Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ups and downs

So riding wise, with the exception of a little fight over the right lead canter (my fault), Soon was legitimately amazing tonight undersaddle.  He just keeps improving with every ride as he understands more and his muscles start to develop.  He is getting softer, rounder, and pushing more from behind.  The coolest feeling is pushing him off that inside leg and feeling him soften immediately.  His outline is getting steadier at the walk and working trot.  His stretch trot is also improving, and he really seems to enjoy that part of the ride.

We did more trot poles tonight and some raised cavaletti.  He was very good over all of them.  He even cantered quietly over some canter poles I had set up.  No big deal.  Unfortunately, he's still not picking up the right lead very well, and I'm having a hard time sorting out what's working for him in regards to cues.  He got a little flustered and then tried to run through my outside rein, which got him a rude wake up call and a round of our cowboy lateral flexion exercises.  Then we stood and chilled out for a minute, did some trotting work, and tried again a couple of times.  We did eventually get it figured out, and he did do some good right lead canter, but I need to work on strengthening him more on that side before we start drilling transitions.  I think I might introduce him to some side reins this week (very loose to start out with), and let him figure out this right lead canter business without me getting in the way or getting him spun up. 

I was practically kicking him around at the trot tonight to get the forward momentum I wanted, but after the canter transition episode, he actually felt like he had a little blood (read: he was excited!).  We did some stretchy trot both ways afterward to calm down, and he was back to normal.  But between me being disappointed with myself and him running me over outside to get away from the bugs (that did not impress me) was not our best day.  The bright side of it all was that he did show some real improvement during the ride, and it's best to focus on those moments and not the ones where I feel like beating myself with my crop.  He's still a super sweet boy (who really hates bugs) and is trying like crazy.  I love my man.  :)

Friday, August 30, 2013

So God made a rider...

God said, "I need...."
- someone who can form a martingale out of a 20 year old bridle and pull a shoe with only a pair of pliers, so God made a rider.
- someone who can square bale 700 while convincing three friends to help them bring it in using only beer, and putting in a 40 hour week before Wednesday morning, so God made a rider.
- someone who can drive a truck with a trailer in any weather, park in too small a space, tack up a horse that wants to go home, warm up in a ring that is too small with too many people, and go in a class (out of order), jump a course only partially memorized on a horse that still wants to go home, so God made a rider.

Those are my favorites. 

Too hot to handle

We got blessed with a late August heatwave this past week.  Highs have been in the 100's with humidity.  Basically it's zero fun for me and the horses.

Relaxing in his stall (droopy lip!).  See the bug bites?
With today's high again being in the 100's, I stopped in after lunch to see how Soon was doing.  He was outside and being a little bit of a wuss about the heat and terrible bugs.  So I hauled him in and ran cold water over him for several minutes, hand grazed him in the shade for awhile, and brought him into his stall to enjoy his fan.  Yes, I do love for him to be outside as much as possible (he needs to learn to be a horse and wear his big horse pants), but I also can see when he's had enough.  He was sweating pretty well and was covered in bug bites.  Even out grazing he was miserable.  So I relented, and agreed to bring him in for the rest of the day.  He wasn't going to do himself any favors out in the hot sun, stamping his legs on the hard ground for the next four hours anyway.

Sleepy fan face
So he came in and was immediately happy.  He has one of the big, built-in barn fans directly above his stall which helps cool off the whole complex.  I also have a box fan set up for him so he gets double the ventilation.  After a thorough grooming and enjoying some hay, he proceeded to fall asleep in my arms (collective audience "Awww...") and we hung out for a little while. 

And if ANYONE has a recommendation of fly spray that ACTUALLY works, let me know.  I feel like I could soak him in a vat of fly spray, and it wouldn't make a bit of difference.  The bugs around here are some kind of Mutant Horsefly from Hell, because they bite unnecessarily hard.  While Soon is a pretty thin-skinned Prissy Pants type, these flies do legitimately suck.  I can rag on him for being a wuss, but I wore shorts to the barn once, and never ever again....

