Road To The Makeover: Celebrating Our Transformation From Home

Oct 25, 2022 - 2:58 PM

Earlier this month I watched posts about the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover flood my social media with a mix of emotions. I was excited for the competitors I’d gotten to know, sad I wasn’t there with my own young horse The Quantico Kid, confident I had made the right call to stay home, and proud of all the progress we’ve made despite many obstacles.

Watching the amazing Makeover competitors jump full courses and navigate terrifying trail obstacles sometimes made me feel down for not even jumping at this point in our training. But the truth is that “this point in our training” is actually still pretty early, if you string together the consecutive weeks we’ve both been “sound.”

I got “Kid” a year ago but waited to start riding regularly until December to keep him eligible for the Makeover. Then he and I faced an alternating parade of obstacles that ranged from head injury (me), to ulcers (him) to Covid (me) and back and forth again. Those were just the obstacles we faced before I made the call not to go to the Makeover, but it turns out the universe was not through with me.

Kidstretching
Blogger Tracy Gold withdrew from the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and instead is progressing on a different timeline with her almost-5-year-old Thoroughbred, The Quantico Kid. Photos Courtesy Of Tracy Gold

I had a few good rides post-Covid, and then I got a horrible, itchy rash on my thigh in a very uncomfortable place for riding. Turns out I most likely have Lyme disease, though for humans as with horses, the diagnostic tests are imperfect. This rash did not look like a typical bullseye until about 10 days in, when it was about 10 inches wide. Apparently the steroids I took when I thought the rash was poison ivy might have made the Lyme worse. Ouch!

I’m still fighting fatigue and sporadic low fevers, so I’m taking antibiotics for a few more weeks and hoping for the best. Luckily, the rash is gone, and I’m back on Kid regularly. With everything we’ve faced, we’ve actually come pretty far.

In the weeks leading up to the Makeover, I saw many other hopeful contestants drop out for various reasons, including ill-timed injuries, scheduling issues, transportation issues, and just plain not being ready. While scratching from a big horse show is always sad, the Makeover feels particularly momentous because each horse is only eligible once after their post-race training has begun.

Here’s what I’ve been telling myself, and I hope this helps others as well: You don’t need to go to the Makeover to have a Thoroughbred makeover. I find myself looking at the pictures of The Quantico Kid from when I first got him, and I can barely recognize him. While a different horse’s makeover may be farther along than Kid’s, he certainly made a stunning transformation (and he was pretty to start with).

kid before
Kid before (above), shortly after Tracy Gold purchased him, and Kid after (below) close to a year of work.

Kid after
Here’s what I am most proud of:

Weight gain: Look at that neck! Look at that barrel! Look at that shiny coat! It feels like it should be simple to put weight on a horse—just feed it more! Ha, ha, horses don’t make anything simple. I worked hard with my trainer and vets to diagnose and treat Kid’s ulcers, adjust his diet, and try different turnout situations. Next up: building muscle.

Hoof rehab: When I got Kid, he was still wearing race plates and had typical racehorse long toes and low heels. Farriers Brian and David Belt have been great with helping me strengthen his hooves, sometimes even doing his hind and front hooves on different weeks. His hooves grew much better after his ulcers were treated, showing the impact of diet

Relaxation in the ring: Whew, Kid and I had some rough rides the first few times I took him up to the ring all by himself. Now, alone or in company, he is (mostly) relaxed and workmanlike in any ring. He is now (mostly) unbothered by clanking trailers, cheering lesson kids, and horses schooling cross-country. When he does spook he relaxes again quickly. We finally did our first dressage lesson with visiting trainer Donna Toole while a bathroom trailer was being delivered for an event on the farm, and he didn’t even bat an eye. We were both impressed at how well he handled the muddy footing that day. I don’t have to worry about lining up equine babysitters for us to ride with anymore, which makes scheduling my life so much easier.

I’m using this relaxation to encourage Kid to stretch his head out long and low. His first inclination is curling his nose to his chest or dropping his head straight down instead of stretching long, which may have come from being galloped in draw reins on the track at some point. We’re working on relaxing cross country and have been calmly hacking all alone back and forth to the ring.

Trailering skills: Kid trailered back and forth to the track at his last racing home, but then went a year with no trailering. I have been loading him whenever friends have their trailers hooked up at the barn. The first few times, he was too anxious to even eat a treat on the trailer (and he’s normally a cookie monster). My coach Holly Gilmore trailered him back and forth to the ring for a lesson just to get some low-stakes practice.

When we went on our first off-farm field trip to the ring at the Baltimore County Agricultural Center, he loaded great. When we arrived, he was sweaty and anxious from shipping, but we started by hand walking and longing around the ring. He took a deep breath and enjoyed watching the golfers nearby. I got on, and we had a few silly moments, especially when children started playing with a creaky old bell nearby, but he eventually relaxed enough to walk around on the buckle.

A better forward button: I was spoiled by my last horse, who went forward no matter what (even when I didn’t want him to). While Kid has an engine and is generally curious and brave, he does sometimes express his opinions by planting his feet or protesting upward transitions. He has pulled a few 180s, though I have to say he is good about stopping for me to get my balance when he can tell I’m about to fall off. Though I’m pretty sure I’m jinxing myself by writing it in the Chronicle, he hasn’t dumped me yet. These antics used to intimidate me, which encouraged his behavior. Now, I just kick him forward in the direction I want to go.

Improved manners: Kid is becoming better about giving me personal space, yielding away from pressure, and not play-nipping humans. This is still a work in progress—he did get away from me and go for a gallop the other day—but we’re getting there. He is a total cookie monster, so he only gets treats on special occasions like loading into the horse trailer. We’ve been hand walking through puddles and even over tiny jumps.

Power steering: When I first got Kid, his only reaction to lateral leg aids was to go faster. Well, he still goes faster, but at least he moves over too. He is starting to bend appropriately for our path instead of wiggling around like a noodle. He is easier to steer with my legs and hips, and he has started responding to leg aids to pick up both canter leads. (The left lead has always been tough.)

Longing: When I vet checked Kid, his race trainer/co-owner Suzanne Stettinius tried to longe him. He was completely terrified of the longe whip, so we gave up and she rode him instead. I put in many hours in the round pen both at liberty and on the longe line, and now he will longe all over the farm. He is (mostly) voice trained to halt, walk, trot, canter, and turn into me. I hadn’t longed much before except for when I had to learn for Pony Club or see if a horse was lame, so I’m grateful to Kid for bearing with me as we solidified this skill together. It has been so helpful for testing out new tack, taking him to new environments and bombproofing. He has gone from terrified of my big blue tarp to thinking it’s a fun toy or possibly food. When I’m tight on time or feeling sore or sick, I can longe instead of riding and still feel like I’ve accomplished something.

As long as that list of accomplishments seems, of course I have a much longer list of what I still want to work on, but I am much more relaxed about how quickly we get there. I can’t wait to see where we are in another year!


Tracy C. Gold is a writer, freelance editor and mom living in Baltimore. She rides her ex-race horse at Tranquillity Manor Farm in Maryland. An alum of U.S. Pony Clubs and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, she competes in local hunter shows and rides for pleasure now. She is the author of the picture books “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” from Sourcebooks and “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby” from Familius. You can learn more about Tracy at tracycgold.com. She hoped to enter her off-the-track Thoroughbred The Quantico Kid, purchased in autumn 2021, in the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover and has been blogging about her progress toward that goal.

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