Saturday, September 13, 2008

Changing sights, new commands

We've moved Gabe's training from the small paddock to what has been dubbed my "jump field." It's out of sight of the other horses, quite a bit bigger and I have jumps set up in there. Robert is in the process of designing/building me more jumps to add to my field! I sent him an email chock full of pictures of what I want: flower boxes, a wall, a coop, a brush box and a roll top, along with several sets of schooling standards. I'm very, very excited to see my field filled with brightly colored schooling jumps.

Anyway, I worked him for the first time in the jump field Wednesday. It's a much bigger space with much more rolling terrain than the paddock. We hadn't worked on cantering on the lunge yet in the paddock so that was one of our goals in the jump field. Yes, it's fenced in. After his shenanigans and fit throwing out in the wide open spaces, I decided I'll work him in enclosed areas for awhile longer.

And I wore my helmet, too. What a difference a helmet makes in my level of confidence! I have some ugly rope burn scars on my hands from earlier this summer, so I always, always wear heavy gloves when I'm working him. I've started wearing them while I'm working the other horses too, not because I'm worried about their shenanigans, but because my hands seem so much softer and less calloused since I've been wearing them.

I lunged him over cross rails a few times and he really, really seemed to enjoy it. Not one time did he say "Nope, I don't think so," and not pop over it. He just looked at it and over he went. He has decent form, considering it was only an 18" jump.

Then, we started the canter work. First to the left, his easiest, most flexible side. We had a few explosive canter take-offs like he was taking off from the gate and he had a really hard time figuring out how to go slowly in a circle. He's never, ever had to canter on a circle before so this was a real challenge for him, both for his balance and for his mind. He figured it out pretty quickly and while not perfectly balanced or or able to keep a regular pace on the circle, he did well.

To the right was an entirely different story. On the track, and in his track training, he was required to canter and gallop always turning to the left around the track. We had many, many explosive canter transitions tracking to the right and he could not figure out how to stay on a circle. Rope halters are my friend. He'd break into a canter and attempt to canter STRAIGHT across the field, instead of on a nice curve. I spent a lot of time following him, pulling him back on track, walk, trot, walk, halt, back, walk, halt, trot, canter. BAM! Gone. I am happy to say he didn't get away from me once. He did haul me across the field a couple of times, but never got away. Love those rope halters!

It probably took 20-25 minutes of working, reworking and refocusing tracking to the right to get him to understand what I was asking. And when he finally got it, he was an unbalanced, wrong lead, high-headed mess making a lumpy oval instead of a nice circle. But, he got it. One thing at a time, right?

I haven't put a bit on him yet, for many reasons. One reason is because I expected to have the cantering confusion and explosions that we had. I don't want to punish his mouth because he doesn't understand what I'm asking. On the track, Thoroughbreds are trained to run FASTER when the pressure of the bit gets stronger, completely opposite of how he will be expected to respond as a pleasure horse. Can you imagine how much worse our cantering training would have been had a bit been in his mouth? Ugh. I don't think I could have kept up with him! Retraining to the bit is going to be a few sessions of focusing on JUST the bit pressure. Another reason is I'm waiting for the dentist to come out and do some work on his mouth. His wolf teeth need pulled/clipped and I know he has some spurs on a few of his molars. The bit should be a comfortable experience, not a painful one. We have ONE equine dentist (that I trust and have used before!) in a four county region. His schedule is quite full at the moment.

Why haven't I gotten on him yet? That's another post entirely, as this one has gotten a lot longer than I intended!


  1. Wow! You have a job in front of you. You are wise not to put a bit in his mouth until you get the teeth fixed. There is no sense in having this bit hurt him and have him get a bad start. You must have a lot of patience.

  2. Sounds like you both are coming along nicely. Better slow and thorough than a 30 day rush job! Good work. I love reading your progress.

  3. How awesome is that to have someone who can build jumps for you! Interesting fact that Thoroughbreds are trained to go faster with pressure.

  4. saddle mountain rider...He is definitely a challenge, but not in a bad way. In a fun, puzzle-solving way. I try to have a lot of patience with the horses. I've worked at quite a few barns and with many high-strung horses that tried the patience every day, in every way. I often wish I had as much patience with my kids and my husband as I do with the horses!

    Kathy...slowly but surely! I'm in no hurry and I want to make sure I cover all the basics as thoroughly as possible now than have to try to come back later when I realize there was a HUGE hole in his early training. Because as you know, retraining an OTTB isn't just training them to be a riding horse, its also retraining everything they've already learned. And it's been fun. I learn from him, he learns from me and we're figuring each other out.

    Nuzzling muzzles...If I ask Robert to build me something, he'll usually do it. Over the years his carpentry skills have improved immensely. He just built a new hay manger for Gabe and it's gorgeous and sturdy and exactly what I wanted. Gabe is the only one of my three who will stand and pee on a new pile of hay, the big brat, so I had to get it up and out of the way.
    Three of the biggest retrains you face with retraining a retired racehorse are: 1. standing still during mounting because the jockeys were always just thrown up there while the horse was walking; 2. retraining them to slow/stop from the pressure of the bit. Jockeys use the bit to balance with and as the horse gallops faster, the pressure on their mouths gets stronger. A lot of retired racehorses tend to lean on the bit after retraining and rush if a rider doesn't have soft hands. 3. Stopping. They are used to having about a mile to stop. Jockeys stop them slowly after a race to lessen the stress on their legs, so stopping in a few strides is new to them.
    But the good thing is they are SMART, learn quickly and most of them are eager to please.