Another breakthrough ride

I'm all hopped up on ("Mountain Dew" for you Talladega Nights friends) ZZzzQuil, so this post may or may not make a damn bit of sense.

Tonight Soonie and I completed the next step toward jumping!  We did our second real ground pole school this evening, including raised cavaletti (poles raised off the ground). He has trotted over poles before, and obviously that was a non-issue.  I'm not even sure why I'm blogging about it...but again, I'm a little loopy from the ZZzzQuil and just totally head over heels in love with my new horse, so this post seems like a good idea.

 He was truly amazing tonight.  He was back in his oval mouth bit, having switched back to that from the other one I had him in briefly.  He's is learning so fast it almost blows my mind!  He was very soft today, and he is getting the concept of moving off my leg and into the contact with the bit, and being round through his entire topline.  Yes, I realize that makes absolutely no sense to my non-horsey friends that might be reading this entry, and are now wishing they weren't reading it.  For those folks:  my horse is awesome.  For the horsey people, Soon is really starting to carry himself, stretch down and through his topline, and is having real moments of brilliance that my esteemed eventing and dressage purist brethren might actually not laugh at.

I was super impressed after the first 10 minutes of walk circles/stretches and almost got off (hey, it's been high 90's/low 100's all week, and "balls hot" is a great excuse not to do anything BUT walk around).  He even did 10 meter circles to the right without falling out through the left shoulder!  Seriously, this is what we usually look like when we turn right:

But not tonight!  He was much better balanced at the walk and trot going to the right.  So in addition to the immediate fantastic stretching at the walk, and the turning right without losing our wheels, he also was just as great and soft in the trot, BOTH directions.  He had moments of real self carriage, which is spotty right now because his muscles just aren't developed to sustain that yet.  We're getting there though, and way faster than I expected or hoped for.  :)

We did ground poles on a circle to encourage him to stretch down and push from behind.  Then we graduated to doing a set of four trot poles, the center two being raised on opposite ends to give him something to think about.  He did great, and didn't bat an eye.  Even when he got slightly flustered and rushed just a tiny bit, I rode a little more actively and asked him to settle and whoa...he trotted right on through beautifully, in perfect tempo and straight.  He listens SO well and is SO willing that it just about blows my mind.  He is such a joy to work with.

Working up to long series of alternating raised cavaletti can do wonders for developing the trot gait, but this evening I used them as a stepping stone to going over fences.  Our first jump school is on Monday, and I am sure he will take to it just fine.  I'm not planning on rushing anything in his training.  We'll do another ground pole session before actually jumping on Monday.  And by "jumping," I mean probably just trotting whatever my trainer sets up, because Soon isn't exactly a firecracker...

ZzzQuil is fun!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A bit about it

Riders that have had experience bringing along may different types of horses usually have a short list of favorite bits they like to use, depending on the horse and the situation.  I've had pretty amazing luck with double jointed loose ring snaffle bits, such as a French link or an oval mouth.  I like these because the are generally great for communicating to the horse what I want, don't have that nutcracker action of a single jointed snaffle, and overall just seem to help reduce/eliminate tension when used correctly.  They are a very basic, "soft" bit, which lets me gauged whether or not they'll need anything stronger or different.  These bits are my baseline.  I put Soon in a copper oval mouth (just like the one pictured) to start off with.  He seemed to do very well in it - he was soft and responsive, and didn't seem tense or grind the bit at all.  I was pretty sure I nailed it on the first try (self high five!).

Having seen practically the entire barn in the Happy Mouth brand of bits, though, I decided it was worth a shot.  Happy Mouth bits come in all types, but are plastic covered and are usually flavored/scented with the idea it helps the horse accept the bit better.  Feeling like a bad horse mommy for not getting one earlier, I bought a double jointed, loose ring snaffle Happy Mouth thinking that I was going to make Soon happy.  Aaaaaaaand not so much.

