I found this picture on the computer this morning – it was taken in Februray, for a blog post I promptly forgot to write:
I was given my first OTTB when I was thirteen. My previous experience was on Quarter Horses and ponies. I think Amarillo was the first Thoroughbred I’d ever been on, or near.
And he used to do things that annoyed the absolute hell out of me. When I was picking his hooves, he’d pick up his right hind when I wanted his left hind. Why did he do that? That was so irritating.
Finally, several years into our relationship, an event trainer clued me in. Racetrack Thoroughbreds pick up all four hooves from the left. (Thoroughbreds, in fact, are almost solely handled from the near side. Their saddles are already buckled on the right, you know, the way you used to get in trouble for leaving the girth buckled when you were a kid? Yeah, that’s status quo at the track. Saves time – just like you told your instructor.)
Not only do they pick up all four hooves, but – as I didn’t learn until I started working with racehorses – they generally pick up the right hind first, and lift it up under the body, not out behind, as we’d done in the event barns. Strange, the way little tidbits get lost.
Handling OTTBs often seems like a game of telephone to me. The trainers at the racetrack aren’t sharing much. The grooms might mention one or two small things. And then the new owners are forced to take the little bit they’ve gleaned from a special on ESPN before the Kentucky Derby, or a passing conversation with people who were in a shedrow visiting their cousin’s five thousand dollar claimer once in 1987, or something they read in The Black Stallion when they were 12, and sort of evolve all that into a training strategy that is really nothing like the horse has already experienced.
It’s inevitable, I suppose, when the backstretch of the racetrack is locked away from visitors, and so few people crossing between sporthorses and racehorses, that the little things, like which side to pick up hooves on, get lost. It’s funny, though, that it took me ten years to realize he liked to have his right hind hoof picked up first.