Friday, May 24, 2013


Whenever you take on a new horse, you can never really be too sure of it's history.  I've taken on very fancy, expensive Warmbloods with impressive show records, only to realize that they weren't quite what they were made out to be.... Some "trainers" can do a lot with whips and spurs and a a very tight curb rein. Because of this, I treat every new horse like a baby.

With a horse from the track, you at least know that you aren't getting a fancy show horse. I like that honesty, it's refreshing.  But, you still need to figure out what your horse knows and what he doesn't.

Most American racetracks are run counter-clockwise.  That means that your brand new American OTTB probably only knows how to bend to the left.

Now, some trainers do train their racehorses like riding horses, and you might get one of those OTTBs, but most of the time the trainers teach the horses to do their job.  I don't fault them that, when's the last time you breezed a quarter mile on your dressage horse, or worked cows on your eventer?

Jack was trained to do his job.  He sucked at it, so now he has to learn a new job, and part of his new job is bending right.

I decided to start his new education on the lunge, and I'm glad I did.

But, let's back up.....  Prior to officially starting his new education, I had spent a lot of time with him.  We went on long walks in hand around the farm, I got on him and just hacked around (little contact, very relaxed, just getting him used to dressage gear and moving forward). I also lunged him a bit in just a halter, to get him used to the idea.  In these preliminary lunge sessions, I noted a reluctance to track right.

And then it came time to start him into real work.  I started him on the lunge in full gear, with loose side reins, on a 20m circle.

He was perfect tracking left.  Walk, trot, canter... no problems.

Then I asked him to lunge to the right and he was like, "Nope, I don't do right. Let's go left."  And he told me that in the most spectacularly athletic way I have ever seen a horse refuse:  He reared straight up, turned 180 degrees on his hind legs, then set his front feet down and struck off to the left.

I was left holding on to the line and thinking, "What just happened here?".

I stopped him, pointed him back to the right and tried again.  Once again, Jack said, "Nope, I go left" and reared his way back to the left.  I tried a third time, because I'm sort of dumb.  But, when I got the same result again, I decided to I needed a new plan.

I took him in hand and walked him around the whole arena to the right, because I knew that was something he could do.  And I praised him immensely for that. Then, I asked him to walk a smaller circle, and then a smaller circle, until he was walking a 20m circle in hand.  Then I asked him to trot the 20m circle in hand.  Then I asked him to do it on the lunge again. He balked at first, he wasn't sure he could do it without me, but I was able to get him moving out.  All the while I praised him for every forward step.  Even if those forward steps were racing around at Mach 9, he was praised as long as he was going right.

We did that for a couple more days, each time reinforcing the lesson that tracking right was doable.  We also worked on the idea that you don't have to race around to go on a 20m circle to the right by doing lots of halts and changes of gait.

And then it was time to try it out under saddle:

He's a clever fellow!


  1. Great post :) I have a soft spot for OTTBs!

    1. Me, too! I've actually sworn off Warmbloods, I much prefer the TBs!

  2. Yay! OTTBs are such a fun challenge I think, looking forward to hearing more about his training!

    1. OTTBs are great horses, and I'm looking forward to bringing him along!

  3. Replies
    1. They're pretty great ears, and we all know that the ears make the horse!

  4. I like how you broke the exercise down for him and that he was willing to give it a try with your support. He certainly is a strong communicator. I find that to be an asset in training, even if it can present some acrobatic challenges at times.

    Jack is a lovely shade of red. :)

    1. I was very impressed by the fact that, while Jack's refusal was quite spectacular, it wasn't out of control. He wasn't being lazy, he wasn't in pain, he just didn't understand that I wanted him to go right. He's a very smart horse and he knows his job, he just thought I was confused!

  5. Good approach. I love in hand exercises for undersaddle training. Long lining is another good approach, but if you get an aerial evasion on the lines things can get a lot more tangled than a simple lunge line will.

    Jack is a smart boy as most TB's I've met are. If he wants to please, he is going to be a real star! Sounds as if he has a good basic attitude and obviously, some pretty good athletic ability!

  6. Love your approach to teaching him. He sounds like he's quite athletic but willing to try. What a gorgeous color he is.

  7. Well done Shannon! I'm looking forward to following along with you and Jack's progress. He's lucky he ended up with you. :D


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