Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: A Rewarding Training Season, Ready for Competition

Bronn retired racehorse ex-racehorse OTTB aftercare Thoroughbred Makeover McNamara cross country training dressage horse health
Retired racehorse Bronn and Meghan McNamara are set to compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park during Oct. 11-14. (Courtesy of Meghan McNamara)

Here we are, less than a week from leaving for Kentucky for the 2023 Makeover. It’s amazing to think that this is the accumulation of almost two years of blood, sweat and tears. Both celebratory and dismal – but hey, this is horses!

I am happy to report that Bronn’s vacation seemed to be very productive for him. He packed on weight, healed his ulcers, and has gotten back to the calm, cool and collected gelding he was. With a week to go, there isn’t much more that we can do, but that’s ok. The Makeover for us is just the beginning of the journey and an opportunity to show what we have been working on, connect with the amazing friends I’ve made from the past few years we’ve gone, and celebrate the versatility of the breed we all love.

Beautiful Bronn. (Courtesy of Meghan McNamara)

This year has been so different. I have taken on his training myself, working with trainers and taking lessons, but I’ve been his sole jockey aside from a couple training rides when I was out of town. It's so easy to get lost in the day to day. To get frustrated on where I am in my riding progress and my progress with my horses. Am I not good enough for this? Did I choose the wrong disciplines for him? Is he happy and healthy? But then I remember this journey is about him and I and our relationship and his health in the long run.

Regardless of the disciplines chosen and how we do in Kentucky, for me it’s about building his foundation and making him a confident horse. That takes time. My 2021 Makeover horse is a little pistol. She is overconfident and egotistical, though insecure in many ways, but in training that was an advantage! Bronn is the total opposite: sensitive and calm, though can become overwhelmed. When he reaches a threshold, he is still learning on how to work through it. He is massive and has taken a lot of physical support as he has continued to grow even through his age 6 year. It’s my job to support him through his insecurities and his growth.

So, the last month… we have spent a lot of time on ground work and core exercises, focusing on his ability to relax into working “long and low,” and translating that to under saddle. He tries so hard and is such a pleaser, and I’ve found he really thrives with a lot of praise and reassurance. When he was ready, we started schooling some cross country at home. We are lucky to board at a place with a big field and the barn owner is an incredible eventer and has not only set up jumps, but also schools us making it fun and low key. 

We decided on one more pre-makeover outing. I had entered my 2021 mare in a starter event this past weekend but was able to switch horses. It wasn’t too far from home, and dressage and cross country were both on the same day so I committed to at least doing two phases, with having to work the rest of the weekend. Dressage was great! He is really starting to learn to relax into the contact. I’m extremely proud of his performance for where we are in his training! Cross country was fabulous… for the most part. He was bold and brave over fences, even scary ones with lots of tinsel! However, we came around to a ground log that imitated a little ditch, and as much as I tried to get him ready that something was coming, he just didn’t see it resulting in a stop.

This left me feeling a bit defeated to be honest! Slow and steady has been our mantra, and he was telling me all systems go, feeling healthy and brave! However, it’s totally fair that he didn’t see it and I didn’t prepare him for something he just wasn’t expecting. My learning continues!

My entire philosophy this year has been to keep things at his pace. I believe he is ready for more, so I am excited to leave for the show in a few days. I am viewing this as the last show of the season to build on what we have done this summer. And who knows, as the RRP announcer, Jonathon Horowitz, tells me, “There’s always magic that happens at the Makeover!”

It was important to me to stay transparent throughout this process. Throughout the year, I would post on my personal Facebook some thoughts as they’d arise, acting as a journal of sorts sharing the highs and lows. As we know, so much of social media is just the positives. There’s no way for me to summarize everything, so I’ll just close by echoing some thoughts I had right after getting him back into light work post-vacation:

  • Going into the "final stretch" before the Makeover. More transparency here. This has certainly been very difficult! Maybe it was the move and starting over and multiple jobs. Maybe the health setbacks on both of our parts. But in reflecting and feeling completely unprepared, I do think this has been the year I've grown the most in my own horsemanship.
  • He's the first horse I'm bringing along on my own and I know this is just the beginning for us. I originally thought, I have this super nice horse! I have to push myself to represent him well and do well and prove myself! Wrong.
  • I'm a part of a therapy group on healing and rewiring my nervous system and reactions, and I realized, why am I not focusing on that for Bronn and my horses? Why do we force them through their insecurities and anxieties? If he's nervous trotting, he certainly won't be confident with any other ask, etc...
  • The beauty of the Thoroughbred is their heart. They will do anything asked of them full stop, so why wouldn't I protect that heart of his? Every horse is different, just like every human. Sometimes we take longer to reach physical and mental maturity. Just because they raced successfully doesn't mean they won't have anxieties moving into a new career. We are literally asking them to relearn an entire new language, new way of using their body, new socializations and they are totally happy to do it. For us.
  • I'm no pro or trainer or expert, just my thoughts!

Can’t wait to see you all NEXT WEEK!

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