From Racing to Dancing

Makeover Rematch (Photo by Allison Wolff)

Salute to the Thoroughbred!  This month on YourDressage, we are saluting the versatile Thoroughbred and Thoroughbred crosses of all kinds.

Dressage riders who choose Thoroughbreds as their mounts are eligible for Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards asThe Jockey Club is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share about what makes these horses so special. 

By Cedar Potts-Warner

Getting a horse is every little girl’s dream. I had a Miniature Horse when I was growing up, but never owned a “big” horse. I followed my dreams from that little girl and became a professional in the equestrian world. Any pro will tell you: it can be a challenge to fit in your own horses when there are training horses waiting, lessons to be taught, and chores to be done.

Majestic as a foal. Photo from breeders John and Mildred Boyce

Well, even though I didn’t magically find more time in the day, my journey brought me to a horse who found both a way into my heart and into my day. Majestic Lad is a 2010 Off-Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) who has changed my life, all for the better.

It all began in January 2016, when my trainer, JP Giacomini, heard about the Retired Racehorse Project’s (RRP) Thoroughbred Makeover competition and suggested I enter it. The competition requires you to acquire an OTTB that has raced or race-trained, has not yet had any further training, and then re-train it for a new discipline. The competition takes place at the Kentucky Horse Park every October and offers ten different disciplines; ranging from ranch work, to polo, to dressage.  It showcases the amazing value and versatility the Thoroughbred still has after racing.

I spent a lot of time on my application; I was excited. I really wanted to be involved with such a good mission and hoped to have the Makeover as a training goal. I was ecstatic when I received my acceptance e-mail! Let the journey begin!

Though, like most eager horse people, the horse shopping journey had already begun! It turns out I was bound to get a horse, whether accepted or not.

Majestic goes from racing to dancing. Top photo from photo from John and Mildred Boyce, bottom photo by GRC Photography

I fell quickly for Majestic Lad, when I went to see him one chilly Saturday morning. He was brought out of his stall and he turned his head to connect with me. I was handed his lead and we took him down to the round pen so I could work with him a little. The round pen was in a one-acre pasture. There was a two-year-old filly in the pasture, and she tried her hardest to distract us: she came and put her head over the round pen, ran around, bucked, and begged for a play partner. All the while, Majestic stayed focused on our interaction as I tested out his brain and body.

Two days later I made an offer and it was accepted the same day. Thank you to John and Mildred Boyce who bred Majestic, raced him, retired him, sold him to me, came and supported us at the Makeover, and most of all, loved him.

During the vetting, I free lunged Majestic in the round pen for movement assessment. He had been trimmed and then kept in a stall for a week because his feet were tender and the ground had been frozen. He was still going around me energetically in the pen when the vet said she’d seen enough, and I wondered to myself, “how am I going to catch him?” I stepped slightly in front of him and asked him to stop. To my surprise, he slowed right down and turned toward me, like “Ok, what are we doing next?”

Makeover freestyle photo by GRC Photography

Well, to answer his question, we opted on doing dressage and freestyle at the Makeover.

We began the training process slowly. That’s the trick! Patience and perseverance. I wanted to give him a chance, both mentally and physically, to be able to learn and adapt to the new requests I presented him with. OTTBs already have a lot of education and experience under their “girths”, which is great, and my job was to find what he didn’t know and advance from there.

The training I’ve learned from JP is based on developing healthy biomechanics, with a focus on relaxation. So, I started with ground work where you can really see your work in action. I used JP’s method, Endotapping, to release and relax the muscles. I did basic lunging, taught changes of direction, lots of in-hand lateral work, and long lining. This combination of everything helped Majestic become more balanced and supple, and ready to go to the next stage.

The process continued with me riding him, and starting to prepare more specifically for the Makeover. The Makeover’s dressage discipline is pretty straightforward with a Training Level test you ride, followed by a short demo ride of similar movements. The freestyle though, was wide open to possibility. There were people who did mounted shooting, others who rode over (and under) large tarps, some did a liberty act…going in though, we didn’t know what to expect, and I decided on doing some fun and fancy dressage.

Working equitation clinic (photo by Kathryn King Leacock)

Which led me to the piaffe. Even at a beginning stage, it is such a useful exercise: it helps with posture, strength, and flexion. It is like oil for the joints. Plus, it’s just a neat thing to train. Majestic is a quick learner, and by the time of the Makeover competition we were able to include piaffe, spanish walk, half-passes and collected canter into our routine. I was just so pleased with him.

Then, I received an excited call from Mildred Boyce. We were sitting in first!!

After the finale, we ended up second overall in Freestyle, by a slight margin, and were 12th in Dressage. All the stress and excitement of the up and down journey culminated better than I ever imagined. And the best part? I got a best friend out of it.

Our journey has continued. We participated in the RRP’s Makeover Re-Match at the Southern Equine Expo in 2017, and then I returned to the Expo in 2018 as a clinician, with Majestic as my demo partner. Our training has broadened to include passage, schooling two and one tempi changes, occasionally some bridleless or liberty work, and most recently some western dressage. He’s more than all of that though. If I’m having a bad day, he’s the one I scramble on bareback, up 17hh, to go for a ride outside around the farm. He’s my happy place. He may have won three of his 22 races and earned over seventy thousand dollars in his racing career, but really, I won when Majestic Lad came home.

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