We heard from Mary Roby about her experiences preparing for the Retired Racehorse Project in Part 1 and now we are catching up with her to hear about her time in Kentucky with her horse Indy. Applications are currently open (Through Jan 15th!) and I shared that I will hopefully participating myself this year. So enjoy and cross your fingers to be hearing a whole lot more about this project!
TBR: How was traveling to Kentucky? Do you have any travel or packing tips for anyone wanting to participate next year?
MR: Traveling from Maryland to Kentucky was not too bad considering I was in the car for about 9 hours. I had someone trailer Indy while I drove in my car. The only travel issue was the West Virginia hills because I had so much packed in my car, but we pulled through. Now when it comes to packing in small spaces or vehicles, it is important to use every inch possibly given. Think of all the items as like puzzle pieces. If you are all by yourself without a traveling companion, put your personal items in the front on the floor and drinks and snacks on the front seat. Grab a thermal bag from Walmart to keep your drinks cold. They're like maximum $10 and they are totally worth it! They kept my drinks and food cold for hours while I was on the show grounds. Keep your gas (and possibly toll money) in a separate envelope from your spending money. If you keep it together, you may run out and not have enough money for your travel back home. Using cash at gas stations can sometimes lead to cheaper prices, even a 10 cent difference can go a long way.
TBR: Had you been to the horse park before? What was it like?
MR: So i have never been to the Kentucky Horse Park before! Actually it was my first time in Kentucky in general. This was also my first competition outside of Maryland, so the whole experience leading up to it was nerve racking but exciting all in one jumble. It was a big step up from what I have done in the past and definitely out of my comfort zone.
TBR: How did Indy like being at that facility?
MR: Indy looked rather comfortable on his trip. In the trailer, he traveled with 2 mares which he likes to be around. When we arrived at the show grounds, Indy was a bit awake and kind of looking around intently. He wasn't freaking out or spooky or anything like that; he was just a little more aware of his surroundings. I don't blame him; it was only his second show ever and with over 500 horses, I would be a little on the cautious side as well. Once I had his stall set up and had him situated, Indy settled right in and ate his hay. For the rest of the weekend he acted like an old pro and calmed down immensely. He would nicker for his food and that was it. Even if the other horses were screaming their lungs off, he would just munch on his hay or grass if I was walking him around. Many people and competitors were extremely impressed with his attitude and almost never believed me when I told them he was only 4. They all believed he was older in age and had more show experience because of his good manners. Indy was literally wise beyond his years.
TBR: How did your hunter round go?
MR: The hunter rounds were very inviting. Before I started eventing, I did hunters in 4H for nearly 10 years. The jump courses were pretty standard course designs. We competed in the 2'6" height which Indy took really well. I think if we tried to go smaller (like I originally was planning) he would have been bored out of his mind. Indy did really enjoy jumping the hunter fences. I think they were very inviting for him compared to the crazy color fences for show jumping. If I had focused my training for hunters, I believe we would have performed much better than we actually did. Sadly I did not get a good rhythm going for his canter, I just could not get a good feeling for it so there were a couple of bad takeoff spots which resulted in a rail coming down for each course. However Indy did get basically all of his lead changes when I asked for them, and his flat class was near picture perfect. He was very fluid and consistent and just so lovely to ride for his flat class.
TBR: How did your eventing go?
