Monday, April 24, 2017

Time to Saddle Up

Silk seems very comfortable with all of the ground work so I decided it is time to add a saddle to the program. I put him in the cross ties and put the narrower of my two dressage saddles on him to try it on for size.

He stood still and relaxed while I fussed around assessing the fit of the saddle. It looked pretty good to me and Silk’s utterly relaxed attitude seemed to say it was okay with him. I found a girth that fit, I put on his rope halter and we went to the arena.

There we did all of our exercises the way we have done every day I have had a chance to work him and he didn’t seem to care at all about the saddle. I was very pleased with how the session went.

After two more days of working with the saddle on I decided to add a bridle. When I had ridden him briefly when I went to pick him up he had a full cheek snaffle in his mouth. Looking through my collection of bits, I found two full cheek snaffles. One with a skinny copper mouth piece and the other fatter with a slow twist. I decided to go with the slow twist and see what he thought about it.

Silk has a very narrow, dainty head. I rummaged through my available bridles. I didn’t really find anything particularly small so I used a full size bridle that, other than missing a few keepers was in pretty good shape.

Silk had good manners for bridling although he seemed a little reluctant to open his mouth. I slipped the bit in and the headstall portion of the bridle fit nicely. The noseband was too large for him and sat around his face like a pointless hoop. I didn’t have anything smaller so I guessed he could wear the noseband as a decoration until I could obtain something that fit him. I was happy to see he was quiet with his mouth. He didn’t gnash at the bit or stick his tongue out.

We went to the arena to do our exercises all tacked up. To me it is key that they will give their head in the bridle, the same way they do when I ask with a rope halter. When they give quietly and nicely to the bit, that is when I am ready to ride them in my open arena.

My arena is not fenced. It has a border of railroad ties and sits in the middle of a five acre pasture. If something goes wrong when I ride, the horse has five acres to act out. This has happened to me a few times and it can get pretty scary. This is why I am ultra conservative in restarting off the track horses.

Silk did well with the bridle and gave his head nice in response to pressure on each rein. Another day or two and I would be ready to ride.

The next day I tacked up Silk and put him on a real lunge line. As I now had more room with the longer lunge line I asked him to canter. This didn’t go very well. He crow hopped several times. He didn’t seem to like the way the saddle felt on his back at the canter. I kept him cantering until he settled a bit and finished with nothing but trot work. He seemed worried throughout the session.

This was the first time Silk hadn’t been relaxed and happy in his work with me. This is the kind of thing that gives me sleepless nights. I decided to back up a few steps for the next workout. We went back to the saddle and rope halter for a few days. He was a little tense while lunging but he got better each day. I then added the bridle again and he was fine. Each day improving in relaxation. He seems like he is ready to ride.

I now have to wait for the stars to align. I need good weather, the time to work him and a friend to be there in case things go wrong.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Kissin Silk Week Two and Three

Silk and I have learned a lot about each other this week.  It is really rather strange to have a horse in the barn about which I know practically nothing.  Time is starting to take care of this.

The week has been to daily sessions in the arena doing rope halter work.  The first day was tough.  Silk had no idea what he was supposed to do and it was my job to explain it clearly to him.  The point of the exercise if for the horse to give his head to pressure.  For several repetitions Silk thought the answer was to go backwards instead of giving his head.  The problem was more pronounced on the right side than on the left.

He finally stopped trying to go backwards and started to give his head a little.  I figured that was a good place to stop for the first day.  Silk seemed to think about things overnight and the next day he answered correctly to the pressure by giving his head.  I was really pleased with how quickly he had learned.  Silk seemed pleased too.

Over the course of the week we added additional exercises including moving the hindquarters in response to pressure and backing up when asked.  We also started some lunge line work.  This proved to be difficult as I do not have a round pen and Silk didn't seem to understand longing out in the open.  Over the course of the week we went from not really longing at all to being able to get three nice laps at the trot each way. 

Then we added a tarp to the lessons.  It really got Silk's attention when he saw my husband walking towards the arena with a tarp under his arm.  I wasn't sure how this might go.

We allowed Silk to sniff the tarp and nibble on it.  Then we rubbed it all over him and then threw it on the ground in front of him.  Silk lowered his nose to sniff it.  He didn't seem at all bothered.  We then spread the tarp out and asked Silk to walk on it.  With the barest hesitation, Silk stepped on the tarp.  Then he relaxed and we were able to lead him on and off the tarp without any trouble.  We could pick the tarp up and put it on his back and drag it all over his body and he didn't mind this at all.  He was quiet throughout.

Sunday I had a horse show with Eliot.  After careful consideration, I decided to put Silk in the trailer as well and take him.  He might as well start learning that just because he takes a trailer ride and goes to a place with other horses and trailers and atmosphere it doesn't mean he is going to race.

We arrived at the show, set up our area (I like to show in comfort, the shade tent goes up, the camp chairs come out and the ice chest is located for convenience) and then unloaded the horses.  We decided to take advantage of the empty round pen and lunge Silk and let him buzz off some energy before seeing what he thought of being tied to the horse trailer.  My husband, Mike, lunged Silk while I brushed and combed Eliot.  After lunging, we hosed Silk off and brought him to the trailer.

