Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Racing
www.GoodHorse.org

Cloud's Honor Riding

Cloud's Honor Riding
www.LeightonFarm.com

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".