Thursday, June 22, 2017

Back in the Saddle

It's been a few weeks since I've written. It's also been a few weeks since I have ridden. Oral surgery will keep you out of the saddle for a few days. Actually, it was ten days before I could ride again. Then we took a short vacation to Glacier National Park and to visit family near there. Spent a great week of hiking and even got to hike across some snow which is a real treat for a Texan in June.

As I was going to be out of the saddle for a significant period of time, I sent the horses to my trainer Rick Urban in Boerne, Texas so they could remain productive citizens. I took them to Boerne a day early so I could squeeze in one more horse show before the weather became too hot for Eliot (he doesn't sweat well). The show was fun and Eliot earned his first score of an 8 ever! I was very pleased with how well he did.

Rick has had the horses for a week and a half and I was eager to find out what he thought about Silk. I was delighted with what Rick had to say. He thinks Silk is a horse of high potential for either jumping or three day. He thought the horse has wonderful gaits and he likes his kind personality. He said he is a little concerned that Silk might be a bit much for me, he said his canter is very powerful and he advised me not to canter him in my open arena any time soon.

I assured Rick that cantering was way down on our list of accomplishments for the moment. I told him that all I had been working on was trying to maintain a consistent pace at the trot. He felt like that was a good project for me to work on.

I am heading to Dallas to start organizing the next Roses to Ribbons Horse Fair and I am leaving the horses with Rick for another week. Rick was very pleased to learn he would have Silk for more time. We said he was going to try him over some small fences just to get a feel for his form. Rick said with the power Silk has, he feels that Silk could jump the moon and not have to put much effort into it.

I look forward to hearing what Silk thinks about jumping. I am a little worried that as a small time rider, I may have stumbled onto a big time horse. Although, this is an exciting problem to have.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Change of Venue, Change of Tack

I have been fussing around for the last few weeks griping about the fact I don't have a round pen or any contained place to ride.

It finally dawned on my that I have a friend with a lovely ranch, not 15 minutes from my house and she has a small fenced arena.  So I called Catherine and asked if I could bring my horses to her place for a few days.  She was more than generous and said that would be no problem.

So I packed up their stuff and took both horses to her ranch.   Wow!!  The horses were pretty sure I had hauled them to horse heaven.  The barn is beyond beautiful with 12 x 14 stalls, each with an attached outdoor paddock.  This opens out into what I would have to guess is a 30 or so acre pasture.

The arena is on the small side and just what I wanted for Silk.  I unloaded the horses and Silk didn't even have time to check out his new digs as I was tight on time.  I just tacked him and brought him to the arena and went to work.  I did a lot of ground work with him and then got on.

I had added a running martingale to his tack and this was my first opportunity to see how he would respond to it.

He was great.  The best ride I have had on him.  I was so proud of how well he did at a new venue.  He can be prone to being spooky but he didn't have a problem in this arena.  We did a lot of trot work and he finally stopped messing around with his head and settled into a nice rhythm.  The running martingale seemed to help remind him that he was going to be galloping and helped with his rooting issues.

We had a few moments, he didn't like it when my helmet hit an overhanging branch and it made a noise (I ended up ducking my head every time we went under the trees but overall I was very happy.  I will leave off writing and share pictures of his time at the ranch.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Of Carrots and Racehorses

One constant theme that runs through thoroughbreds off the track is that they don't know what a carrot is or that they can eat it and like it.  I like my horses to respond to treats.  You can get them to do really cool things for treats.  And besides it makes me happy to see them happily crunching on a carrot.

My long time partner, Eliot, is a true carrot hound.  He will do anything for a carrot.  This fact was brought home to me after watching an episode of the the Mustang Millionaire Makeover on TV.  I watched these fantastic trainers doing amazing things with mustangs in only a few months.  At that point I had been riding Eliot for two years and we still couldn't win a training level test at a schooling show.  I felt stalled out.

I decided I would teach Eliot something cool.  “I am going to teach Eliot how to bow.”  I announced to my husband.  My husband looked at me and said “Yeah, you go ahead and do that”.  He is pretty used to crazy talk from me.

I went to the computer and watched two Youtube videos on teaching your horse to bow.  I then grabbed an handful of carrots and went to the barn.  I put a rope halter on Eliot and took him to the arena and started following the directions from the videos.

And by golly, it worked.  Eliot had absolutely no resistance to the idea of bowing as long as there was a carrot in it for him.  By the third lesson he was a pro.  From this I learned a carrot hound horse will do anything for a carrot.

So, how to get Silk to eat a carrot?  He would sniff it with disinterest and then turn his head away.  I tried feeding carrots to Eliot right next to him.  Eliot thought this was great!  Silk found it pointless.  No interest in carrots at all.

I was peeling carrots for dinner one night and I got an idea.  I saved the peelings and put them on top of Silk's feed that night.  When I checked his food dish later, most of the peelings were gone, so he had at least eaten a few.  A few days later I put more carrot peelings on his food.  This time he ate them all.

