Editors Note: This series follows the journey of Las Vegas horse trainer Jennifer Osborne as she prepares for the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover in Lexington, Kentucky. Each month, Jennifer will share her progress as she makes her OTTB mare competition ready.


The road to Kentucky is paved with well intentioned horse trainers and later this year, I will be one of them. I have entered the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. The contest tests a trainer’s ability to retrain an OTTB (off-the-track Thoroughbred) and showcases the horse’s ability to function in a career other than horse racing. In the Makeover, trainers have roughly nine months to work with their horse and then travel to Kentucky in October to compete for the overall title of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred. Now I am one of those competitors and I ask myself every day: What have I gotten myself into?

Most of the time in life I feel like the proverbial underdog. I tend to choose things that make me look like a walking contradiction. From becoming a firefighter to rock climbing to horse training, I do not look like a person who would do any of those things. And that, to me, is the metaphor for the OTTB. A lot of people judge these horses from the onset and say “an OTTB can’t do that…” or “an OTTB is only good for…” I am often subject to the same criticism, which is one of the reasons I wanted to enter the contest – to prove that things aren’t always what they appear.

In January, I went to California and picked up a 3-year-old mare named Fortunate Cookie (aka Flynn) to use in the contest. I plan to enter her in the eventing and freestyle categories. As of today, I have just under seven months to transform her into a willing partner. Fortunate Cookie had a few races in her short professional career. She won two but fell off and lost the desire to race. She retired sound and when I picked her up her two biggest issues were a little bit of fungus and being underweight.

I trailered her back to Las Vegas to a barn that was new to both of us. At the beginning of the year just before I picked up Flynn, the stable I had been training at for nine years shut down. So she and I both moved on to a new future together. I always give the horses one day to relax when I get them to my facility and then it’s back to work. I have noticed that OTTBs love having a job. One of my horses acts like he is being punished if I don’t work him for a few days. I always start every ex-racehorse like they have never been ridden, even if they have raced on the track. I find that this way I can fill in gaps in training and make it safe for me and the horse.

When Flynn and I started our first day of work we began in the round pen. Every trainer has a process that works for them and Clinton Anderson’s Downunder Method is the one that works best for me. The Downunder Method seems to me to be the best way to teach a horse respect and how to be a willing partner. Day one with Flynn was free lunging in the round pen that lasted about 20 minutes before she was turning and facing me and being respectful.

Now that we are really into our training there have been some ups and some downs. As a professional firefighter I work ten 24-hour shifts per month, so that means there are 10 days a month when I can’t be there to work with Flynn. Also, the weather has been awful with tons of rain which makes training inconsistent. In the horse training game, consistency is key and the greatest ally.

Nevertheless, I have been able to put in a good amount of ground work on Flynn in the last month by working her twice on the days when we are able to train. What I do is work her for about 30 minutes with lunging and sending her over obstacles. Then, I give her turn out for a few hours and come back to do another 30 minutes with really low energy and teach her relaxation techniques.

Some trainers thing a month of just ground work is excessive but to me this is the most important part of the initial training of a horse. In this last month, I have been able to learn a lot about Flynn and what makes her tick. She is very smart and figures things out quickly. She only wants to challenge me every once in a while to see if I am paying attention. But, once I show her what I need from her she is very willing. And, now she knows a lot about me as well. She knows that I will always be fair and reward the slightest try.

Flynn is also starting to learn that if she relaxes and walks I will let her. In doing a month of ground work we have taught each other what to expect and now we can move on to riding with the same expectations.

What will the next few months bring? Will we make it to Kentucky in one piece? Your guess is as good as mine, but I can’t wait to find out.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The first thing I noticed was Clinton’s halter and lead, (I zoomed in to look) and then read that you were a member, and then
    Fire and Ice!!!! YAY!!!! Good luck!!! I live in Northern Nevada and have been a member since 2010.

  2. PLUS!! The first, first thing I noticed was the way you were holding the lead rope! I said to myself, THAT has to be a CA person!!!!

  3. Love what your doing with Flynn. And really love that you’re doing it using natural horsemanship. Keep up the hard work and I wish you both all the best in KY! 😊

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