The Big Days!

By Louise Robson, November 05, 2015

So…the big day(s)!!!! Upon arrival in the park I was amazed by the volume of ex racehorses that would be taking part in the makeover project. It was on Friday morning when what seemed like 50 percent of the horses came out for exercise. As far as the eye could see there were ex racehorses.

In comparison to the UK, the atmosphere of the show and the trade stands was much bigger than what we experience at our dressage Nationals. On the build up to the Makeover Project I had taken Ryan to the Retraining of Racehorses Championships held at Houghton Hall in Cambridgeshire. He was good, but did struggle with the championship atmosphere. I looked at the championships as a stepping stone toward Kentucky, and boy am I glad that I schooled Ryan around the RoR champs, to allow him to relax, as the surroundings in the park were 10 times what he had experienced a month previous.

We arrived in Kentucky the Saturday before the event and I did deliberate with myself about when to take Ryan to the park. If I took him Wednesday morning, it would mean more time to settle in, but less turnout time, which is something that I feel all my horses should have--especially ones that are 4 years old and have traveled 5,000 miles.

After many discussions with myself and three Starbuck coffees later, I decided that being an ex racer meant he was used to being in the stable and it was more important that he settled and got used to his surroundings. I could always take him for lots of walks and grass. I am very glad I made that decision, as seeing what was going on, he needed as much time to settle as possible.

The covered arena was by far the biggest atmosphere with trade stands surrounding the edges, all above the horses eye line. Ryan, being the absolute superstar that he is, took it all in stride. He did spend a bit of time taking in the trade stands and noises of coat hangers moving on rails, but never once did he say ‘no’ or ‘I can't deal with this.’ It is a testament to the upbringing that he had at Bryan Smart Racing as his willing character and trusting of people really shone through.

I met some wonderful people over the course of the weekend and got to break in my new Joshua Jones boots by riding a barrel horse named Leather. Leather is owned by Laura Weincek, who is looking to make the change from barrel horse to future dressage horse.

I was part of the symposium aspect of the weekend, on the trainers forum and the British model, presented by the RoR. The trainers forum was a blast and it was great to learn not only from the other trainers on the panel, but also from some of the people in the audience sharing their stories, problems and training techniques. The forums/symposium side of the event was a great educational tool, either for people with ex racehorses or those wanting to purchase ex racers.

The competition side of it, for me, was a bit of a challenge. The material section of the completion we did very well, placing third. The test riding and freestyle section were something that left much to be desired. We had a 13 percent discrepancy between the two judges, which kept our overall score very low. One judge was encouraging the horses to be low in the poll and so far out in the neck you saw little working under or behind the saddle. For me, if you are looking for a potential dressage horse, encouraging them to go on the forehand and not work from behind, lifting and engaging their back, is not the best foundation.

The freestyle section of the competition was what I would call a grey area. It was a part of the competition where you got to show off your horses best abilities at the level of training that he/she was at. Again, for me, I found this part difficult as all horses were maximum nine months out of racing. In theory, the floor plan should be simple and reflect where the horse is in their training, which should be; walk, trot, canter, a little bit of sideways stuff and maybe some forward and back in the pace. What I saw (and was marked the highest by the judges) were flying changes, idea of half passes, simple changes and 10-meter circles in canter. Don't get me wrong, it is fantastic that the Thoroughbreds brain is intelligent enough to take on these concepts and perform them in that setting. However, this is an animal that probably doesn't have the muscle structure to be able to perform these movements if you are looking at longevity of the horse and progression through the levels. I was not in envy of the judges as they had to separate 30 horses, and I can see why they marked these movements higher. However, from a trainers point of view, I could not see these horses lasting years in dressage, but more so, it could be encouraging on lookers to perform said movements in a short amount of time. Yes, there needs to be a balance, as you want to show/prove to people that Thoroughbreds can perform these movements or have the potential to do them, I just feel that there maybe needed to be some more clarity in the freestyle, taking into consideration what the horses have been doing over the previous nine months.

