Monday, January 4, 2010


My first online query! Oh Goody! This one comes from a former student who left my instruction to purchase her own horse and keep him at home. Due to travel time and my busy schedule, I decided not to teach her at her new facility.

The other day, she sent me this message (reprinted with permission with contact information removed):

patty im seriously going to rip my damn hair out. haha. T's head is so high and his trot is so sparatic and unevenly paced because some times he'll to this really fast, choppy trot that is so hidious it would make you throw up if you saw it and then some times he'll go really slow and if i ask him to extend he just does the fast choppy shit and while doing all this he still has his head touching the sky. i just want to rip his head off. and then when we canter he bolts right into it and picks up the wrong lead going to the right and then when i ask him to trot after canter he wjust wont settle to a normal moving trot. and then once i walk him after we canter he will just raise his head and start down that really sucky trot again. im starting to not even like riding him anymore because its always such a fight and not enjoyable at all. he is truly the most frustrating horse i personally have ever ridden in my life. do you think its possible that you could come over to ride him and see whats going on? patty i really really need you to help me on this one. i cant understand any of this and i hate not enjoying riding any more. please?

My response:

I have a few ideas on what it could be. Honestly, there are so many variables! For example, some geldings get cold backed when their sheaths are dirty and itchy. Many horses toss their heads if their teeth are rubbing the insides of their cheeks because they haven't been floated in a while. A lot of times, its the saddle fit. I found with Shorty that using a special pad called a Supracor pad, even with a saddle flocked for him, really helped out his sensitive back.

One other thing that helped Shorty was having a chiropractor come out. A lot of times, racehorses have old injuries in their backs and necks that can put their spines out of alignment. Although it isn't a cure all, it can be a big help in the long run. I also do some light tissue massage on Shorty on days where he looks stiff (which is usually any time is is below freezing outside) before I put the saddle on to warm up his muscles. Applying liniment to sore and stiff joints doesn't hurt either. On days where he looks uncomfortable, I skip the tack altogether and handwalk. During our walk, I do lots of stretches with him to help alleviate his stiff areas.

You should know that typically racehorses aren't cantered to the right on the track. As a result, they become very smooth to the left and usually barely canter at all to the right. Every singe OTTB I've seen had trouble cantering to the right. He bolts because he is off balance, and that's why he doesn't settle into the trot after the canter.

At this stage in his life, he needs a lot of support and understanding from you to learn what his job is. Retraining a racehorse means undoing all of the things he learned early in life, and that's very hard. Its like telling you to write with your left hand after you've used your right for several years. I don't think that T is intentionally acting up to frustrate you, and I can tell you that traveling with his head in the air probably doesn't feel good to him either. He is most likely just as frustrated as you are.

I will call you tomorrow to set up a time.

As for you readers, I'll keep you updated on this horse's progress. I am excited for the challenge. Although I didn't mention this in my response to my former student, sometimes attitude has a lot to do with it. It sounds as though she expects her horse to behave this way, so she's getting in the saddle with a biased opinion of the ride. When that happens, it is easy to fly off the handle at every little mistake. There have been days where I've felt like I was at the end of my rope, and on those days I don't ride or do a light trail ride with friends. Just like our horses find things to spook at, we find things to be angry about. One of the things that I'd like to work on with her is a concept I learned from a wise instructor: half halting your mind. Just like an off-balance horse runs on the forehand, sometimes we get our priorities out of whack and spread ourselves too thin. A wise rider recognizes when this happens and puts herself back in perspective and back in the moment with the horse by focusing on positive feelings rather than negative emotions.

Being pissed off at your boss is a negative emotion. Frustration, anger, discomfort and similar empotions are all negative. Achieving that lightness in the bridle from a horse who is on the bit is a positive feeling. Riding a well-executed shoulder in is a positive feeling. I tell my riders to develop positive feelings and shut out negative emotions.

Like I said, I'll keep you updated!

In other news, Shorty's recent radiographs look perfect. Thankfully, no rotation occured and his hooves aren't even sore anymore. The vet used hoof testers again, and this time he showed no sore spots. He is cleared to go back on turnout, but only on soft ground for now as a precaution. I can also have is shoes put back on. I'd love to keep him barefoot, but it wouldn't work out for him. With his joints as unstable as they are, Dr. Genovese, an expert on OTTBs, recommended that Shorty stay in shoes to support his weak joints and weakening tendons. But that is a blog for another day entirely.