Renegade Champion

I love reading about horses who are unlikely champions, and the people who love them. More often than not those horses are Thoroughbreds and their people are women, and I think that anyone of us who never grew out of the horse-crazy girl stage can relate to Jane Pohl, the subject of the book Renegade Champion: The Unlikely Rise of Fitzrada.

I’ve written a full book review of this must-read over at the Retired Racehorse blog. Check it out!

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Redefining the OTTB conversation

I just spent a good chunk of the evening catching up on the trainer’s blogs over at the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge. Awesome way to spend an evening, right?

What I love most about the trainer challenge is that it’s incredibly straightforward and really speaks to what these horses can do.  We learn about the process of transitioning a horse from the track to a new career. There’s no fluff, just a straightforward examination of an individual Thoroughbred’s strengths, weaknesses and abilities.

How refreshing. It seems as though the conversation is changing somehow; that we’re moving away from the note of surprise in success stories about Thoroughbreds. Up until now they mostly seem to follow the theme of the warrior overcoming adversity and coming out on the other side, triumphant.

I’m glad that these stories exist. I gobble each and every OTTB story out there because hey, they prove my point, Thoroughbreds are awesome. The conversation so far has helped raise awareness of the value of OTTBs, leading us to be on the precipice of really making an impact in Thoroughbred aftercare. But I can’t help but think that by framing the conversations in this manner we’re doing a huge disservice to the breed in the long term.

Unfortunately we’ve all dealt with the very real problem of horses shipped directly to the kill pen, of horses having to be bailed and of broken down horses dumped on people. Hopefully, we’ll hear that story less and less with more attention paid to aftercare and with more human connections realizing the value in working with some of the many organizations out there.

What’s frustrating is that more often than not, that sense of desperation of the rescued Thoroughbred seems to fall on their not-so-desperate counterparts. And it’s clear that as long as that perception is around, more often than not the response from people who aren’t familiar with racing or the Thoroughbred as a breed will have their first thought of a Thoroughbred be a passive: “Oh, poor dears, we need to save them and MAYBE we’ll get a good horse out of it.” I want to hear a straightforward: “I’m looking for an excellent prospect, let’s see what’s available out there on a Thoroughbred retirement site.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a horse successfully transitioned off of the track into a new career. The horse world shouldn’t be shocked—shocked!—that a Thoroughbred is a beginner horse, or doing dressage, or galloping a cross country course, or adapting well as an “A” circuit hunter. The right reaction to these stories should be one that champions of the breed are already familiar with:  “Well, OF COURSE he was out showing a month after he left the track, he’s a Thoroughbred. Duh.” These horses are smart, athletic and noble—and for centuries have been the representation of speed, grace and power. Let’s honor that. Instead of the shock of success let’s see the thrill of expectations being met.

We’re well on our way to making this a fabulous year for the OTTB. To accomplish that we’ll need to see more industry support for aftercare, more trainers retiring their horses when they are sound enough for a viable career afterwards and more work on a whole host of other initiatives.  But it’s really up to those closest to the cause to start redefining the tone of the conversation.

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More TBs please!

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how to better market TBs to the show horse crowd; to get them to the point of popularity as an all-around sport horse that they used to be 15-20 years ago. It’s a point that keeps coming up again and again; if we increase the demand for TBs once they’re done racing, we really start to take a big bite out of the after care problems the industry faces.

There was a forum recently held by the United States Equestrian Federation to discuss the problems the sport of show jumping faces in this country; from the very first article that was published by The Chronicle of the Horse on the issue my response was: “Simple, needs more TBs”.  Natalie at Retired Racehorse wrote this awesome post yesterday commenting on part three of the series.  Again, the refrain; “Simple, needs more TBs”.

A link to the story on the CANTER NE Facebook page spurred a lot of discussion; many people heralding the benefits of a TB; their intelligence, their athleticism, their heart. And there among the compliments were also the myths “I’ve heard they’re too hot.” “TBs are harder to ride.” “They’re too fragile.” But, again and again, the comments come back to a hearty and emphatic “YES. We need more TBs in the sport horse world.”

So, hundreds of TB enthusiasts can’t be wrong, right? No less than George Morris (love him or hate him, he’s a force) in his typical no nonsense fashion says that the American Thoroughbred is the greatest sport horse in the world. So…why haven’t we seen an increase in popularity of the TB? Why do these negative generalizations so stubbornly persist? Why are people spending thousands of dollars on rejects from other countries?

All the retirement groups, blogs, etc. are preaching to the choir. Of course our followers and readers are going to say “YES. More TBs please.” But, here’s the rub: how do we reach everyone else? How do we shout to the rooftops “Slavish followers of George Morris buy a TB because your leader says so!!!!!!” Have we lost an entire generation of horse folks to the Warmblood; can we get them back?  I know there are plenty of influential trainers out there who love the Thoroughbred, who lament the influence of European horses in our show rings. But they have businesses to run, and need to give their customers what they want; I can’t fault them for that. How do we change what those customers want?

