Tag Archives | Retired Racehorse Project

Making Progress…

June 4 2016 – I have tried to take a picture of Oso every few weeks or so to keep track of how he is developing. It is so much fun to see OTTBs go from race horse to performance/riding horse!

Oso March 11 2016Oso June 3 2016

The last few weeks with Oso have been filled with developing strength (and steering) in the canter and preparing for our first ‘field trip’ off the ranch. I am planning to take Oso over to our local show venue (Woodside Horse Park) in the next week or so. In preparation, we incorporated some new things into our daily rides. When starting a young OTTB, I like to develop a routine that stays relatively the same until the horse is comfortable with the basic requirements of being a riding horse. Horses appreciate a certain amount of predictability in their training. Since Oso now comfortably walks, trots, and canters quietly with focus, I have begun altering our rides slightly to introduce some new factors. I find the more new circumstances a young horse is exposed to, the calmer and more easily they handle new situations. We have started riding in the bigger, spookier ring, at different times of day, and have both started and ended on the trail during our rides. I am looking forward to seeing how Oso will handle trailering for a ride at a different location–stay tuned for our next update!

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We Can Canter!

image1A week or two ago, I started working Oso in the canter a bit, just to see how well he was able to balance himself initially. Some young thoroughbreds are heavy in the bridle in the canter as they are used to leaning on the bit or rider’s hands for balance. For dressage and jumping, we want to help the horse to learn to accept the bit, hold a steady contact, but balance from behind and remain relatively light on the forehand. My initial impression was that Oso had good natural balance in the canter, but his straightness, rhythm, and acceptance of the bit was going to take some work. Our first few canters consisted of a few straight strides, followed by several sideways and silly steps! The next few rides (and the last week or so) I have focused on continuing to develop our ability to bend to the right, and our adjustability in the trot. We revisited the canter for the first time in our latest ride, and Oso was fantastic in both directions! He picked up both leads on the first try, and was able to canter a big circle quietly and in good balance! We even had a few steps where Oso softened and held a contact. Love this boy!

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Trail Ride Time!

image1It’s been a great week with Oso, we went on a little trail ride today and he was a good boy! With young horses, I find the more they get out to see different things the more focused they are when asked to work in the arena. This is definitely proving to be true with Oso. A few days after moving to the bigger turnout, we had a real test of his focus while riding. New horses were being let out into the turnouts (right next to the arena), and they started running around playing. In the past this has been a definite cause of excitement for Oso! This time, though he looked to check out what the other horses were doing, he stayed calm and remained focused on our work in the arena. Today we did a relaxed walk on the trail to finish up our ride. Oso has a good head on his shoulders!

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Some Windy Weather, and a Little Cantering

Oso-TrotOso and I have made great progress in the last week, despite some very windy weather. While Oso is an even tempered and mature five year old, the wind still has a tendency to make him excitable! After a couple mildly wild rides, I decided it was a good idea to introduce Oso to a bigger turnout paddock. Oso lives in a stall with a connected paddock, but turnout in a bigger space has been a good addition to his program. He loves hanging out all afternoon with his horse buddies, and as an added bonus, he is spending lots of time next to the tree he finds so spooky when we ride and it’s windy. In the last few days, we have started doing a few steps of canter and did our first ride in the dressage saddle! The canter will definitely be a work in progress, but Oso seems to have good ability to balance and carry himself!

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A Very Smart Boy

Oso exemplifies the intelligence and extraordinary work ethic of the thoroughbred. He remembers what we have worked on the day before and (for the most part!) goes to work with focus and relaxation. He seems to enjoy training, and tries hard to please. Because he is now able to hold a consistent rhythm in his trot, and I have started to ask for more impulsion, balance and suppleness in our work. We are now doing 20 meter circles, shoulder fore, transitions within the trot, and changes of bend. He is beginning to be able to engage more from behind and becoming more confident in the contact. Though I have led him over poles and around jumps, this weekend we did our first rides in the ring with poles and cavalettis set up. I have found in the past that young horses occasionally find these spooky and was prepared to introduce him to riding around them slowly. However, Oso was a perfect gentleman, and did not even seem to notice the poles! In the next few weeks, I am hoping to continue to develop his strength in preparation for beginning canter work!

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Learning to Long Line

I have started long lining Oso in the last few days as a way to improve his straightness, ability to bend, and acceptance of the bit. Long lining is a great tool for young horses, as it allows them to work the correct muscles without the weight or stress of the rider. The rider can straighten the horse’s body as the lines run from the bit to tail. Additionally, with the lines supporting the horse from nose to tail, he or she learns that bending happens through the rib cage, and not solely through the neck.

Oso, like many former race horses, is more comfortable going to the left, and has a tendency to get crooked going to the right. He accepts the leg as a bending aid nicely going to the left, we have not quite mastered this concept going to the right! Our long lining sessions have made a difference in the way he is traveling under saddle going to the right.

Our first session, I started by getting Oso used to the lines going over his rump, under his tail, and touching his hind legs. As I got him used to me walking behind him ‘driving’ him forward, I also had a helper walk next to his head for a few minutes to reassure Oso (and to make sure I had brakes!). Once Oso was comfortable with the concept of long lining, we worked mainly in the walk, lots if big circles and changes of direction. we worked on softening and bending to the right, traveling straight with Oso’s shoulders in front of his haunches. Besides a few minor mishaps, (once when Oso decided to turn around and I couldn’t dissuade him from coming to say hello to me!) he was great! I am hoping our long lining work will prove to be an important ‘building block’ in our flat work!

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Oso Smart’s Breakthrough Video!

Oso is proving to be a very smart boy! The last couple of rides have been nothing short of fantastic. He seems to be starting to understand that his new job is different than racing, and is staying relaxed and quiet the whole ride.

Before our last two rides, our trot work has consisted of short, choppy steps. Oso did not yet understand that I would like him to stretch down into the contact, lengthen his neck, and relax and use his back. Yesterday, after our 15-20 minute walk warmup, we picked up the trot and did our trot half the arena, walk half the arena exercise. I like to do this exercise to make it clear to Oso that once his workout starts, it does not get progressively faster. Every ride, I try to show Oso the way I would like him to carry himself by keeping my hands lowered a bit on either side of his neck, and providing a steady, but soft contact.

By our last trot yesterday, Oso took a deep breath, relaxed and accepted the contact! As soon as he lowered his neck and softened his back, I rewarded him by giving forward with my hands. I trotted another half lap, cooled him out and gave him lots of pats! Today we picked up right where we left off. In our first lap of trot around the arena, he was looking to soften and accept the contact. We were able to get some nice moments going both directions today. What a good boy!

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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.