Planning to Show that OTTB? Play It Backwards

One step forward, two back: Training the OTTB is never a straight road.

Do you set goals?

I don’t believe in goals, myself.

I know that sounds a bit odd. Competitive riding is, of course, the only sort I’m interested in. I don’t ride for “fun,” if that makes any sense. I don’t much like trail rides, unless I’m accomplishing something like teaching my horse about passing abandoned washing machines without exploding into a quivering mass of overwrought equid, or about not lying down in a river infested with alligators, however tempting it may seem.

During one of my frequent and abortive attempts at teaching Bon Appeal to be a riding horse (see Union Square Stables for details on this beautiful broodmare) I asked a heavily certified trainer what advice she had for my lovely, troubled mare and myself. Typically vague, since she wasn’t being paid, she hemmed and hawed, and the only thing of any substance that was said was that I should pick a show date and work towards that.

The fact that this terribly qualified and elite trainer did not have the human resources skills to allow me the entire forty-five minutes I would require to run from the tack shop down to the barn to show my horse at our “goal” dressage show, despite having lured me into the job with promises of free showing, is not the only reason why I think this is a terrible idea. Not to mention I’m pretty sure I read it in a Pony Club Manual when I was eight.

The fact of the matter is, when you set a date as your goal, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Ask the trainer of Take Control, the famous son of Azeri who won impressively a week or so again, was obviously on the Derby trail, and now is sidelined with bucked shins. Okay, I’m sure that if you have a top-tier two-year-old in the winter you can’t help but be thinking of the first Saturday in May during January. But it just goes to show you that dates mean nothing to our self-destructive friends, the horses.

The weather doesn’t help, either. I’ve had Final Call for twelve days. I’ve ridden him twice. If I had a calendar set up, it would have called for me to have ridden him six times by now. But the weather hasn’t cooperated, and I doubt I get to ride before Tuesday. That puts me a week behind.

I keep a record of my riding – in this case, a blog! – and I work off of that. I work off of what we’ve accomplished in the past week, not what I want to have done at the end of the week. This way, I don’t put pressure on myself, or him. Pretend you have all the time in the world or, better yet, believe you have all the time in the world. What if he isn’t ready to show in March? Then maybe he’ll be ready in April. What difference could a month possibly make? Enough to push him – and myself – enough to work in a dangerous slippery paddock and risk injury – enough to upset his little brain and set us back?

Horse training is stringing a pearl necklace – with a faulty clasp on one end. One pearl on, two slide off. Two pearls on, one slides off. And so on. It takes a very long time to bring it all together. Concentrate on the now, take your cue from the past, and the future will come together.



Filed under Training Theory

10 responses to “Planning to Show that OTTB? Play It Backwards

  1. “Stringing a pearl necklace”. I love that. Great post!

    To DRY.
    As in, STOP raining!!
    Hey, it’s raining here, too. Youze guys are contagious;)

  2. That’s actually the central tenet of Alois Podhajsky’s training paradigm, “I have time.”

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Really? I haven’t thought about him in a very long time. Maybe he and need to reconnect. Oh library!! I need you to find me a book!!

  3. Thanks for the comment. I thought I’d explain ex-stress here, rather than on my blog. I really like what it’s done for Denali. I’ve owned her for a year and a half and have had her on mare magic. It seemed to help a lot with her cycles, and I liked it because it was natural. She does have a hard time focusing, always has. She’d focus on you but if there was anything else going oh she’d fixate on that and you’d spend your entire ride trying to get her to focus back on you. Ex-stress (which is just B1 and Magnesium) has helped a lot. She’s much more focused and calm. Things that would freak her out before don’t even phase her and I like that she’s still the same horse. This is of course all just my opinion and she has also had a lot of consistency, so no way to be 100% sure what’s causing it, but I would like to guess it’s the B1 and magnesium.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Is she an alpha mare in the field? I’m sorry, I can’t remember if you’ve touched on that or not. That can seriously impact a mare’s focus on work – she is more focused on protecting you, her herd member. Ex-stress sounds pretty interesting, kind of like one of those “calm” Vitamin Waters…

  4. I revisit Podhajsky at least once a year, just to keep my thinking on track and not get caught up in the SHOW NOW!!! RUSH RUSH RUSH! attitude that seems to have too many in its grip.

    I do have goals, but they aren’t set in stone goals. I love trail riding, I think it’s great for the horse’s mind and mine, too! One day, I will fox hunt Gabe. I had planned to hunt him this fall and take him to a couple of mini-events, but one thing after another (namely weather than turned my entire property and arena into a bog) pushed that goal back, and that’s okay. He’s only five. We have plenty of time and I’m having fun.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I’m dying to hunt this horse. There’s a hunt terribly local, but the timing is bad – we’ll have to see what happens this summer and see how quickly he comes along.

      I’ll put Podhajsky on the used bookstore hunt list. You find the best freaking horse books in the weirdest places…

  5. Barb

    I think this post has had a big influence on me since I first read it. When Vince and I first got together, I had a plan in my head for which shows we’d “do” through this year. As you know, unplanned things demanding attention pop up requiring solutions before other things can proceed, so here we are at the beginning of April, with no thoughts of showing anytime soon. But now we are truly partners, so our journey, where ever it takes us, will be so much better. Thank you, Natalie.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Oh Barb, thank you! The thing about showing is – it means nothing, unless the pair of you are fantastic together, and then it’s just so you can get some really great photos all dressed up and polished. The ribbons – heck, if you want to spend a couple of hundred dollars for a $1.50 ribbon, that’s your business… but you’re right, the partnership that you can obtain from just concentrating on understanding one another, instead of cramming your training sessions into some type of schedule that is in the back of a BNT book, is simply a beautiful thing. You seem happier with Vince now then you did a month or two ago! How amazing is that!

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