Archive | March, 2016

Slow & Steady Training Begins

The theme of Oso’s training this week was slow, steady and methodical progress. I am excited to say it culminated in our best ride yet today!

With the nice weather, we were able to work consistently in the bigger dressage court all week. I find that some young thoroughbreds really appreciate an older, calm ‘buddy’ to demonstrate that ‘being a riding horse’ is easy and low stress. With this in mind, on our first few rides of the week, we were joined in the arena by a well trained, quiet companion horse that I knew would be calm under any circumstances. Being in the arena with other horses is also good practice for the show arena. Oso was very calm for our 15 minute walk warm up, after which we did a few trot long sides of the arena. At this point, I think he must have been thinking that he was warmed up and it was time to go to work (go for a nice breeze or gallop!). The next few laps contained some prancing and general excited behavior! I reassured Oso with my voice and a few pats, and asked his to accept my inside leg to return to the rail of the arena, and come back to the walk. He is such a smart boy, with each ride this week, the length of time where he was strong and excited after our trot work shortened.

Each ride, after he relaxed and continued to walk, I would go for another lap or two and hop off and call it a day. Today, we rode all alone in the dressage court, did circles, diagonals and changes of bend in the walk, and trotted both directions. Oso stayed quiet and relaxed the whole time! We are going to be tackling long lining in the next few days–a great way to teach a young horse to accept the contact and learn to the top line. Stayed tuned for our next update!

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Feeding the Off the Track Thoroughbred

image1Browsing classified ads for horses coming off the track, it is hard not to be dazzled by the sheer beauty of the horses in the photos. In each picture, the horses have gleaming coats, rippling muscles, and the focused look of an athlete. However, it is important to note that as a horse adjusts to life away from the track, their metabolism, energy level, appetite and musculature will change as well. Some horses may need a high fat diet to gain weight coming off the track. For others, the priority will be a high forage diet with minimal grain as their metabolism adjusts. Bluntly put, that beautiful horse you saw in the classified ad may end up with a dull coat and little muscle tone as they adjust!

Since Oso has already been through the ‘let down’ period, and developed good weight and muscle tone at the wonderful Eclipse Equine Sports Therapy Center, my main concern has been maintaining his weight and preparing him to be able to handle a heavier work load (as we start to ramp up our training). Currently, Oso has plenty of high quality hay (a blend of alfalfa and grass) twice a day, and a graining of a pound to a pound and a half of organic timothy pellets with his new supplements Electro Balance by Enviro Equine and Wild Gold Camelina Oil. Electro Balance provides the nutrients necessary to support Oso’s training, and Wild Gold is an excellent source of fat and anti-inflammatory Omega 3s. Though Oso has a primarily calm and collected personality (with a few exciting moments thrown in this week when a horse started bucking outside the round pen while we were riding!), I generally try to go easy on the high sugar grain with any young thoroughbred.

On the training front, Oso got front shoes Monday! He was a total gentleman for the shoer, quiet and well behaved. We have continued to put more short, easy, and successful rides under our belt. I find starting with slow and easy rides with a young horse builds their confidence. Oso is learning to accept my leg in the walk, and understand a soft rein contact. I am looking forward to ramping up our training this week!

Oso says, it’s dinner time!

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Getting to know Oso

Oso's learning to be a grown-up horse

Oso’s learning to be a grown-up horse

So, you have a young, beautiful thoroughbred right off the track, what next? Do they know how to tie, lead, stand to be groomed and tacked, and behave respectfully in a stall? Do you try to ride the first day at the barn? Do they know how to enjoy turnout without injuring themselves? As with any question about horse training, the answer depends on the individual horse!

Often, young horses off the track have had only the education necessary to get them from their stall to the track to train or race. They must learn many of the skills we take for granted in trained horses–leading quietly, standing at the mounting block, and tolerating that stiff brush! I spend the first few days, weeks, or months (depending on the horse) with a new OTTB getting a sense of their temperament, what they know already, and figuring out the best way to start their training.

