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Oso and I had a great ‘field trip’ to the Woodside horse park yesterday! He trailered like a gentleman, and was calm and confident as we rode out to the cross country course. Despite horses galloping in the distance, he was focused and listening. Once again, he went right into the water without hesitation, and we were able to quietly trot and canter around with other horses (something he used to find very exciting when we would attempt this in the ring). Oso even jumped his first cross
country log! I am very proud of him, he was a pleasure to ride and seemed to enjoy himself!
In the last week or so, I started working Oso in hand from the ground with the intention of increasing his suppleness under saddle, developing his focus, and teaching him more extensive lateral work. I stand next to Oso on the ground and use taps with a long whip to direct his hind end and the reins to keep him soft and round through the poll and the neck. As expected, Oso was smart and willing as we tackled something new. He also really enjoyed the cookies I fed him throughout the training process! He quickly picked up shoulder in, haunches in, and a bit of turn on the haunches. I am looking forward to putting these new skills to work under saddle!
As Oso learns to jump, I have made it my goal to challenge and help him progress while keeping him feeling confident and successful about his ‘job’. Some horses take to jumping easily and quickly, others take a bit longer to figure out how to jump. Oso is careful for the most part to keep his feet out of the way of the jump, and when we are able to maintain a good canter coming to the jump, he is simple to ride! Our biggest challenge is to continue to improve the consistency of balance and rhythm in Oso’s canter. We have worked on a few different exercises so far: trot poles for strength and coordination, canter poles on the ground to improve adjustability and jumps on the circle to improve suppleness. In the next week I am planning on working on Oso’s canter on the flat, (getting him to accept my leg and allow me to sit a little more deeply in the saddle) and hopefully start jumping through small grids!
July 5th 2016 – I am so proud of Oso, he is becoming accustomed to handling trailering to other locations to ride with no issues. I have made an effort in the last week to get him over to the Woodside Horse Park a couple times within the span of a few days, as it sometimes helps young horses figure out that trailering is part of their program and not a big deal. Today was our best ride yet, we hacked all over the cross country course, up hills, around jumps, and through the water! He walked right into the water with no problems. We also went in the arena where the A circuit Hunter/jumper show was being held and schooled over a couple of jumps! He did not blink an eye at the brightly colored poles, plants and gates. Oso is brave to the jumps without being hot, I think he likes to jump! Jumping training has also helped his canter develop. Having a jump or pole in front of him makes him balance from his hind end. I am looking forward to seeing how Oso does cross country schooling!
June 19th 2016 – Oso has made great strides since our last blog update. I started him over some small fences, and we made our first trip away from the home barn! With a young horse, my only goal for the first ‘field trip’ is to make it a positive experience, even if that means simply trailering to a new place, walking around, and trailering home. Of course, given Oso’s easy going and affable personality, I had high hopes we would be able to accomplish even more on our first trip! He exceeded my expectations, and we had a great ride, at the Woodside Horse Park! After getting over some initial nervousness about being in such a large space, we were able to do some nice trot work, and then hang out quietly as I taught a few students in their horses. We ended with a trail ride on cross country course. Looking forward to our next adventure, and hopefully our first show sometime soon!
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!
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!
A 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!
It’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!
Oso 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!
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!
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!