MR: Indy was absolutely fabulous for eventing! If I had to go back and changed our ride, I would not want him to change anything. I, however, was just a complete basket case. To start, my ankle and calf were in excruciating pain, and I almost scratched from riding but didn't want to let Indy down so I continued. Second, I memorized the wrong dressage test for our beginner novice level. Ugh I could not believe my terrible rookie mistake. On the bright side, the judge did tell me the correct test and allowed me a do-over, with a fault of 2 points but better than elimination. Glad I was early and went 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
Cross country I knew was going to be our biggest challenge as Indy had never done a real cross country run; we had only done schooling and no events before Kentucky. Warm up for him went really well to start; Indy was forward going and enjoyed going over the bigger fences. When I tried to warm him up with a small log, he stopped and almost looked at it like "what is this, mom? It's too small" but eventually he went over and then got to play with the bigger fences. When I had walked the xc course the day before, I was going through a plan in my head (which never goes according to plan let me tell you). The first 2 fences were pretty uncomplicated and quite inviting to ride. I knew the first challenge was going to be fence 3, which was maxed out in height and in width, plus it was down a slope, so I knew horses were going to be sliding into it. It had rained the night before and some the morning of our ride and then we went at 4 pm so many horses rode the ground before us. So alas, Indy was not a fan of the weird footing before the jump. Obviously studs would help, but for beginner novice, I try not to use; it's a learning experience. Indy stopped twice at fence 3, and then I pulled him up once as we were not going at a fast enough speed, and I knew we would practically land on the fence. So we finally get over the fence after the fourth try and then galloped off to fence 4 and 5 which were superb! Our second little hiccup was at fence 6 where we had a half coffin; aka a ditch to a chicken coop fence two strides out. Now Indy is not a ditchy horse, he doesn't care about them at all and just goes over with no hesitation. However on our run, the ditch was filled with rocks, and that threw Indy off. I knew I should had brought him back to a trot, but I just kept going at the hand gallop. He stopped at the ditch and just went "that's not supposed to be there!" and I'm like great..... Now please go over it! He went over with a little bit of enthusiasm, and we continued on to the coop and then to fence 7 no problem! Getting to the water Indy was just slightly hesitant to go in. First time going to water not a big deal, but with a little bit of extra leg and Indy went right in the water and went over the bush fence after. I tried to be over enthusiastic and tried to do the bank out of the water but Indy didn't understand what I was asking so I made a sharp turn to the left to the bush jump and he just went. Oh the things that boy goes through with me as his rider.... Fence 9 was smooth sailing. In between fence 9 and 10 we were to ask for a free gallop; Indy went with it like he was born to do. However we had a little bit too much fun galloping that when it was time to come back for fence 10, we just did not make it in time and sadly had only one refusal. For fence 11 I decided to have him go down the bank that was used for novice instead of jumping the fence for beginner novice. I knew that Indy was comfortable with down banks, and goes down with great enthusiasm. Plus the fence was in a blindspot with tree seeds sitting in the ground on both the takeoff and the landing, so that was a no go. Just as I suspected, I took Indy up, let him see the bank, and off he went! The last fence was a nice fruit stand looking jump that seemed a little small for our last fence, but Indy locked on it and just went for it to top off our run! Honestly I was quite pleased with Indy on our cross country run. I wish I had set him up a little bit more properly to a few of the fences.
So for the Retired Racehorse Project, show jumping ran after cross country, which in most (if not all) lower level events, it is the opposite. So I knew Indy was running out of steam after that exuberant xc run. We did a couple of show jumping warm-up fences thanks to a friend's mother for helping us out. Now Indy had a slight weakness in show jumping; he used to pop his shoulder to the right and would run out to the side. When we schooled the fences on Wednesday, it was not a pretty sight for us, refusing at almost every single fence. And with me being left handed and my right leg hurting, my right aids were not very strong to help keep a wall up and to guide Indy forward. However, when we went in and started our show jump course, there was absolutely no hesitation from Indy whatsoever. I was shocked! Indy didn't even consider refusing. My mind just stopped thinking and did a huge happy dance so we just kept going. I jumped fence 1 through 4 and then I went around the arena and jumped two more fences and realized I had just jumped fences 7 and 8, and I forgot to jump fences 5 and 6..... Ugh! For the first time in the 10 years that I had been competing, I went off course. So I went up to the judge and the conversation went like this....
