Saturday, August 24, 2013

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. 

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