Long story short, he really seems to like that oval mouth (hey I nailed it after all, high fives for me!).  Not sure if he likes the wider, heavier bit (which the oval mouth is compared to the plastic covered bit), but he just seems softer in it.  Part of it is that he's continuing to learn and understand what I'm asking, and is just a naturally soft horse to ride.  But there's just a little less tension, a little more give with him in that oval mouth.  I call it the "wonder bit" because I've had everything from big, rambunctious, unfocused horses, to smaller and more ride able ones do great in it.  So I'll keep the Happy Mouth around just in case, but for now he's good in that oval mouth.  I'll keep that on as long as it continues to work for him.

Not that I've really had to touch the reins very much, because he's just a beautiful, wonderful, amazing genius.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What's in a name?

Being the new arrival to the farm, everyone wants to know what my cute horse's name is. And when I say "His name is Soon," they look at me sideways.

Yes, Soon. Like the word for very close to now. Don't look at me that way, I didn't name him.

Some folks, including his former owner/trainer, asked me if I was going to change it. My answer is always the same: nope. I used to be big into maritime history (think ships and boats), and thanks to that, I always was of the opinion that changing the name of something already named was perhaps a little bit of bad luck. Also, if the horse recognized his name, as Soon seems to, then changing it only serves to potentially confuse the horse. And besides, it's not like his name is terrible. It could be worse, like if his registered name was "Imagonnakillu" with a barn name of "Whacko" or something equally unique. I think "Soon" is just fine. Besides, I rather like the simplicity of it. I thought about giving him a show name, and figured I'd wait a few months to do so until I had a good handle on his personality, and what might fit him. But even now, I don't think I will give him a show name. I think if/when we compete, it'll just be Soon. I like the thought of that coming over the loud speakers.

That being said, I ALWAYS come up with stupid pet names for my horses, which serve double duty with their barn names. Some of them seem completely random, but there is usually always a line of reasoning or logic behind it. My mare's pet name was "Doo," because of her barn name Triple, which became Triple Dipple Doo thanks to a little sing-song joke with friends, and it got shortened to Doo. I don't know. Frosty was "Bobby," because Robert Frost was something I called him for a short time whenever he did something bad, which got shortened to Robert, then finally Bobby. It fit him well. Cambridge was "B," thanks to an incredibly stupid route to Bridger Boy, then BB, then finally I just got too lazy and started calling him B. Costello is always going to be "Monkey" to me, because he is a Chunky Monkey. Again, I don't know...

Unfortunately, Soon's pet name thus far is "Bubba." There is NO reasoning behind this whatsoever. It is just the first thing to come out of my mouth when I praise him, or do that silly baby talk speak that all enamored horse people do with their favorite horses ("OH I JUST WUV YOU SO MUCH WITH YOUR WITTLE CHUBBY CHEEKS!"). Yes, I feel sorry that a horse of such class has such a redneck pet name. But I have known some pretty awesome and nice rednecks, so that's ok. I also call him "Bud" a lot, because he's my buddy. I also may call him "Bubbies." Sometimes, when I remember to do it, I even call him by his actual name (though that happens the most when he's in trouble. It's the equivalent to your parents using your middle name). Thankfully, I'm starting to use "Soonie" a little more, so hopefully he'll keep that in mind, and not become some kind of crazy moonshiner from being called Bubba all the time.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

First horse show! Still alive!

Title says it all.  ;)

My barn hosts USEF rated shows several times throughout the season.  Despite being rated, they're usually low key (because again, I live in the middle of nowhere).  Which is perfect for green beans, because they get some "big horse show" exposure in small doses, without having to go anywhere right away.

