Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Riding

Cloud's Honor Riding

Friday, March 20, 2015

I've moved!

I haven't kept up on my blog or my mission to write about my work retraining Thoroughbreds to help others.  Recently I entered two horses in the 2015 Retired Racehorse Training Project Thoroughbred Makeover and part of this activity is to write about their training as they proceed to the October show in Lexington, Kentucky.  This prompted me to transfer this blog to the Leighton Farm website and also add the posts I am doing for the Makeover there.  So if you wish to follow my new additions to the blog and hopefully learn from my experiences retraining retired racehorses, go to

Thanks and I hope I keep going this time!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shoeing Technique for Horses with Thin Walls

Blacksmith, Arthur Lisi has been applying this technique to Thoroughbreds coming off the track to Leighton Farm.  Horses who either have thin walls naturally or have had their walls damaged through improper shoeing are experiencing very positive results.

There are many who say that Thoroughbreds and retired Thoroughbred racehorses in particular have bad feet.  There is much evidence to back this up, but like any blanket statement, there are many exceptions. 

Not all Thoroughbreds have bad feet, in fact many have exceptional feet.  What is important to understand is why so many people hold this belief and what is it about Thoroughbred feet that makes them bad?   

In general, Thoroughbreds have thinner hoof walls and soles. Add to this the fact that while they are a racehorse, they have spent much time in an environment with wonderful footing in and out of the stall. 

What this means is that like the child who has worn shoes all winter and now runs outdoors barefoot must spend some “ouchy” time toughening up their feet, so must the retired racehorse.  This article addresses the other factor—thin walls.

Art says, “We have to admit that we are causing the horse pain and discomfort when we nail into a thin hoof wall.  Even if the nail does not push outside of the wall, it puts pressure on the sensitive lamiae of the inner hoof. “ 

If the horse jumps or fidgets when the blacksmith is nailing the shoes on, the horse is telling you the nails are too close.  If the horse stands quietly, the nails are good.   

Art says, “Listen to the horse.”

The hoof wall expands and contracts with each foot fall.  Even more so with a thin wall.  This “works” the nails back and forth more. 

This mare’s hoof walls are too thin.  The technique outlined here will give her what she doesn’t have, adequate buffer to protect against the movement of the nail.  Each step she takes, she can feel the movement of the nails in the hoof wall.  

Art Lisi builds out the hoof wall so it can support the nail being driven into it.  

If you examine the picture above, there is not adequate room to drive a safe nail.  The two red arrows on the right demonstrate the very thin walls.  The red arrow at the bottom with the white circle shows the thickness of the nail with regard to the wall.  You can also see previous nail holes that were either in the white line or  actually “quicking” her. 

 Before beginning, a word of caution: It is very important if the horse has close or bad nails that you do not patch over them with the acrylic because the heat produced while drying will fire up the abscesses that want to happen in response to the bad nails.  If the horse is very sore or has been quicked, it is best to pull the shoes and wait until the feet calm down.


Now lets get started with Art’s technique.


1.  Be sure hoof wall is dry and clean.  Just rough the surface  with a dremmel so the acrylic will adhere to it.

2.  Drill pilot holes to accurately place the set nails.  This is done so that the hoof wall does not crack from the nail pushing through the wall and to prevent quicking the horse.  The forward most nails are the safest spot.  These nails are set very low on the hoof.  They would never hold the shoe on, they are only there to hold the shoe in place for the acrylic and subsequent nailing into it.

3.  When driving the “set nails”, if possible, catch the corner of the wall.  This is dependent on the thickness of both the wall and the nail being used.  Art feels that small nails should always be used on Thoroughbreds. 

 4.  Next you must prepare the acrylic you will used to build up the hoof wall.  It is important to add an adequate amount of chopped Composite Cloth to the acrylic.  This step provides the added strength the acrylic needs to support the nails and the natural expansion and contraction of the hoof wall.  Without it the acrylic will crack.

5.  ***When applying the acrylic you must use a little imagination.  Be sure the width of the acrylic will be enough to take the nail. Enough thickness that when you clinch the nail down it is not pulled into the sensitive part of the hoof. 

Avoid getting acrylic on the sole.  It creates an uneven surface when the hoof hits the ground.

6.  Wrap the hoof in plastic wrap and move on to the next foot while each hoof dries.

7.  Nail the shoe on as you normally would, but through the acrylic or "built up hoof wall", instead of the horse's hoof wall.

8.  File as you normally would.

9.  You can do a bit of clean up with the dremmel for athletic purposes.

10. It takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours to be completely dry.  Use black shoe polish to get rid of “obvious” look.

 I would just like to say that Art has taken horses with lameness that cannot be diagnosed and made them sound with this technique.  He has also improved the movement of many more.  I believe this is something that can be done to improve countless Thoroughbred's performance both on and of the racetrack.

Download a version of this primer on Art's shoeing technique.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Never fight unless you want to make a better warrior.....

