Wait, I Didn’t Win? My Amazing Reflection on the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover

Morgan Vaughn and her Thoroughbred Makeover project horse. Photo Credit: Capture the Moments With Lauren

Wait, I Didn’t Win? My Amazing Reflection on the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover

By Morgan Vaughn 

If you have ever spoken with me or read my Facebook page or looked at my Instagram feed, you would quickly realize that I am utterly obsessed with the Thoroughbred. It is more than an obsession; let’s call it more of an addiction, and as such, let me just say, my name is a Morgan and I am an addict. Have been since I was a child. 

Quick backstory: I grew up going to the racetrack, specifically the Fairgrounds, Gulfstream, and Calder, and my most favorite, Belmont. There was even a week or two at Saratoga. My father and grandfather are avid horse players, and took me every weekend. As a horse crazy girl, this was the best thing ever. The Daily Racing Form was perhaps the very first thing I learned how to read and my Popop taught me fractions and odds early on in my life. I poured over auction books, tracked pedigrees and studied conformation. Not the usual reading fare for a tween girl. 

Fast forward twenty-nine years. 

Morgan Vaughn on Legacy of Honor. Copyrighted by Xpress Foto. Any use w/o written permission from Xpress Foto is a violation of our copyright and subject to hefty fines, jail time, criminal record and legal fees. 920-619-8765

This year, I had the remarkable opportunity to compete in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America in Lexington, KY. It was an amazing experience and one that I will be repeating again in 2017. 

I had discovered the Retired Racehorse Project’s website and information about their makeover too late to enter for the 2015 competition, so I was bound and determined to do it in 2016. Luckily, 2016 brought Whisper Hill Farm, LLC into my life. WHF provided me with both an entry and sponsorship in the competition. They sent me the lovely Legacy of Honor, a bright bay, 16.3 h, Thoroughbred gelding by Bluegrass Cat out of Affirmed Legacy by Affirmed. A lovely mover with a 10 canter, he is an all around good guy with an aptitude for dressage and the hunters. 

The hunters? Most people know me as an eventer and that is definitely how I define myself, but one of my theories in training Thoroughbreds is that you have to let them tell you to what sport they are most suited. While brave and joyful on cross country at his first Chatt Hills, he has the look of a classic show hunter, and with his perfect canter, it is hard not to see him as a Hunter Derby Champion. So, for the makeover, I entered the Dressage and Show Hunter Divisions. in Dressage, I have a solid foundation and much show experience and am constantly training. The Show Hunters, not so much. As an event rider, I have the utmost respect for the hunters. Sure, I don’t get why you don’t schedule rides and you wait around all day. Or why the hair must hang over the ears like lunch lady hair, but I cannot help but be impressed by their ease of jumping around the course in a steady rhythm. If you have ever ridden one of my Stadium Courses, you will note that all my courses are built like equitation courses. It’s out of my great respect for the equitation riders (and George Morris) that I design the courses as I do. 

I am a perpetual student; there is so much to know, and when it comes to horses, I want to know it all! So I was pretty excited to learn a new discipline. Lauren Moore at JC North agreed to help me, and I took three lessons with her prior to leaving for Kentucky. She’s a great instructor and I highly recommend her if you want to really polish your skills over fences. 

Lexington, Kentucky is quite the haul from Covington, Louisiana, but well worth every hour. What incredible horse country! Crossing the border from Tennessee to Kentucky, fulfilled every expectation and more with beautiful white fencing as far as the eye can see and Kentucky Downs on the right hand side of the highway. Quite the first impression. I owe a gigantic amount of gratitude to Lynn Quast for supporting me throughout this entire adventure and for driving the ENTIRE way there and back. It goes without saying that without her, none of this would have been possible. 

The Kentucky Horse Park is vast. Holy moly! I was lucky enough to go to Tryon and ride at that incredible facility, but that is tiny compared to the Kentucky Horse Park. We arrived late in the evening and unloaded everything as quickly as possible because it was cold! It wasn’t until the following day that I really got to see the facility, and though it is a well used facility and aged, it is still top notch. I went a little ‘Martha Stewart’ right before I left and created a decorated stall front. A little Hobby Lobby shopping and some twine and I was in business! It was fun to decorate on behalf of Whisper Hill Farm, EquiBest, and my own Thoroughbred Charm School. I had requested to be stabled next to Ginny Harrison and Lilah and Amy Frank. Fun stablemates always make for a fun time. Plus, Ginny was riding a horse, Stonebriar, I had acquired from a fabulous Thoroughbred Sales Agent in February in Aiken, and I have been following his progress like a proud grandparent. She has done a lovely job with him and he has developed into the incredible athlete and jumper I knew he would be. 

