Most of us hope that at some point in our equestrian careers we are blessed with that ‘horse of a lifetime’ or ‘heart horse’. I was very lucky to meet that horse at 16. I was a junior in high school, he was a lightly restarted 8-year-old off the track Thoroughbred, and we were best buddies. Fast forward 21 years and he is still one of the best things in my life. Monty, known to The Jockey Club as Mimi’s Boy and the horse shows as The Full Monty, has accompanied me on all kinds of adventures. We have competed all over the mid-Atlantic, spent thousands of hours exploring the trails, gone on camping trips, marched in parades, participated in historic reenactments, and had long meaningful conversations about life.
Along the way my father took up riding and Monty has partnered with him to several year-end series championships and in 2019 they became pair #380 nationwide to join The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club. In one word Monty is amazing. In the fall on 2019, while laying awake at 3am due to jetlag from returning from Australia, I started thinking about Monty’s show season plan for 2020. He had just been awarded the overall series championship for a pleasure division with myself and the reserve championship in another division with my father at the local Black-Eyed Susan Show Series. Pretty impressive for 29! For 2020, and at 30 years old, I was thinking he needed to step back and only compete in one division…with my father. If this was the case I needed another mount…another project…Monty needed a younger ‘brother’.
Now began the challenging task of finding my next partner. I told my barn owners (this new horse was going to need a place to live), I told my vet, I told my farrier, I told my friends. The more I told people the more excited I got. I knew I wanted another off the track Thoroughbred but how to pick the ‘right’ one? I browsed thru the listings of places like CANTER, New Vocations, Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue, the Makers Mark Secretariat Center, Re-Run, the list goes on and on. The options were almost overwhelming. Associated with so many of the listings was a line that read “RRP Eligible”. Upon some further investigation, I came to find out this was referring to the Retired Racehorse Project’s (RRP) Thoroughbred Makeover. An annual competition highlighting the versatility of the OTTB. If you are not familiar with the TB Makeover the quick version is trainers (a term used to describe the exhibitor of the horse. Trainers can be amateurs, juniors or professionals) have 10 months to train a horse from the track to a new career. A prospective mount must be registered with The Jockey Club, have run a race or published work on the track within the 18 months before the competition (July 1, 2018) and not have had more than 15 rides/training sessions prior to December 1 of the year prior to the event. The Makeover has 10 disciplines to choose from. The familiar options like show hunters, eventing, dressage, show jumping, fox hunting and then others like polo, ranch work, barrel racing, competitive trail and more open ended ‘freestyle’. I like goals and adventures. This competition sounded like the perfect ‘year one goal’ for Monty’s future brother.
At some point in the process I was referred to Jessica Redman’s Benchmark Sporthorses. She had just been awarded recognition at the 2019 Makeover for her work rehoming OTTB’s and had a reputation for having quality horses. After browsing her website…for weeks! One listing stood out to me. He was a 2016, 16 hand, dark bay gelding named Grand Central who had a less than stellar racing career. I contacted Jessica, recruited a friend, and hit the road to Delaware to meet him. I smiled the minute I sat on him. Pending the review of a vet he was coming home with me. On October 30, 2019, the Washington Nationals won the World Series…and I bought Grand Central.
We spent the month of November getting to know each other. I named him Dillon. We would go on ‘trail walks’ around the farm with my father and Monty. We counted our rides and got introduced to things like ground poles, other horses going in different directions AND at different gates, going on trail rides, and riding in the indoor. December 1 rolled around and it was GAME ON for training for the Makeover. Nothing really changed but I got to stop counting my rides. I officially applied to be a trainer for 2020. It involved filling out an application about my riding and training experience and submitting a 3-minute video of my riding. Acceptances would be announced on February 15, 2020. Spoiler alert: I got accepted!
Winter continued and we continued working on all sorts of exciting things. Accepting contact, trotting straight, trotting in a circle, cantering, cantering to the right, trotting over ground poles, cross rails, how to be a good amateur horse and stand in the crossties while I have conversations with my barn mates, and most importantly treats! Apples, carrots, peppermints, the world is so full of exciting treats for a young off the track horse.
Early February a friend and I decided it would be fun to take Dillon and her horse, Diesel, to a horse show. We entered the Baby Green Division. The first class was a walk class, I had never entered a walk class. Dillon walked in like an old pro and won! He went on to win several classes and earned Champion of the division. We were off to a great start! I started planning Dillon’s path to the Makeover. We would start with a pleasure division at the local Black-Eyed Susan Series in Maryland, get comfortable with the show atmosphere, move up to the 2’ Green Hunters when we were ready, and then be prepared for the 2’6” Show Hunter division at the Makeover in October at the Kentucky Horse Park.
It is currently April and everything has been in an unknown state of quarantine and stay at home orders. Horse shows have been canceled. My job has been canceled. Non-essential businesses and services are closed. At the current time the Makeover is still on as planned and we are still planning on attending. I will readjust Dillon’s training and plan as needed but in the meantime he is enjoying the spring grass as it comes in, mud puddles, and (I hope) being a riding horse vs a race horse.
To learn more about the Retired Racehorse Project: https://www.retiredracehorseproject.org
About the Author: Erica is an adult amateur living in Virginia. When not working as a tour guide in Washington DC educating students from around the country, you can find her at the barn with Monty and Dillon. Dillon is the 4th Thoroughbred her family has had the pleasure to own. To follow along with Dillon (and Monty) as they get ready for the Makeover, be sure to follow them on Instagram at @ericamwc04!