100-Day Challenge

Day 100: The Challenge

DAY 100. What a day with Solar! This ex-racehorse proved to himself and to many more that if given a chance, racehorses can be winners off the track too. We concluded our 100-days together by earning the top spot in the 100-Day Trainer Challenge after three judged phases. Check out the final results in Emerald Downs’ press release, here. All five pairs did a superb job of demonstrating the trainability and versatility of off-the-track-Thoroughbreds.

Chesna and Solar walking out of the arena
Photo by Jo Arlow

For reasons only Solar will know, he was not a very successful racehorse. Solar raced as a two-, three-, and four-year-old a total of seven times. Despite good breeding (including famous relatives like Secretariat), the best placing Solar achieved was third. One of the notes on his race history simply said, “dull effort.” How wonderful then that several years after the end of his first career this horse was able to find his stride and earn a real win. Not only did he win the top prize in the 100-Day Trainer Challenge, he won an adoring new owner and the attention and support of hundreds of people.

My summary of the final competition follows, along with video and pictures…

Morning Warmup
I wanted to give Solar a chance to see the competition arenas before our midday performance. To do this, we entered one of the morning hunter/jumper classes shortly after we arrived at Donida Farm in Auburn, WA.

Solar jumping
Photo by Horsebytes

Solar wasn’t as focused and relaxed as he is at home, but regardless I’m pleased with his effort. The show environment included quite a crowd (and clapping!) as well as a PA system and other distractions. He was heavier in the hand than normal at this stage in his training and lacked some of the promptness/focus we had developed, but that was probably also due in part to having to wait around for classes and my own mental state.

It’s easy to forget that Solar had no show experience before the 100-Day Trainer Challenge. Even at his “worst” he’s composed and easy to be around. Solar was safe to handle the whole day through and seemed to get more at ease as the day progressed. Plus, he seemed to enjoy being the center of attention. Like the other shows we had attended, this was a fabulous learning experience for him; I believe he left the show a more confident, accomplished horse.

In-Hand Class
The first phase of the judged competition consisted of a scored in-hand class. Each horse and handler had to complete a pattern given to us shortly before the start of the class:

  • Walk to point A. Halt. Turn right 360 degrees on the haunch.
  • Trot to point B. Halt. Turn left 180 degrees on the forehand.
  • Sidepass right four steps.
  • Trot back to point A and halt before leaving the arena.

Solar standing with no halter on
Photo by Diane Karl of Frogster Photos

We participated in the in-hand class without a halter. I wanted to demonstrate how real connection goes beyond tools or devices. Before taking off the halter, I assessed Solar’s mental state and determined that he was obedient and focused enough to do this safely, despite being in a different environment. I had prepared him for this level of communication during our 100-days together.

A rule around Nayborly Farms is that any horse who spends significant time on the property needs to be able to be handled without a halter on the ground. We routinely lead our horses by their manes or flymasks or ask them to stand patiently in the field while we do daily care activities like flyspray, wound care, or cleaning hooves. This is for convenience and safety. During his time at Nayborly Solar had plenty of practice abiding by these expectations. And, the practice paid off!

Solar prancing in hand
Photo by Jo Arlow

Solar put in a solid performance in the leading class with the exception of the final stop headed towards the outgate… When folks clapped he got a bit excited! Needless to say looks like he’ll be able to passage and prance proudly for dressage someday!

Solar executed the maneuvers well and earned the top score during the in-hand class.

Solar and Chesna riding dressage
Photo by Diane Karl

Flat Class
Solar was somewhat tense and unbalanced during the riding phase but overall he was obedient and level-headed. I was impressed considering we were cantering around the ring with a group of other Thoroughbreds–not unlike a race!

I know if we had had more warm-up time Solar would have worked into a more consistent frame and showcased better paces. It was a great test though to know that you can “get on and go” at a show and he will keep his wits about him with no trouble.

We placed third in the flat class.

Freestyle Class

Chesna jumping bridleless with no hands
Photo by Jo Arlow

For the short three-minute freestyle performance I wanted to demonstrate the relationship Solar and I have developed. I also wanted to highlight Solar’s versatility and trainability to help put negative stereotypes about ex-racehorses in their place.

I rode bareback to accommodate our bow-to-mount starting move. As smooth as Solar’s paces are, I opted for a bareback pad against the classic Thoroughbred withers (thanks Breanne!). After performing some basic flat exercises like trot leg yield and lead changes, I felt comfortable enough to take Solar’s bridle off.

Solar cantering bridleless
Photo by Diane Karl of Frogster Photos

I’d been working bridleless with Solar a little at home during spare moments but never in a large public environment; I wasn’t sure what to expect! Just to be on the safe side some brave friends stood at the gate openings and I had a neck rope. Solar was as steady and honest as ever though and moved around the ring like a champ. We only scared one crowd member!

At the end I loved how pleased Solar was with himself about getting on the narrow platform. He even stood on it calmly while I dismounted over his hindquarters and stepped to the side. He seemed to soak in the applause from the crowd!

Solar placed first in this class, giving us a cumulative score of 18; the highest score of the five competitors.

Photo by Diane Karl of Frogster Photos
Solar meeting Mark Bolender
Photo by Linda Dupertuis
Solar waiting at the show
Photo by Linda Dupertuis
Solar and Ellie
Photo by Linda Dupertuis
Devin Robel, Meika Decher, and Chesna Klimek
Photo by Kristy Batie
Solar turning without a bridle
Photo by Connie W.
Solar rubbing his head
Photo by Cadence Maddox
Solar leading without a halter
Photo by Emily Wilmot, owner of Dakota Demon

Many thanks to each and every person who supported us on the final day and along the way on the 100-Day Trainer Challenge. Please take a moment to read my acknowledgements post, here.

It’s heart-warming to me to see how many people were interested in the Prodigious Fund’s efforts to help ex-racehorses find new careers. This is a great sign for ex-racehorses, and I hope that those who who have been following the 100-Day Trainer Challenge felt inspired by all the horses they saw, including those participating in the Thoroughbred-only horse show.

What’s Next?

Solar with curly hair
Photo by Heidi Behrends Cerniway

This week Solar heads off across the country to his new home in Ohio with Mary. I couldn’t be happier for him. I’ll be sure to stay in touch with Mary and post any updates I get down the road from their adventures together.

I will continue to build my website with educational articles and resources for riders who want to develop a harmonious partnership with their horse(s). And, I plan to post about some of my future activities with my own horses.

If you have questions or ideas for me, or wish to get involved with my work, please feel free to contact me here. Thank you for reading and being a part of the 100-Day Trainer Challenge!

Solar and Chesna riding bareback in the sun
Photo by Connie Wesihaar

** All photos are copyright of the indicated photographer. **

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