Judge: "Well you know you went off course"
Judge: "You know you're not going to get a score"
Judge: "Feel free to school the rest of the course while you're here"
So I went to fence 5 and 6 that I originally missed and then did 7 and 8 again, and finished off with fences 9 and 10. Even though I messed us up big time, I started crying happy tears in the end just because I was so ecstatic of Indy for behaving and not trying to refuse out like we did a couple days before. Overall, I was very disappointed in my ride and in myself. I could not believe that I had messed up so much before. If it wasn't for my mistakes, Indy could have earned maybe an extra 20-25 points and would have placed a lot higher than he did for the weekend. Indy again was just an absolute star! He is truly a great all around horse that could do anything his rider would want to do. I do hope that Indy does get placed in a home soon that will give him the opportunity to shine in the show season coming 2019.
TBR: Do you plan on participating again?
MR: Yes I absolutely do plan on competing again next year! I hope to do eventing and freestyle next year as my two disciplines. I already have a new project in mind and I think she will definitely be my redemption horse for next year. If my plans go accordingly, our freestyle will mainly be me riding while also tossing my flag around, as I was in the color guard in high school. Plus I talked a friend of mine to do it with me so that mean traveling buddy!
TBR: What advice would you give someone wanting to participate for the first time?
MR: If you plan on ever competing in the inspiring and overwhelming event, GO WITH SOMEONE! The hardest part of the event was literally being all by myself. Everyone else that I had met up with had a friend, a parent, a significant other, you get the idea. And with being basically 500 miles away from home, there were a couple of moments where I did feel alone. Thankfully I talked a friend into coming with me next year, so I am covered now. Also grab your thoroughbred project early in the year! For your horse to stay eligible, you are allowed 15 rides before December 1. Even if you don't get your horse before December, get it asap, do your ground work, and take lessons with a trainer. Even if you are a professional, take lessons and learn and develop your skills. And don't try to get your horse to a show a month before competing in Kentucky. Try to get as much show experience as possible.
Retraining a thoroughbred is not always as easy as some people make it look. When posting on social media, everyone tells all the positives lesson and outcomes of training; they rarely post about all the downfalls, the "two-steps back" moments, and the tears that are shed. But in the end it is all about the journey and the showing off one of the best breed of horses in the world.
Remember, the makeover is not the end, it is just the beginning of a great and powerful partnership!
Right now there are hundreds of horses and riders flooding Kentucky. Those horses are all retired racehorses and those riders have taken them from the track and in a total of ten months brought them to the Retired Racehorse Project to show off their new careers. Today we got to talk to one of those ambitious riders and learn about the process leading up to this weekend!
TBR: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
MR: My name is Mary Roby. I am 23 years old and I've been riding since I was 6 years of age. I live in Woodbine MD. I am a full time waitress at an Italian restaurant and I'm in school to get my bachelor's degree in marketing. I've been around horses my entire life as my grandfather was a racehorse trainer and lived on my family farm until I was 12. Other than horses, my activities include running, hiking, going to the gym, photography, and sketching.
TBR: What made you want to participate in the RRP?
MR: I have wanted to do the retired racehorse project for a couple of years now after watching some of my friends do it in the past, but the time wasn't right and the funds weren't there. I got a great opportunity this year with having a better job and an amazing horse to do it all with. Plus I wanted to do something that not many of my Maryland friends have done, nor I have done anything like this. I've never finished outside of Maryland, especially at a big event like this. It's a risk I've been wanting to take.
TBR: What were you looking for in an OTTB?
MR: When I was looking at thoroughbreds, I wanted a horse on the younger side, preferably gelding at that time (although now I've come to realize how much I miss mares 😂). I wanted a horse with a pretty nice trot and an expressive demeanor. I wanted something that I believe would be good to train that could easily find a new home when the time comes.
TBR: What drew you to Indy as the right horse?
