Thursday, January 30, 2014

Never stop learning!

Video from 2011 of George Morris on Catherine Haddad's Grand Prix horse.  This makes me smile because it just proves that good horsemen embrace the idea that they should never stop learning, never stop trying new things, and never stop trying to become better horsemen. What a great and fun video.

And I am having the biggest rush of deja vu writing this right now.  Oh well.  Soonie was fantastic again tonight, despite that we were riding around lessons AGAIN.  We can't seem to catch a break lately, my timing sucks.  First we tried to do our walking warm up around a jumping lesson, then immediately afterwards two horses came in to lunge, so we got full run of the ring for only about five minutes.  We ended up in the far half of the ring, and made the most out of it.  We just focused more on stretching and forward, keeping consistent contact (and loving on that outside rein since we were constantly on a circle), and he had some really lovely moments both in stretch and in a shorter outline in the trot and canter.  Such a great boy.  We managed to be productive despite the circumstances, and I was happy.  I love my man.  :)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Wheee!!! .....? Nah. And 100th post

50 mph winds outside last night and this is exactly what Soonie thought of it:

That was me coaxing his ears up, because he was sleeping.  Yeah.  No "whee."  Just working on a long rein, dodging lesson kids and business as usual.  Such a good boy.  :)

It occurred to me after I posted the picture that this is the 100th post on The OTTB Blog.  I didn't know when I started how in-depth I would get with the posts, or how long I would continue.  I am very happy that I started writing about Soon and our journey together, because had I decided not to, then all those little moments might be lost.  It is very cool to look back on earlier posts and see how far he has come.  Chronicling our training has been extremely rewarding for me from a trainer's perspective.  While I intended for this blog to just be a personal journal to capture Soon's progress, I hope that in our own way, we can contribute to educating others about the Thoroughbred breed.  I have made some posts about my feelings on certain issues plaguing the horse industry and Thoroughbreds in particular (and I'm sure more will be on the way), because I do have strong opinions and perhaps I do like to listen to myself talk (write) on those subjects.  Bloggers do have egos, after all, and those that claim they do not are lying.   ;-)

Hopefully all my rambling and bad pictures offer value to those exploring the possibilities of owning a Thoroughbred, and what it's like to bring one along.  At the end of the day, there are just so many great TBs out there, with so much to offer.  They're just looking for the right person. 

Go Thoroughbreds!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Standardbred Support in AUS

Here's a great story out of Australia, about a Standardbred and his girl's road to one of the country's most prestigious competitions.  What a wonderful thing that she, her family, the harness racing industry supporters are doing in spreading the word about another great breed.  Gorgeous horse, outstanding riding, and a truly remarkable effort to showcase the versatility of racing breeds!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Flat School

Soonie and I had a great flat school today!  :)   I wanted to focus on the following:
  • maintaining more consistent contact with his mouth
  • more activity/engagement from behind
  • position (head up, shoulders back/chest open, hands up with shorter rein)
As you probably have already guessed, these made a noticeable, positive difference in our ride.  I have probably been placing too much emphasis on the lateral work, and while it will always have a role in our flat schools, I need to keep my focus on the basics.  Soon was stellar - he got great push from behind, maintained a lovely, deep stretch while staying light in front, and overall just felt like he had a whole extra gear tonight!  Trot and canter especially felt huge compared to his average gaits.  He spent probably 90% of the school in stretch (with some stints of a Training level outline), and I was very excited with how he felt.

We successfully did trot to canter transitions tonight as well!  I have skipped them on him and done walk/canter transitions only, because trot/canter transitions were proving a little rough for him.  He tended to get strung out, and I decided to work on walk/canter (which helps him stay under himself more) while I worked on his trot, particularly the stretch trot.  With yesterday's video feedback, I decided the trot/canter transitions were worth trying.  We did left lead first, then right lead.  Very well done both times, and we nailed the right lead on the first try (trot to right lead canter had been disastrous in the past)!  Going from the stretch into the canter seems very useful for him, so we'll be working on that more.  I got a lovely, stretchy canter and a huge, open stride, and got to shorten his outline in the canter for a bit, then let him back down.  Again, he felt fantastic.  Back up, big push from behind, and we were eating up ground.  Just amazing.  :)