The weekend was a fantastic showcase of a life after racing. Yes, all the horses at The Kentucky Horse Park were only nine months from the race yard; however, it highlighted to many, that with the correct training, time, patience and love for their horses, this ‘breed’ could pretty much turn their hoof to anything they tried. There were 10 disciplines; dressage, showjumping, eventing, polo, ranch work, freestyle, field hunter, show hunter, trail riding and barrel racing.

For me, as a rider, it was brilliant to see the racing community behind the project. Organizations such as Darley had placed some of their ex racehorses with riders for the makeover. The riders did such a fantastic job that they have been given more ex racers to produce for next year's makeover. There were jockeys, trainers, riders from all disciplines coming to the event to see what was going on and what could be possible. A massive well done to Steuart Pitman and his team. They have worked tirelessly to make this project a success and they have truly done that. With so many disciplines and so many questions from competitors and support staff I was surprised to still see smiles on their faces come Sunday afternoon. (Me, I would have been sat in a corner, hugging my knees, slowly rocking back and forth.)

A big and incredible thank you to my sponsor, Amlin, who have made this journey and dream possible. They have supported me through all of this, missing tack and all! (My bridle, bandages, rugs and a few other items are still MIA in the U.S. somewhere.) It is brilliant that a company who has a history in bloodstock, racehorses and jockeys is now making the branch into the world of re training.

The final and most important thank you (aside form the support team here in the U.S. and back home--you all kept me going!) goes to Ryan. This is truly a special horse, who I adore and can't thank enough for what he has done for me. He has put up with me asking him to travel 5,000 miles and perform and still remain good spirited and happy. There were many tears shed when he found a new home with Susan in Memphis, but it just means I now have to take a few days off work to go on holiday to visit him!

Some Things Just Don't Go to Plan

By Louise Robson, October 18, 2015

I arrived in Lexington a day ahead of Ryan so I could begin to find my way around. The first day was spent finding the stable and locating horse feed and water/feed buckets for him. Driving on the other side of the road isn't a problem for me. I am, however, learning how to deal with the width of the roads and how many lanes of traffic there are.

It took me the best part of five hours to locate three different stores, it took me six attempts to find Walmart. The main issue I currently have is that my navigation system is stuck in Chinese. The buttons to change it are broken, so, for now, I will carry on being shouted at in Chinese when I go wrong! 

On Saturday am I woke up to frost on the floor, FROST! The days leading unto my traveling the temperatures were 25-26 degrees Celsius (77-78 degrees Fahrenheit), so you can imagine my surprise to see the floor being white. Ryan arrived at 7:30am, a little unsure about life, and cold, but generally OK. Having settled him in his stable, I went to unload his stuff. No disrespect to the truckers, but when I saw them lifting the bags very easily out of the truck I knew something was wrong. I had packed three bags, all quite full, to the point of me not being able to lift them very easily in Belgium. When only two bags appeared, I knew there was trouble. Very quickly I opened the bags to find that my tack was missing. Cue: panic, phone calls, fear and a few tears. For Saturday the tack was not an issue as I only hand walked Ryan, but come  Sunday and moving forward, I would need help. It soon became apparent that I was missing rugs, bandages, boots and various pieces of tack equipment. With temperature dropping to -2 C (28 degrees F) overnight, I became very fearful of being able to keep Ryan happy and warm as he is currently fully clipped in preparations for the former warm weather (where that has gone I don't know).

I must say that during the next few hours everyone that I have at home as a support team were beyond amazing. Before I knew it there was Plan A, B, C, D and E in place to help me out. Thankfully, I have met some truly amazing, caring and wonderful people who have helped me out by lending me tack. Most notably has to be Cherise Gasper. Cherise is a Grand Prix rider and has trained with the likes of Carl Hester and Robert Dover, along with my former boss and mentor, Monica Theodorescu.