MR: Indian song was a horse a friend on Facebook was posting for sale for a couple months and I followed her posts about him. There was just something about the look in his eyes that gave me an impression; they just posed confidence. I just knew there was something great about him. He was 3 years old at the time and definitely butt high. However in his free lunging video, even though the ground was either sloppy or frozen, he had a pretty floaty trot and there was so much potential for more with growth and training. When I test rode him, we were in an arena that was new to him and had small stalls with ponies in the stalls inside the arena. Now with him being only 3 and only a couple months off the track, I was thinking that he would spook at them or take off possibly, but he didn't do anything. He was forward and willing to work, always wanting to please. Then I hopped on him and rode his flatwork and just thought to myself "I have got to get this horse to my barn."
TBR: Tell us a little bit about Indy
MR: Indian song aka Indy is a 4 year old Thoroughbred gelding who ran only 8 times, mostly at Delaware Park. He won 1 race, 1 place, and 3 shows, and earned a total of $25,550. He is by Macleans Music out of Toy Indian who is by Indian Charlie. Indian Charlie is known for throwing some amazing jumper sport horses and eventing horses, one of the reasons why I was so willing to work with Indy. However breeding isn't always everything.
TBR: When did you get him and what have the first few months off the track been like?
MR: I started training Indy back in March. Things were off to a bit of a rocky start which is to be expected when Thoroughbreds are driving over from track like to farm life; he didn't know personal space, wouldn't stand properly at the mounting block, and for our first few rides I couldn't for the life of me get him to canter on his right lead. We worked for weeks on the ground with learning about space and standing still, moving where I tell him to move, and to stand quietly at the mounting block. Then once his ground work improved, I got back in the saddle and worked on his flat work extensively. It was a struggle trying to get this spider leg of a horse to go around without flailing but it happened! No matter what direction Indy decides he wanted to go, I wanted him to have the proper flatwork foundation. Now we continue with his dressage and are including jumps and slowly with lead changes which he can get on his own sometimes.
TBR: What is his biggest strength?
MR: Even though Indy is getting better under saddle, and has overcome difficulties and struggles under saddle, I would say his biggest strength would be his ground manners. He stands so quietly at the cross ties and will now move where you want him to. He enjoys being pampered and groomed, he'll do anything for a scratch. He'll stand in the barn all by himself with no other buddy around and will just munch on his hay and not make a sound.
However if I had to pick his best strength under saddle, it would be his canter work. He is now getting a great canter that can easily be adjusted for anything. He's able to extend for a longer reach for hunters or come back to a more round canter for dressage.
TBR: Biggest weakness?
MR: Indy is not the most confident horse when he is out on trails. He gets a bit anxious if he's all by himself on the trails. He's been improving with the more mileage he covers, I have been trying to go more with buddies than just by himself. With him only being 4, I do believe without a doubt he'll improve with more mileage.
TBR: What discipline(s) will you compete in for the RRP?
MR: We will be competing in the 2'6" hunters Thursday morning and the beginner novice (2'7") eventing Friday afternoon.
It will only be his second show that he is competing in due to all the rain we've received this summer and the month of September alone. We had 3 shows cancel due to rain. Thankfully we've been schooling some 3' fences at home and he doesn't bat an eye.
TBR: What do you hope to accomplish in the last few months before heading to Kentucky?
MR: I hope to accomplish a better relationship with Indy as we grow. With him being for sale, I don't know how long I'll have him for but I hope that we keep going and develop and get as much experience together as possible.
He has given me great confidence in jumping again which I could never repay him back for. It's been a long time since I've jumped so well with so much confidence and no anxiety. It's a great feeling to have a horse that will keep going, even if the rider shuts down.
I'm so excited about this interview! Today we are sitting down with Tonya Johnston a mental skills coach who helps riders overcome fears and hangups in the saddle. Her book, Inside Your Ride, is filled with practical tips to help you feel more confident. Read below about what her unique job is like!
TBR: What is your job title?
TJ: I have a master's degree in applied sport psychology, and I am a Mental Skills Coach.
TBR: Describe your position and your average workday.
