Five Months. Five Rides.

I hate routine, but it’s hard not to provide a horse with a little bit of one. It changes and evolves as the training process changes and evolves, sometimes lasting only a week or two before turning into something else altogether.

In January, Final Call was a green, goofy, racehorse, straight from the training center to my yard. The routine, by necessity, was more about tiring him out than anything. I like to look at it like this:


WHINE I wanna go back to the RACETRACK!

Month One: Wear your racehorse out.

My best friend is my round pen, but it was flooded out. Here I was with a green OTTB whom I had only ridden in a round pen previously. Trust me, controlled spaces are your best friend when dealing with a newly retired racehorse. You know this. I don’t have to tell you this. I was confronted with the prospect of riding in the paddock far sooner than I was comfortable with. But life is all about going outside your comfort zone. And longe lines. Life is all about longe lines. What a nice surprise, that someone had already taught Final Call to longe and voice commands. Twenty minutes on the longe line, fifteen minutes under saddle. Trot trot trot head in the air head in the air head in the air. Oh this is a treat, to be sure. But nothing surprising. And no bolting, possibly most important.

Month Two: Stretch that neck, old boy.

Nose on the ground, nose on the ground, everyone loves a green horse with his nose on the ground. Or something to that effect. Long and low! Magical words, to the dressage crowd. My horse stretches into the bit, what can your horse do? It’s counter-intuitive – you teach your horse to move into the bit, essentially, by annoying him with the bit and stopping the motion when he stretches into it. Horses crave stillness. Stillness means they’re not being bothered and hopefully soon you’ll get off and they can eat some grass. And so I wiggle the bit, and he stretches. He stretches so much he pulls the reins from my hands and I’m riding on the buckle. Which is an accomplishment, with racing reins.

Month Three – Alright, pick your head up already.

Finally completely over having the reins pulled from my hands when he stretches, and then tightening them when he picks his head up again, and then repeating this over and over for the next thirty minutes – see how my rides have progressed, we are up to half an hour! – I start pushing him into the bit and asking for half halts. Side reins become part of the daily longing session. This is not a popular idea with him, but it gets the job done. And circles. And serpentines. And halts. And trots. Ad nauseum.

Oh this is going to be GREAT

OMG My life just got AWESOME!

Month Four – Get Bored, Start Jumping.

 No more dressage! Can’t take any more dressage! BAHH! Actually I love dressage. That was Final Call talking. He needed something else to do with his day. Cavelletti join us in the paddock. New riding routine has progressed considerably – canters have ceased to be a prerequisite to get anything done. We have a much more normal schedule now – five minutes or so on the the longe, with side reins, as a warm-up, then straight into the trot. Lots of trot. Then some canter and some jumping as a reward for good behavior. Sounds like your riding lessons as a kid, doesn’t it? Follow it up with a winning ride at your first hunter pace. (Had to throw that in.)

Month Five – We are all grown up.

At last, a riding routine that might last longer than a few weeks. The longe line is retired and is slowly rusting over the washrack fence. We mount up, go for a long walk without stirrups or contact, and then segue into a nice forward trot, with some poles and canter work thrown in, for a warm-up. Then we get down to business. Whether that business is jumping (rarely) or canter transitions (often!) it is hard work. And then we take a nice long walk to cool out.



Filed under Dressage, Final Call, Training Diary, Training Theory

4 responses to “Five Months. Five Rides.

  1. Five months?? Feels like yesterday…
    You forgot hacking with alligators.

    Applause for the great work and great writing/riding, Natalie. I always feel like I’m there.
    Of course, I’d mutter this. Why do you hunch?
    whywhywhy? It’s harder on your back, isn’t it? Just curious, I am, not being (very) cranky? (Poor Horse is still there, hence my increased lack of coherence.)
    Oh, well,you’re young and still mostly flexible:)

    murderer of the English language out..

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I did forget hacking with alligators! How could I forget such an important thing?! Now that they’re not mating anymore it’s much quieter out there at night.

      Why do I hunch? I did some scientific thinking on this while I was running today. Unfortunately, it’s been about an hour and I’ve pretty much forgotten the reason I came up with.

      But here’s what I think I thought: I ride with very short stirrups, and my lower leg too far forward for classical riding. That’s not an issue – I’m fully capable of riding with long stirrups and my leg back where it “belongs.” But I’m more comfortable like this and I’m not trying to make Final Call into an upper or even mid-level dressage horse – I’m just giving him a foundation and the rest is someone else’s business. I want my muscles to be somewhat prepared to exercise horses again in, oh, a month’s time. Anyway, where this places my upper body, if I rode with my shoulders back, that would put my hands a good three inches too far back. My reins would be entirely too long. Does that make sense?

      And no, it’s not harder on my back – the opposite in fact. My lower back is where all my trouble lies – my extreme lower back, from when Mercedes decided to rest her entire weight on her foreleg, which happened to be propped on my thigh, as I was rasping her hoof. Rounding it actually helps a lot with that. There, I’m maimed – is that a good enough reason, equitation queen? 😉

      Good question, of course, as we used to make fun of hunter trainers who rode like “monkeys” when we were kids, and now I ride that way as well. I do find it comfortable and secure, and Final Call isn’t complaining, so…

  2. You have done such a good job with him, Natalie, and helped so many other people, including me, in the process. And, as always, your posts are the Best!!!!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Multiple exclamation points?!!? Oh BARB you’re too kind! Not at all like the other Barb, who picks on my riding position. AS IF that mattered. LOL

      Waiting for Vince’s story to continue, btw.

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