Can you imagine this guy
being mean? ;)
I will note that Soonie really hates horses in his working space.  He gets along great outside in the big herd, seems to play really well with others, but get him in a ring with other horses, and he turns into Boss Mare.  Seriously.  It's like his personal bubble is half of the ring, and if you're in his half of the ring while he's focusing on work, well then screw you.  Ears flat back, making awful faces, and then he's stretchy happy self as soon as we go by the other horse.  Crabby Pants.  He's really happy in his work, and when he's alone that's the only thing I see (happy relaxed horse), but around others it's always happy relaxed horse with moments of "AHH I'M GONNA EAT YOUR WHOLE FACE" as he passes others.  You can see it in the video (somewhat mild), and tonight it was hysterically mean.  I was almost falling off laughing at one point because his faces are ridiculous.  We had to ride around one lesson, then the next one came in with three horses, so lots of face making.  Thankfully though, I was able to find enough space for us to focus and really get some great work done. 

Overall, an incredibly productive night with some real progress.  I feel like we have a new focus and we're on the right track to achieving some wonderful things.  :)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Show jumping 1990's style

I'm not sure I'm okay with show jumping footage from the 1990's being considered "old" or "retro."  But having said that, this clip brings back some great memories!  I love the footage of the 21 year old For The Moment (aka "Fred"), the American Thoroughbred.  I loved watching him go.  Also, I could watch Michael Matz ride all day. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Flat work video

Today's video revealed a couple of things: 
  • I hate riding around lessons because they lead to unplanned downward transitions
  • George Morris would probably say I ride like a monkey with broken arms
  • Computers f*cking suck.

Yeah, it has been a nonstop struggle since about 4pm this afternoon to get the video from the camera, load it, edit it, convince my video-editing computer not to have a seizure, and upload it on YouTube.  I don't know if my computers are telling me that people shouldn't see this video or they both decided today was a great day for anarchy, but seriously...eff you guys (the computers, not my awesome two followers).

Even when I think I'm carrying my hands I'm not actually carrying my hands.  My reins need to be shorter and I need to be taller through the shoulder.  My back was/is legitimately killing me, so that wasn't helping.  Other than that, Soonie is looking good, and most of the video is long and low work to engage/lift his back.  I was focusing on keeping his hind end active, and its a big improvement over our first video from September 2013.  He's been absolutely fantastic and I'm very happy with his progress and attitude, as always. 

Posting this because it's the only thing that's made me laugh this evening.  Pretty much sums up how I feel about technology:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Other great animal videos

First off, this is one smart Beagle!

I saw this posted on Facebook, and yes I definitely teared up a couple of times.  Just about lost it when the handler was getting emotional.  Very moving:

Sustainable Dressage

  Sustainable Dressage is a great resource for classical dressage foundation training.  I really love her bit on Work and Stretch

Friday, January 17, 2014

Horse terms that make me punch kittens

So there was a thread on the COTH forums about equine terms that made people crazy, and after about two seconds of reflection, I knew what mine were.

"Equestrian"  -  I can't help it, this word makes me want to punch something adorable and furry.  I seem to only hear it from decidedly NON-horsey people.  Horse folks I know never use it willingly, especially when speaking to other horse folk, and I know that I don't use it with other horse people.  When normal people ask me what I do, I tell them "I ride horses."  That immediately sparks that look of intelligence and they fire back, "Oh you're an EQUESTRIAN!!" (*dumb smile*) or "Oh you do EQUESTRIAN!"  Yeah.   This makes me think of the summer Olympics, where all the riding events (which we horsey types would refer to as "Show Jumping," "Eventing," and "Dressage") are all lumped in as "Equestrian!!1!"  It doesn't help that the word sparks visions of hundreds of women from the city dressing up in bad tweed, beige tights and faux riding boots in order to attend the hunt races.  Like they thought it was some type of requirement to look like an equestrian in order to watch our sports.  Sure.  Ridiculous.  I call myself a Rider.  We go riding.

