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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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!
Browsing 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!
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!