Natalie Keller Reinert was leaning toward a career in journalism when she got the call.
Ex-racehorse Final Call beckoned this January with an opportunity for both. The trustworthy gelding would get to retrain in a new discipline; and Reinert, a onetime journalism student, would get the chance to funnel her passions for writing and Thoroughbreds into a grand experiment in riding and blogging.
Blogging on her website Retired Racehorse Blog, and taking a cue from National Public Radio’s “do it yourself reporting style,” as she describes it, Reinert began a journalistic chronicle of the adventures of retraining Final Call.
Along the way, she built a following, and caught the attention of New York racehorse trainer Joe Parker. By July, Reinert was in the irons at Aqueduct Race Track in New York, exercising racehorses for Parker.
“This was one of the most thrilling things to happen to me,” says Reinert, 29.
The lifelong equestrian who hails from Maryland was living in Florida with her husband and son when she received an email from Parker. He had a story idea for her blog, writing about a New York rally for racing jobs. She liked the idea so she wrote the story and sent it to him along with a request to visit the Aqueduct track.
“I explained that I was doing research for a book, and he said, ‘Sure. Why don’t you bring your hat and your vest and get on some horses.’ I did. We ended up talking after, and he said if I came to New York I could ride for him.”
Reinert writes hilarious accounts of life in the saddle on her re-named blog, Un-Retired Racehorse. In her July 27 post, “You Little You-Know-What,” she asks and answers the question of how she regained control of a careening racehorse.
“You kick, you shout, you may (blush) scream. You swear with everything you’ve got. You verbally abuse with deeply unladylike, highly inappropriate, utterly satisfying epithets. And you kick, you kick, you kick, as you do it, hands on his neck, wrapped around the strap of the yoke — go on and bolt, you bloody little…. I dare you…
“And it works. It works! The most cocksure of horses simply hate to be screamed at.”
Don’t get her wrong. Most days when she climbs into the saddle at 6 a.m. are moments of sheer, in-the-moment bliss.
Being on a beautiful racetrack as the sun comes up and the New York City subway clatters by is pretty amazing. “One morning I was so happy that when the train came by I yelled, ‘Good morning train!’ ”
Before Reinert got serious with her riding again, she had a disappointing decade in the saddle.
She’d been thrown or bucked off countless times, from one horse or another, and her mare Bon Appeal, who she has since sold, wreaked havoc with her confidence. “She made me crazy,” Reinert says. “Every moment on her felt like my last moments on the planet.”
But something compelled her to look for an ex-racehorse to retrain. And when she found Final Call through an online advertisement, she knew right away he was different.
“I got on him in the round pen at the racetrack, and for the first time in a long time, I felt solid,” she says. “He felt like a very honest horse. Even though we were right next to the training track, I never felt he would buck or spook.”
She brought him home while still living in Florida and commenced to training straightaway. Then eventually, she took him to a hunter pace to give him the feel for jumping. “There’s no better way to learn to jump then to let him follow somebody over logs,” she explains.
As he navigated the course, there were some “awkward moments” when he fell over a jump, at one point almost landing on his face. Going over the third-to-last jump, slithering a little, there was a moment when Final Call seemed to understand that he could do it.
“He just looked up the hill at the last two jumps, and he was at it,” Reinert says. “It was definitely an ah-ha moment for him when he realized he could get over those big fences.”
Working with Final Call helped her regain confidence and get over some psychological hurdles. In fact, if it weren’t for him, she can’t imagine that she’d now have the confidence to ride racehorses at the track today.
“Riding him … is what gave me the ability to come up here and get on horses at the racetrack.”