"OTTB" - Before you ask, YES, I see the irony in me saying this word drives me crazy given the fact that I named my blog with it (my bad).  I wasn't very active in the online horse community when I started this blog last summer, and having spent a few months on large discussion forums, I finally realize how completely overused the OTTB term is.  Holy cow.  It is literally getting to a point where people use it almost as a breed itself.  They're Thoroughbreds!  TBs!  You probably don't need to refer to your 15 year old TB (who came off the track at 3 years old having started a couple of races and has been a hunter superstar since then) as an OTTB.  But I guess that's just a matter of opinion.  I'm trying to do my best to refer to Soon as a TB when I describe him online so that I don't add to my own frustration.  Nothing else to say except I kind of wish maybe I had thought out this whole title/web address thing a little better.  Oh well.

"Head Set" -   Holy shit.

^ That GIF just about sums up my reaction.  Get off the head set obsession people!  Drop the gadgets and learn some "back to front" riding.  Make your horse happy and you can be happy too.

And now for today's funny, this is probably going to be a fantastic dressage horse:

Lateral work extra super fun time

Took another walk-only flat school again today due to some wet footing in the indoor.  Two weeks ago it was dusty, then it got watered/dragged and was nice, then after about 3,487 up-down lessons the rail was like concrete, then it got watered and only partially dragged today.  It was a bit of a mess.  I had planned on doing cavaletti work, but not so much.  So...walking, yay!

After our usual warm up, walking squares, leg yields, etc, I played with some shoulder-in and leg yields on the rail.  Soonie got a little confused, but we slowed down and took it one step at a time.  He got a couple of steps and that was enough.  I'll work more on solidifying his leg yields at the trot as those aren't quite 100% established yet, before I worry too much about shoulder in and things like travers.  I don't see him having any issues with those movements when the time comes, and he's strong enough and solid enough in his lateral work to really introduce them.  No need to rush right now. By the end of today's ride we had more of that big, swinging walk both in a shorter outline and in a deep stretch.  :)

Hopefully the footing dries up for the weekend, because I have a friend coming out to take some good video of Soonie and I doing a full flat work routine.  I need to see where we're at...I really hope I ride well.  Because otherwise, the awesomeness is all in my head, and I end up looking like this:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Seldom Seen

Here's the video of Seldom Seen's retirement at Dressage at Devon in 1987, in case anyone had not seen it. Little horses can do big things!  :)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Jump School

As you might have already guessed, Soonie was perfect for today's jump school.  We started off with our usual cross rail and worked up to doing full cantering courses featuring a quiet 7-stride line (with option for more forward 6 strides, we did both options), and two single diagonal fences including an oxer off the short right turn.  He was super soft the whole time, very adjustable forward and back, and waited very patiently for the quiet distances.  He's very steady - he's the type of horse that you set in a pace and he maintains, which makes him a pretty uncomplicated ride to the jumps.  I just love how cheerful he seems to be, he really feels like he enjoys this jumping stuff and there's never a doubt about whether or not he'll go!  We got a lot of compliments tonight (me for some good decisions regarding quiet distances, and him for being so obedient and showing great progress), which is always a nice plus.  :) 

Last weekend we had the pleasure of escorting one of the younger horses (ok...he and Soonie are the same age) down the road for the first time.  Bubba was a model companion and gave the other horse a lot of confidence.  The other rider definitely seemed to appreciate having someone quiet to go out with.

Now for fun and useful resources, take a look at Bill Steinkraus' Two Dozen Useful Aphorisms and Eventing Nation's 10 habits of highly successful riders.  Great things to keep in mind in your day to day horsemanship training.

