Lindsey Partridge at Harmony Horsemanship with Shiney (APHA) (Michael Brown Photo)
Partridge has produced America’s Most Wanted Horse twice at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover
By Ben Baugh
Lindsey Partridge recounts that she began working with horses when she was seven or eight years old. It was her sister that initially loved horses, and because of her interest, found herself going to riding camps. That seemed to inspire her younger sister.
“I went to a March break riding camp,” said Partridge. “I essentially got hooked and began taking riding lessons. Funny enough, my sister ended dropping out of horses as we grew up, and she took up swimming instead. I dropped my other sports and decided to take up horseback riding.”
Partridge had been competing as a gymnast, playing soccer but not seriously and had been involved with a band, but all of those other disciplines came to a halt, when she made the decision to transform into her newfound passion, horses. Her parents bought her first horse, a Quarter Horse named Generals Mission, when she was 13 years old.
“Horses are expensive, so I had to pick one (a sport to compete in),” said Partridge. “It was probably the best thing they ever did (her parents) because it gave me a real goal and focus. I wanted to go to horse shows on the weekend. There was no time to go to parties or anything like that. It kept me out of trouble.”
Generals Mission seemed to possess attributes that helped Partridge evolve as a rider, and it was from those early experiences, that the lesson master played a significant role in her progress.
“He was nice in the sense that he was quiet and not spooky,” said Partridge. “But he could be a little fast, and he didn’t know a lot about jumping. He knew enough that he was safe. He didn’t know enough that I had to accomplish myself as a rider to be able to compete in the jumpers and hunters (classes).”
She began to see the fruits of her labor with some success at the local show level, when she began exhibiting in a series called the Durham Saddle Club shows.
“They were schooling level shows, that were held over the course of the year and there were year end awards and one of those awards was called the Charlie’s Pride Memorial Award,” said Partridge. “It was awarded to the horse with the most versatility.”
Generals Mission showcased his ability to adapt by competing in English pleasure flat classes, then exhibiting in hunter over fences, and later in the day demonstrated his talents in western pleasure, trail, and finishing the competition by barrel racing.
“We would arrive early in the morning, and we would do the English classes, do all the jumping, take a lunch break and then do the other classes,” said Partridge. “He was good at all of it. There were shows where we would literally win English pleasure and western pleasure, we wouldn’t win the hunter over fences, but we would place in it. He would usually win the barrel racing, and the judges would be so surprised that he could win the open pleasure and then win the open barrels afterwards. He won the Charlie’s Pride Memorial Award two years in a row.”
An eye toward the future
Those early schooling shows provided Partridge with a solid foundation, as an all-around horsewoman, and she would take that knowledge and begin building a career as a trainer while still a teenager. She would continue to train and teach lessons, while attending university, eventually obtaining her bachelor’s degree in health sciences and becoming a registered nurse. Partridge also began buying, retraining and selling the horses recognizing it would be too expensive to take them to college with her and to keep them long-term.
“I had been in show jumping for a while, won some championships, and had finished fourth in my child-adult amateur when I was on the Silver Circuit in Ontario, and I also had great success my last year of Pony Club,” said Partridge. “I didn’t join Pony Club until I was a little bit older, and the year that I did it, I won all the starter level show jumping competition championships and regional championships.”
Returning to her roots
While Partridge had been training horses for resale and giving lessons to other horsemen, she realized she was no longer doing the thing she loved the most, which was competing, and wasn’t doing anything with her own horses. She founded Harmony Horsemanship, the name of her training barn, in 2015.
“I heard about the Thoroughbred Makeover through a friend,” said Partridge, who is a certified competition Equine Canada coach for both English and western disciplines. “That provided me with an opportunity to have time with my horses, not just helping other people. And that was me kind of getting back into the competitive scene. I dabbled in schooling shows and training shows for other people, but I hadn’t really committed to a series or a particular competition up until that point. I had a very large break from exhibiting in a serious competition.”
Reaching new heights
A return to a routine show schedule found Partridge entering a pair of horses in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover in 2015. And the results were inspiring and impressive. Partridge Hill Farm is the name of her farm, which is located in a town northeast of Toronto.