I had Soon out on Saturday for only a few minutes.  Unfortunately, while he is dead quiet everywhere else on the farm, the one corner where the temporary stabling/schooling ring is the scary one, and gets him pretty upset for whatever reason (probably the flags flapping in the wind, who knows).  So Saturday he started off super quiet, hanging out by the side of the ring for the first few minutes, before he decided the whole in gate/schooling area/tents were not for him.  He and I walked back to the barn before he caused a scene, and he did his best post-parade impression past the spectators.  Great.

He was amazing undersaddle on Saturday night (my last post about his sweet canter), and I decided today I'd hop on him earlier and spend some time on him at the horse show.  I got on him today just before noon, did some walk/trot work in the indoor.  Again, he was super quiet and relaxed, despite the coming/going of people and horses from the adjacent stalls and the activity going on just outside.  After getting some good stretchy trot at the end, we ventured outside to see if he could learn to be a show horse.
WHOAA crazy race horse....

 He walked out a little hesitant, but he did what I asked and walked to the area where he had a meltdown the day before.  It only took about 90 seconds for him to remember that he had said meltdown, and decided he had to repeat it.  So after a very brief "airs above the ground" demonstration (he has a pseudo levade! LOL yeah...Maybe collection is going to be easy for him afterall), we did a lot of walking in circles and trying to go forward instead of up.  It took him a few minutes, but he eventually figured out that he was not at the racetrack, and the only thing I was asking him to do was chill out.  So...after an "oh" moment, a lot of sighing, and realizing that he was the ONLY horse that was worked up and it was stupid when everyone else was sleeping...he decided to go to sleep too.

We hung around out there for a good 30 minutes or so, the majority of which he was walking around on a loose rein, head down, or stopping to stand and watch the action in the show ring.  Several horses came and went from the schooling ring, and did some of the warm up jumps around him, and he didn't care.  Good boy!  After a couple little naps and some more relaxed walking around, we called it a day.  I was beyond happy with him and his progress, just in that 30 minutes alone.  The wind was whipping around like crazy, ribbon and other parts of stuff on the temporary stalls were flying around, strange horses were coming and going, jumping around, trailers driving by, etc, and nothing bothered him after he figured it out. 

"Are we done?  I'm bored."
I am very impressed with his brain.  Even before when we had issues with that part of the farm and he was ready to explode, he didn't.  That is pretty huge to me.  Some horses don't wait or care what your input as the rider is in that situation - they're gone.  He had the opportunity to bolt, or rear, or shy, or just generally be a big asshole, but he didn't.  He would get very upset and do his little racehorse dance, but I asked him NOT to kill me and he obliged.  Today, finally, we had that breakthrough moment in the scary area, and he relaxed and walked around like a seasoned show horse. 

He just keeps impressing the crap out of me.  Very proud of my boy.  :)

Saturday, August 24, 2013


I was impressed with Soon on our very first ride, where we walk/trot/cantered in both directions, super quietly and happily.  I've cantered on a couple of other rides as well, but for the most part I've spent our time at the walk and trot trying to introduce and emphasize new lessons for him.  This works, because tonight proved why he's not going to need much work at the canter.

I said earlier that he was naturally balanced.  His walk is fabulous, he's got a very nice trot, and his canter I just haven't "seen" much of from the ground (looks nice on the lunge?).  But holy cow - not cantering him on every ride makes me forget just how nice that gait is!  While he is still sticky picking up his right lead, he is eventually getting it.  He used to play for a couple of strides once he did pick it up right (kind of a "Hey look at me!  Whee!  I don't usually canter on this lead!"), but always settled.  I didn't mind because it was harmless and didn't affect me much (just stay in the center and stay soft).  So tonight we had a string of several incorrect leads to the right.  My bad.  I bring him back down and am careful to not get him upset or flustered.  He did get it on probably the fifth try, and I think I need to keep my right leg back a little further on him. Anyway, he settled right into a lovely canter.