TJ: I help riders develop their mental skills in order to be prepared, consistent and confident when they go in the ring. I have sessions with clients all over the country, Canada and Europe via FaceTime, Skype and phone. In a typical work day I may have sessions with clients, return emails, reply to Facebook and Instagram messages, work on writing projects, plan and organize my podcast tapings, book workshops with private barns and teams, write and review client notes, read magazines/articles/publications/books to stay current in equestrian sport and sport psychology, prepare for workshops or speaking engagements, talk to prospective clients on the phone and more. There is always a lot to do and each day is different depending on what is coming up in my calendar -- I love it!
TBR: What is the best part of your job?
TJ: I really adore everything about my job. I know it’s a cliché but it truly never feels like work. When I see and hear clients have an "ah-ha" moment or tell me a story from a recent show where they experienced the benefits of their mental skills I get so excited! It's fun to be on so many different teams and feel that my work spreads out into the world through such a great variety of people. Some of my favorite stories from clients revolve around them deepening their commitment to their process, and trusting that their competition results will then take care of themselves.
Also, when a client tells me they are enjoying their horses more, feeling confident and having fun it is absolutely the best!
TBR: What is the hardest/least desirable part of your job?
TJ: I am able work with clients all over world from my office which is phenomenal, but I need to get a treadmill desk - I honestly sit too much!
TBR: How many hours a week do you spend working? What is the work/life balance like?
TJ: There are weeks I work every day of the week for sure -- a blend of writing, client appointments, notes, emails, talking to parents, etc. but I think that is true for anyone that owns their own business. The great part is that I set my own schedule and so I can carve out family time and time to ride and show myself.
TBR: What advice would you give to someone wanting to do this job?
TJ: I come from a true sport psychology background, with my undergraduate degree in psychology and a master's degree in sport psychology. I really recommend getting an advanced degree that not only gets you a solid education in the field but also provides lots of supervised, applied experiences working with athletes. You want to understand the theory and research behind the performance skills you teach in order to be truly effective.
TBR: What is the range of pay for this position?
TJ: The pay range is wide because this isn't the type of job you can apply for - you have to build it from the ground up. You can expect to need a variety of income streams when you are just starting out.
TBR: What are 3 things you would want someone applying for this job to know?
TJ: Well, first of all - you can’t really apply for this job; you have to have the passion, strength and tenacity to build your business yourself. However, sport psychology has come a very long way since I started my practice in 1993. People understand that working on your mental game is essential and athletes are much more open about using mental skills coaches than they were back then. Therefore, you will find that riders are quite receptive and interested in your work which will be encouraging as you get started.
Have faith in yourself, it takes time to build your business but you can do it.
This can be hard to grasp at first but it is a positive when your clients don’t need you anymore! Your ultimate goal is to empower them to understand themselves and how they can best support their own riding goals. There is no room for ego in this profession. Never forget that it is all about your clients; it’s not about you. It can make promoting your business and marketing a bit challenging, but if you keep doing quality work people will find you.
Imagine traveling half way around the country, driving through three countries and arriving at the World Cup Finals in Paris, France. To many this sounds like an amazing journey, and for Sarah Hickey this was her trip. The Barn Rat was able to catch up with Sarah who groomed for second place finisher Devin Ryan and his ride Eddie Blue.
TBR: How did you start working for Devin?
Sarah Hickey: "I've known Devin for the past 11 years. I started riding with Devin when I was 16 and brought up two young ones with him. I worked for him in and out of college so we've always had a great relationship. He called me up in January, he didn't have anyone to go to Ocala with him. So I spent February and March down there with him and when he qualified for Paris he invited me to come along.
TBR: How was prepping to go to Paris?
SH: We got home from Ocala the end of March and for the next week Devin rode Eddie. Then, Eddie and I left his farm April 4th and Eddie was in my hands from then on. I flew with him, we went to the arc in JFK and we waited there for a few hours. I flew with him to Amsterdam, when we landed we had to wait and go through customs. And then we took a lorry to a farm in Holland, we went to Allan Waldman's farm, Waldman Horses, for a couple days. From Wednesday to Monday morning we were there. Monday morning we took another lorry, it was a six and a half our trip to Paris to get to the horse show. Schooling was Tuesday and the warm up round was Wednesday.