I then tried offering him a carrot.  He put the tip of it in his mouth and scraped his teeth along it.  Finally, he took a micro bite.  He didn't take another.  The next time I offered him a carrot, he did the teeth scraping thing again and took another bite.

We are on a carrot roll now.  He looks forward to his carrots.  He is still not very good at biting off pieces but that should come with practice.  If he develops a carrot addiction, I will see if I can teach him to bow as well.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Next Two Rides

So I spent a lot of sleepless time pondering why Silk had been so tense and upset when I sat on him for the first time. Had I mistaken his personality? Were race horse habits to ingrained to change? Does my good kind horse Eliot make me feel like a better rider than I really am? All of the above?

I finally decided that I hadn't been particularly bright about choosing to get on him on a day of high winds. Perhaps a warm afternoon without gusting winds might work out a little better. I also decided some company in the arena might be a good idea as well.

So, on a warm afternoon, I tacked up Silk again and sent him to the arena with my husband Mike to do the ground work. Then I tacked up Eliot and took him to the arena as well. I lunged Eliot while Mike worked Silk. Mike worked with him until he was relaxed and attentive with his walk trot transitions. Finally, Mike looked at me and said “He's as ready as he is going to get.”

We traded horses, Mike held Eliot and I took Silk over to my mounting block. Once again, Silk stood beautifully for me to get on. I really like this about him. We stood quietly for a few minutes, then I put my leg on him and asked him to move off.

What a difference! He was quiet and pretty relaxed. The longer ground work and the better weather made a different horse out of him. We started walking in a large circle and he was calm and relaxed. I rode for about five minutes and got off. He was quiet throughout.

Eliot thought this plan was great. All he had to do was stand there. I think he likes being the horse that knows how to do everything.

We repeated this pattern on the next sunny and warm afternoon we had. Mike did the ground work with Silk and I brought Eliot down for moral support. This time I rode for about fifteen minutes and again he stayed calm. This longer ride allowed me to get a better feel for him. He did typical race horse things like rooting for the bit. Racehorses are trained to lean on the bit when they run. They can often feel insecure when they don't have the support of the bit and the will root around looking for it.

I try to ride this on a long rein and leg them forward to remind them to just keep walking and not worry about leaning on the bit. He played with the bit a fair amount while we rode so I am considering changing him into and egg butt snaffle and see if he likes that a bit better.

So I finish this part of the story with a note to self: For best results ride in warm calm weather. At least until he fully learns he is not a race horse anymore.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The First Ride

Silk is ready to be ridden.  He has responded beautifully to all the ground work and seems relaxed and happy.  He gives his head properly to both the rope halter and the bridle.  It's time to get on and ride.

I am never sure how this step may turn out, so I am always a little worried about it.  Yes, I rode Silk when I picked him up from my friend Jerry's place.  But there, I had the security of a round pen.  At my place, I am in the middle of five acres.  Jerry had suggested to me that I might want to consider giving Silk some oral acepromazine to keep him calm on the first four or five rides.  I decided before trying something like that, I wanted to see what his barometer might be about riding out in the open.

I arranged for a friend to come over to baby sit me.  My husband was out of town and getting on an ex-racehorse for the first time is not something you want to undertake without someone around to pick up the pieces.

I explained to my friend that I might only be on him for a minute or two.  My goal is to get on, walk around a bit then get off before the horse can become upset, anticipating but not being allowed to run.  I have worked with retired racehorses this way in the past and after about two weeks of these very short rides, preceded with ground work, the horse starts to get the idea that the work out does not include galloping.

Saturday morning arrived and my friend Beth showed up and I got started with Silk.  He was his usual good citizen in the barn, standing quietly while I groomed him and tacked him up.  I led him down to the arena wishing it wasn't such a windy day.  The wind was gusting heavily and that is not ideal for any first time experience for a horse.

Silk did his ground work beautifully.  I then led Silk over to my mounting block and asked him to give his head to pressure on the bit while I stood on the mounting block as I had done in several of our past workouts.  Silk stood quietly while we did this.  There was nothing left to do but get on.

I asked Beth to stand about a yard in front of his nose to provide a bit of a visual barrier to him moving off.  I then put my foot in the stirrup and swung aboard.  He stood absolutely still for me to get on and did not move as I settled into the saddle.  At this point I silently blessed whoever it was in his past who had taught him properly about mounting.

I just sat on him, not asking him to move stroking his neck.  I was very happy with how this first step had gone.  We stood quietly for almost five minutes.  Then I asked him to move off.

Tension immediately rippled through his body.  We stepped into the arena, his head was high and he seemed ready to take off for a galloping work out.  I asked him to stop after a few steps.  He did but his concern was evident.  I stroked his neck and asked him to walk again.  He stayed tense, confused and worried.  I was not letting him do the work he was sure he was supposed to do.  I rode him in a small circle with starts and stops as smooth as I could make them.  After about a minute, I got off.

I was glad he was quiet for the dismount.  I had a lot of thinking to do.  He had been so quiet for the ground work that his level of tension when I rode really had surprised me.  It was going to take a lot of thought to decide how best to move forward with Silk and transition what he expects out of being ridden.

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.