“It was my first year in the competition, and I had two horses, one was named Soar (Trajectory-Pyrenee Soar-Mt. Livermore) and the other was the Lionofwallstreet,” said Partridge. “I competed in trail and freestyle with both of them. And Soar, who is my gray Thoroughbred mare, ended up winning trail and finishing third in freestyle. I ended up winning the overall title of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred with Soar.”
The gelding, Lionofwallstreet, also placed, finishing second in trail and 10th in freestyle.
“I ended up selling Lionofwallstreet,” said Partridge. “Soar, who I call Khalessi, is a lesson pony at our farm now.”
Transitioning horses from the racetrack comes naturally for Partridge. Her Harmony Horsemanship focuses on what she refers to as calm connection. She uses what she calls a SAFE approach, simple, achievable, friendly and effective techniques.
“We do a lot of work where we’re not asking the horse to do a lot in particular, trying to work on their frame or their headset, getting them fit,” said Partridge. “We’re literally just working on their mind, and getting them to get calm and connected, so that they can be relaxed.”
The horses have a sense of peace and serenity when they’re under Partridge’s charge, being given an opportunity to be horses. Partridge Hill Farm is a haven where they can decompress and listen. It was when Partridge did her first year of the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, that it opened her eyes to the vast possibilities to make those horses in her string into the most versatile performers. Partridge’s methodology teaches the riders to understand themselves, their horse and the language that is responsible for the connection.
“That’s when I really found out more about trail, extreme cowboy racing, which I really love because it presents all of those different challenges to the horse,” said Partridge. “It asks questions and they become thinking horses. You never know when you show up to an extreme cowboy race. You may have to side pass a pole or back through a chute, drag something or go over a bridge or do rollbacks. You really don’t know. So, you go back to the basics.”
Transitioning to tranquility
Patience plays a large role in Partridge’s Harmony Horsemanship, and with the preponderance of those racehorses that have come off of the track and into her program, their initial ride or in some cases their first few rides, Partridge does nothing more than walk with the horses, giving them the opportunity to relax and understand that they’re not going to be doing anything or going anywhere. They have an opportunity to acclimate to their new environment.
“It’s a really important part of their training, they realize they can become really calm,” said Partridge. “They don’t have to focus on what’s the next thing they’re going to be asked to do. It’s worked. I’ve had so many horses at the Thoroughbred Makeover.”
Building on success
Soar and Lionofwallstreet were her first two horses to make the trip to Lexington, Ky., and the following year Partridge ramped it up by qualifying three entries, Trivia Time, Pentland and Yougottabekidding.
“My junior student competed Yougottabekidding and then I did trail freestyle with Trivia Time, winning both classes,” said Partridge. “Pentland finished third in both field hunters and trail and Yougottabekidding was fifth in trail. It was a pretty successful year.”
Turning the tables
However, the third year was a learning experience for Partridge, with three horses from her program contesting the divisions at the Thoroughbred Makeover. And it was an unexpected result, one that still resonates with Partridge to this day.
“My student Franny Galvin-Hynes was back with a little gray gelding, The Bowie Van,” said Partridge. “I had Here Comes Adri and another horse called Bowdrie. And my student beat me. She’ll never let me live it down. In trail, I was second and third with Bowdrie and Here Comes Adri.”
The following year, in 2018, Partridge traded her exhibitors’ hat for that of an official, and it provided her with a completely different perspective.
“I judged freestyle, it was eye-opening as to how difficult a discipline is to judge,” said Partridge. “But it also gave me an idea after watching so many routines, what makes a routine stand out. It gave me a little more insight into what to do.”
A year away from competing, and then welcoming a new life into the world that summer, didn’t seem to slow Partridge down. The horsewoman seemed to thrive with the extra responsibilities as she returned with two horses for the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover.
“It was a crazy year because I had my first baby June 25th, I had a baby girl,” said Partridge. “I competed at the Thoroughbred Makeover in October, and I did two horses, Fairly Obvious and Regina Christina. I did four different disciplines, field hunter and trail with Regina Christina and ranch and freestyle with Fairly Obvious. I became the first trainer to make two horses make all four finales in all four disciplines.”
It seemed like an insurmountable task, but even with the additional challenges that were before her, Partridge was able to overcome life’s vagaries.
