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!