Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Cross Country Schooling, Building Trust with Bronn

Meghan McNamara and retired racehorse Bronn continue preparing for the Thoroughbred Makeover in fall 2023 with some cross country schooling including jumps. (Courtesy of Meghan McNamara )

“Let’s go, girls!” Shania’s voice rang out as Pied and I came to a stop, running into the indoor at the Kentucky Horse Park during our Freestyle routine at the 2021 Mega-Makeover. This was a targeted choice, as not only was Shania Twain’s CD one of the first I ever purchased, but if you are a millennial, there is a good chance she basically raised you. Let’s also not forget she is a fellow horse enthusiast! From “That Don’t Impress Me Much” to “Any Man of Mine,” the standards she taught us to hold were certainly the highest… who is Brad Pitt anyway? We’ll get back to this.

This past month was one of our most relaxed. Weather here in Colorado has been all over the place, and my personal life has been wild with a couple jobs to keep us all fed. To top that, I decided to get back to the basics again with Bronn when I could, taking a bit of the “am I behind?” pressure off our shoulders. That didn’t stop us from going cross country schooling though!

Courtesy of Meghan McNamara

The group of ladies that I went to the Makeover with last year, the Green Thumb Thoroughbreds, all went out to school at Spring Gulch with our trainer, Ryleigh Leavitt. We took our respective RRP mounts: Sully’s Bro, Chicory Blue, Mr. Popcorn (2022), and Bronn. My experience with cross country has been slim to none, aside from one schooling last year on one of our Makeover horses and of course, out there on the hunt. When I ride up with first field, though, I am not only on an experienced and finished hunt horse, but I also have the assistance of some liquid courage. As amazing as Bronn has been over small jumps, they have been neither solid nor out there in a giant field. I was a nervous wreck.

We started warming up over a ‘small,’ (OK, so not small to me!) jump consisting of stacked logs… don’t ask me what the proper name for these things are! Bronn was so good and brave, but being the anxious jockey that I am, I kept looking down at the jumps causing him to pause and stop a couple times. Even though the glorious Rocky Mountains were adorning the backdrop, apparently nothing was as interesting to me as that pile of logs. Finally, Ryleigh stood on the other side of the jump, held up a certain number of fingers requiring me to answer, and Bronn sailed on over. I certainly didn’t know what laid ahead on the course…

…a bank. I discovered I was afraid of heights back in high school when I was touring a tall building and when we got to the outside portion on the roof that looked over the city, I couldn’t even move. My back was glued to the wall furthest away from the edge. To date, I have gone to the extremes, doing most everything in my power to cure myself of this sickening fear, including learning how to skydive solo… NOTHING has helped. LET ME TELL YOU, that maybe two-foot drop off the bank brought me right back to the top of that building.

Courtesy of Meghan McNamara

Bronn was doing just fine going off the sides, because it was smaller, and I wasn’t scared. But I couldn’t commit to going down the bank, so naturally, he was questioning it as well. Standing there at the edge, willing him to step down, I can’t even tell you the doomsday thoughts running through my mind. What if we somersault down this entire hill together? What if I get launched to the next dimension? Tears. Literal tears welled up in my eyes. Finally, Ryleigh got on him and down he went like it was nothing. No launch, no somersault, no cartwheel back handspring. I got on him next, and he simply went down the bank.

There was, of course, zero drama to follow. He didn’t care about the ditches. He didn’t care about the jumps. He only stopped when I gave up on him and looked down at the jumps. Towards the end, I realized what worked for me was me screaming, “Come on Bronn! We’ve got this! Let’s go!” And he responds, “Well, duh you’re crazy, but yes! Let’s go!” Looking back at this schooling and more specifically at the bank, it’s certainly one of the most important lessons we’ve had together. I made such a big deal in my head about it, I was the one who let him down. He trusts me so fully that he really will go over anything, but naturally, if I am concerned, it gives him reason to be. Watching video, you can clearly see how he actively tries helping me and my position over jumps, giving us the best possible chance to be successful.

So how does this circle back to Shania? Ok, well maybe Bronn’s theme song is, “That Don’t Impress Me Much,”… ‘give me bigger things to jump!’ As I was driving home from cross country schooling that afternoon, “Any Man of Mine,” came on. I realized that Bronn is fulfilling all of those standards Shania taught us to hold… horse edition of course! This year’s journey continues to be much different from years past, as we are taking a more laid-back approach, but we are having so much fun. In the coming weeks, we have another cancer check-up and vaccine scheduled, a clinic, and a schooling show; however, nothing is going to come before us just having a good time and continuing to build that trust!

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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