Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Road To The Makeover: We’re Out Of This Year’s Race

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The deadline for final entries for the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover was this week, specifically at 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 15. That meant it was decision time for me.

One of the difficult things about this unique competition is entering two months in advance, not truly knowing where your green horse will be in his training by the time it happens in October. There is so much that happens in the last two months. 

Although I view the Makeover as relatively similar to any other horse show, from a performance perspective, I appreciate that from an organizational standpoint there are numerous aspects to this competition that I can’t even begin to understand, so this early entry is the only way to make it possible. The Retired Racehorse Project truly makes every effort to set competitors and their horses up for success, and that has been recognized and appreciated by those of us who have been laying down the groundwork and tirelessly preparing our horses and ourselves for the big day in October. 

Trainers enter the Makeover with different objectives. A few enter to win prize money. Some enter for the experience of taking on their first off-the-track Thoroughbred and learning what’s involved in the process of restarting one. Some enter because they’re addicted to Thoroughbreds, and they want to be surrounded by them and their people while sharing a tack stall with a buddy whose stable group is called “Let’s Wine About It”! Some trainers enter for all three of those reasons! 

Instead of heading to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover in October as hoped, “Sam” will be enjoying his pasture and getting rest to allow a suspected muscle strain to heal. Photos Courtesy Of Rosie Napravnik

The Makeover is truly is the #happiesthorseshowonearth. Everybody who is there is just happy to be there, because we’re all in it for the Thoroughbreds. We are a certain type of people, and there is no other place on earth where we can all be in one place to celebrate our victories, small and large. 

If you started your Makeover horse in December (the earliest you can start training under saddle, according to the rules), you’ve gotten over the hump, your horse has become a partner, you’ve transformed his topline, and you’re starting to appreciate how much he’s grown up since that first ride. And still, most of the fast-paced progression lies ahead in those last two months. You’ve spent all these months teaching the basics and forming the all-important foundation that will set your horse up for success wherever he goes. 

Of course, many trainers have started their horses more recently. In 2021 I competed New Mexico, who last ran in July—three months before the Makeover—and those situations happen often enough with the right horses. That’s why we are all obsessed with the breed. They continue to display what some think is not possible. 

For me, 2023 has been laid out with very exciting goals from the beginning. I started this year with two of the most well-bred, drop-dead gorgeous, talented horses I’ve come across. If they had not sustained injuries in their racing careers, the opportunity likely never would have arisen for me to work with Tour Taker (“Hank”) or Sacred Samurai (“Sam”). They rehabbed flawlessly from their racing injuries, setting them up for the possibility of limitless second careers. Their initial training got me out of bed excited every morning, anticipating those two rides every day, and walking back to the barn with stars in my eyes after each ride. 

Nonetheless, on Monday, I officially withdrew both horses from the Makeover. 

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With apologies to the Makeover secretary, I waited until the very last day to make this dreadful decision. I’ll admit: I’ve been in denial. My dreams consisted of multiple blue ribbons and prize money in multiple divisions along with bringing home or selling a Makeover champion.

Finding The Positives

Alas, Sam did not become completely sound after his hip was treated. We explored further and decided there is likely a strain in one of the large gluteal muscles. An MRI could confirm that, if a machine existed that could MRI such a part of the horse. After a suspected diagnosis like this, my first thought always becomes, “These are the facts. What are the positives?” 

Sam is 4. He’s young and talented, and I love every minute I spend with him. I can chuck him out in a field and let him be a horse for as long as is necessary. He’s worth the wait. 

Meanwhile, I’ve reset my goals with him. The goal now is to get Sam sound, and there’s no way around letting that take the time it needs. He will be turned out, and we will continue to provide therapy to give him the most relief in the shortest amount of time. He’ll likely have at least 6 months off. As much as it kills me to see him sit in a field, I can rest easy knowing he’ll already have a foundation underneath him when I restart his training this winter to prepare for the Young Event Horse 5-year-old division. 

A long-term goal will be to show off Sam and Hank, at the YEH Championships in October of 2024. My ultimate mission is to showcase the talent and trainability of Thoroughbreds off the track, who can succeed in all types of equestrian sports. Sam could be my poster child! 

Growing Pains, Saddle Strains

As Hank has transitioned over the past seven months, his ginormous baby body has changed a ton. He is at the point where he’s become such an odd shape that fitting a saddle to him is very challenging. While he has a deceivingly high wither, he also requires a saddle tree wider than most Thoroughbreds—and he continues to fill out, making him even wider. 

After exhausting all options for adjustments in fitting the saddles that I already have, I’ve reached a point where I cannot make him comfortable with my current saddles. Because of my long-term goals with Hank, I’ve decided that investing in a new saddle is my best option. I won’t receive his custom-built Voltaire saddle until October at the earliest, so while we wait I’ve transitioned Hank’s training into only groundwork, which keeps poorly fitting saddles off his back. 

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“Hank” will continue his training on the ground until a custom saddle arrives to accommodate his unique shape.

Although I do believe Hank has the talent and presence to be competitive at the Makeover with little more preparation than the foundation and show experience that he already has, I’m not comfortable doing only groundwork leading up to the event, and assuming his new saddle will arrive in time, which is not a guarantee. 

I am also one of those trainers that enters to win, among all the other fun stuff involved, and I realize that while our planned training regimen will help Hank and be an interesting learning experience for both of us, this late in the game it is likely not a super competitive one. 

Bottom line: Coming down to the wire in making the decision whether to commit to the financial aspect of entering the Makeover, I’ve elected to have a fun and rewarding adventure on the ground with Hank instead of training toward competition day in October. 

So, there are the facts about Hank. What are the positives? I am truly looking forward to expanding my knowledge of groundwork. How creative can I get? What will I learn to put in my toolbox for training future horses? It’s truly about the journey for me. 

It’s About The Journey

When I look back on 2017 me, I must laugh and beg forgiveness from Aztec Brave—the first horse I restarted on my own for the Makeover, who finished 12th of 95 horses in the eventing division that year—because I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to training horses then. Oh, the things I’ve learned from each horse! And that was only six years ago.

I have always been quite an intuitive rider, but bringing that first OTTB along from ride one was quite the humbling and enlightenment experience. “The Thoroughbred is a horseman’s horse,” they said, and that couldn’t be more evident with the horsemanship that I’ve gained with each new horse that comes into my barn. 

In the past six to seven years I’ve grown a lot personally, which has opened doors for me to believe I am capable of things other than just riding. And not only am I now more capable of training a horse, but I’m driven by it in a way that I’m not sure I’d ever want to commit my time to riding one that I haven’t brought along myself. So I think about 2033 me. I bet she’s laughing at me right now, but I look up to her regardless.


Rosie Napravnik is a former jockey who holds multiple riding titles throughout the country, is a two-time winner of the Kentucky Oaks, the only female jockey to win multiple Breeder’s Cup races and the only female to ride in all three Triple Crown races. Retired from racing since 2014, Rosie lives in Simpsonville, Kentucky, with her husband, Joe Sharp, and their three children. Rosie runs a private Thoroughbred rehab and retraining operation, Off-Track Sporthorses, from the family’s Four Ponds Farm. Rosie has also created a boutique lesson program for kids, advocating for kids learning more than what an arena has to offer. 

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