Morgan Vaughn on Legacy of Honor. Copyrighted by Xpress Foto. Any use w/o written permission from Xpress Foto is a violation of our copyright and subject to hefty fines, jail time, criminal record and legal fees. 920-619-8765

Since we had arrived two days prior to competition beginning, I had plenty of opportunity to acclimate Legacy of Honor to his new surroundings. He has had a ton of exposure this year throughout his training, from attending the Sandstone Equestrian Center schooling show at the pre Ameoba level at Sandstone Equestrian Center in Mobile, AL, to being a non-compete at Le Bon Temps, to hacking through the Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, SC–this horse has gone on many field trips. For our first ride at the KHP, he hacked over to the dressage field quietly, and after a few exuberant leaps and bounds at the site of horses galloping in the distance, he settled into his work. Knowing that in Kentucky I had access to one of my favorite dressage trainers, Linda Strine, I scheduled a lesson with her the day prior to my Dressage test and Demonstration Ride. Linda is wonderful and has worked with me with several of my OTTBs, and I had ridden with her when she came in town for a clinic early on in his training. It was great getting her eye and expertise prior to the big day. 

The morning of the Dressage competition was also the scheduled time the show hunter ring was open for schooling. Yes, that is right, the hunters open the ring for schooling BEFORE the show! Crazy. Many hunter riders think that eventers are crazy, but cross country is nothing compared to the terrifying place that is the schooling in the show ring. There were sixteen of us in there. Sixteen Thoroughbreds who had only been in training for ten months; it was like playing Frogger. 

The day was filled with hurry up and wait, and some ancillary dramas, but when it finally came time to mount for my official ride time, I was ready. The plan was to give myself plenty of time in case he had some exuberant moments that needed finessing. We had a lovely warm up and when it was finally my turn to go in the ring, I felt very confident of our chances. We put in a solid test, the beginning was very steady and fluid, but as we progressed he started to get a little tense and broke into the trot during the working walk. That was the moment I knew that I wasn’t going to win. It was confirmed again when as we crossed the diagonal, a movement we typically nail, he broken into canter. Tough breaks, but on to the demonstration ride, in which we nailed the medium canter in both directions! I was thrilled by his performance for our freestyle, but I knew that we would be out of the ribbons. As I left the ring that day, I was pleased and disappointed all at the same time. We placed 23rd out of 68, and I think that even though we did not take home the blue like I was sure we would, that we represented our skills and training well. 

Morgan Vaughn and her Thoroughbred Makeover project horse. Photo Credit: Capture the Moments With LaurenOn to the Show Hunters, something I know very little about, but Legacy of Honor was a natural at it. Having taken the three hunter lessons with Lauren, and watching every single video of last year’s Hunters that I could, I entered the ring feeling like I had been doing this my entire life. ‘Fake it until you make it’ was easily applied to this foray of mine. While the first round was perhaps a little green in the beginning, the second round was fantastic! We hit all our lead changes, he jumped well (except for one fence) and kept his incredible canter at a nice steady rhythm throughout the round. I was beaming –s o amazed by the two of us in that moment. I am quite proud of my inaugural Show Hunter performance and was very pleased to see, that even though we did not win or land in the ribbons, we managed to be in the top twenty and was awarded 17th out of 70. Not the blue ribbon I had hoped for, but as this was my first time in the hunter ring, a top twenty finish in a very large class against some professional show hunter riders was a big success. Yea, pretty proud. 

So my experience in Kentucky and throughout 2016 was pretty amazing. My biggest goal, outside of winning, was to enter the ring and leave nothing on the table, to not ride conservative, because great reward can truly only come with great risk. While I may have pushed that a tad too far towards the end of my dressage test, it was only because I sought brilliance, and for that, I forgive myself. Legacy of Honor was truly an incredible partner to have for the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and I am curious to see just how far he goes in whatever discipline, as he is destined to excel in any of them. 

For those who are curious about next year’s Makeover horse, I am pretty curious to meet that equine too! I promise to introduce all of you to that special steed through social media (instagram: @vaughnsocialcharm or facebook: Thoroughbred Charm School) or at the shows or around the barn. And thank you in advance for cheering me on in Kentucky in 2017!

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