Note we were being swarmed by a flock of birds (background)

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.



Filed under Final Call, Training Diary, Training Theory

10 responses to “Merry-Go-Racehorse

  1. Barb Fulbright

    I am SO enjoying your posts and have shared many of your hilariously described circumstances. Thanks for lightening my day!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thanks so much! You have to see the hilarity in everyday life if you expect to live sanely (or an approximation thereof) with horses.

  2. Very nice descriptions–both of technique and the necessity of never letting them freeze! Though actually, I heard a story about a couple of cutting horses out on a trail ride that saw a loose cow.

    They froze, the folks riding them realized too late that was a bad plan, then hung on for dear life as the two championship cutters went tearing through the woods.

    Luckily, no one was hurt and everyone learned a little something that day.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I would love to ride a cutting horse someday- how amazing to have a horse that knows and loves its job so much that you don’t even have to give it direction, just hold on tight!

      That’s such a bad feeling when they freeze..

  3. Ooh, you got lucky to get one that already knows how to work on the line!

    I have experienced the TB leap of pure power. It did not end well.

    You are so right about keeping them moving, moving, moving. If I don’t keep Gabe moving and doing something it can go downhill quickly.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      The Leap of Power, I like that.

      I wish I had some pictures of it. Does anyone?? Send them to my email and we’ll share them. It’s a hallmark of the TB and it CAN be prevented!

  4. Keep the training tips coming, this is good stuff. Though I would try to maintain the forward with any breed of horse, it’s good to remember that OTTBs are trained to explode from a standstill. I can see myself forgetting that and establishing a close, personal relationship with the ground quite quickly.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thanks, I will work more in as riding progresses. Definitely so many universal horse issues are trebled in the blood horse.

  5. I must have the most sensible 7 yr old TB on the planet. Well, ok, he’s got his exceptions. Also, he never raced. But he really is quite level headed, and even when he spooks, ducks and whirls, that’s it, he stops. Once though, he did dump me at a gallop coming off a 3 ft jump. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt, but as I lay there, I noticed he was standing nearby just looking at me.

    I did have an OTTB mare who I would hack out in the countryside. She was unflappable also. School buses passing us on the road didn’t phase her. Deer grazing out in an open meadow, she looked and kept going. the only time she ran off with me was when someone came galloping up behind me, and she went into race mode.

    Very good advice to keep them moving, and keep a calm even demeanor, even after a spook, just push on, no rewards, no scolding, just business as usual.

    I’m enjoying reading your blog very much.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thanks Sara!

      Far be it for me to imply that Thoroughbreds are spooky, silly horses as a whole – I don’t believe that! Obviously we couldn’t have TBs as the top event horses in the world if they were afraid of their own shadows. (Although come to think of it, I did know a four-star horse that could barely walk down a shed row without panicking – a stray piece of hay could send him through the roof.) And if you’ve got on that comes back to you – or you’ve broken through to one, and taught him to come back to you – when something has sent him over the edge, then you’re definitely in a good position.

      The scolding business is a funny issue, and I’ve been guilty of it myself. I’m a very mouthy rider when I’m pissed off at a horse (and so quiet, when I’m pleased, that I usually listen to music to keep my rhythm going, or else I tend to slip into a daydream.) I think I learned it from admiring Margie Goldstein-Engle as a kid. Remember her growling and shouting over the fences? Does she still do that? Does she still compete? I have no idea.

      There’s something about a good growl or shout at a horse that seems to do a lot of good. My theory is simple: a horse can’t fight your shout, the way he can a kick or a jab of the reins. He can’t shout back. He just has to take it. And that can be a very disarming position. Or so I theorize.

      Now, shouting about a spook? Yeah, you’re just compounding the situation and making it worse. What then, do you do when you can’t figure out if the horse is spooking or playing games with you? Tricky. . . yeah they’re tricky sometimes. . . especially those MARES ::gazes at picture of arch-enemy Bonnie::

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