And a nice little video:

Carl Hester/Charlotte Dujardin Clinic - Stretching

Check out this nice dressage clinic with superstars Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin.  Pay particular attention to his comments on the purpose and approach to stretching during the ride.  Good stuff!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Save NYC's Horse Carriages

Some of you have hopefully heard about the recent "promise" of the newly-elected Mayor of New York City to ban the iconic horse-drawn carriages from Central Park.  This is causing a huge buzz in the horse community, and hopefully outside of it in the mainstream media as well (and deservedly so!).  The carriage community has had a long battle with animal rights activists, who spread lies about the carriage horses being abused or overworked, living in poor conditions, etc.  As always, the general public believes these absurd claims, because animal rights groups are masters of media messages, and more importantly, because there isn't enough educational material to combat the lies.

Please check out the carriage association's website and spread the word!  They need help getting the truth out there.  You can see interviews with drivers, photos and videos of the stables the horses live in, and testimony from veterinarians describing the good health and working conditions of these animals.
Save New York City Horse Carriages

I've been to NYC on many occasions, I've seen the carriage horses multiple times, and I've even taken a carriage ride through Central Park.  It was a lovely experience, and one that I would happily partake in again.  My driver was pleasant and knowledgeable, her carriage was comfortable and safe, and her horse was beautifully turned out and in outstanding condition.  I've never seen a carriage horse in NYC in anything but great shape.
Having a snack after our ride in 2009

It saddens me to see the politician giving in to animal rights lies, and also the real estate pressures.  The stables are situated in high-value territory, and connections to the new Mayor want badly to procure the land so they may build.  I don't know whether the "humane" argument or the real estate favors are really behind this move, or if it's honestly both.  Either way, an entire industry in NYC is facing potential extinction due to lies and greed.  Please spread the word that these horses are well treated and highly regulated to ensure their health and well being.

Please visit the Famous Horse Drawn Carriages of New York City's Facebook page to see photographs of their stables.  These horses live in well-bedded box stalls (they are not tied and unable to lie down like the animal rights activists want you to believe!), have free choice hay, automatic waterers, fans, sprinklers in the stables....shall I go on?  They work up to 8 hours a day, have a mandatory five-week vacation outside the city every year (most horses actually spend three to six months at a time out in pasture as they are rotated in/out of the city), have a great healthcare package and dental plan, top quality feed, etc.  Needless to say, they receive the best care possible because the livelihood of their owners/drivers depend on the horse's good health.  It makes absolutely NO sense for a driver to abuse his animal.  From what I've seen first hand, as well as the recent interviews with drivers posted online, they care every bit about their horses as I care about mine.  These animals earn their living and without them, the drivers cannot earn theirs.

I studied the animal rights movement in college and its impact on the horse industry.  I spent several years learning about their tactics, campaigns, and in my 65-page research thesis I examined how they might target and hurt the hunter/jumper industry.  Since then, I have spent years educating fellow horseman about the dangers of the animal rights movement, and advocating for better education from governing bodies of the US horse industry, so that we may be better informed and prepared against any kind of attack in the future.

Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights
There is much confusion about these terms.  Animal welfare refers to the health and well being of animals, and groups who are dedicated to improving the lives of animals.  Welfarists believe that humans are responsible for taking proper care of animals.  Local animal shelters and humane organizations out there actively rescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming animals are a good example.  Veterinary associations promoting proper animal husbandry practices and veterinary care are another good example.  However, animal rights describes a movement in which the idea exists that animals have the same rights as humans.  Animal rights groups believe that animals are being exploited by humans (whether for food, for entertainment, or for industry), and wish to eliminate that exploitation.

Animal Rights Agendas
Animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and others share the common and ultimate goal of the elimination of all animal use.  The animal rights movement is NOT about animal welfare, though some groups (HSUS) carefully masquerade as animal welfare groups in order to gain more support.  These groups are great at marketing - they employ highly emotional messages and visuals in their campaigns to appeal to the soft-hearted, ignorant public.  Often, they confuse enough people into supporting them, even though these people may be more supportive of an animal welfare program instead of animal rights.  Animal rights groups often succeed in their marketing and campaigns because the animal welfare sect, and the animal industry that is targeted, do not have the resources or experience to combat the intense marketing campaign of the animal rights groups.  Thus, the public is often presented with only one side of the story, and knowing the American public in particular, we often don't do enough investigation on our own. We take what we are spoon fed and accept it.  This is the danger of the animal rights movement, and why people have to be educated.

