Step 1: Should you breed your mare?
I have a mare, so that means I am obligated to breed her, right? HELL NO!!!!
It should come as no surprise that I have decided to breed Lady MacJazz (Freja) this year, but before we get too far into this adventure I wanted to give a strongly worded warning about breeding. This is definitely NOT a decision to take lightly, and if you're considering it I highly recommend doing LOTS and LOTS of homework and thinking it over at length - I've been contemplating this decision and educating myself for more than a year now. The decision to breed your mare will not only be very costly but it also can be very risky so it should never be taken lightly.
First and most importantly, TALK TO YOUR VET! Then seek out experienced breeders - not ones that have only bred a handful of horses but ones who have a strong professional reputation and a history of breeding foals that become successful athletes. If you're only breeding for temperament, reconsider your decision. You cannot guarantee anything about a foal, but you can confidently assess the temperament of a horse that is already alive and waiting to meet you. While I obviously take temperament into equal consideration with athleticism, I would never breed a horse strictly for her personality. It's important to assess health, conformation, pedigree and temperament equally.
In addition to speaking with your vet and professional breeders, I also recommend taking lots of time to research reliable sources such as this article from TheHorse.com
“Foals are cute and majestic, but foals will cost you $15,000-20,000 before you even know if they’re an athlete,” Espy says. “If you know the foal will be worth more than $15,000, then great. But if you’re looking for a $5,000 trail horse or kid-friendly horse, then you might want to go buy a 7-year-old gelding that has proven he’s got what it takes.”
Step 2: Goals for the Foal
Hand walking is an essential part of any training routine - especially in the winter.
As I prepare for two very long upcoming trailer trips I wanted to be sure to install a video monitor in the horse trailer without breaking the bank or requiring electrical work in the trailer. After hours of research and several disappointing shopping trips looking at baby monitors and security systems, I was extremely excited to figure out a solution using a FREE App Called "Alfred" (this used to be called "Web of Cam") that didn't require me to purchase anything new or make any alterations to my trailer.
The other options were baby monitors and surveillance cameras that were not only expensive but would also have required me to either hard wire the camera to the trailer electric or purchase an equally expensive portable generator to power the camera portion of the system. My solution is giving life to two iPhone 4's I've had collecting dust in a drawer while also providing me the flexibility to use my Android phone as the monitor paired with one of the iPhones as the camera or even use a laptop as the monitor and a phone as the camera - and there are always affordable older model smart phones available on ebay and Craigslist. The even better part is that since this solution doesn't require a continual power source, I can also use this in the barn at home since my WiFi signal from the house reaches the barn.
The list of supplies
My search for the right partner for my 2017 Makeover partner lasted much less time than I anticipated. Within 12 hours of sharing my blog post "Tips I Consider When Shopping for an Off Track Thoroughbred" on the OTTB Training Facebook page, she found me. I received multiple messages with horses that matched my search criteria, and I was amazed and honored by all the support because I honestly thought I would be searching for at least a month. Truthfully, I had already looked at a few horses, but I hadn't really committed to kicking off my search full force before yesterday.
One horse stood out from the rest for a few reasons, and this is why I chose her and ended my search so abruptly.
Who is she?
Let's first meet this special mare:
"Quality Hey" is a 2012 filly by Exclusive Quality out of Hey Skip (by Skip Away). She is reported to stand at 16.1 hands and to be very sweet with a good brain. She raced 30 times during her career with 10 races in 2016, and she won her last two starts in July at Delaware Park under the training of Keith Nations.
Shopping for a horse can be an overwhelming endeavor, and it is very important to avoid being a "tire kicker" while still being picky enough to find the right horse for you.
As I am currently in the process of shopping for my partner for the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my thoughts about how I approach finding the right OTTB.
Tip 1: Write down your criteria
It's easy to have a picture in your head of what kind of horse you're hoping to find, but when you write it down it helps keep you accountable and focused. Even more important, it helps prevent you from ever looking at the horses you might think you will be able to talk yourself into purchasing despite the fact that they are an unrealistic match. If you have clear search criteria, it will narrow the scope of your search so that you are only looking at horses that are truly suitable prospects and prevent you from wasting your (and sellers') time.
For example, my criteria is:
Tip 2: Be realistic and identify your negotiables
One of the most important part of training any horse is developing a trusting relationship. I make it a point to spend lots of time in the stall with my horses. If you've seen any of my videos on Facebook, you know that I even have a good enough relationship with Moon to take naps in her stall laying down with her.
For Julie's second day of training we worked on learning her body language, getting her comfortable having me in close quarters with her and identifying some of her triggers.
Before I even put together a training plan, I first take a session to evaluate each horse from the ground so that I can get a better idea about what they might already know and what might trigger naughty behavior. How can I prepare a successful training plan if I don't first take the time to understand the horse's baseline?
My main areas of evaluation include:
- Grooming - patience and areas of sensitivity
- Forward, Halt and Back - reaction to halter pressure
- Yielding haunches, shoulders and barrel - reaction to lateral pressure
- Suppleness - reaction to stretching side to side
Here is a summary video of my overall approach to Judge Julie's evaluation
And here is the full length video of my evaluation with Judge Julie.
Questions? Post them in the comments below or reach out directly via the Contact Page.
For anyone who has been following my work with Moon on Facebook, you will know that I've been taking it VERY slow since she arrived in January.
As you watch this video of our second ride, I hope it will be clear how much that extra time will benefit our work under saddle. I'm still only riding her bareback and will keep our sessions to under 30 minutes for a couple more weeks, but she is much more in tune with me than she was when she arrived four months ago. The in-hand exercises, desensitization and ground driving have all helped me figure out some of her "buttons" while giving us time to establish a working relationship built on trust.
In the video, I utilize 3 ground poles setup like the mathematical Pi symbol. This is quite possibly my favorite configuration of ground poles for two key reasons: it's very simple and quick to setup and it can be used for a multitude of different training exercises for green and advanced horses alike.
The double poles are set perpendicular to the single pole and are spaced 5 feet apart. This setup gives me the ability begin introducing trotting over ground poles with first a single pole that has two "guide rails" leading up to it and then also to begin introducing a series of poles (2 in this setup). The 3-sided "box" created by the ground poles also gives me a visual space to practice halts and rein backs, and if I space the poles slightly farther apart (closer to 9 feet) then I can even use the full box for practicing canter work over ground poles.
Additionally, I can practice side pass by having my horse either straddle the poles or utilize a pole as a front "boundary." For a more advanced horse, I will use the slightly larger box to focus on transitions. Each time we enter the box I will ask my horse to either halt/walk before trotting back out, or I might trot into the box, halt and then do a turn on the haunches to trot out a different direction. As I'm REALLY starting to ask my horse to work more on her hind end, we can also trot into the box and "pivot" out of the box by making close to a 90-degree turn out a different side of the box without losing our rhythm.
The key to this setup of ground poles is to challenge your brain to always be using the box area as a space to change something about your horse so your training rides never get stale and boring.
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:
After confirming that I have a reliable halt, back, go and change of direction with a halter and lead rope, I move forward by introducing changes of direction in a bridle on the lunge line.
This is the first time I ever worked with Moon in a bridle and also the first time I ever lunged her.
In the first part of the video I review some of my thoughts on safety, necessary equipment, and the key training steps to "test" before moving on to ground driving.
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.