For some unknown reason, I carried a spare bridle on the plane in my hand luggage. Who knew I would actually need it! The agents in the UK have been amazing and working very hard throughout the weekend trying to locate all of the missing items (I cannot thank them enough, and also putting up with my numerous phone calls and texts.

On Sunday morning Cherise took me to Keenland to see the morning trading of the racehorses, which was truly amazing and inspirational to watch. I loved being able to discuss each horse and see the different ways in training and riding, even when on the track. It was a sight to see and I loved every minute. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the horses work and seeing the varying types, stride lengths and abilities. It was also good to be able to compare the U.S. Thoroughbreds to the UK Thoroughbreds and pros and cons to each stamp of horse.

I have also visited the Kentucky Horse Park, where we will move to on Wednesday. IT'S HUGE! Walking around a place dedicated to the Thoroughbred is amazing and I cannot wait to start meeting everyone and for the competition to start.

Ryan has settled well and is eating well. He has worked very well for the past few days. I cannot believe that at 4 years old, he has been traveling for 5 to 6 days, not been out in a field or on a walker and he let me get straight on and he worked impeccably. He has traveled 5,000 miles and still shows maturity beyond his years and is still sweet and wanting fuss and cuddles. It is a true testament to this horse and his up bringing at Bryan Smart Racing that has made him the lovely and willing person that he is.

When I got on the plane in England I made a promise to myself that I would enjoy this experience and try and not come last. After everything that has happened so far, I will be happy if we make it down centerline in one piece! Here is to good hoping!

It All Seemed So Simple on Paper

By Louise Robson, October 13, 2015

Ryan being loaded into the flight box.

So, here we are, the day we take Ryan to Leige Airport for his flight to the U.S. The last few days have been full of pandemonium with paperwork for Ryan, bits and bobs required for him, competing, parading Quadrille at Newmarket and just general riding, teaching and caring for the horses at home. However, Monday morning we were all set to start the journey we have been planning since January.

The plan on paper was:
8:30am Leave Padbury
12pm Arrive at Dover and get on ferry
3pm Arrive Leige Airport
5pm Leave to get back to Calais
8pm Ferry back to Dover
11pm In my bed fast asleep

I decided to let Ryan have a bit of field time in the morning, so he could have a final play with Gav. After turning out the other horses, I bought Ryan in to have his last ride at home; he was superb.

Everyone at home was saying their final goodbyes to the baby pony and saying how much they would miss him. Ryan has become a real character on the yard, and it is hard to believe that in a few weeks I will no longer see his adorable bay face over the stable door.

My dad decided to come along for the ride. He called it bonding time, I called it "fitting." Dad was with me when we first found Ryan and it seemed lovely for him to come along to see him off.

Lou's dad with the transporter

After a quick brush and making him ready for traveling, we loaded him (my dad and I) and climbed in the lorry. A final check before we left;
Dad: Horse passport?
Me: Yep
Dad: Paperwork for Ryan?
Me: Yup
Dad: Your passport, wallet and phone?
Me: oh, passport, I will just go and grab it....

Off I went to the house to get my passport. Four hours later and the house and stable yard turned upside down, I was still without my passport. Very long story short, and with a fair few tears and panics, I realized that I had left my passport in my car, which was at the hire place for horse boxes. (Three weeks prior to this my lorry decided to blow up and has sat in said mechanics trying to get fixed.) The only problem I had was that my car was 2 hours away.

Dad and I, plus Ryan hopped into the truck and went and retrieved said passport en route to Dover to catch the ferry. The journey to Dover was easy, the crossing was good and although we got to Calais at 8:30pm we made very good time by getting to Leige by 11:15pm.

Fifteen minutes later we met Kim who was in charge of flying the horses. Ryan was one of four horses traveling to the U.S., along with a racehorse, eventers, show jumpers and some all rounders. After an hour and a half of getting things sorted--Ryan's tack bags being security checked, the boxes being prepped--it was time to load Ryan. He walked on like a pro and stood, waiting for the slightly opinionated "orange" horse to decide whether or not they wanted to go to the U.S.

