Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Sometimes, it’s the Rider that Requires the Lay Up

Thoroughbred Makeover aftercare Retired Racehorse Project OTTB off-track Thoroughbred Funnee Julianne Pangal Kona eventing schooling training mental health dressage
The author and her gelding Kona at an event competition. (Photography In Stride)

This year, America’s Best Racing and the Retired Racehorse Project will be sharing diaries from several trainers preparing for the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover competition, scheduled for Oct. 11-14 at the Kentucky Horse Park. Meet adult amateur rider Julianne Pangal and her RRP hopeful, Funnee, as they gear up for their maiden voyage to the Thoroughbred Makeover.

Things had been humming along nicely for Funnee, my 3-year-old Thoroughbred mare, and I as we continued to gear up for this year’s Thoroughbred Makeover. Unfortunately, as an adult amateur, life happens! I found that towards the end of April and into early May, I became consumed with work, travel, family, and competing with my Thoroughbred gelding Kona.

As somewhat of an over-achiever (or at least someone who puts too much on their plate), I have to remind myself to give myself a break sometimes. And sometimes it’s in the best interest of the horse to have some time off too!

Funnee (Courtesy of Julianne Pangal)

No, I do not have a favorite child

I love the Thoroughbred breed and, as mentioned, I have another young Thoroughbred gelding (Kona) who I am currently eventing. My goal this season was to get him out to a few early-season events, before moving him up to the Novice level. We are currently qualified for American Eventing Championships (AECs) which are also held at the Kentucky Horse Park at the end of the summer.

I set us up for a fairly aggressive early-season show schedule, so that he would have some time to rest before AECs. This meant that in the past 4 weeks, we have had two weekends that were almost exclusively devoted to competing with him. This also meant less time to focus on Funnee. We traveled to compete at an event at the New Jersey Horse Park at the end of April, and an event at Stone Gate Farms in Ohio in mid-May.

I don’t have a favorite horse (child) but sometimes you need to make accommodations or allow yourself to prioritize one horse’s training goals over another in the short term. As an adult amateur, there is only so much time in a day to get it all done, and oftentimes horses cannot be priority #1. All that said, I board at a wonderful facility and I know that even if Kona and I are traveling one weekend, Funnee is still well-cared for. As a young horse, going a few days without a ride can be good for her too!

Prioritizing your mental health

The past four weeks have been a whirlwind for me. I work in marketing for a technology company, and have had a series of business trips this spring. I have spent more time traveling and on the road than I’ve spent at my own house. And certainly more time traveling than at the barn.

The barn has always been a stress reliever and a space for me to recharge. To come home from a business trip and NOT want to ride can be a disconcerting feeling. And while I love my horses, there have definitely been days where I have needed to prioritize my own mental health over riding. After spending five days on the road, sometimes that first day back needs to be spent regrouping, cleaning my house or catching up on sleep. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to take a day off. Sometimes it’s the humans that need rest, not just the horse.

Funnee at the dressage schooling show. (Julianne Pangal)

Ultimately, your horse will be just fine

With all my time off or away, Funnee has been just fine. In fact, there’s been some benefits to her having a decreased workload this spring. She has spent a lot of time learning to be a horse out in the pasture. She lives with a small group of mares and has enjoyed fresh grass and playing in the field. This “spring break” has also given her gangly and awkward baby-body a little more time to grow. I can see her slowly changing shape as she is growing taller and getting more body. Mentally, she will be ready to increase her workload as we move into the summer – and we have big plans for June and July.

Given all that’s happened in the past month, Funnee has certainly not been neglected. We have fit in at least one ride a week, and even competed in our first dressage schooling show. Just because our progress has slowed (and on my part!) does not mean that it’s nonexistent. During a recent ride, I was pleasantly surprised by how balanced and upright her canter has become – when did that happen! I’m looking forward to what next month will bring as we can focus more on our partnership. But I’m also giving myself space and time to rest and reset – because I have times when I need a break too.

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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