And I do mean lovely.  He is very balanced, soft, and round in the canter, in both directions.  Whether I'm out of the saddle or sitting, he stays soft and relaxed.  His natural rhythm is very apparent, and I cantered a good couple of laps each way, just enjoying how athletic he felt.  I know horses with several years of showing under their belt that don't have that natural, soft, balanced feel.  You can build a good trot; some people are of the opinion that you can't build a good canter.  Well, Soon has it for sure.  And tonight, when we were cantering to the right, I almost forgot I was on a horse that was fresh off the track.  Can't wait to get this boy out on a cross country course to see what he can do!
Proud of himself after one of our rides

His trot is pretty good on its own, and getting better undersaddle.  He's still working on forward, rhythm, and straightness in addition to the lateral work we're practicing.  I also taught him stretchy trot, which we always end the routine with.  I'll do more of that tomorrow, as today was a refresher ride.  It's nice to feel him stretch down across his topline and bring his back up.  Such a fun, easy, and athletic horse.  I am incredibly lucky.  :)

Underway Undersaddle

Soon had been on the farm for maybe four or five weeks when I decided to hop on him on August 11th.  He had settled into the farm very well, and he just seemed like he was ready to do some work.  Mentally he was very relaxed, and physically he looked and moved wonderfully (not "track tight" like some horses).  All in all, he did have about two months since his last race and when I got on him, as he did spend a month hanging out at the track.

Our first ride!
Judging by his demeanor when I worked him in the ring on the ground, I didn't get the impression that he would need to be lunged or run around ahead of time.  He was always super quiet, and I had done some work on/around the mounting block, and naturally that was a non-issue.  I tacked him up, and after the saddle went on, he came to stand by the door as if to say "I'm ready."  He was completely relaxed and practically falling asleep when I put his bridle on.  We walked out to the indoor ring, I got on like I got on any seasoned sport horse, and the rest is history.  He was wonderful!

I try to ride him four days in a row, with a couple days off, then another four days on.  Typically day one has been a refresher, with walk/trot/canter both directions.  Thus far I've introduced some lateral work, in-hand first, and then undersaddle.  He leg yields and is getting the hang of turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches.  He also does a lateral flexion routine undersaddle, which only took him about 30 seconds to figure out.  He truly seems very intelligent, and his work ethic undersaddle is nothing short of awesome.  He really is a true professional when you sit on him.  And while he's fresh off the track, at seven years old, he's been ridden for most of his life, and he knows his job.  As good as he is on the ground, so far he seems even more sensible with a person on him.

He's a little sticky on picking up his right lead (no shock there), but once he does, he is a dream at the canter.  It's so nice when a horse has a naturally nice canter.  More on that later.  But overall, he has been fabulous and such a joy to work with!  I am truly floored by his attitude and willingness.  He is learning about my leg and my aids, and how I ask for various things.  He's not "hot" by any means - if anything, he's a little dead to the aids as some horses off the track can be.  He is super relaxed and quiet, and rides like he's been a pleasure horse all his life. 

I've always been a little picky on what I wanted from my next horse, riding wise.  Soon continues to impress me and prove that he's better than I could have ever hoped for.  He's not too tall or short, he's not too wide or narrow.  He moves well, and is comfortable to ride.  He is SO light in the bridle too - I barely have to touch the reins with this boy.   He doesn't avoid contact with the bit by any means - he just is a very good listener and has great breaks, so a simple "whoa" brings him right back down with hardly any contact. 

He's learning about forward, rhythm and straightness, and we're starting to work on contact.  I believe strongly in a basic dressage foundation, and he's making amazing progress with just nine rides at home.  He's naturally a very well balanced horse, and light in front, which is making this way easier than I thought it would be.  When I say he's my "dream" horse, I'm really starting to believe it!  Now the next question...will he jump??

We'll find out this week or next.  He does ground poles like a champ, trots right through a long series of them without a second thought.  I suspect that if done right, he'll do fine over fences as well.

By the way...he hacks out!! :-)  Meaning he's great out of the ring, walking around the farm like a trail horse.  Even when I asked him to go bushwhacking for a little bit, he did so happily.  I'm just as proud of those rides where we do nothing but just walk around and check stuff out.  I am so thrilled with this boy!

