Horowitz On OTTBs, Presented By Excel Equine: Shifting Gears, For The Good Of The Horse - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Horowitz On OTTBs, Presented By Excel Equine: Shifting Gears, For The Good Of The Horse

The author with Cubbie

I began this column at the start of 2020. I had no idea where it would lead, nor did anyone have an idea how the entire year of 2020 would play out. The goal, which the title of the series, “Thoroughbred Makeover Diaries,” reflected, was that I would chronicle my journey to the 2020 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. This was to be an especially unique journey for me because I spent the previous five years “talking” about the Thoroughbred Makeover as the event's announcer, and now I would be “doing” it by retraining and competing with my first OTTB straight off the track.

In the year and a half since I started sharing my adventures, the direction of my column has been full of many twists and turns, highs and lows, and rewarding and frustrating moments. It's been about what the character Ferris Bueller says in the 1986 classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off, “The question isn't what are we going to do. The question is what aren't we going to do.”

Putting “Thoroughbred Makeover” in my GPS has inspired a route that includes learning about the mind and body of the Thoroughbred sporthorse, learning about life lessons that OTTBs teach us, learning about the awesome and humbling responsibility we have to these special animals and how the racing and aftercare industries sometimes meet it and sometimes fall short, and learning that we're not in complete control of where the journey leads.

Because I've tried to follow Ferris Bueller's most famous advice from the movie, “Life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” I'm rebranding this column to reflect how the Thoroughbred Makeover represents so much more than the Thoroughbred Makeover.

Welcome to “Horowitz on OTTBs,” where I'll continue to explore the many roads of aftercare. To start, this will be the first in a three-part mini-series called “Not Every Horse.”

In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the main characters' day that ultimately changes their lives includes going to a Chicago Cubs game. The journey I started retraining a retired racehorse was with an Illinois-bred named after the Cubs, the 2016 bay mare Cubbie Girl North.

My goal was to event with Cubbie at the Thoroughbred Makeover. There was never any doubt about her physical ability to do that. She jumped over the 4-foot vinyl fencing that lined our arena the first time we free-jumped her in January 2020, one month into our retraining. (See “Mind Over Matter.”)

I've documented that our challenges were mental. I wrote in “Riding An OTTB Isn't So Different From Playing Poker.

The extreme highs and lows have come on top of each other, like when Cubbie busted my chin open and gave me seven stitches three days before we would go on to surpass Ashley's and my expectations by completing our first recognized event.

Cubbie has zero patience for gray areas when she's being ridden, but I'm still learning. I'm not a professional like Ashley and don't have the same tact and skill set for dealing with a horse that wants to become dangerous when things don't go her way. After a disagreement in dressage warm-up for our last event in October, my goal went from success to simply survival. We did survive dressage — with the second-worst score across all levels and all divisions at a show with 195 riders — and even managed to go double clear with no jumping or time faults in cross country and in stadium jumping. But our communication has broken down.

The last time I rode Cubbie was during our stadium jumping round at the Windermere Run Horse Trials in Missouri in October 2020. During our warmup, Cubbie got angry when I asked her pick up the right-lead canter. So, I was relieved knowing that the jumper course started to the left. Cubbie did switch to the right lead over the jumps when we changed directions. We had a clear round, but the good result was insignificant compared to the challenges we faced in our journey.

OTTB Cubbie has found a new partner in Nicole

I subsequently had our veterinarian do extensive evaluation on Cubbie to determine that the issue was anger and not injury. It was becoming clear that Cubbie and I were not an effective match. I decided to give Cubbie a chance with a young, up-and-coming eventing trainer, Nicole Dayberry, a senior at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs majoring in business management with minors in marketing and psychology and hopes of starting her own equine business. I leased Cubbie to Nicole in January 2021.

Over the next few months, Nicole would send me updates about how she and Cubbie were doing, and I decided to visit them at MaeBree Ranch in Larkspur, Colo., on June 21.

There are differences between Nicole and me in the approaches we took to Cubbie. With the Thoroughbred Makeover as our intended destination 10 months after Cubbie and I started working together, I pushed Cubbie and myself to reach certain benchmarks at certain times. Nicole has not pushed it when it comes to working with Cubbie. She spent months adjusting Cubbie's diet and doing bodywork on the mare. She put Cubbie on a magnesium supplement and gave her chiropractic and MagnaWave treatments. She's bestowed on Cubbie a number of nicknames, like Miss Girl, North, and Ladybug.

“I like spoiling her as much as I can,” Nicole said.

Nicole said she had only jumped Cubbie “maybe twice” prior to working her at the walk, trot, and canter on the flat and then popping her over a jump during my visit.

“She's so quiet for me, and she's been so workable,” Nicole said. “She's happy and fun to work with, and everything comes as it comes.”

Nicole was happy. Cubbie was happy. And, as someone who truly loves Cubbie, I was happy.

The big lesson from my story with Cubbie is that the first home a retired racehorse has off the track may not be the best match. I wish that Cubbie and I could have continued our journey to the Thoroughbred Makeover and beyond, but that would be selfish to put myself and my horse in a position where we weren't able to effectively grow. I found another path for Cubbie with Nicole that is more suitable for her, and it put a smile on my face to see the mare I love find success off the track, even if it wasn't how I originally scripted it.

“I couldn't imagine my life without her,” Nicole told me when I asked if she'd be interested in buying Cubbie after the lease.

Not every horse thrives in every home right off the track. Yes, I wanted to be that home for Cubbie, but for people that truly love their horses, the focus should be on what's actually best for the horse. That may very well be a second home or a third home. We can make a difference by being part of a horse's journey, even if we're not the final destination.

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