Softness. Don’t Panic. Softness.

I write my blog while I’m riding.

It starts out as one subject, turns into another midway through, and might be on a completely different tangent by the time I’m through. Then I mull it over as the afternoon progresses.

Today’s was hard.

bareback with Final Call

As you can see, I am not wearing a hard hat. For the record, I lived. And I won't do it again.

I started out thinking about softness. Not just softness of the mouth, but of the whole body. I think that’s the greatest gift we teach our Thoroughbreds and that they, in turn, give back to us. They start out as running machines, pulling against us to go further and faster. If we let them, and rein back in a conventional matter, it’s used against us.

And slowly, we soften and soften those stiff lips and tight tense jaw and rigid neck, and the horse feels able to flex and move comfortably with us. We take their natural attunement to our seats and legs and let that take over, and soon we are able to let them move loosely, with a gentle hold on the reins to remind them of our presence, but nothing more. And we are all soft and comfortable together.

Then, somewhere along the way, I had a breakdown. Somewhere between getting a fast trot and a right lead canter on a left-hand circle, I had a moment of panic. A running out of time feeling. A feeling that this was ending, and I didn’t know how it was going to end, and I didn’t want it to end, and I didn’t know how to end it properly. And before I could do anything about it, or be properly stiff-upper-lip, the tears came.

(And then “The Scientist” by Coldplay came on, and if you aren’t familiar, let me just fill you in. Here’s the chorus: Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.)

The long story short is, that we took a long walk, and I got over my panic, and we worked on softness again. We got a few nice transitions. And then I leaned into his neck and let him gallop.

Three parts. Soft, panic, soft.

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10 Comments

Filed under Final Call

10 responses to “Softness. Don’t Panic. Softness.

  1. Barb

    Awwww- Can’t you take him and get a stall at the track for him, maybe pony some horses? I’m serious. He loves you and you love him, too…

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I don’t want to do that.

      No, what you’re seeing is me falling for a horse, which is against the rules.

      And maybe it’s good – hey, she’s human.. Hey, she has a heart – but this was supposed to be the best thing for everybody. And I don’t think living at the racetrack would be best for him. He can jump now, he’s used to living out with friends.. I’d be afraid of caging him up in a boxstall again. I’d be sad.

      Something will happen.

  2. Blob

    It’s hard to give up a horse even if your intention was to sell him all along. It’s losing a partner.
    But I think once you find him a good home, it’ll be much easier to part.
    The picture is great (even without the helmet).

    By the way, I’m heading to Belmont this weekend. I’m rather excited.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Oh I love Belmont.

      Betcha knew that already.

      So… Yeah. It’s normal and it’s necessary. And the panic is just that. Panic is an unreasonable response to challenges that appear insurmountable. And so it goes away as you approach the challenges. I have a lot to have panic attacks about right now, it is what it is.

      I shared because.. Because that’s what the ride was, and I write about my rides. And because we’ve all parted with horses.

  3. It’s never easy to say goodbye, but with the foundation you’ve given him he’s going to do very well in his next life. Steady on.

  4. God, I love that song, seriously. I mean, I like Coldplay alright, but I Love that song.
    Great post. You are much stronger than I could ever be in your situation. It will all work out.
    Actually, I would be very surprised if Final Call doesn’t have his own blog a year from now, with his owner who loves him to death. No matter what he will always be a part of your life, if that’s what you want. Great writing:)

  5. Aaw, this is why I couldn’t do what you are doing. He is so lovely, and you’re right, he couldn’t go back to the track.

    My daughter saw him and would love to have him, however she already has one horse and that’s probably enough. For now.

    He is lovely, and I’m keeping good thoughts that something will happen and someone will step forward to adopt this most awesome horse.

    And, as always, good TB training advice. I’m looking forward to riding again and using some of your most excellent ideas.

    • Laurie Bochner

      If I’ve learned one thing over the past year it is that tears are going to happen at some point and that is okay. You’ve got this. Some steps are just a bit more chalenging and falling in love always makes it harder. On another note…listen to “Fix You” …it might help.

  6. Pravina

    Oh, I’m so glad I found this blog!
    I’m a horse trainer living in New York City (and I also get on fractious beasts at the racetrack every morning as a freelance exercise rider)

    I’ve done the buy and resale of OTTBs countless times over the past 15 years, and everytime I think it will get easier…it doesn’t. It’s the same ache everytime…the same tears fall against your will. You tell yourself not to get so attached next time… but you do. Love really is letting go sometimes, and giving your boy the best home you can, sending him/her out with the best education you possibly can. Yes, alot like parenting, I would imagine.

    At the track you’re lucky to stick with the same horse few weeks, a few months… all the while knowing you will say goodbye… he will move to another track, another owner, get claimed, get sent to layup. You will have to say goodbye, always sooner rather than later. And you will wonder what happened to him… is he ok? Does his new rider know not to tap him on the left with the stick? He hates that. Does he know he always fakes seeing his shadow at the gap? That he likes when you sing to him? That he prefers the strawberry Jolly Ranchers over the apple? Years later, you still glean bits and pieces about your favorite mounts from riders you know in other tracks.. some across the country. It’s the price we pay for doing what we love.. getting on these wonderful animals and letting them teach us as we teach them.

    I know what you’re feeling, and I hope you can take some solace in knowing that it sounds as if you gave him a great education, and he will be an absolute joy to his new owners. (Ok maybe not absolute joy.. he’ll probably drive them crazy sometimes too, as OTTB’s are apt to do…haha) But what I mean is… you gave him a real shot and kudos to you for that.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Pravina – thank you.

      “Does his new rider know not to tap him on the left with the stick? He hates that. Does he know he always fakes seeing his shadow at the gap? That he likes when you sing to him? That he prefers the strawberry Jolly Ranchers over the apple?”

      So true.

      I was in a panic when I sent my yearlings away to the training center last year. I’d worked so hard on them. But they had their own little sticking points. You couldn’t use a stick on Sugar – she’d go backwards. Emira could be finessed into anything, but she’d put up a massive fight if you got argumentative with her. I’d get an occasional email – “they’re working great, they love galloping, they’re so good in the barn,” but I’d wonder about their day-to-day lives. My babies.

      But it is like children. You give them the best education you can, and you send them out in the world. Run fast, be good, be strong. I wish we could send along a pre-paid calling card: “Call me if you need a ticket home.”

      I’ll see you out there..

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