An Aside on Grooming

I found this picture on the computer this morning – it was taken in Februray, for a blog post I promptly forgot to write:

hoofpicking from the left

Okay, from the left, I get it...

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.

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7 Comments

Filed under Final Call, racetrack life, Stereotypes, Training Diary, Training Theory

7 responses to “An Aside on Grooming

  1. LOL, I don’t know where I heard this before I got Lucky, but I had, so for the first few days I did his hooves from the left. He did not seem to mind when old muscle memory took over and I went back to LF-RF-RR-LR, changing sides as I did it. But then he’s very phlegmatic about most things.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      My muscle memory is just the opposite, and I have been known to pick up hooves from the left when dealing with any number of startled, non OTTB type equines! (Yes, I do handle other sorts from time to time…)

  2. I’d worked at the track as a groom and hotwalker when I was in college, so I knew this. Kind of a nice button on a lazy day!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Who you callin’ lazy?!

      Miss hotwalking at all? Such good thinking time…

      • I miss being at the barn with the horses. This was when women were pretty rare on the backside. Still have vivid memories of coming around the end of the shedrow at Keeneland with a young colt, having the wind loudly rustle the heavy plastic on the outside, and finding myself and the colt suddenly at the gap in the middle, having covered the distance in one huge LEAP!

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Yes, just being in the barn in the morning is the best feeling. I hate getting up early – I’d rather stay up all night and get up around noon – but if I’m around the horses, especially if it’s someplace where we’re training and there’s just a lot of buzz and activity, then I automatically switch into “morning person.”

        Athletic, aren’t they? LOL

  3. TBDancer

    I sometimes forget that not all horses know that “from the left” trick. I’ve reached under “non-OTTBs” to pick their right side (from the left) and my hair has tickled their tummies. Haven’t gotten kicked hard–yet–but it certainly does make me remember quickly that the “easy button” isn’t operational on all horses ;o)

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