Today, being muddy and swampy at home, was no day to train. I had to remove myself from the temptation. (“It’s sunny! I’m sure it’s drying up! There’s a dry patch! We’ll just trot a leetle tiny bit!”)
So, because my husband is super hard to convince to go to the racetrack (“We should go to the racetrack tomorrow!” “Okay!”) off we went to Tampa Bay Downs for some fast horses and some poor decisions.
Now you can learn so, so much from observing racehorses in their natural habitat. I couldn’t do half the things I manage with my horses now if I hadn’t done it already on the backs of yearlings and mature racehorses, or for that matter just grooming and handling them around the barns and at Thoroughbred sales. I’m not suggesting that everyone run out and acquire a job as a groom or an exercise rider – although it is pretty freaking amazing and you will learn a ton – but I will go so far as to suggest that you acquire HRTV or TVG or, better yet, both, and spend some time studying the way that these horses handle, learn, and live.
Last week we were talking about what I’ve decided we’ll call the Leap of Power, officially now and forever, and of course we know the tremendous power that the racehorse has to leap forward from a standstill. It’s what they do. It’s what they’re trained for. It’s a terribly unsound method of starting a race, as it’s hard on the horse, hard on the handlers, hard on everything, but it’s the only method we’ve got besides the wandering around, cantering up to the line, no-that-didn’t-work, everyone line up and let’s start again (see:Grand National Steeplechase.)
Horses at the break are bursting forward with all the energy in their hindquarters. The jockeys are sitting balanced over the withers, much like you might be going over a fence. Hands are pressed into neck or withers, eyes are forward, weight is in the knee and heel – look familiar?
It takes a few strides to balance, and notice these horses about five strides from the gate are still finding their comfortable stride. The riders are sitting in the middle of the horse, with their reins loose, letting the horse figure it out for himself.
Which brings us to the question, when you ask your OTTB very nicely for something, say, to walk forward like the gentleman that he is, instead of staring into the distance at the Enemy Cows, and he responds instead with a Leap of Power, what do you do next?
You have a couple of options, and unfortunately most people go for the one that is most lucky to earn them a rear or a flip, and that’s haul back on the reins, freaking out and shouting. This is a natural reaction, but sometimes your instincts aren’t going to help you out. Why? Well, because you’re thinking like a human, for starters, and leaving out the horse’s instincts/history/training. Skip the instincts and go straight for rational thought. Your horse has leaped forward and bolting – so where is your horse’s brain now?
That’s right, headed for the first turn of some racetrack in their memory. Don’t confuse them. Bring them back slowly. Balance – go with it – and then stand up in your stirrups, lift your hands, rein back, and bring them back down as if you’re galloping out after the race. Questions? See any horse race. And study it.
Your OTTB isn’t always going to remember he’s in the jumping ring, or in the dressage arena. That’s just a normal fact of life. Every horse has moments. These are theirs. Ride to settle them, ride so that they remember their cues. “I gallop! Oh – and I stop.”