Thoroughbred Makeover Diaries Presented By Excel Equine: The Difference Between Picture Perfect And Real Life With An OTTB

I used to love watching TV shows about buying houses.

(Just curious, did you read that last sentence as “houses” or “horses”?)

Then, I bought my first house.

Television: After the most adorable agony over which of the three amazing options they’ve looked at would be their dream home, the hopeful couple chooses one. The show goes to commercial break. The show returns with a voiceover from the couple explaining, “The house was listed at $200,000.  We offered $140,000…and they accepted!  Now, two months later, life couldn’t be better. This has been a dream come true.”

Real Life: What television glossed over during that last commercial break involved the harsh realities, setbacks, and frustrations that come with buying a home. 

I’ve learned this is also true for buying horses.

(Just curious, did you read that last sentence as “horses” or “houses”?)

Social media posts about owning horses tend to read like the house-buying TV shows.  There’s even a website called Dream Horse that lists horses for sale.

Although I logically knew there’s a difference between the dream and real life, I couldn’t help but indulge in the dream scenario when I bought my 2016 OTTB bay filly Cubbie Girl North through a trainer listing with CANTER Illinois. I’ve announced the TCA Thoroughbred Makeover presented by Retired Racehorse Project since its first year at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2015 and started dreaming about what it would be like to compete in addition to broadcast.

Cubbie arrived to our farm in Colorado from Fairmount Park on July 16, 2019.  She had seven weeks off to acclimate to life off the track, including new shoes, new feed, and getting used to living in a pasture at altitude. We got to know each other on the ground.

On September 9, 2019, I pulled Cubbie out of her pasture and tacked her up to ride for the first time, convinced that this would be our first step on the road to a ribbon at the Thoroughbred Makeover.

Cubbie and I on our second ride off the track…because the first ride didn’t go so well.
Photo by Ashley Gubich

I put all the pieces in place like they do on the house-buying TV shows. I wore a fancy shirt, clean show breeches, and my show helmet so I’d look good in pictures and social media posts.  I imagined how this first ride would play out, and I went into la la land about how this first ride would make or break the next year of training for the Thoroughbred Makeover.

So, I got my dream horse all tacked up and ready for our made-for-Paulick-Report moment.  Can you guess how the first ride went?

Awful. And, it had nothing to do with the horse. She understandably didn’t quite know what was being asked of her but was willing to move forward.

“Relax,” my trainer and fiancé, Ashley, said.  “Relax.  Relax.  Relax.”

Now Ashley and was getting annoyed and rightfully so.

“What are you doing?  It’s like you’ve forgotten how to ride,” she admonished me.

Now Cubbie was getting annoyed and rightfully so.

Everything was ruined — but only for the dream TV show. I got back to real life the next day and kept my head in the game during the second ride on Cubbie. I wore what I normally ride in, a t-shirt and schooling helmet, and managed to have a normal ride for a horse right off the track.

The difference was how I reacted to the moment.  During the first ride, I had expectations that Cubbie was an already-proven dressage horse, hoping that she would know how to relax, give to the bit, and respond to leg cues. Those are incredibly unrealistic goals for a young 3-year-old filly that had mostly been asked to run at full speed when ridden on the track, but it’s exactly what you’d hope for if you’re riding for a perfect social media post.

During the second ride, I adapted to what Cubbie was doing and capable of in that moment, not riding her for moments I was hoping for a year away. We primarily walked and did a brief trot. I kept it simple. The goal was to have a relaxed horse at the end. We accomplished that. It was a big win.

It was also boring, but boring is an incredible goal to achieve in those first few rides off the track.

This scenario has repeated itself in the months since. Whenever I zone out on the dream scenario, it doesn’t take into account the obstacles that come with riding, especially on a young OTTB.  While positive visualization can have its benefits, preparing for only perfection doesn’t allow for adapting to obstacles.  When I’m open to and accept the obstacles, I’m pleasantly surprised by the progress.

“One of the things that my swimmers hate hearing me say is, ‘You know, it takes what it takes.  You don’t get to make up what it takes,” Bob Bowman, the swim coach for Olympic legend Michael Phelps and also an owner of race and sport horses, said in an episode called “Don’t Accentuate the Positive” for the podcast The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos.

“What it takes” in real life challenges the made-for-social-media dreams but eventually makes the final result more rewarding than if it all came naturally.

“Often it feels easier to put on our rose-colored glasses and ignore the challenges ahead,” host Dr. Laurie Santos said at the end of the podcast.  “That’s not the way we become our best selves. […] The good news is that once we face the obstacles head on, our minds give us the power to harness the automatic energy that comes from mental contrasting and planning.”

From that first ride, I’ve learned some valuable lessons going forward about getting an OTTB to relax and how that should be an important foundation to build. My relaxation encourages the horse’s relaxation. My relaxation comes from managing expectations and accepting that a young horse off the track will throw some curveballs my way. It’s kind of like taking a kid to a museum for the first time. Sure, there will be questions of “Why am I doing this?” and “What am I supposed to do?”  That’s because this is a whole new world.  We may cause a scene or two or a hundred, but the hope is that we can learn from experiencing all that’s out there together.

Don’t try to see all the museum on the first trip just to say you did. Find a positive to take away from each visit.  Be adjustable in finding what that positive takeaway will be in each ride. For example, in a lesson where I may have the goal of establishing relaxation at the walk and trot, I’ve just stuck with the walk if it’s going especially well from the start. I’ve embraced allowing Cubbie to teach me what works for her in the early rides as much as I try to teach Cubbie glimpses of what our ultimate goals are.

Does it always go the way we want when working with horses? Only on days that don’t end with “y.”  So, what really lies ahead on my journey to the Thoroughbred Makeover?  Hard work, setbacks, and, when it boils down to it, real life.

The post Thoroughbred Makeover Diaries Presented By Excel Equine: The Difference Between Picture Perfect And Real Life With An OTTB appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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