Natalie has since posted a follow up “Suggestion Box” post, and I can’t wait to hear everyone’s ideas on spurring the retirement movement in racing. Mine? There are so many people with the same idea of increasing the demand for TBs after they’re done racing; let’s get them all together.

  • Establish a task with the most influential people we can get in the sport horse world. Leadership is critical here. Get the USEF involved.
  • More support for retirement organizations to form stronger retraining programs.
  • Ask the racing industry to be a part of that task force. Yes, its main business is racing, as it should be. But these TBs have so much potential after they’re done racing. Let’s teach the racing community about the jobs these horses can do. Let’s make the lines of communication better between the race track and the show ring.
  • Coordinated marketing and resources. There are already so many groups doing this good work. But we need the marketing and the leaders of BOTH industries to get out there and say “Hey, there’s a benefit here for both of us.”

I know this isn’t a surprise to a lot of us. We’re all aware something needs to be done. I suppose my question to you is, HOW. How do we get these talks going? Who knows someone who knows someone who can get everyone on board? Until we get that spark we’re just sitting here on great ideas. It’s time to get this ball rolling.

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Oh, hai.

So, I have this blog, huh?  And I haven’t written in a really long time, right?

Well, it’s been a kind of crappy year. No excuses, because really. But needless to say I either haven’t felt like writing or couldn’t really write about what I wanted to write about.

Anyway. Let’s move forward. It’s really the only way!

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Finding the missing piece

I was thinking a lot about this post on the third place from Tamsen McMahon this weekend. My third place, my therapy, has always been my horses. It’s something that I’ve always felt comfortable with; a place where I never questioned if I belonged or not. In my life, it is the one thing that it seems I was destined to have; like fate set it up for me to be a horse crazy girl who received the best Christmas present ever one year in the form of a horse.

When I moved to Boston, I had to give my third place up. After all, it’s hard to keep a horse when you live in the city, both practically and financially, especially if you’re struggling to establish yourself in a new place. At first I thought it was good for me, that it would force me to grow and get away from what I perceived at the time as being a crutch. And in a way, it has. I’ve tried to find other things that gave me that same sense of freedom to think through other things happening in my life. But it’s becoming clearer to me just how much I’ve missed the therapy that came from working with horses.

I took out my saddle to clean and condition it this weekend. And I was shocked at just how therapeutic the familiar ritual was. As I applied the soap I fell into the steps that are second nature to me. Any feeling of rustiness went away as I rubbed the oil into the leather. And it hit me, in a very real and very visceral way, how much I’ve missed what has been a fundamental part of who I am for most of my life.

There are countless other rituals; the methodical steps of grooming, the checks and re-checks as you tack up, the quiet time spent cleaning a stall. Each step is based in the real practical needs of safely working with and caring for horses. But to someone who immerses themselves in that world they become more. They become your therapy, your comfort, your psychiatry sessions, your exercise, your home. They are constant.

I’m lucky to keep a connection to these traditions in my volunteering and now with good horse-owning friends. But as I’ve struggled to get through some things that come with simply living a life I know that it isn’t enough. It’s time to step it up. It’s time to work hard and get back that piece of me. The alternative—holding on to bits and pieces of that world—simply isn’t enough anymore.

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Doing It Right

I just put in a deposit for an apartment. I’m quite happy with the place; it’s updated and open with lots of windows, near the ocean but still close to the city, and has almost everything I was looking for. It also marks the first time in my life when I’ll really be living alone. No family, no roommates, no dorm mates around. Just me in my one bedroom apartment. It’s the first really big life decision I’ve made since I decided to move to Boston five years ago.

And you know what? I’m terrified. By writing that check I’m committed. And while I’m thankful that the question of where I’m planning to live is settled, I’m finding myself mildly freaking out about it all. Am I doing the right thing? Should I have just stayed in my current apartment and found another roommate? Is this good for me financially? Should I have tried to have stayed in the city if it meant less space? Where am I going to get my furniture?!

Through all of this; through the slight panic and all the questions, there is a little voice in the very back of my head telling me that I’m doing it right. Change—especially good change you’re initiating yourself—is scary. It’s a calculated, determined choice to move beyond your comfort zone and grow as a person. It’s recognizing that the situation you’re in isn’t working for you anymore. It’s being completely in charge of your life.  What is the hardest about that, especially for me, is that I don’t know right now if it’s 100 percent right.

But as the initial shock of writing that check wears away I know that little voice will get a little louder and confirm that this is a good thing. That it will all work out in the end. That it’s only a year lease. That I will love hearing the ocean everyday outside my window. That it will be so exciting to sit in MY apartment once I’m settled. And that just maybe, making this big decision can lead to many more good changes in my life.