 I started "Soul" free jumping last week.  Well we're not free jumping yet, she's going through the free jump lane with poles on the ground and jumping them.  The poles are still a source of great excitement, so she won't get a real jump until she accepts that they are just poles on the ground, not flaming hoops of fire.  Each trip through she is less impressed with cantering down the lane.  When she starts trotting, I'll show her a cross rail.  I am sure she's going to like this part of the training. 
Like all Thoroughbreds, she hates longeing, but is beginning to accept the fact that it is a daily chore.  I keep telling her, "eventually you'll like this", but thus far, she is not convinced.  Like all Diva's she is still arguing with me over who the boss is going to be today.  It is I, and she accepts that after a few "tests", but she still doesn't like it. 
When I ride her, she is very good to mount, but is still very braced in her body at the trot.  She is letting go a bit at the walk.  This is fairly normal at this stage, but she is more braced than most horses.  I attribute that to temperament.  All racehorses begin show training in this state.  It is because while at the track they are not encouraged to be supple laterally or horizontally.  A straight body is a fast body.  I am slowly working in suppling exercises, but this is a very difficult thing especially for an older racehorse so it's going to be baby steps to "unlock" her body.  I don't want her to begin to fight this:  a) she'll win and b) she'll begin to develop resistance to the training - and the goal is for her to "let go" of the tension. 
My overall opinion on her at this point is that she is a talented athlete, but she is tough.  The athletic part is a great thing because I do not think she will ever be suitable for an amateur rider.  She's going to need a professional level rider, so she needs to display professional level skills.  She will likely be a jumper - they are expected to be a little more "up" than Eventers or Dressage horses.  With her super uphill build and athleticism, she shows promise for the upper levels. 
Tiny increments of progress are the goal.  If I push her too hard, she will fight.  Even if I win the fight, she will become a better warrior.  I need her to understand that the human rider is now a partner, not a passenger.  Jockeys and exercise riders stay out of the way of the racehorse.  Those jocks who stay out of the way the best are the best jocks.  Shoemaker once said something to the effect, I can't make them faster than they are, but I can make them slower. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blessed Soul, Some Thoughts on Transitioning "Good" Racehorses

 Blessed Soul recently retired from racing at the age of 7 with earnings of $108,710 in 13 starts, averaging $8,362 per start.  That's a good racehorse.
Transitioning from racing to a new career can be more difficult for the good racehorses because they have an independent and strong sense of self.  They are encouraged and allowed to be dominant with humans as long as they aren't dangerous.  Aggressiveness is viewed as a positive quality. 
Then, suddenly, one day the humans begin to ask them to submit to their desires.  Have impeccable manners and be considerate at all times.  As racehorses we don't wish to dominate them. 
When I first began working to transition horses from racing to show/pleasure I found this kind of work suffocating.  I had been an exercise rider for 30 years and now I felt like I was micro managing the horse.  "Gees, do you ever leave them alone?"  I know how Blessed Soul must feel.  In the long run, once she realizes her only job is to do as the human asks, her life becomes much easier.  Most horses begin to relax and enjoy life like never before.  The transition period is the hardest because the horse who has always known she was a racehorse, now questions - "Who am I?" 
The good news is good racehorses are great and proven athletes, or they couldn't have accomplished what they did.
I know a little bit about second careers.  I was a pretty good exercise rider for about 25 years.  When I began to work with the show horses I had to go back to being a beginner.  I had to start over - at the age of 45!  That's not the greatest feeling when just a little while ago you were great at your craft.  Now you are a green bean.  Sure you know some of the stuff, but you are also stuck in your ways and need to "rewire" a lot of the reactions and muscle memory that served you so well during your racing career.
It's worth it though.  When the thought crosses my mind of how much better a show rider I would be right now if I had pursued that 35 years ago rather than becoming an exercise rider, I remind myself that every one of those countless horses I galloped taught me something I use every day.  Maybe I wouldn't be as good as I am right now if I had pursued only showing.
We'll never know because I did what I did.  I believe that much of what the seasoned racehorse knows is incredibly useful to the show trainer, just as the skills I developed are incredibly useful, once transformed to translated for show/pleasure purposes.  You just have to train the horse you have - the individual, rather than training the horse you want him to be or worse, the last horse you worked with. 
See him for who he is and begin there - you might be surprised what will happen if you give him a chance to "rewire" his muscle memory and problem solving skills as you put new "tools" in his "tool bag".

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cross Tying the OTTB

Did you know that Thoroughbred racehorses are never cross tied? They are typically tied in the back of their stall while their grooms work on them.

Introduce cross tying to your new OTTB when there is little or no activity in the barn. He’s used to being tied in his stall where it’s quiet and safe. It’s best to begin cross tying in a grooming stall or stall, since they are used to being tied in the stall they are not accustomed to being tied in an area with traffic or activity around them. Introducing this new way of being tied in an aisle way will make it much harder to avoid mishaps. My advice is if you don’t have a grooming stall, set up cross ties in his stall and begin the lessons there.

