Journey to the Retired Racehorse Project Makeover - by Kallie Zeinstra

This is the story of Birdie's journey to The Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.

I have been working with off-track thoroughbreds for many years, retiring them from the track, retraining them into new careers and, most importantly, assisting them in breaking the stereotype about their having bad hooves and "crazy" attitudes.

This is the story of Birdie's 1st year with me.  Birdie (JC Name Kodiak Ridge) is a 2013 bay mare who had an accidental baby at two, then raced 3 times and was retired to a field for a year before I purchased her in October of 2017.

Birdie is what I would describe as a sweet, loving, extremely athletic, very opinionated and a now opened "can of worms".

Our story to the 2018 Makeover was supposed to be straight forward. Birdie came to me in fairly good shape physically and I knew with the proper diet (if I could just inspire her to eat more) and hoof care, she would be good to go.  The plan was to restart her slowly, with an aim toward competing in Eventing or Field Hunting at the Makeover. As with any horse though, the best laid plans don't often happen as we humans would like. Birdie carried a lot of anxiety when I first started riding her, which would quickly escalate into aggression or fear. Because of this I made the decision to focus on ground work and earning her trust over the long term.  

We spent the Winter, Spring and early Summer working on the ground, going for long walks together and working to correct her hooves so she could wear Scoot Boots which would allow us to add in new terrain and environments. My previous Makeover Thoroughbred Jacob came off the track with poor hooves and if it weren't for his Scoot Boots we would not have been able to make it to the Makeover.  

Birdie and I also hauled to local shows and competed in-hand. This time was also spent working to correct her round/flared hooves. In July I felt that Birdie was ready for me to get back on and we spent that month and August walking under saddle. August also saw Birdie's hooves ready for her first pair of Scoots! This meant we could explore more local parks that used gravel on their trails and would be sure to keep her comfortable on the varied terrain at the Horse Park which was either grass, gravel or cement.  By the end of August Birdie was moving confidently at the walk under saddle and her anxiety though still around, hadn't made a big appearance in a while. We started to add the trot and eventually the canter. September was our final push to see if she would be ready for the Makeover. We competed at two Dressage schooling shows in Intro walk/trot and Birdie did a pretty good job. Her anxiety did show itself but she was able to ride through it and follow my direction. By this time I had decided to compete in Freestyle where I planned to show Birdie at a walk/trot to music (this would also allow me to compete her in her Scoot Boots) and hoped to do Dressage.

On the 2nd of October, we loaded Birdie on the trailer and made the 7 hour drive to the Kentucky Horse Park.  Birdie hauled and settled into her stall well and after unloading her gear (I somehow always pack enough to care for five horses instead of one) and fitting the horse trailer into our camping spot it was time to explore the park.  On went Birdie's LightRider rope halter/bridle and her Scoot Boots and we set out on foot. Birdie was pretty excited, flash backs to track life no doubt, but stuck close to me as we explored the two areas we would be competing in later in the week, the covered arena and the Rolex stadium!  After our walk it was time to see about riding. Because of Birdie's excitement which closely bordered her past anxiety I opted to have my Mom lunge me in short sessions throughout the day at a walk and eventually a trot to give Birdie confidence. This decision payed off and by Wednesday afternoon the lunge line came off and Birdie and I walked, trotted and cantered solo. We were as ready as we were going to be!  

Our Dressage test and Demonstration ride was scheduled for Thursday right after lunch. I can say riding down center line in the Rolex arena with Birdie was an amazing feeling and Birdie did a great job for the limited experience she had in the Dressage pen!  One down, one to go, Friday was Freestyle day! Birdie warmed up well and spent some time making friends with a Zebu and watching a wall of balloons get moved into the holding area (other contestants "props"). Birdie had on her Scoots and her LightRider Dressage Bridle and looked amazing, and I looked pretty good too in my still white breeches and black jacket.  We entered the arena to thunderous applause from the previous contestant and poor Bird was completely overwhelmed. She danced into the center of the arena and our music started (Jessica's Theme from The Man From Snowy River) and I thought we would be done for. What followed completely humbled me. Birdie took her anxiety and fear and looked to Me! She tried so hard to do what I asked despite how she felt.  She did beautiful trot half passes to her music and the audience loved her. We may not have placed in the top ten in either of our classes but Birdie did an amazing job representing the soundness of a barefoot thoroughbred and showing off the amazing versatility of Scoot Boots and bitless riding.

In 2019 I plan to focus on Dressage with Birdie, continuing to build our bond and her self-confidence before introducing her into the world of Eventing.  Barefoot in Scoots of course! Who knows, maybe we will even make it back to the Rolex arena again someday, this time for the Land Rover 4 star....

"The Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover was created to draw attention to Off-Track Thoroughbreds by showing Thoroughbred Breeders, Owners and Race Trainers that their horses have worth outside of racing. Each accepted contestant must acquire a horse that has had no post racetrack training and in the next ten months train that horse to compete in new disciplines at the Kentucky Horse Park.  The 2018 Makeover saw more than 500 horses compete at the Makeover."

Kallie Zeinstra has been involved with horses since she was born and began competing with her horses at the age of 9 and training professionally at 13. She is an avid barefoot enthusiast and spends her time assisting horses in their transition from shod to barefoot.  Having worked with numerous breeds of horses in the last 20 years in Dressage, Western, English, Field Hunting, Mounted Archery, Eventing and Trail, she now spends her time transitioning Thoroughbreds off the track into new disciplines, training horses for clients and competing her OTTB Birdie and Percheron Baxter in Dressage and Eventing as well as Equine Therapy work with her Miniature horse Oliver.

Kallie currently rides and competes her horses in Scoots in Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

Kallie Zeinstra

Lighthouse Sport Horses

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