Curiosity makes the horse

Today’s Guest Post is from Jessica Boyd, who has a lovely herd of horses, including the star of this post, Calabar. Jessica writes Spotty Horse News and chronicles training, riding, and general horsey goodness. 

paint horse and thoroughbred

The Spotty Horse and the OTTB

I didn’t start out as an advocate for OTTBs, no. I started out as one of three people sharing one delightful and athletic cow-horse-bred mare with long eyelashes and spots. Along the way, I have become one of what I hope is a growing number of people who realize the versatility of the Thoroughbred. With a few fits and starts, I have come to appreciate the breed for their ability to learn, their willingness to try, and the unique experiences that make them the horses they are.

 All because of a big brown horse named Calabar.

Some might say I bit off more than I could chew, since I didn’t know much and he didn’t know much. I had not had years of riding lessons, let alone how-to-train-a-horse-who-only-knows-how-to-run lessons. I read the New Vocations book, Beyond the Track, tried to figure out contact, and probably succeeded in confusing Calabar more than directing him. I also took lessons, but most seemed directed more at teaching me what to do with my body and not so much how to help him figure anything out. Turns out helping him has helped me, but I’m skipping ahead.

 So I was not so great at teaching him where to put his head or his feet, but we took him out on trails and taught him to climb hills—up is still easier than down—and cross creeks and splash in the ocean. He learned that riding in the trailer did not mean going back to the track and we’ve had many adventures outside the arena.

We’ve also had adventures in the arena that have not been so wonderful. In fact, they have been painful and frustrating. The trail saved us, got me past the low points and got us both somewhere we could both relax and therefore excel together. His natural curiosity responded to the very non-track-like things out on the trail—including geese, turkeys and deer. I once pointed him at a huge log—nearly belly high—on the beach and he walked right over it, much to the amazement of our exercise rider friend who lives and breathes “crazy” Thoroughbreds.

It is his curiosity and that willingness to try that has helped us get where we are. He likes learning new things, mostly

Calabar is a very affectionate horse.

because he likes knowing how to do things. He really doesn’t like not knowing how to do things, so the challenge for me—remember, I don’t know a lot, either—was figuring out what I wanted and how to tell him what that was. Having it make sense to him was also important.

All that built on his nature, the nature that comes from who he is and where he has been. Calabar came off the track having seen all kinds of things that your average cow-horse has never encountered. It has given him a certain kind of worldliness—sometimes you are working past that worldliness and sometimes it plays right into your hands. Being able to sense the difference and respond appropriately will win you the heart—the very large heart—of a Thoroughbred.

An OTTB is a challenge, of that there is no doubt. Are they too much for a rookie rider? As with any breed from any discipline, I would say it depends on the horse and on the person. Could I have done more with Calabar faster than I did? Yes, likely I could have. But would this journey have shown me as much about myself? Could I have walked it with any other horse and gotten to the same place? I would have to say no.

I have been deemed worthy by this horse and he works as hard for me as he ever worked for his trainers. Differently, of course, but his heart, his trust, is mine. We don’t know much, either one of us, but we’ve already learned more than I ever dreamed we would. (Of course that is partially because I had NO idea what all we didn’t know.) However, between the two of us, we’re more likely than we ever were to figure out whatever comes next.

At the moment, that is the sitting trot. Tomorrow? Who knows.

My journey to OTTB fandom has not been easy, but like most converts, I am a bit of a zealot. (No, really?) It won’t necessarily be overnight for all of us–or even six weeks like the trainers in the Retired Racehorse Training Project—but in my admittedly biased opinion, it is completely and totally worth it.



Filed under Training Theory

7 responses to “Curiosity makes the horse

  1. gretchen

    LOVE THIS!!!! this is my journey with rainbow. totally my journey with rainbow! we could have written this same story. 🙂 (my 16 year old ottb turned broodmare then turned into my riding project that I SO was NOT qualified to be workign with!!!)

  2. Sue

    A really beautiful post, and one that gives hope to all of us whose hands might not be in the right place, but whose hearts are! Thank you…

  3. Another rookie who loves ottbs!

  4. Love it! So well said. It reminds me of the journey Harley and I are on together. And each year, we both learn a little more about each other and the obstacles we need to overcome. So glad to read about another rider in a similar situation–and loving every minute of it!

  5. Liz Carlin

    This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your adventure…one I hope to be starting in the next few years.

  6. Stephanie

    I love this article. I can completely relate… not having taken a lesson in the past 9 years and never having trained a horse before. Colby loves to learn and is my once in a lifetime horse. It doesn’t matter that it took me a year to teach him something a trainer could have taught him in a week. We’re learning together and its the best feeling in the world.

  7. Y’all are bringing tears to my eyes! (And making a California girl think in a Southern accent–scary!)

    I love both my horses, truly I do, but Bar has brought me to levels of communication and strength I never knew I had in me. Ever. Even Lena appreciates that. 🙂