Well, it’s been a few months since we have updated everyone on Mr. Park’s progress for the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. As it typically goes with off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) in their first year of re-training, we have had some ups and downs, but it’s all just a part of the journey!
Mr. Park had been doing a wonderful job continuing to relax in his dressage test, seeming to get just a little bit better every time! He and his big brother — former 2018 makeover competitor Slew the Zodiac — made the journey to Ocala late this spring to run the two-star Long format and Training division. He had several clean runs at training by this point, so it was really just fine tuning and continuing to build the confidence. But, for whatever reason, this particular show grounds played on all his demons.
Park is not a quiet, go with the flow kind of guy … and, although I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, there was certainly something there that made focus difficult. This was our first time at the Florida Horse Park, but I’ve heard it can be a bit like the Kentucky Horse Park, lighting horses up!
We manage to make it over to the dressage warm up, where I knew I would simply be surviving through his dressage test. That soft and supple horse that was developing had left the building, and what we had left was a leaping, snorting, wide-eyed dragon. I did my best to contain him and push the energy forward instead of up. We struggled through the test, earning a “very tactfully ridden on quite a tense horse.” I was grateful it was over and that we were on to his favorite: cross country!
Park ate up the cross-country course without the slightest worry in the world. He is the kind of guy that lives for the gallop, so he was able to set aside whatever was worrying him and thunder around all the big jumps without a hiccup, having one of the fastest runs in the Training division, with no jumping penalties.
Show jumping was once again filled with distractions and we dropped two rails. This show, in my opinion, was one of our worst to date and knew I had some homework when I got home. But what was it? We had been in Aiken, S.C., training all winter. He was prepared, knew the job, and was no longer new to the level. But if you listen, the horses will whisper what they need.
I got home and decided the boys both deserved some time off. They had traveled quite a lot over long distances and had been showing for several months. I had a horse trial in Wisconsin coming up but decided that fitness would still be there with 10 days off. Fitness stays with them here at my farm as they turn out on several acres in a group, so they run and play all day long! Turnout is so important for them both physically and mentally.
It was exactly what the doctor ordered. I brought Park back into work a week and a half before Otter Creek Horse Trial. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading dressage, as the dressage ring is surrounded by the cross-country course. With a horse that is very easily distracted this can be difficult. To my delight, Park was back to his relaxed self. He stretched in the warm-up well, was very attentive to my aids, and put in an absolutely lovely dressage test.
On to cross country! He ran around a course that can be hard to make time in with the fastest time in all the Training divisions. He is a little horse at just 15.2 hands, but that horse can GALLOP. One little cluck to him out there and he will drop his back seven inches and just fly. It’s the most amazing feeling. For as tough as he can be to put together for dressage, he is a slinky out on cross country. He can be at a dead gallop, and if you sit up, put your leg on and half halt, he will collect and put whatever stride you ask to a jump. I’ve truly never ridden a more talented or more game horse on cross country.
I believe we were sitting in fifth going in to show jumping. Their ring is one of the hardest show-jumping rings I’ve competed in, with a huge grandstand literally along one rail. Park has always been a good show jumper, but at the end of the day he is green. After a stellar warm up, we entered the ring feeling very confident. He went around the course, jump after jump, clean and looking for the next. He finished on his dressage score, the only horse in his division to not add a single penalty point to his dressage score for a third place. I had tears running down my cheeks over the last fence I was so proud of him.
The moral of this story is, it’s not always perfect and you’ll always have hiccups. What is so important is to listen to your horse the best you can. Give them what they need. Competing can put a lot of pressure on to train hard, but there are a lot of horses that learn best with small breaks to decompress in there. Park is one of those horses. I will be more conscious in the future to watch for the small signs. These horses do this job for us because we ask them to; it’s our job to make sure they are totally fit mentally and physically for the job we seek.