Bonding time

Since the turnouts lack grass (ok, he has a few little grass nubs to pick at out there, I caught him doing it today!), I've been trying to graze him 5-6 days a week for at least 30 minutes (up to 90 minutes if I have the time).  He loves it, and is becoming quite the grass fiend.  While he is basically outside all day now, it's still nice to get him out of the stall and moving around even more. And after all, he's a horse.  Horses should eat grass.

It's turned into a nice little evening routine.  I would show up, do our ground work or ride, and he knows once he's done, that he gets to go outside and eat.  He comes and stands by the stall door waiting for me to take him out.  Smart boy.  :)

We even have a grazing buddy.  One of the young barn cats often visits with us and spends his time begging for my attention while I let Soon graze on the end of the lead.  They are my two boys!

The first few weeks

First turnout, watching the lesson going on outside!
The first couple of weeks after Soon arrived, we focused strictly on ground work and relaxing into a routine.  I was lucky in that he came off the track looking superb (with the exception of his feet).  He had already spent a month chilling out at the track, not training and just being the trainer's pet, so his weight was looking pretty good.  As he had not been turned out in at least a year and a half, he started out in the indoor arena and slowly graduated to being turned outside with a friend.  Unfortunately the farm we're at doesn't have grass paddocks.  The horses have hay in front of them all day and room to move, but no grass.  We make the most of it though, as hand grazing offers more bonding time.

One of the nice things about buying an older racehorse, is that they are usually a little more mature and experienced.  Soon is every bit the seasoned professional (especially undersaddle, but we'll get to that shortly).  He settled into the new farm almost immediately.  The first couple of hand walks were interesting, but he quickly discovered that hand walk time meant grazing time.  He was very adventurous on his own, and marched up to scary objects (old farm equipment, stacked supplies, etc) all by himself to investigate. 

See all the fun things for him to investigate?
Our ground work routine involved a rope halter and a 30ft cotton line.  We also lack a proper round pen at this facility, which would have been incredibly useful.  Some people don't like the very "granola" approach, but I see a round pen as an incredibly useful and practical aspect of good, general horsemanship.  So much can be communicated and taught in a round pen, and helps to establish a sound foundation to work from.  So instead, I did
the best I can while hanging on to him.  Soon learned very quickly what I was asking him to do, with the use of pressure and release.  Every session was about 15-20 minutes, and every time I took him out, he picked up on something new.  His one little quirk with ground work and/or lunging is that he tends to be somewhat playful/bouncy if he gets in a certain mood.  That's been my cue to slow things down with him and review some simpler things.  All in all, he was very easy to work with on the ground, and appeared to be very intelligent.

Track Feet
I don't know what it is about horses on the track and the stereotype of having bad feet, but unfortunately, Soon was one of them.  His feet were actually way better than some other horses I looked at while at the track, but he too suffers from the long toe/low heel we see so much on horses coming off the track.  It'll be awhile before we can get the foot properly balanced (now that he's due for another trim, the toes are really obvious!).  He had his first farrier appointment just days after arriving.  Off came the racing plates, he got a good trim, and on went the front shoes.  He was very foot sore for the next week, poor boy.  He eventually worked out of that and was sound.  Foot quality itself seems to be good, as the hoof wall seems very healthy and his bare hind feet are holding up well despite the hard ground outside.  I think once we fix the angles, he should be a decently footed horse.

Soon came with a big bale of alfalfa and two bags of track sweet feet of some sort.  We worked on transitioning him off the high octane fuel and on to something a little cooler.  We feed a grass hay, which he LOVED.  I was surprised to see him go for that first over the alfalfa.  After he had a week or so to settle into the facility, we started transitioning him onto one of the barn feeds, which is a high fat, low protein concentrate.  I heard horses really loved it, but was still surprised to see him inhale that stuff and leave the sweet feed alone.  Now he is entirely on the high fat feed and grass hay.  Thus far I see a little weight gain, and he's still a nice, cool customer, so I'm happy!

