Friday, August 11, 2017

The Hard Part

So I was asked this week “What is the hardest part of retraining a racehorse?”  I will put this question out to everyone who reads this, I will be very curious to see what answers come back.  There are so many things they need to learn, it was difficult for me to answer the question.  I came up with the following issue list:

  • Learning to give to bit pressure instead of leaning into it.
  • Understanding that leg cues are a thing.  Many ex-racers have never had a leg cue in their lives.
  • Learning relaxed transitions between gaits.  Plunging into a gallop is not what we want anymore.
  • Learning that the day's routine has changed from jog a little bit, then gallop, then done.

Once these things are learned, progress is very rapid into having a nice riding or show horse.  The snag comes in when you try to teach these things to a superbly fit, athletic horse.  Another part of the problem is that all of these things are pretty important so right away you have this long list of things you want to accomplish.

Good ground work can help with the bit pressure issue.  They can learn to give to the bit with ground work.  Also, the change in the day's routine can be taught from the ground.  The day will consist of lunging and other ground work from the get go.  Relaxed transitions can be learned while lunging as well.

Once the horse has learned these things on the ground, then it is time to see how much of that may carry over to work in the saddle.  Getting on can be another issue.  Some racehorses have never had a ground mount, they have always had a rider legged up into the saddle.  Often, when you bring a horse home from the track, you will have no idea if you will be able to do a ground mount or not.

Once in the saddle, determining how much of your ground work is still with the horse is the next order of business.  Some horses realize they are doing something new and go with the new skills they have learned.  Others are pretty sure that when you get on their back they are supposed to run.

Silk was pretty sure that with five years of life on the track behind him that riding means running.  He is just now getting the idea that we will do a lot of trot and walk work.  He is beginning to relax more during his rides and settle into a nice rhythm.  He has been sure to let me know that if I were to ask him to gallop, he would happily deliver on that request.  However, he is starting to be happy about doing the slower paced work I want to do.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dallas Roses to Ribbons

The Paddock Foundation held our third Roses to Ribbons Old Fashioned Horse Fair at Lone Star Park on July 15.  As I am the coordinator of the event, I explained to Silk and Eliot they would both be getting some time off so I could help their friends at the race track.  As Silk has turned into Eliot's chew toy, the timing of this vacation for them couldn't have been better.  Silk is sporting several bites, courtesy of Eliot all in the saddle area.

The Dallas Roses to Ribbons is generally the largest of the three events and we were hoping for a good turnout for this year's Lone Star horse fair.  The success is largely dependent on good weather.  I watched the forecast with an anxious eye.  Rain appeared to be on the way.

I arrived early at the track and did a quick walk through the barns answering last minute questions from the trainers. Everything seemed on go.  I had two volunteers to check horses in and assign hip numbers in the stable area and an additional volunteers to keep track of the horses as they left the paddock to keep track of who sold and who didn't.

The vendors arrived for the event and started unpacking in the saddling paddock.  The more unpacking that happened the thicker the clouds became.  We decided to move all the vendors under a covered area just in case the rain came.

The rain did come, just as the horses came into the paddock area.  Fortunately, it wasn't too heavy and we had a good number of prospective buyers come despite the wet weather.

I have personally purchased two horses now through Roses to Ribbons.  As I currently have one empty stall left at home, it was with some difficulty that I restrained myself from picking up one more.  As we all know, an empty stall needs to be filled.

By the end of the day, half the horses presented had found new homes and new careers.  Twelve sales that day were completed and there was one more pending.  Roses to Ribbons has now lead to the re-homing of nearly 100 thoroughbred race horses.  Those are the kind of numbers that make the volunteer hours all worthwhile.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Back in the Saddle - Part 2

After almost three weeks off due to oral surgery and vacation, I went to pick up Silk and Eliot and bring them back home.

I decided to ride Silk there before we brought him home so I could enjoy the luxury of a round pen.  Silk was his usual pleasant self when I got him out to tack him up.  I warmed him up on the lunge line before climbing on.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable ride.  Within the confines of the round pen he was very relaxed and we were able to work on developing and maintaining a consistent pace as well as some walk trot transitions.  I was very pleased with how he went.

We packed up both horses and brought them home.  They seemed to be glad to be back in their home pasture and back to their usual home routine.  I wondered how much of my round pen ride would translate into riding in my open arena.

For the next ride, I spent plenty of time lunging him and he went very well.  I got on and was very happy with the ride.  For the first time, I felt comfortable using the whole arena.  He was relaxed and much steadier with his head.  We could work on staying straight on the sides of the arena and across the diagonal.  I was even able to sneak in a little work going to the right (his much stiffer direction) without it worrying him.

The next two rides were good as well.  Still occasional head rooting but not as much as before.   Silk will not walk quietly and patiently when I first get on with no anticipation of faster work.  This seems like a big breakthrough.  Each ride I am able to add a little more work to the right.

It seems like maybe he is figuring out that I am not going to ask him to run.  Although he says he is still very willing to run if I were to ask him.  He is starting to ride more like a green horse rather than a racehorse.  His personality is outstanding.  He has never tried to do anything mean or dirty.  He is somewhat reactive but that seems to be improving as well.  He is getting easier to ride every time.

It looks like Silk will have a bit of a break again.  I will be going to Dallas to put on the Roses to Ribbons Old Fashioned Horse Fair at Lone Star Park.  I will be home for a few days then off to Corpus Christi for a friends birthday party.  So Silk will have more days off than on in the next two weeks.

The next blog update will be on the Roses to Ribbons Old Fashioned Horse Fair.  I hope to help lots of horses on to their next career.

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.