At Leighton Farm, I begin by putting the horse in the grooming stall. I tie him with
one cross tie and leave the rope lead shank on.   I have an assistant hold it, standing
in front of the horse. I feed him peppermints or other treats. The goal is for the
horse to understand that this is simply a new place to be groomed and tacked up. I
slowly groom him and put the tack on. If everything goes well—and it usually does,
the second day I put both cross ties on and use an assistant to stand in front of the horse. Inevitably the horse will walk forward and his head will be flinged up at least one time. I want to prevent this
the first couple days until he is comfortable with this new type of tying.

I normally keep the lead rope on the horse for the first week or so, draping
it over his neck. After day two, I no longer need an assistant.

Once he is comfortable with cross tying, I start doing it in the aisle way. I choose a
time when things are quiet the first few times. I have had very few problems doing it
this way and usually have the horse reliably cross ties in about a week to ten days.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A racehorse is still a racehorse until....

When you bring your horse home to your farm remember that he is still a racehorse. He may be a racehorse that’s on the farm resting, but he has been bred, raised and trained up to this point to do one thing and that is to race. You now must show him that he is going to become something different. If you plan to jump your horse here are a few things to consider.

There are trainers who take horses directly from the track and begin jump training immediately. I was in a Jimmy Wofford gymnastics clinic a few years ago where there was a rider who had gotten a horse from the track only the week before. He was a steeplechase trainer/rider and planned to run the horse in steeplechase races. This works well because steeplechase and hurdle horses are racehorses that run over fences.

If you want to event, do jumpers, hunt or just recreational jump, that approach is going to give you less than desirable results. You must first teach your new horse to be a riding horse and when he understands that, introduce jumping. This is not to say that some horses come off the track that never really were racehorses. It can be because of inadequate training but most of the time they just never embraced racing. You still must give them the basics.

Each horse is ready to learn to jump at a different time. Many times I introduce walking and then trotting over poles very soon after they come to the farm. If the poles elicit any excitement for the horse, I know that we’ll be walking over poles for a while before I show them a jump. One clue that the horse is not ready is if the he becomes excited when you start to jump him. If this happens you need to back track. Also be careful that you aren’t making a “big deal” out of it. If you are tense or excited, he will sense that and mirror it. Calm, easy going introductions work best. Many people just casually pop them over logs and natural obstacles while trail riding. I often wonder if horses take to this so much easier because most of the time the riders are more relaxed too. This is a good way to start.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Racehorses and Lead Changes

The first thing you need to know is at the track we normally do not ask the horse to pick up a lead. This is a foreign concept to him. We do ask them to change leads, but not to pick up a particular lead. We usually go out to the track and start jogging and at a certain point the horse and rider relax together into the gallop. When we come to a place he is supposed to change, we ask at that time by stepping into the stirrup of the lead we want.

When you first start asking the horse to canter, to the horse you are doing exactly that—asking for the canter, not a particular lead. He is going to pick up whichever lead he picked up when he started cantering/galloping at the track. It will take him some time to realize you not only want him to canter, but you want him to pick up a particular lead.

I start with whatever lead they are resistant to picking up, usually the right. I always start on a circle, in this case to the right. I post the trot and put my weight into the right stirrup without leaning. I basically step into it, but not abruptly. Once my weight is where I want it, I sit the trot and allow my right seat bone to move forward – my right hip leading. With my weight in the right stirrup, the right seat bone is already heavier than the left. When done correctly, your right leg will be ahead of your left or in other words, you outside leg will be back. Be careful not to put your outside leg too far back because this will cause you to put your weight in your outside stirrup. Opening your outside hip moves your leg back causing your weight to go into the inside stirrup. Most of the time this causes the horse to pick up the correct lead. If he does not, I quietly ask for the trot, and continue to circle until he regains his balance and composure and I ask again.

Occasionally I get a horse that is “committed” to one lead or the other. When this
happens I first confirm that it is not a lameness issue. Most of the time it’s a weakness issue instead. At the track he was probably allowed to go around on the lead he preferred most of the time, developing more strength to one side for cantering. In these cases I only ask for the lead they resist for several days to a week. I do not get upset when they pick up the wrong lead, I just ask for the trot and try again. Many times the horse is heavy on the inside shoulder so when I step into the stirrup on the inside I also lift my inside rein. I do not pull back, I lift.

It's best to canter only a few strides and then ask for the trot before the horse loses his balance. Gradually extend the amount of time you canter as the horse develops. As an aside, the horse will usually speed up when he loses his balance. Keep this in mind when working at the canter. He probably is not trying to run off, he’s more likely trying to remain upright.

When it comes time to work on flying changes, your racehorse already knows how to
do this. It was an important part of his job. Changing the your weight to the new
stirrup is all it will take, but again, he was doing it at the gallop with the aid of momentum.

The next time a race is on television, watch how the jockeys get the new
lead. You will never see them hike their outer leg back to get it. For the record, I do not recommend working on flying changes until the horse is physically developed
enough to be off his forehand. I want my horses to have three solid, balanced gaits
before I even approach this skill.