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On Notice

Dear 2011,

I’m putting you on notice. You see, I have high hopes and big plans for you. I have apartments to search for, furniture to purchase, things to do, places to go and a life to live.  This is going to be the year for good things, for moving on to the next phase after five years of change and settling in.  I’m ready for this, it’s time.

I’m doing my part. I’m working on myself and doing all the things I must do to go forward.  We all know that you can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen and I’ve never really been good at that anyway. I constantly want to improve, doing my best and gathering the experiences and skills I need to succeed and tackle challenges. I’ll admit that my drive somewhat falters, that I’ll succumb to the doubt that gets all of us from time to time. But the pity party doesn’t last for long. I’m one of the most obnoxiously optimistic people I know.  Really.  I’m not just saying that. You know that about me.

But you’re failing me, 2011. Two months in you’ve thrown more than my fair share of crap my way. I’ve taken it, and I’ve dealt with it. I’ve been pushing your challenges off with a “this too shall pass” and an “only makes us stronger” and a firm belief that I’m doing the right things. But, as we enter March I have this message: I’ve had enough. Really.  It’s enough. I need you to quit with the obstacles. Or at least make them a little more manageable. I need you to work with me. Help me, help you. Show me the money. Something like that.

Because you know what? I deserve it. I deserve everything I hoped for this year. And I deserve it before I turn into a raving crazy person. That is not too much to ask.

So shape up, 2011. Let’s do this.

Sincerely,
Jen

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I Can’t…

…read minds.

But I can:
Do my best.
Ask questions.
Be true to myself.
Handle situations with dignity and grace.
Look for ways to improve.
Remain positive.
Learn.
Know it is okay to let it all out sometimes.
Keep trying.

Keep moving forward.

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Changes

Change is good. Making just one change in your life can lead to other changes that hopefully put you on a path to bigger and better—or just different—things.  And that’s why I’ve started to put some changes in motion in my own life. After lots of thinking, and lots of figuring out what’s important to me, I’m ready to move forward. There are good things ahead of me, I can see them and I want to get them. I’m excited, I’ve got the resolve, and that’s good.

The problem? I have lots of ideas flying around in my head. Lots of things I need to do. And it’s resulted in me not really being able to focus on actually starting. What’s the most important thing to start with? Can I work on things simultaneously?  What needs the most attention? How can I make steps more specific, instead of general “do this more/better/just start”.

I know the answer is simple.  Just do one thing and things will start falling into place. It’s just finding that one thing.

Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, or like there are too many balls in the air, I’ll sit down and make a list of what I need to do. But for some reason I’m finding even that hard right now. Maybe that IS the first step. Maybe I’m looking for answers and planning when I just need to let the plan develop. Who knows. What I do know is that I’m stuck in the preparation phase when I’m ready to start the race. What do you do to get over that bump and get going?

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Communication, or lack thereof

I’m writing this post from my bed, which is currently on the floor of my living room.  My ceiling developed a rather nasty leak last weekend and it’s only gotten worse with the snow storm and the melting and freezing that I can only imagine is happening on the very flat roof above me. So, to avoid any potential damage, I’ve moved my bed and most of my belongings out into the rest of my apartment.

While the leak itself is certainly the root issue here, the issue is spiraling into something much worse because of the lack of action on the part of the building’s superintendent. Since this whole issue began he has been wildly unresponsive and this weekend, as the leak increased in severity, I called him looking for some answers. In short, I didn’t get them.  I have no idea when the roof will be fixed, and even when it is it looks like there will be a significant amount of repairs that will need to be done to my room.  To say I am upset, frustrated and angry is quite the understatement at this point.

This entire situation has been a great example, in my mind, of how NOT to handle a problem. I find that far too often, when a problem comes up, people tend to do one of two things. They either panic and freak out or avoid and make excuses. Both serve to make the problem worse than it ever was in the first place.

How should this have played out?  In my mind, admitting that there is a potentially serious problem instead of dismissing it as minor should have been the first thing to happen. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, nor will trying to make excuses for why it isn’t being addressed.  Next? I’d expect to be told how the problem will be fixed and have a rough time frame presented. This is of course the hardest part, but a simple “I’m going to do A, B, and then find out about C, and here is the timeframe” goes a long way towards easing concerns. The plan may change as the details of the situation become clear, but starting with a clearly articulated plan sets expectations for how things will progress. And finally, fix it. This may take longer than originally planned, but if all the pieces are in place it should be easy to report back on what has happened and what still needs to happen.

I can’t help but think that if I was told what the plan was in the beginning, and had some communication from the only person who can really fix the problem this whole process would have certainly been annoying, but not nearly as disruptive as it’s become. I would feel as though my concerns were being addressed and that I wasn’t being dismissed, which leads to certainly a lot more willingness on my part to accommodate delays. It’s a good reminder to me, in life and in work, of how important communication is in general, but even more so when a problem comes up.

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