Yesterday I took Dove to her third Dressage schooling show since she retired from her racing career a little over 6 months ago, and it did not go at all as I had planned. Ever since I started working with Dove, she has been the epitome of calm, cool and collected. She has handled ground driving in an indoor arena during a severe windstorm that actually tore off part of the roof while we continued working, she has gone on trail rides, she quietly stands ground tied in the barn aisle, she is a saint for the farrier and has had riders of varying levels on her without any issues.
But yesterday was different for Dove, and that's okay. I recently posted the following on Facebook, and re-reading it gives me a great feeling of pride for knowing that I did indeed put it into action at the show yesterday.
Always take it slow, don't get angry at your horse but also don't be afraid to give him boundaries, set him up for success with small wins and never be too proud to go back down a few levels to help rebuild confidence for both of you when something goes awry.
So, what happened?
Let me set the stage by providing some background that may sound more like pre-emptive excuses:
It is easy to forget that most OTTBs were not taught to crosstie at the track. Since this can be a very scary form of restraint for any horse, I follow a strict plan of slow and steady when teaching a horse how to stand quietly without panicking in crossties. Whenever you get a new horse, you should NEVER assume they already know about crossties....always take it easy and don't rush your new horse.
It's no secret that I believe more training OUTSIDE on trails and in new environments actually yields better results INSIDE the arena, and doing hill work with my horses is quite possibly one of my favorite training exercises.
When done in-hand, not only does it condition my horse, but it also conditions me as a rider. Every rider should strive to be in top physical condition because a stronger rider is also a more balanced rider and a more stable "package" for your horse to carry.
I would like to challenge anyone who reads this to start incorporating at least one day a week to trotting hills with your horses (weather permitting of course - running hills in wet footing is never safe). Even just 15 minutes of hill work can prove more valuable than 45 minutes of arena work because it challenges your horse to utilize different muscles, and it is great for your horse's brain and overall well being.
Sometimes I think it's important to test "naughty" behavior with a horse to see how they might react in a future home. For example, over the past week I have been leading Golden Dove down the aisle together with Lady MacJazz for turnout, and tonight I worked on allowing her to walk in and out of her stall without being led.
I do this primarily for two reasons. First, because I want to be sure I expose a sale horse to as much as possible in preparation for whatever type of new home environment they might encounter. Although my goal for Golden Dove is to place her in a forever home, it's still possible that her new owner will have her in a boarding facility where they allow the horses to walk into their stalls on their own via a chute from the pastures. Or maybe it will be a facility where they lead multiple horses at a time. I want to be make Dove's transition as easy as possible by exposing her to as much as I can while she is with me.
The second reason I practice what I would typically consider undesirable behaviors is because testing these behaviors often can lay the ground work for training a desirable behavior or it can give me insight into how a horse might react in a new situation.
I actually put the end of our session at the beginning of the video since it's a longer video.
Free lunging is my favorite way to start working with a new horse. It gives me a chance to see how the horse moves naturally, but it also is a great method of learning to communicate and read each other's body language to begin establishing rapport and respect.
As expected, Golden Dove picked up on what I wanted her to do very quickly thanks to her amazing brain and excellent work ethic. We had some miscommunication at the beginning, but within 15 minutes she was offering attempts at 20 meter circles around me and changing directions in response to very subtle cues.
Golden Dove is proving to have the amazing brain I value as the most important characteristic for ANY horse. She's going to be a super horse for a very lucky person when I'm ready to sell her in a few months. Her ground manners are already stellar which means she came that way so she has a solid foundation.
I introduced her to the mounting block this weekend and she did everything I asked including leading from the right and tolerating Freja crowding her space.
The mounting block might not seem like a big deal, but keep in mind that Dove raced 88 times and galloped countless more times in workouts. A racehorse isn't typically mounted standing at a block but rather the rider is given a leg up - often while the horse is already moving.
By Kyle Rothfus
This blog is dedicated to providing insight about OTTB re-training, Thoroughbred pedigrees and general equine care. You can also track the progress of horses I have for sale through posts here.