At this point I had to wave goodbye to my baby pony knowing he was in the best hands and that they would take care of him. (Although I did send war and peace with him in terms of care instructions, feeds, rugs, etc.)

Now for the journey back to the drove most of the way to allow me to sleep as I had done all of the driving up to this point. It was all going well until we were 5km out of Calais. There have been several issues with migrants trying to enter the UK from the port of Calais. I couldn't believe it, when at 4am in the morning we were faced with at least 60/70 migrants blocking traffic and desperately trying to climb into the back of the trucks. We must have queued for over an hour and a half and I was thankful that we didn't have Ryan on board so we could come back as a car, as opposed to freight, which would have required is sitting in a stationary queue.

While sitting in the queuing traffic I received a text from Kim to say that they had taken off and Ryan was fine, which put my mind at rest.

The effect of the migrants could be seen in the port as there were no/very little freight lorries. A slight communication problem lead to us having to do laps of the port to obtain the correct ticket and to be checked that no one had climbed in the back of the truck. Finally, on the ferry, dad and I found breakfast, ready to tackle the M25 on a weekday morning. (In the UK the M25 is nicknamed "the worlds biggest car park" as traffic does not move at peak times.) did the day pan out?
8:30am Load Ryan
8:33am Passport Panic
8:50am Unload Ryan
12:10pm Locate passport, re load Ryan
2:10pm Pick up Passport onto Dover
4pm Arrive at Dover
5:25pm Ferry leaves Dover
8:10pm Arrive in Calais
11:15pm Arrive Leige
1:15am Ryan is loaded
1:35am Dad and I leave airport
4am Join Calais queuing traffic
6:15am Got through traffic, through Customs, lorry is checked
6:45am On boat
7am Back on UK soil
10am Home, back to work, start riding horses!

Ryan is due to land in the U.S. at midday and I feel happy that all should be well and fine. I can't wait to fly out on Thursday and meet him in Kentucky! A massive thank you to Kim and Pedens bloodstock for organizing all of this, and a beyond massive thank you to my sponsors at Amlin for helping me and supporting me on my journey.

Panic Over Fluffy Headcollars

By Louise Robson, October 08, 2015

I'm writing this at 4:56 am. Yes, that does say ‘am’ after the digits. I've woken up a week before Ryan's flight from Belgium to New York, worrying that I haven't purchased him a fluffy headcollar for the journey and in my brain, he cannot live without one! (I know, I'm slightly bonkers!)

The reality of the journey ahead and what I am about to ask Ryan to do has really began to set in. I think I have gone through of the emotional spectrum. I am currently at petrified and doubting my choice phase. While sitting in bed before I fell asleep, I had the thought that maybe I am asking too much of Ryan. At the heart of it, he is 4 years old and he has only been out of racing for eight months. I am asking him to travel across the English Channel, onto a plane to New York, spend three days in quarantine and then travel down to Lexington.

Back in February, when the search commenced, I set myself a definite target; he/she must have a fabulous temperament. I saw a few horses that ticked the boxes for ability, conformation and looks, but they were a little stressy or flappable by new situations. I kept on telling myself (and sellers) they must be very relaxed and be kind and willing. I am glad that I waited, going through 50 horses, until I found Ryan.

At 5:05 am, having purchased said fluffy headcollar, making sure that it will arrive before our departure to Belgium, I begin to pull myself off the ledge. I know that Ryan travels exceptionally well. I have taken him to shows for short and long periods, both with friends and by himself. He is a good eater and doesn't get phased by new situations. In New York, the three days will help him recover form flying and he can spend his time sleeping and eating, preparing for the next leg. When he arrives in Lexington at Tanya Davis’ yard (Three Day Farm) we have a week to rest, recuperate and get going. We will be fine.