“I was still breast feeding my baby, she was only a few months old,” said Partridge. “It was utter and complete chaos. I was second in freestyle and trail, fourth in ranch and fourth in field hunters. That was really crazy and rewarding. I said to myself, ‘I’ll never take two horses again while I have little ones. It’s too chaotic.’”
Flexibility and fecundity
It seemed that 2020 would be another banner year, but like everyone else, no one expected what was about to happen. It would take a global pandemic to stop Partridge’s momentum.
“In 2020, I had been planning to take one horse, Thunderous Affair, and that Thoroughbred Makeover got rescheduled to the Megamakeover,” said Partridge. “The 2020 edition got rescheduled because of COVID. They combined it for 2020 and 2021.”
The rescheduling didn’t present a problem because for the second time Partridge earned extraordinary plaudits for her performance with Thunderous Affair, Liaison-Thunder Fan-Thunder Gulch.
“They said, ‘Because he’s a hunter horse, you can do a separate class,’” said Partridge. “We won both freestyle and trail and won the overall title for America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.”
Partridge has the distinction of reaching new heights, with having won the title of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred on two occasions with both Soar and Thunderous Affair.
Her love for the breed has only increased, as she continues to experience great success with a class of stock that still draws derision from some in the sport horse world.
“Back when I was training and flipping horses, where I would train and resell, I had gotten away from Thoroughbreds,” said Partridge. “I loved them because so many people didn’t like them. You would see ads with people looking for horses, but they would say, “No Thoroughbreds.’ It was so frustrating because they’re great horses and a lot of times they’re misunderstood.”
Bred for success
However, it was the Thoroughbred Makeover that served as the impetus for Partridge to get more Thoroughbreds.
“Over the years, the demand for off-track Thoroughbreds has really gone up, and it’s now a lot harder to get a reasonably priced off-track Thoroughbred,” said Partridge. “Now, I don’t worry about what other people say about Thoroughbreds because people are seeing in these makeover competitions and transformation expos what amazing horses they are.”
The breed’s versatility, intelligence, willingness and energy are among the attributes Partridge absolutely loves about the Thoroughbred.
“They’re eager to try, whereas I find horses like lazy Warmbloods really frustrating,” said Partridge. “I would rather ride a Thoroughbred that’s kind of always eager to go, then riding a lazy horse where you keep nudging them to go. It’s hard to teach upper-level things when you have a horse that’s not naturally energetic or driven.”
Success at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover resulted in a number of opportunities for Partridge, including showcasing her talents in front of the camera. It was after she and Soar won the title of America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred that she found herself in the Tarheel State before a film crew.
“I was in the movie Unbridled,” aid Partridge. “I had never done a movie before and didn’t know what to expect. We went down to North Carolina and stayed there for an entire month of filming. It was a great challenge because I was asked to do all kinds of crazy weird things. I had two horses with me, Dreamer, my palomino quarter horse gelding, who was the main star of the film, and then I had Soar, who had just won the Thoroughbred Makeover.”
It brought out the best in Partridge’s skills as a horsewoman, because using unbridled liberty up to that point was something Partridge had primarily been doing for fun. There weren’t as many places where she could showcase her competencies in what is one of her hallmarks, her Harmony Horsemanship.
“That was what was exciting about the Thoroughbred Makeover, that there was freestyle and there was an avenue to do that,” said Partridge. “And being in Unbridled really challenged that liberty for having to do those wide scenes where I couldn’t be within 50 feet. My horse had to stand in a particular place, and then on cue they needed them to pivot 150 degrees and then take off galloping and jump a fence.”
The horse would then walk up to the actor, pivot and let the actress get on and walk off without any tack, said Partridge.
“When you watch the movie, it looks very natural, like it just happened and they filmed it,” said Partridge. “It was carefully planned and trained, I had to teach him that. He’s running through trees, through a designated path and to a target that I had him go to. The audience doesn’t get to appreciate the training.”
Gary Convery played an influential role in Partridge’s career, laying the foundation for natural horsemanship, and when he passed away, she was able to fill in the gap and keep learning by working with two Parelli instructors.
“I even got my Parelli level 4, but not as an instructor,” said Partridge. “Then I realized I was struggling with my liberty because they do a lot of round penning, like having the horse follow the round pen. They do a lot of driving the horse, what I mean by that is sending the horse out at the end of the rope, and I found when I went into spaces, I would lose my horses. I even went to Florida to the Parelli campus and took a lesson to try and get my circles better. It wasn’t working for me and it wasn’t working for the Thoroughbred.”
