By Ariel Christy
Many people have heard the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” as it describes the support, commitment, and community when it comes to raising children. For adult amateurs with families trying to remain competitive and show their horses, it also takes a village to make it all happen. Jess Sheidy, an adult amateur from Michigan, knows this all too well as she prepared her own four-year-old off the track thoroughbred gelding, Country Fast (Wex), for the Retired Racehorse Project’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover over the last year. Jess and her family were forced to make many changes and forfeit things along the way for Wex’s training, so when they finally made it to the Kentucky Horse Park to compete, Jess and her village made it a vacation for all.
This particular village came from all over the United States to support her at the show. From their home in Michigan, Jess’ husband, two children (ages four and six), and family dog drove down. Arriving from eastern Pennsylvania were Jess’ parents, Dan’s parents, and her sister. It’s not a village without friends and they arrived as well, all the way from New Orleans, Louisiana.
The journey to this specific show was not always easy and sometimes very independent. “Normally, I am a one-woman show. I will meet my trainer at a show, but I do everything else by myself,” said Sheidy. “My husband will sometimes bring our kids to watch, if the show is local, and I ride at a time convenient to my kids’ schedules.”
As Jess and her husband tackled all the normal working parent responsibilities, re-training and showing a young horse can complicate things in terms of schedules and needing to get creative. “My whole family had to make sacrifices over the last 10 months. I missed some soccer practices, and family dinners, and my husband carted the kids to swim practice and t-ball,” described Sheidy. “Fortunately, my husband is amazing, and he balances managing the kids’ needs, making sure family members are where they need to be when they need to be there, and just generally keeping the crazy under control.”
This show was going to be different though. “I often have to horse show alone, so I was excited to have my family there to watch me,” said Sheidy. “So many times, our horse habits separate us from our families. It was nice that this event was able to bring us together.”
The satisfaction of Jess making it to this show when so many others have to scratch along the way for various reasons was a reward in itself, but the whole family was going to celebrate and enjoy all Lexington had to offer. “My husband wasn’t going to leave Kentucky without some bourbon,” she said.
Jess’ husband wasn’t alone; quite a few competitors at the show and their families made it a point to stop along the way on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Four distilleries are within an hour’s drive of the Kentucky Horse Park, including Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Town Branch and Wild Turkey. Each distillery offers a complete tour of the property, detailed history about the process of making bourbon, and of course sampling the final product.
The Retired Racehorse Project encouraged competitors to visit Keeneland Racecourse as it was the opening weekend of their fall race meet as well as many of the stallion farms nearby. “We decided the Keeneland tour was a bit more kid-friendly than spending all day watching races. And I wanted to meet Oxbow, who is my horse’s sire, so I was able to arrange a private tour at Calumet.”
Keeneland itself is a National Historic Landmark and without a doubt one of the most beautiful racetracks in the country. They offer a variety of tours to appeal to horsemen and non-horsemen alike, such as the Treasures of the Track tour which focuses on the history of the track and the grounds, or the Owner’s Experience tour going through the saddling paddock and winner’s circle.
Although Jess’ attention was focused on Wex at the show, “Everyone in our group got to do their own exploring. Some went hiking, some explored tourist attractions, and some went on a bourbon tour. The kids were able to spend a day at a corn maze. We took the kids on a pony ride at the Kentucky Horse Park,” she said.
While Jess may not have left the show with a blue ribbon or winner’s check, she was able to leave Lexington with something far more valuable than a ribbon. She was able to create memories with her village of friends and family and instill values in her children while they support her on the journey with Wex.
“A lot of parents put their own interests and goals on hold so their kids can do all their activities and sports. I think it’s important for kids to see their parents chasing dreams too. My kids got to see what happens when you set a goal, and what it takes to achieve your goals.”