At 5:20 am, with a cup of tea, I start to panic and fill out yet more paperwork. I feel like I have potentially destroyed a whole tree with the amount of paper work I've filled out. There are lots of forms, signings, bloods and timings of vets and authorities to allow Ryan to leave the country. The shipping company that I am using, Pedens Bloodstock, has been amazing and dealing with daily phone calls from me. Usually me worrying about things in concerns to rugs, feeds, hand walking, travel boots or bandages etc, etc. They have been so patient and always putting my mind to rest and confirming that Ryan will receive the best care at all times.

6 am comes around, and the panic begins to subside. I go and get dressed and walk to the yard to start feeding, mucking out and riding. As I walk into the yard the first face I see is Ryans. He is whinnying at me for his food. Seeing his face makes me know that he will be OK, and I can't wait to see his face in Kentucky all happy and settled. Seven days and counting……….

Challenges in Retraining the OTTB

By Louise Robson, October 06, 2015

The makeover showcase is a brilliant opportunity to showcase to people what OTTB’s can do and how adaptable they are to understanding and being part of another job and undertaking a new career. Not every trainer has the luxury of having the full 10 months of retraining, and even then, 10 months to retrain a horse into a new discipline is not easy and does not come without trials and tribulations.

Each horse and rider will have their own personal challenges. Some have soundness issues, some have training issues, it all varies between each horse and rider, but also, varies as training progresses.

For myself and Ryan it has all been about the right lead canter. In the UK 70 percent of race courses are left hand runs, meaning that most racehorses right hind legs become trail legs and are therefore not as strong. From day one of longing, hacking, riding and even on occasion watching him run in the field, Ryan has always favored his left lead canter. He finds balancing on his right more difficult and therefore naturally falls onto his right shoulder, preventing his right hind leg to come through to allow right lead canter.

In May, when on the longe, Ryan started to show/offer right canter by picking up left canter and putting in a flying change. The amount of left canter steps reduced as his training has gone on, but under saddle it has still posed us many problems. I have tried everything; cantering in the field, small circles, large circles, figures of eight, serpentines, simple changes, jumping over poles, cantering off one way then changing direction.

I never want my TB’s to become stressed, or enter what I call ‘the red zone’ (where the adrenalin takes over and there is no reasoning with them). There does come a point when your OTTB has to push through a bit of a stressful moment to understand their work, but it should never get to the point where the horse in no longer willing and starts to say ‘NO.’ I have worried for many days what am I doing wrong, or more importantly, how am I not managing to explain to my OTTB what I am asking of him. He has had everything done; physio, chiropractic, teeth, saddle fit to check that he is not in pain. All of the above have been readdressed or checked and adjusted, and yet he still was reluctant to pick up right canter. At one point I was managing to get him to do a flying change from left to right, but then I asked myself, is it fair to ask an unbalanced 4 year old to be doing a flying change.

With lots of perseverance, and breaking down the transition, working on a little bit of sitting trot and making sure he was fully through the rein we managed to get right canter! It then took another four weeks to be able to do it when at a competition. In a test, we do not have the leisure that we have at home of being able to do 10, 20-meter circles to prepare and get it correct. When he first managed to achieve right canter in a test I was so ecstatic that we kind of lost a bit of control and balance and somehow ended up at the C end when we were meant to be at the A end. The judge was laughing, I was thrilled. At that moment in time the control didn't matter, to me it was the transition, along with a hefty pat and telling Ryan he was simply amazing.

We still have quite a few moments when we do not achieve right canter, his natural balance and way of going always leaves him inclined to pick up the left lead. But the more we work on it, the better he is getting and the more confident he is becoming in doing it.

Here is to hoping that in a few weeks, everything will come together and we will manage to get right canter ... oh, and do well in the other bits of the test too!

The exciting news is that Ryan’s flights were confirmed as of yesterday! On October 16th we will be in Kentucky. I am available for lessons/instruction if anyone would like one. My website is if you would like to see who and what I am about. My email is I am willing to travel as I will have a car, and it will be odd for me to be looking after only one horse!


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