As stated above, we tried to get the turnout thing going immediately.  He started going out in the indoor for a little while, and despite not being turned out in a LONG time, he was very sensible about it.  He started going out in the ring with other horses, and finally started going outside in a paddock with one buddy.  Admittedly, the turnout situation is not ideal, and is the only negative about this facility.  Lots of horses, and not many options for turnout.  But I'm lucky in that he's in a well fenced paddock with one other horse, and they have enough room to run around and work off some energy (not that I've ever seen him do anything but mosey along out there...).  I say "well fenced," because the other gelding paddock has wire fencing, and when they put Soon out there the first time, he didn't exactly see the wire, and ran right through it.  OOPS!  It is smooth wire and we got lucky that he didn't do any damage other than a couple of very minor scrapes.  But I am happy with him being in his current paddock. I'm a firm believer in having horses out as much as possible, as it has a huge impact on their minds and bodies.  Thus far, it seems to have a noticeable impact, as the one day the weather was atrocious and he stayed in, he was a little "up" for his evening hand graze.

Let Down Time
I didn't know if Soon would need several months of "let down" time after coming off the track.  I was prepared to give it two months of just ground work and turnout, and go from there.  If he was ready, then great, but if he needed more time, that was ok as well.  But just as his previous owner/trainer said, this is a horse that loves to work.  Soon had been out of race training for about two months (again, he spent most of that at the track, just hanging out waiting to be sold), and had been on the farm for approximately four weeks before I decided it was worth trying him under saddle.  Some people bring their OTTBs into work immediately, some require several months to a year to relax, recuperate, or whatever else in order to be ready for a second career.  Soon just needed a short vacation before he looked like he was ready to go. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Meet "Soon"

I loved checking out the CANTER websites on occasion.  I could lose myself for hours looking at all the Thoroughbreds ready for new careers.  After a year and a half of casual horse shopping (both online and locally), I discovered a gorgeous bay gelding on one of the CANTER sites.  Here's what caught my attention:

Uhhh....YEAH!   :-D

So not entirely sure I wanted a horse or was ready for that commitment, but perhaps a bit in love, I called his owner/trainer.  He sounded perfectly lovely, so I flew out to the track (literally flew, like in an airplane, because I live in the middle of nowhere) to take a look and possible take a gamble of a different kind on this guy.  Long story short, I bought him that day.  I almost couldn't believe what I was doing!  I admit, I was kind of enjoying the non-horsey owner life, because my apartment was always clean, my clothes were never covered in mud/hair/poo, and my car looked like it belonged to a normal person.

But I missed having my horse.  Mine, mine, mine, nobody else's.  That's why this whole thing felt right, and I took the plunge back into horse ownership (this time, all on my own).  So I purchased him that day, he shipped about a week later, and we have hung out together every day since.  I knew that when he walked off the truck at 1:15am (not a typo!), straight into the barn and settled immediately (even walked calmly around the huge, barely lit indoor), that I *might* have something good.  Special, even.  Judgments were still very much out, and would be for many weeks as we got to know each other.

Soon is an incredibly sweet horse, first and foremost - he is such a love!  He honestly seems to enjoy human company, and is happy to sit there and fall asleep in my arms some evenings.  He is quiet, kind, and a total professional to work with.  I cannot gush enough about how unbelievable his temperament and personality are!  Those two were the most important things for me when looking at an OTTB.  Athleticism followed after that, because if the horse and I don't get along, what's the point of having a super athletic horse?  I went to the track looking for my buddy.  That's how I described it to Soon's trainer.  And after a month together, I can truly say I have found my buddy.  :)

The obligatory introductory post (my Thoroughbred story)

If there's one thing I've learned about blogging, it's that it takes a lot of clutter away from Facebook!  Perhaps that's why I've relented and started an Off the Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) retraining blog, who knows.  Or it could be that this gives me an outlet to brag about my boy, since I believe my co-workers and non-horsey friends are already a little tired of it, and definitely confused by it all.

