I would love to tell you that The Quantico Kid and I have made great strides toward the Thoroughbred Makeover in the past month, but alas, COVID-19 struck my family … so “Kid” has been making strides with other riders.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, as Kid and I did have a few wonderful rides in June. My coach Holly Gilmore likes to say he is in preschool, and we shouldn’t be asking him to do high school work, but he has at least had some kindergarten moments this month.
We’ve had several lovely trail rides, including one to start the month in which he navigated his first stream crossing in about six months. I didn’t count on him remembering much, but after hesitating, sniffing and thinking about turning around, he splashed right on through. We crossed several more streams on that ride with zero drama. Good boy!
A few days later, we had our “best lesson yet,” according to Holly. Our progress hasn’t exactly been linear, as some days he is in more of a preschool mood than others, but we’re going in the right direction overall. We did a “satellite circles” exercise, which starts with a large circle and involves lots of changes of bend and smaller circles, that we broke down into baby steps for Kid as a green horse.
I’ve done this exercise on many horses (experienced horses don’t need to break it down into so many steps), and it’s wonderful to show where a horse or rider is leaning in, dropping a shoulder, struggling to keep forward momentum or how well the leg aids are working. It’s great for an up or spooky horse, because you are constantly turning, so they never have time for mischief (in theory). For more advanced horses, you can choose which circles to canter, or canter the whole thing with flying changes (boy, I miss my retired horse LJ, who did this so easily!). By the end of the hour, Kid was trotting around like an old pro, stretching down on a long rein.
The next day, I set out for the trip of a lifetime: I went to France for a pandemic-delayed writing workshop that was supposed to happen in 2020. I was thrilled to finally spend a week in a rented château with 20 other writers, eating croissants, discussing writing and working on a novel. My friend Sofia kept Kid going while I was gone, and my intrepid husband took the human kid to Florida by himself to see a rocket launch, which she loved.
Well, when I got home late on Thursday night, reality hit like a ton of bricks. I was kept awake by jet lag and . . . dun dun dun . . . a coughing husband. Sure enough, his rapid COVID-19 test on Friday was positive.
I was desperate to get to the farm and see my horses before we all got sick. I highly doubted I would be contagious after just 12 hours of exposure, so I double checked the barn rules, masked up and headed out for a great ride with friends. We wandered down a muddy trail and found a tiny stream. Our brave leader crossed it happily, but Kid wasn’t quite so sure. I let him stretch down and sniff. He took a huge bite of long grass then leapt the stream like it was 6 feet across instead of 6 inches. As I laughed and held on to my martingale, he celebrated, mouthful of grass smacking his face as he hopped, then calmly walked ahead. Good boy!
After the ride, when I checked my phone, I was met with another stream: texts from my husband, who was struggling to cope with a bad fever and our hyper child. So our true quarantine began. My husband was knocked out in bed for four days, and our daughter was quite sick for two days. Even the poor dog was coughing. I went from only taking care of myself in a castle in France to being a 24/7 temperature-taker, booger-wiper and medicine-dispenser. And as my husband’s fever waned, I got sick myself.
As I write, I’m on my fourth day of a fever and bad cough. My husband, child and dog are all feeling better, but who knows when I’ll be well enough to leave the house. Kid’s former race trainer and co-owner, Suzanne Stettinius, kindly offered to pop on him. She had a great ride, and even jumped a few fences. I can picture Kid’s brain: “Uh oh, the boss is back, I’d better behave.” I am, again, so grateful for my village for helping me to keep this horse going. It’s really special that I got to see Kid race while Suzanne trained him, and that she’s still involved with his transition to a new career.
So, what does this all mean for the Makeover? It’s not looking good. I have a family vacation planned for the second half of this month and, thanks to COVID, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to ride before we leave for that. Let’s not even talk about how I was supposed to be working and making money in these two weeks between trips. I won’t lie: I’m tempted to send my family on without me for a few days so I can ride and work— and I were single and childless, I definitely would. (This is how you know you’re a crazy horse girl: You’re complaining about going to the beach because it means you can’t ride.)
We’re going to have to see how long I stay sick (and how tolerant my husband is) before I make that call. I would miss riding regardless of my Makeover aspirations, but I can’t sacrifice too much family time for my Kentucky hopes. Luckily, I don’t have to be the “primary rider” until after July 31, according to the Makeover rulebook, so it’s possible someone else could keep Kid going, but two weeks of rides is a lot to ask—and pay for. The last day to officially “enter” the Makeover is Aug. 15, and the last day to get a refund if you decide not to go is Sept. 9.
Before COVID hit my family, I told friends that we might be ready to go the Makeover in October, but that I wasn’t sure I’d be ready to make that call by August. Post-illness, I think it will be wiser to skip the Makeover this year and take my time enjoying my horse (and my family). There will be other opportunities to travel to shows—even to Kentucky!—when Kid and I are well-prepared.
I’m not going to make that call while feverish (don’t ask me about the other feverish decisions I’ve made, like the donut delivery with a very large minimum order), but that’s where I stand at the moment. I’ll keep you all posted!
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 hopes to enter her off-the-track Thoroughbred The Quantico Kid, purchased in autumn 2021, in the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover and is blogging about her progress toward that goal.