I always use an Aussie tie ring with off the track thoroughbreds to teach them to tie to the trailer.  I attached Silk to the tie ring and gave each horse a large hay net and stood back to watch.  Silk stood quietly and ate his hay.  He was wonderful.

Silk became upset when we took Eliot away so we took him over to where he could see Eliot while I was riding him and both horses liked the arrangement.  I rode two dressage tests with respectable scores in the 60s and bringing home a first and a third place.  It was a wonderful day and both horses could not have been nicer.  It was a great day out for all of us.

Today my farrier came.  Silk had his racing plates removed and regular shoes put on.  Slowly but surely we are leaving his racing career behind.  Hopefully, we are on the road to a show career.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Meet Silk, My Second Former Racehorse Purchased Through Roses to Ribbons

This is the second time I have purchased a horse through the Roses to Ribbons program.  The first horse I purchased was five years old at the time.  I very tall 17.2 mare named Morally Flexible.  Rally as we called her was purchased to be a trail horse primarily for my husband.  She proved wonderfully suited for this task and loved her trail rides with either my husband, or myself aboard.

Last summer we left town for three weeks and took our two horses, my thoroughbred Eliot (who was retired from race training after 25 days showing absolutely no talent for running) and Rally to stay with my dressage/eventing trainer while we were gone.  Upon our return, my trainer said that he thought Rally was the real deal as far as an eventing prospect and he wanted to continue to work with her.  We said yes and that has left us with an empty stall. 

As I am the organizer of the Roses to Ribbons Old Fashioned Horse Fairs, I thought I should chronicle the journey that buying a horse off the track turns out to be.  I was a little worried about writing the adventure as it unfolds.  What if I couldn't manage the horse I picked out?  I am far from the world's best horse trainer.  What if I have to admit publicly that I failed the horse?  That would be very hard to do.

As everyone who has ever sat on a horse knows, failure is only a step away so here is my story. Let's see where it goes.

I had put together the Roses to Ribbons Fair for Sam Houston and in walking around the backside of the track, several nice horses had caught my attention.  One horse in particular, Kissin Silk, a seven year old dark bay gelding seemed really sweet.

I was fortunate enough to meet up with a jockey who had ridden Silk and said that he was a nice horse.  She said he knew his business and pulled hard on the track but he was not a horse to buck (very important for me).  The most he had ever done was skitter sideways (I think I can handle that).

When the horses were brought to the paddock for Roses to Ribbons, Silk stayed calm and just looked around.  I asked the groom handling him to jog the horse for me.  He jogged sound and didn't get excited.  I liked his movement, what little I saw of it in those few steps.  He was very active with his hind end which will only help in the dressage ring.  Dressage and trail riding are my goals for my horses.

Other people were also appreciating Silk's demeanor and movement.  I offered $1500 for him and that was accepted.  I had them take Silk out of the paddock before anyone else might try to offer more for him.

Silk was mine and now I had to get him home.  Because, in general, my life is crazy I was leaving town the next day.  I had to find someone to get Silk off the track and park him somewhere until I returned a week later.  Fortunately, I found someone I knew, Jose, who was running a horse that night and then hauling to Cameron Texas.  He would be happy to take Silk to his barn and even ride him a few times for me while I was gone.

It was really hard to have a brand new horse and not even be able to see him for a week.  As soon as I returned home, I hooked up to my trailer and made the run up to Cameron to see what I had bought.

Jose brought Silk out of the stall, tacked up with a western saddle.  I watched as Jose got on him and was really pleased to see that Silk stood quietly to be mounted.  Jose rode him around the pasture and Silk looked unsure of what he was supposed to do.  Silk was pretty sure that if you are being ridden you ought to be galloping.  Jose rode Silk in large figure eights and Silk, with some confusion, complied.  Jose then rode him up to me and asked if I wanted to ride him.

As I am not the bravest rider in the world I wasn't really sure what my answer would be but as he was my horse, I thought maybe I should go ahead and ride him.  They have a great round pen and as I don't have one at home I thought this would be my best chance to ride him. 

I turned a bucket upside down to use as a mounting block and Silk stood quietly while I mounted.  He was actually quite nice to ride.  He has a very balanced stride and he was very willing to walk, trot and turn on request.  He liked looking around like a giraffe but as we were in the round pen it wasn't a problem.  I rode him for about fifteen minutes and was very happy with how he went.

Silk loaded easily into the trailer and we were on our way home to Wimberley.  We got to the house and Eliot was overjoyed to have a new friend.  He and Silk hit it off right away. 

The tough thing with an off the track horse is turning them out for the first time.  They can really go nuts in their first turn out after having lived in a stall for so long.  My husband and I decided to leave Eliot up in his stall so there would be something to bring Silk back to the barn.  We had already incarcerated the dogs, we didn't need them involved with the turn out.

I turned Silk loose and he trotted off but didn't go crazy.  He stayed around the barn area with periodic trots and canters to see his new home.  My husband, Mike, then asked me if I had any idea if he was easy or hard to catch.  No idea at all.

It turned out he was easy to catch and has settled into his new barn routine well.  His eating has improved each day.  I have added a new supplement to his feed.  It is a polysaccharide formulation to help manage gastric ulcers, something nearly every race horse has.  I am hoping this will help his transition from race horse to show horse and trail horse go a little easier.

We have had days of wet weather but now it is drying off enough that tomorrow we can start our ground work and get serious about retraining.