Partridge came to the conclusion that running a Thoroughbred in circles doesn’t work the same way it does for a Quarter Horse personality. However, she was inspired by several other horsemen, that served as the impetus to progress with her own training. Their unique methods made a significant influence on Partridge as she has managed to obtain optimal results with her Harmony Horsemanship.
“Elsa Sinclair did a documentary called “Taming Wild,” said Partridge. “She took a wild mustang and spent an entire year training it. She decided to use no tools whatsoever, no whips, ropes, halters, literally nothing. In a year, she was able to ride that horse, walk-trot-canter, trail rode the horse to the beach, and I was like, ‘that was cool.’”
“Another horseman that inspired me was Emma Massingale. She’s from overseas. She did a documentary called the Island project. She took trained horses and two untrained ponies to an 80-acre island and sent them loose. She camped with the horses and used positive reinforcement. She had treats. She didn’t use a saddle, halter, bridle or anything like that. It was amazing, and I was like, ‘that’s the connection that I want.’”
Those horsewomen inspired Partridge to do her own liberty restart, taking an off-track Thoroughbred, Point Mode, and without using any tools, she would let him loose in her 250 x 80 foot indoor arena, where she would ask him a series of questions. The result after more than 10 sessions, found a unique bond between the horse and rider, where Partridge could ride, walk-trot and do figure eights, without using any equipment.
“I just used my body and cookies as rewards, so that really opened my eyes,” said Partridge. ‘It’s amazing how much faster you can train horses with positive reinforcement as opposed to pressured release. The horse that I used for this year’s Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Expo (December 2022), Callaway King, I did a liberty restart with him as well. I had him earlier last year (January and February 2022) and I filmed all of his sessions. I had him riding walk-trot-canter with me bridleless. I never put more than a halter on him to lead him to the paddock or to the pen ring. I just used my body language and positive reinforcement. I think that’s why we have such a great connection, and he trusts me so much. I took the time to get him comfortable where I could ride him with no tools at all.”
A bad rap
Partridge believes Thoroughbreds have received an unjust assessment from people, because of their lack of perception, when as a racehorse, they’re trained to be a high-powered athlete, and are meant to compete in a race.
“People don’t understand or don’t know how or don’t take the time with the horse to show them you can slow down,” said Partridge. “You can have a conversation together, and it doesn’t have to be do this or do that. If you don’t take the time to have that conversation, they kind of stay in that what do I have to do next mode. They are super sweet and very calm thinking horses, if you give them a chance.” The experience of the having America’s Most Wanted Horse twice was something that Partridge described as an incredible feeling. The horsewoman is on a mission to demonstrate that if you use kind and patient training methods with horses, you’ll enjoy far more success.
Partridge is working with mustangs every year in addition to new Thoroughbreds. The horses have been placing consistently well in a number of classes, achieving optimal results in the freestyle, ranch, field hunter and extreme cowboy racing divisions. Her students have also been enjoying success, including top 10 finishes in the Thoroughbred Makeover with Sarah Stevens winning the trail division at the Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Expo at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala this past December.
“It’s not just me, it’s the idea of using positive reinforcement, you can have an amazing show horse, and still use positive reinforcement,” said Partridge.
Partridge’s performances and her student’s success at the Thoroughbred Makeover, has the trainer setting her sights on other objectives.
“I think that I have proven time and time again that I can start horses and restart horses very well,” said Partridge. “So, now I want to show people I can do some refinement as well. I’ve already did one at Equine Affair’s Versatility Challenge with my horse Thunderous Affair. She was a top 10 finisher this past spring (2022). I’ll probably do some more versatility competitions. I want to do some extreme cowboy breezing and go to the world’s for that, and take up show jumping again.”
Motherhood has played a significant role in Partridge’s annual calendar, and the volume of shows she participates in, will depend on whether she has another child.
“I have two little ones now,” said Partridge. “I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old. This year, my little girl turns four, which means she can do extreme cowboy racing on the leadline and the leadline hunters. I’m really excited to start putting more energy into her as well and let her do some of the shows.”