Guest Blog: A Tale of Two Thoroughbreds

Still driving up the Interstate. Today’s post is by Bree Cavalli of Cavalli Connections. She starts out by flattering me, so I’ll leave that part in. Hopefully she will forgive me for warping some of the pictures. Or, her mother will.

First of all, thank you to Natalie for letting me write this guest post for her awesome blog!

Since my blog is mainly about classical riding, I thought I would write a post that combines that with Natalie’s central focus – thoroughbreds.

Classical riding dates back to around 400 B.C. and is otherwise known as correct riding. It is simply being kind to the horse, allowing the horse to dictate the pace of training, and never employing the use of force. The independent, classical seat allows a rider to influence the horse with incredible subtlety, turning riding into an art form. On the other hand, incorrect, forceful riding and training methods have been around far too long and can have horribly detrimental effects on a horse – not only physically but mentally as well. The two horses I am going to introduce you to illustrate this all too well.

Wilt is my Mom’s horse. To be fair, he’s only half thoroughbred and he’s not off the track (ok, give me a break here).


Wilt was bred for color (his sire is a loud paint) and when he was born with only one white foot and a half of a heart on his forehead, he was somewhat of a disappointment to the man who owned the barn. He was immediately scooped up by a girl who worked at the barn. She loved him to death and he was given all the time in the world to run and play in the fields up until he was three. In fact, we were at the barn boarding my horse there, and my sister and I used to play tag with him when he was a yearling. He was insatiably curious, always the first to come up to you. He was backed briefly and kindly by the girl who had purchased him, but nothing much more than that was done with him. Meanwhile, his owner came upon hard times and regrettably put him up for sale.

Conveniently, it was around that time that my Mom started looking for a horse to be trained by Barry McKie, former riding master to the Queen of England. She had started training with Barry and was hooked on this classical riding stuff. She took a look at Wilt and decided he was the one. A few short months after that, Wilt headed down to FL for February through November of his fourth year. My Mom went down one weekend a month and for the entire summer so she could be as much a part of the training process as possible. Even though Wilt had already been backed, Barry started over completely as if he hadn’t been so that he could be sure the foundation was laid down correctly.

Fast forward to 12 years later – Wilt is now 16. He is all muscle, and both supple and flexible. He is eager, almost desperate to work. If you stand next to him with his bridle, he attempts to bridle himself. Having always been ridden in the softest of bits, a vet recently told my Mom that his mouth is a good 3-4 years younger than his actual age. His mind is like a sponge, and while he can be guilty of anticipating, it arises from his desire to please. My Mom frequently remarks, “Where am I ever going to find another horse like that…” He’s just special – but it was no accident.

Flip the coin over and you have Ryan, a horse belonging to a friend of mine in Arizona.

Ryan is the same age as Wilt, the same color as Wilt, and even has the same white foot as Wilt. But he’s the farthest thing from Wilt. He’s the anti-Wilt, the Bizarro Wilt (any Seinfeld fans?), if you will.

Ryan is an OTTB, and while what happened to him between the ages of roughly 4 and 13 is a little fuzzy, I can tell that most of it wasn’t all that kind or correct. From what I do know and what I have seen, it’s a bit of a tragedy. Twisted wire bits, spiked nosebands, unrelenting and incorrectly used spurs, his head forced down by side reins or sawing on his mouth. I have ridden Ryan sporadically; he is dead to your leg and stiff as a board. Suppleness and flexibility are foreign to him. He flinches when you gently put pressure on his bare back and he gets constant hock injections to keep him jumping. His heart is bigger than his body, simply because of the fact that he never refuses a jump…even though he hardly ever gets a release over the jump. These are not cruel people; this is all they know. When I met them I tried to share classical methods with them, and they were not interested…and he’s not my horse. Sadly, I had to let it go. It’s amazing how much harm can be done, even with the best intentions, when there is a lack of knowledge.

Wilt and Ryan are such a perfect example of what could have been. They started off very similarly and went in completely opposite directions. Good horses are made, not born! There’s a reason the Lipizzans in the Spanish Riding School are able to perform advanced movements sometimes into their 30s. Correct training keeps them supple and wards off degenerative conditions such as arthritis; it’s something every horse deserves.

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3 Comments

Filed under Dressage, Training Theory

3 responses to “Guest Blog: A Tale of Two Thoroughbreds

  1. blob

    Poor Ryan. I a lot of OTTB’s end up with people who don’t know quite what to do with them.

    But I also think some OTTBs come off the track having gone through so much physically that finding that right second career for them can be difficult.

  2. Barb

    I agree with Blob. Many people don’t have a clue with what to do with them after the track and their training methods seem modeled after the OTTB old wives’ tales- excitable, hot, etc. I’m firmly convinced the three things needed for their success are 1)a good sense of humor, 2)a moderate amount of previous experience, and 3) a VERY flexible timetable. And a listening mind…

  3. Bravo!

    Ryan looks out at the camera as if looking for release, for a way out. Wilt looks engaged and happy, as well as beautifully muscled and fit.

    You’re right, it’s all his owners know. I have had all of those suggestions made to me as ways to train my OTTB, get him to “give” to me. I’m so glad I didn’t go that route, and I’m pretty sure Bar is, too.

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