There is a favorite quote I like to use to illustrate the above issue.  The quote is from the 1995 movie, The American President.  The conversation is between the President and his aide, who is concerned about the President's falling campaign poll numbers and his complete disinterest in combating the accusations of his lying opponent:
Lewis Rothschild: You have a deeper love of this country than any man I've ever known. And I want to know what it says to you that in the past seven weeks, 59% of Americans have begun to question your patriotism.
President Andrew Shepherd: Look, if the people want to listen to-...
Lewis Rothschild: They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.
President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.

The American public is becoming more and more distanced from animal use and husbandry.  People just don't know what kind of work is involved with keeping a horse, or what is right or wrong for the animal.  As the above quote describes, the average American doesn't accept the animal rights propaganda because their thirsty for that drivel, they accept it because they simply don't know the difference.  That is why animal welfare groups and target animal industries need to speak out and educate the public about the truth.  In this case, the carriage drivers need our help in making sure people know that there are no welfare or humane issues with the horses in NYC.

Today it's carriage horses.  Tomorrow, competitive horses in any discipline could be next in the animal rights campaign crosshairs. 

Outstanding ABC Interview by Diane Williams with NYC Carriage Driver, Stephen Malone

Makeover pictures

Had another fantastic flat school on the Sooners today.  He felt amazing in all three gaits and the lateral work.  Awesome stretch in the trot too.  I can't take that for granted, because it is out of this world having a horse that tries so hard every time out!  :) 

Sporting his fresh clip, he is one furry pony

Today was mane pulling day

"I would like that carrot that you are holding pretty pretty please!"

The Lessons Horses Teach You

So I got Soonie clipped last night after I rode, so now I'm sitting here on lazy Saturday with my only responsibilities today being to eat, to ride, and to sleep.  Despite the clipping, I actually managed to have a lovely evening with my boy last night (thanks to his glowing personality and my $4 disposable painter's suit/hood which meant I came home not covered in little bits of horse hair), and thought to myself before I went to bed how incredibly fortunate I am to have such a great horse in my life right now.

Yes, it's one of those posts.  You've been warned.

Several months ago I woke up to the truth that my life for the last five years had been a complete lie.  It was terrible to know that the man I had loved with everything I had for so long, thought was such a great and kind person, had been using me all along.  That he spread lies about me and our relationship in order to get more women.  That when I had only ever done things to make him happy and tried to treat him like the loving husband I had wanted him to be, I was just a pawn to him, one that was to be repeatedly used and sacrificed to satisfy his urges.  That sort of betrayal, hurt, and disappointment cannot be truly described by words, and it does not go away overnight.  I'm getting over it slowly, and I count my blessings now that I never did get to marry that man, because I was able to walk away and just worry about myself without dragging things on any longer with him.  I still have days were I just cannot comprehend the extent and depth of the deceit, and that I was that completely blind to love that person.

But last night I went to bed with a smile on my face because I know how unbelievably lucky I am to have this horse, at this time in my life.  I came home all those months ago after finding out and cried into Soon's neck.  I spent every free second I had at the barn with him and it made me feel so much better.  Let's face it, no one can be preoccupied when working with horses, especially one you don't know very well yet.  Those few hours of distraction were so great.  I didn't think about that man or about my situation, I just focused on the horse.  I felt like myself at the barn, the self that I had lost touch with during the previous five years of horsey hiatus.  

"Every day you save my life."
Soon has helped turn the down days into bright ones, because no matter how badly I feel about that, I know my life is blessed and that many people don't have the great things I have in my life.  He has taught me that despite what has happened, that I'm still capable of a great, deep love and that when the right man comes along, I'll be able to love him too.  It's easy to question what you want and what you're capable of after something like this.  But that little horse has shown me that I still want love, I want to find the right person who will treat me like I deserve to be treated, and I'm still able to be that great person.

