where Competitive Trail takes place. He held it together in the warmup, and we even trotted around a little bit and he felt great. However, the longer we had to wait for those who went before us, the more anxious I could feel him become. He didn’t like it when the competitor who would go after us came into the warmup area and started cantering in our vicinity, something I hadn’t exposed him to before. 

When we were called over to the course I felt better, removing him from what was bugging him. What I didn’t take into account was the cheering crowd setting him off further. I sat a couple of mini-rears waiting for the competitor before us to clear the Head of the Lake but when they finished and the crowd cheered he reared again and as it’s been explained to me, he sat down and deposited me on the ground. I popped up, uninjured and he was quickly caught by a bystander. 

I didn’t get back on him because I could feel it would just be a repeat event. However we took his tack off and he immediately relaxed. Once everyone was done competing that afternoon, I hand-walked him through the course with the permission of event management with the most supportive audience ever and we even splashed around in the Head of the Lake!      

Fin and a circle of friends. (Courtesy of Jackie Barr)

I hate that me falling off is even a part of our story – and technically it’s the main point of what people want to hear about – but in my mind, it was 30 unfortunate seconds from a full week of absolute joy. From the start when Finn settled in next to Odin and our friend Leah Alessandroni … across from Breeders' Cup winner and Eclipse Award champion Whitmore and his outstanding mom Laura Moquett, who I can’t say enough good things about … to meeting fellow ABR blogger Leigh Beamer who showed up to the Makeover with her own Fin … to getting a photo with Ashley Bump at the arrival exam with her one-eyed-wonder Ariesberg who competed in Barrel Racing … to Finn’s racing fans coming to visit us at the stall, and on and on and on – I have a whole mental scrapbook full of heartwarming, enlightening, loving memories from that week. 

At every moment there was someone doing something kind for me, or for someone else. I hadn’t competed at a horse show since high school and after years of reading online posts criticizing people who resembled myself for daring to sit in a saddle, I had basically decided I needed to completely change in order to be worthy of it. When I started riding again I was enthusiastic knowing I had people in my corner who weren’t judging me, and were just happy to have another riding companion. I’ve cultivated a circle of friends who remind me I don’t have to change who I am to be happy, and to love myself, and to experience everything I want to experience. There are no words that can convey how grateful I am to my village for getting me to the Horse Park and supporting me while I was there. 

I’ve had a few people ask me, what now? Well, Finn is back home looking as happy and healthy as ever. I can’t wait for my next ride where I’ll get to feel that magnificent canter we discovered together and we can both look back on that week where we had so much fun and were a part of something bigger than ourselves. I’m not sure what’s next. I would love a redemption ride somewhere down the line where we ride through the Head of the Lake and instead of just walking it. Aside from that, I will be happy simply having a quiet moment with my big guy, feeding him peppermints and scratching his eye socket when it itches. 

I wish I had a better story about bringing Finnick the Fierce to the Makeover and blowing everyone away, but I don’t. Instead I have a story about my sweet horse trying his best and a community of people who support each other even in difficult times. 

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