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Retraining a Project OTTB and the Story of How I Failed

Julie Frykman

Posted on January 11 2017

The warm sun was beating down on me when I received the text from my trainer “Do you want the chestnut? The FL people are backing out.” My mind was racing. I’d been searching Canter websites for months looking for an ex-racer I could retrain and sell. When I first heard of this gelding everything about him seemed to fit. Now I may be a woman with a great faith in God, but I also strongly believe things happen for a reason with signs leading you there.  His name was In Classic Fashion - I was a fashion major in college, he was born April 5, 2004 - the week my husband and I started dating, and after being told he was sold - now he’s available to me on my birthday. Alright, you may be rolling your eyes at this point just as my husband did, but I didn’t say it was rational, I said I believe in it.


Project horse turned fail.

{The picture I made the life-changing decision off of.}

I looked out over the ocean through the bars of the condo balcony. My husband and I were on vacation and it was my birthday. If this wasn’t the perfect time to find the man relaxed and in the mood to please his wife…well then there is no such thing as perfect timing! My non-horsey husband was already on the verge of being persuaded, as long as I promised the horse would be sold, no getting attached. Humph…this man acts like he knows me. 

My incoming text alert beeped again, the message was my trainer saying the guy needed an answer right away and wanted the gelding moved as quickly as possible. I went to my husband, worked my buttering up magic and ran back to my phone. My fingers typed with excitement, “The earliest I can pick him up is Sunday. My flight doesn’t get back until late Saturday night.”  The minutes seemed to tick slowly by until she confirmed it was a done deal, I would pick the chestnut up on Sunday.

That’s when the panic set in. Was I out of my gourd, I just agreed to a horse sight unseen, did not have a paddock separate from the current herd set up, and then something that a normal, sane person would of thought of prior to committing -  was I even experienced enough to retrain an OTTB!?

I was too naïve to be worried about the one thing that I should have been; I was taking on a horse that had a bowed tendon. Now that’s where this gelding was sprinkled with the “things happen for a reason” dust. He was very lucky I was too naïve to even consider that.

During the flight home all I could think about was a barn name; Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, are you beginning to see my theme yet? My classic male fashion theme just tickled me to death, my husband not so much, the first 24 hours of endless name chatter was enough. Did I mention he is non-horsey?

Sunday came and I was all butterflies. We arrived at the farm, parked the truck and trailer and followed the guy to the chestnut gelding. Out of the stall walked 16.3 hands of gorgeousness! He may have had a kind eye, but he had presence too, coupled with his thick body and long legs, he was a sight! Since elementary school my dad owned every stock breed known to man, with a draft, an Arab, and a retired TB eventer mixed in, but at that moment I couldn’t remember any horse being this beautiful.

We got him home and he adjusted like the professional he is. The name Calvin Klein won, and since then the Klein has been reserved for giving him a stern talking to or the other end of the spectrum, just plain affection. Calvin was given almost a full month just to settle in. Within the first week it was apparent he wasn’t going anywhere. I don’t know what gave it away first; the fact that I bought my first jolly ball, or that from day 1 I chronicled his daily life with pictures posted on Facebook, much like that of a mother with her newborn baby, or when my husband said that if I wasn’t at the barn with Calvin then I was talking about Calvin, so much that he was beginning to know what it must feel like to be cheated on! Ooops!

Then came the day my trainer said it was time to try this boy out. After the month at our farm, he had now been off the track for 6 months. My trainer eased my anxiety about the first ride by agreeing to hop on first. My mouth must have been just hanging as I watched her w/t/c around the arena, he even changed diagonals like this wasn’t his first rodeo. Yet that was just it, I was expecting a rodeo, or at least a one horse race! This was unbelievable, he was calmly going around the arena and politely following her directions.  Then it was my turn…the long strides of his walk were like that of a camel, and the trot just sprung you out of the saddle in rhythm. I was grinning ear to ear!

That night I don’t remember what I said to my husband or the look on my face, I just remember when I was finished all he said was “You are never going to sell that horse are you.”

Yes, I ended that question with a period…because that’s exactly how he said it, as a statement. :)

Retraining my OTTB in dressage and trail riding.

xoxo Julie & Calvin


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