How much is that worth?  It's priceless.  He is priceless.  While I never say that I "rescued" Soon (because I bought him from a great race owner/trainer who took impeccable care of him and loved him very much, and did the right thing by this horse), I like to think that in some ways, Soon and I saved each other last summer.  We both needed something: he needed a forever home and I needed someone/something in my life that was going to make me smile. Life is good.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Proud of himself after the ride!
So today's high was 8 degrees (F), but with a wind chill of -12.  Good times.  I stopped by the coffee shop and brought the staff some hot chocolate on my way to the farm. Thankfully the barn and the indoor are heated to about 35 degrees (ish), so that's a huge blessing.  Soonie and I just walked today undersaddle - between the cold temps he was outside in most of the day and the really bad dust in the ring (the two horses in before us really kicked it up), I thought maybe today was a great day to just take it easy.

Our ride lasted about 25 minutes, with lots of lateral work review.  Toward the end, he had the BEST walk going on.  Back was up, he was pushing wonderfully from behind and had this huge, swinging walk.  Like, power walk, overstepping quite a bit.  He was well on the bit and on my aids, and felt spectacular.  I had the biggest smile on my face because this little horse just feels so much bigger when he's really working from behind.  It's so nice when you can get everything you want accomplished just by taking a walk. :)

Tomorrow will have windchill temps down near -30(F) at one point.  Soonie will have his turnout sheet layered under his heavy blanket so he has a little extra protection if he gets turned out tomorrow.  He did fine outside in just the heavy today though, he had his face planted in one of the round bales when I showed up this afternoon, so I expect he'll park himself there tomorrow as well.

He came into the nice, warm barn, put his face in his food, and fell asleep

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Compliments and Canter

Received a lovely compliment from one of the other boarders today about how great Soonie looks and how far he's come.  That's always nice.  :)

We pretty much repeated last night's flat school.  Had a couple really lovely steps of leg yield at the trot in both directions, and he was once again very forward and soft.  His canter work today was really stellar!  Had an outstanding, very uphill transition from walk to right lead canter, and the right lead canter rode beautifully.  His back was up and engaged, and he felt wonderfully uphill.  Left lead was also good.  We even did our first counter canter today too!  He picked up the right lead on the long side tracking left, and was super, super obedient in keeping that right bend, shorter step with energy, and maintaining the lead around the corners.  He felt fantastic in the counter canter, I was having a blast playing around.  :)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Trot lateral work

Had another outstanding flat school tonight.  Focused only on the walk and trot tonight, with key points once again being in front of the leg and connection with the outside rein.  We did some square turns and leg yields at the walk and walk stretches.  By the end of the 10 minute walking warm up, we had a really nice, forward, swinging walk going with him well in the bridle in a shorter outline.  Felt great!  That continued in the trot and I was so, so pleased with how he went.  Long story short:

- Great impulsion in the trot right away
- Good, deep stretching in the trot relatively early on
- Smooth and elastic transition to a shorter rein and raising his poll, without changing the quality of the trot
- Was very soft, responsive and willing to play with lateral movements at the trot
- Did our first left AND right leg yields at the trot tonight
- Got a couple steps of shoulder in!

Pre-ride coma
Some horses can get tense with lateral work, Soon is very much the type that stays very mellow and consistent if the rider stays the same.  I did some tight square turns at the sitting trot - successful in both that he shortened up his stride, kept rhythm and moved his shoulders around, but also in that I sat his trot easily and there was no tension.  I have not done a lot of sitting trot with him as I don't feel like he has the muscling to correctly sustain a lot of that work, and I probably won't do much for several more months, save for some light lateral schooling.  A couple of our leg yields were posting, a couple were sitting, all were relatively successful.  Not perfect, but he gave me a few steps of what I was looking for each time.  I'll continue to play with that for a couple minutes on most rides, just enough for him to keep learning, but not enough to drill.

We had a lot of that better quality trot again tonight.  So light, responsive, soft...I really need to take video because he's on
a totally different level from back in September.  Very happy with this recent progress and so thrilled with his attitude.  He feels great physically, but also seems very content during and after the ride.  I really should take more pictures of him after the ride is over, because his little ears are up and he's so pleased with himself, as if to say "I did really great, didn't I?"