This blog is about a little Thoroughbred gelding named Soon, and our new relationship together in his post-racetrack life.  A little about me:  I started riding 22 years ago.  I was horse crazy from the start, visiting my aunt's horses down the street at my grandmother's house.  I was too young to ride them, and by the time I was, they were already gone.  Instead, I spent hours some days with my next door neighbor's horses.  Eventually, and with the help of some family friends, my parents were convinced to let me start lessons at a local hunter/jumper stable. 

There I rode for many years, and after cutting my teeth on some of the toughest ponies at the farm, I received my first horse when I was 12.  "Triple" was a 10 year old, 16 hand grey Thoroughbred mare.  Our first show together didn't actually happen - we got all braided and pretty, but when it came time for her to load on the truck and go show, she wouldn't do it!  We spent an hour that morning trying to load her, but couldn't make it happen.  So we rode at home that day instead.  Later on and after several months of patiently feeding her dinner on the trailer every day, she learned to walk right on.  I also broke my wrist falling off her that first summer, and she spent the rest of the summer on stall rest with a leg injury.  Despite our somewhat disastrous beginning, Triple became what I call my horse of a lifetime.  She had the biggest heart of any horse I have ever worked with.  She would practically jump the course for you, though she might not have been the prettiest (or even the quietest...she grunted with every effort).  She won state championships, campaigned hard every summer going from horse show to horse show, gave riding lessons to beginners, jumped the 3'-3'6" divisions, won a puissance, and even dressed up like an airplane for Halloween one year (admittedly she was not a fan, but put up with it). 

The real meaning of heart, though, was not in the show ring.  In 1999, after a routine colic surgery, Triple contracted an infection which claimed the lives of three other horses in the hospital.  My mother and I visited her every day in that little quarantine stall, picking fresh grass in order to spark some kind of life from her.  It's hard to watch your friend dying.  After losing approximately 350lbs and looking like a rescue case, she battled back from the brink of death, and was the only horse to walk out of the hospital that had contracted the infection.  Slowly, she regained her health over that winter, and that next year she was the state's Junior Hunter champion, and helped me to a hard fought equitation reserve champion title.  My love for her wasn't in the ribbons we won (sadly we never made it to try our luck at any nationally rated shows), but knowing where we had been that year before.

After a second surgery in 2001, she retired from the hunter ring.  I leased her to a professional, and Triple became a beginner lesson horse at a local eventing barn.  She spent a few years teaching others how to ride, and I'll never forget my last sight of her undersaddle, being led around and ridden by a tiny girl.  Triple was put down in 2007, just a week before I was to retrieve her for her retirement in Virginia with me.  Some things are not meant to be.  But her lasting legacy is to never take anything for granted, and never give up.  She taught me that the heart of a good Thoroughbred is pure gold. 

I went to school for horses in 2002.  I got an Equine Business Management degree, and then rode/trained professionally in Virginia for three years after school.  However, my heart wasn't in the horse industry as a professional, and I left in 2009 to pursue other career interests.  I started to ride casually again in 2011, and started looking at horses for myself shortly after.  I spent many years on Warmbloods and knew so many great individuals in the various disciplines I've competed in over the years.  I even looked at a couple of WBs for myself (I'll still get one!  Just not now).  But something special brought me back to the Thoroughbred.  I felt like I needed to get a horse off the track, and do something right by the breed that had given me so much through Triple.  I felt like now was the right time, where I was somewhat limited on the purchase price budget, and not sure what I wanted to do regarding disciplines.  I figured purchasing an inexpensive TB off the track, giving one a chance at a second career, and training it myself for whatever jumping discipline it showed talent for would be a wonderful journey to take.  So in July 2013, I took the leap, and purchased Soon.  What a ride it has been already!