Oso and I have spent the last week or so getting to know each other. We have explored the ranch together, with him in a halter and me on foot. I have groomed him in his stall, and in the crossties. We have practiced being attentive and respectful on the lead and walking under saddle. I have started introducing the idea of the training process–‘pressure’ (a request) and a ‘reward’ (release of pressure or a cookie or a pat) when he gives a correct response. He really likes this idea!

Hopefully I am not getting ahead of myself, as I have concluded that we are off to a great start! Oso is kind, intelligent and tries very hard to figure out what is happening next. He loves attention, and stands patiently in his stall to be groomed. He is a gentleman to lead, stops, backs up and yields his haunches easily. Currently, our rides are consisting of lots of walking and changing direction to build fitness and suppleness (and quite a few pats and cookies at the end!). I am looking forward to our next steps together!

Sometimes, the horse chooses you…

Sig-Oso

Oso Smart and Sigourney’s second day under saddle

Sometimes, the horse chooses you…

Just yesterday, I was asked to point out why I thought one young OTTB would be a better competition prospect than another. Confirmation, bloodlines, race history, and temperament can all play a role in choosing a horse off the track with the ability to be successful in a second career. In a completely objective world, only these things would matter. But, sometimes it’s the look in the horse’s eye as you meet them, that special feeling you get when they give you that first nuzzle or whiskery kiss that makes the decision for you…

I met Oso for the first time in a shaded barn aisle at Eclipse Equine Sports Therapy Center in Paso Robles. I walked down the aisle, searching for his name on the stall door, excited to see him for the first time. I found his stall, and he looked at me and came to say hello. Now, I can try to say it was the rhythm and fluidity in his walk down the barn aisle, or the suspension in his trot as he jogged down the driveway that made me conclude he would be an excellent prospect for eventing or dressage. But in truth, it was the friendliness in his gaze, and the gentle way he reached his nose out to nuzzle my hand that told me Oso was a special horse.

Time will tell if he will be a future dressage or eventing star (I think he has all the tools to be!). For now, I’m going to savor our first few rides, and enjoy seeing his lovely face over the stall door every morning.

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Neigh Savers’ Horse to compete in Retired Racehorse Project’s 100K makeover

Oso SmartOso Smart begins his journey to Kentucky

We are pleased to announce that our professional trainer, Sigourney Jellins of SLJ Eventing applied for and was selected to participate in the Retired Racehorse Project’s 100K makeover competition to be held in Lexington, Kentucky October 2016.

As her horse Sigourney chose Oso Smart, a beautiful 2011 dark bay gelding by the great sire and two time Horse of the Year Curlin.  Oso was just coming off a lengthy rehab with us for a bow tendon injury.  He last raced in February 2015. Oso came to Neigh Saver’s through the CARMA (California Retirement Management Account) Placement Program. The program helps transition horses, typically ones with injuries from racing to retraining or retirement programs.

We are very excited for Sigourney and equally excited for Oso who is being offered a tremendous training opportunity.  Sigourney was chosen for both dressage and eventing so we will see what discipline Oso will eventually compete in.

Oso has no sponsors and we would appreciate donations towards his professional training costs, board, farrier, medical, shavings and supplements.  We also need to raise money to send him to Kentucky and then back to California.  After his competition he will be offered for adoption through our program.  Any sponsors to Oso’s training and other supportive costs will have first right of refusal if interested in adopting.  Oso is a beautifully built very athletic horse with lots of Irish sports horse in his pedigree.  He is a kind and willing partner as well.  In other words, even without the exceptional training is now getting, he is a real find.

We are thrilled that Neigh Savers will be participating in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and wish both Sigourney and Oso great success. Oso Smart will be available for adoption after he participates in the Retired Racehorse Project’s 100K makeover competition to be held in Lexington, Kentucky October 2016.