Like a lot of trainers, I tend to get very needy and clingy when it comes to leaving my round pen, but that had to come to a stop fairly quickly, as the round pen, idyllically situated next to a pond, is doing a fair impression if Lake Okeechobee.
I’ve seen racehorses lunged in the open before (once, memorably, in the grass circle by a highway exit at the Charles Town, WV track) but the horses I get always seem to do that spin and stare technique, especially to the right.
Nothing for it, though, might as well find out, and I went trudging through the mud with a very edgy Final Call beside me, his little troupe of comedians locked safely in the barn and distracted by hay.
We found a dry place and off he went. And oh the things that he knows! A horse that already walks, trots, canters, and halts in both directions on the line. What a find!
Today was much the same, but I could see that he felt a little sore after working in those circles the day before. I decided to stretch him out with a hack. But what do horses do the moment you offer them an easy work? They make a big deal over something small and force you to ride.
Final Call saw the Enemy Horses (not to be confused with the Enemy Cows) two houses down, and froze.
Never let your thoroughbred freeze! Very bad things happen when a racehorse ceases to be in motion. They are bred to move, move, move, at all costs, and if you do not intervene and move them on your terms – well, you may find out how much explosive power those hindquarters have when he does his best “break from the gate” impression.
Be thoughtful but firm, sit down on your seatbones, and use a leading rein to turn his head. If you’re going to get him to move his feet, shift his balance to the side without letting him going forward. If he goes forward, he may do one of those astonishing leaps that so impress people in cross-country warm-ups across the nation. Those leaps are scary – and they dump the best of riders! – but the tight circle to regain motion is always a good bet.
It certainly worked for us. After a few turns and a few half-hearted head-tosses, he came back and we were able to hack out quietly with loose fingers (NOT loose reins!). And that’s all I can really ask for at this point.