Fantastic TBs and Their Alfalfa Brains

The thing about Thoroughbreds is, they get into athletic shape wonderfully quick, and then they get so naughty you wish you hadn’t gotten them that way to begin with. But they feel fantastic.‬

(Final Call’s version of bad is to need a little extra reminder that he needs to walk, not jog everywhere. I admit it could be worse.)‬

Being a young fellow yet, his metabolism is enviably quick and he is proving “typical Thoroughbred” in his tendency to show his ribs. Although I don’t dislike his light weight, I certainly don’t want him to drop any more. His abdomen is already tight and tucked up, glowing with fitness, but as is so often the case with these athletes, we walk a fine line between physically skinny and mentally loopy.‬


I think there is nothing so perfect for Thoroughbreds as alfalfa – in the right quantities, of course – and I keep weight on winter horses at pasture with free-choice alfalfa blocks. It’s great for broodmares and youngstock. I wasn’t quite sure how it would affect a horse in training – mentally, you know – but figured it was worth a shot. While he was living out twenty-four seven, I didn’t notice any changes in his behavior.‬

But summer has come, and the sun is intense,  so he and the yearlings have to come in and waste their valuable loafing hours in the barn, being bored, and miserable, and whining about how mean Mother is. Horses tend to lose weight when you bring them in suddenly – unfortunately, I imagine it is the stress – so I bumped up his alfalfa ration considerably at first. I know, I know, sudden confinement plus doubling his protein intake – recipe for disaster. But I was fairly curious about how naughty he’d actually turn out, too, so I decided to risk it. (Final Call makes me experimental, I’ve told you that before!)‬

Well, it was almost a non-issue. Consider all the factors I changed at once: 12-hour confinement, extra alfalfa, cutting out longing sessions, regular jumping – and a little jigging and jogging is nothing. Here’s what we didn’t add, and this is what I find significant – there is still no bolting, bucking, rearing, spooking, plunging, or other anti-social behaviors. Notice you haven’t heard about the Evil Corner of Death lately? I guess I killed the ECoD mystique when I stuck a jump, with a canter pole in front, in that corner. The ECoD is now the Sweet Corner of Jumping Awesomeness.‬

Because that’s the one little thing that gets Final Call high. Not the alfalfa, not the leg-stretching after being confined all morning, not the endless canter transitions as I try to get that a bit prettier (he still doesn’t have a beautiful transition, but we’re getting there), but the jumping. Oh, it feels SO GOOD, I can feel him thinking. We have to go back to all the green horse basics for the first few jumps of a session. After he has had a few abrupt downward transitions from trot to walk just before the trot poles, he remembers his brain and plugs it back in.‬

He’s a lot more horse than he was a month ago, that’s for sure. There’s more power and more attitude to go along with those shiny new muscles and those spiffy new super-powers (I’m sure he thinks jumping is a super-power.) But there’s heart and kindness that can’t be drowned out – he’ll always just be a “good” horse, if a bit “Thoroughbred-y.” There’s those of us that like that, you know!‬



Filed under Stereotypes, Training Diary, Training Theory

6 responses to “Fantastic TBs and Their Alfalfa Brains

  1. Kat

    Bonnie is an unusual TB – where are her ribs? Does she have them? I believe she has lost a bit of weight, though. 🙂 I believe that alfalfa, combined with appropriate excercise is GREAT for a stall-kept horse, even one that is rather throughbred-y. It seems to me that alfalfa is one of the best things a working horse can have in his diet, as long as it is properly rationed. Final Call looks awesome, by the way! I like horses to be fit and lean-muscled as he is.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Bonnie actually has had ribs in the past. I really couldn’t tell you what happened to them, though. Or for that matter how she got them. I let a friend ride her for a few months until I got a job at Grand Cypress EC, and when they dropped her off she was thin as a rail. Which meant my friend screwed herself out of a job, because I had convinced the center manager to hire her as a riding instructor, but when she saw how thin Bonnie was, she decided against it.

      I think she’s actually a Hanoverian mistaken for a TB and tattooed by accident. That would explain the epic slow races she ran. But not those Valid Appeal hooves of hers.

      There’s nothing happier than a horse in alfalfa. They love the taste, they love the smell, they look fantastic on it. I guess there is a new school of thought that alfalfa causes massive calcium deposits, but that seems to be a California thing, I think.

      Thanks, by the way, I think FC looks good too, just walking that line between fit and thin…

  2. My TB also walks the line b/w fit and thin. To make matters worse, he is surrounded by seriously FAT, stocky quarter horse types at his barn, sigh. I’ve started adding beet pulp to his diet, along with CocoSoya oil You can barely see the outline of his ribs right now, and I’ve certainly heard that it’s normal for TBs to have such an outline. It just makes me nervous:)

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      It gets to me a bit, too, the rib outline. I know it shouldn’t. But I’ve gotten used to fat fat fat broodmares! I’ve heard Fat Cat works well, too. Not sure what’s in all these supplements.. it gets to where you need a chem or biology degree, and I’m no good at science.

  3. How a horse behaves is not just due to environmental factors. The relationship between horse and handler is a big factor. Consider this blog article about horse smarts.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I couldn’t decide if this was spam or not. I’m still not sure.

      But at any rate, I think you’ll note that most of this blog, also, is about relationship between horse and handler. And I do believe that environmental factors are often overlooked in lieu of physical and psychological factors only. You have to put all the puzzle pieces together!

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