TBR: What was grooming for an FEI event like? Had you done that before?
SH: So I was totally excited for Paris, this was my first big FEI competition that I had done. I had some experience going to Live Oak in Ocala and that was really it. So when I talked to Devin, he said it's just another horse show. For Devin it was just another show, but for me I really had to make sure I had my stuff together and be on my A game. When we got to Paris it was like nothing I'd ever experienced. We were stabled with US team, so you have Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Richard Spooner, they were all in the same aisle as us. And there was a great level of professionalism everyone got along, we all just knew what we had to do and got it done. It was very different from a regular horse show when you are dealing with clients. This was totally different level, which was really exciting for me and a lot of fun and I learned a lot and I got to talk to the other grooms.
TBR: How was dealing with FEI? Were there any additional hoops you had to go through that you don't at a regular horse show?
SH: There was definitely security, you had to go through security any time you left the stabling area, so you had to have your credentials on you 24/7. There were rules that I wasn't aware of until I got there having not been in the FEI world before and not knowing but it didn't feel like there were too many hoops to jump through. You just had to be on top of your game and detailed oriented, there were always FEI stewards walking up and down the aisles making sure nothing was going on. Of course, nothing ever was but before Eddie left to go compete and they would hold up a heat sensor cameras to his legs to make sure they weren't too hot or too cold. To me it was just fun, like "cool, what are you guys doing? what do you need from me?"
TBR: The warm up class was Wednesday, what days and classes did Devin and Eddie show?
SH: So Devin's plan for the warm up was to do the first five jumps if Eddie was feeling good, or if he wasn't really behaving he would complete the course. So he did well and only did the first five jumps on Wednesday and Thursday was the first round of the final. He came in third. Friday was round two, and he got a time fault and did not continue to the jump off. Saturday was a day off and Devin just hacked Eddie around to school. And Sunday was the final with two rounds each. Eddie was great and never had a rail the whole time, what I think set them back was that one fault. For Devin's first World Cup Finals ever and Eddie's first international show at nine years old I don't think you could ask for that horse to perform any better.
TBR: So, what is Eddie Blue's personality like?
SH: I'd be lying if I said he was the easiest horse to work with. He is a bit snarkey. If he didn't like what you were doing he would maybe try and nip you. He's not a fan of his ears being clipped or when you have to braid up by his ears. But, after two weeks of taking care of his every need I really got to know him and I love him. I would groom for him again anytime.
TBR: Was there anything unexpected that happened or a time where things didn't go as planned?
SH: So the braiding would definitely be one of them. I had braided a little before but then I get this job where he has to be braided every day and I was worried he would look terrible going in to the World Cup Finals. By Sunday his braids looked great!
One of the other things I wasn't expecting was to develop really good relationships with the other grooms. They have all become really good friends now. At any point in time I could reach out and ask questions. I grew closest to Jamie Barge's groom Sarah Griffen, we did everything together. Without those relationships I think it wouldn't have been as much fun.
TBR: If anyone wanted to be a groom, FEI or just in general, what advice would give someone wanting that job?
SH: Right off the bat I would say you need to be 110% devoted to the horses. Most horse people understand that it is long days, but I don't think you truly understand a long day until you've been at a horse show for ten straight weeks. Or being at these FEI competitions were the rounds don't start until 8pm at night. You are devoting endless hours of your day. You have to want to love it and want to be in the barn doting on these horses and just be there for them. I was the constant person for Eddie, and that made it worth it to me. The relationship that we built made those long hours worth it for me. Everything else will fall in to place, if you really into it and love it, being organized and detailed oriented, that will sort of fall into place.
Devin Ryan owns River Run Stables in Long Valley, NJ.
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