I have been behind in terms of starting Shoes over fences but the weather and footing have made riding inconsistent and his muscling is still in development. I absolutely LOVE when readers of my blog reach out and share experiences, advice or just comments. I’m in no means a perfect rider and as horseman we are always learning and open-minded. We got a fantastic email from a reader last night about recognizing some similar behavior in Shoes as her personal horse who had some SI issues. She said her mare did the similar hopping at the canter and little bucks which were not really bucks but something saying ouch.
I have had a lot of experience with ottb’s and the biggest challenge that I believe they face is overall hind end funk. Ha, great explanation but just the act of going from standing still in the starting gate and taking off running is very hard on the muscles and body structure. Then you take a horse who is extremely muscle-bound in a particular way generally using the fast twitch muscles and you bring them home and give them some time off and they lose all that muscle. All of a sudden you have loose stifles, lack of strength, no topline, weak back and an overall soreness. Now some horses will never experience that and sometimes it is helpful to lightly work a horse after they come from the track to prevent the massive loss of muscle but we don’t have that opportunity for every horse. Mentally, I believe it does them wonders to have a bit of time to just hang out and be horses without any pressure to perform under saddle but again that depends.
Shoes was a horse who had a drastic decline when he came off the track. He went from simply gorgeous to losing 200lbs and being so sore he didn’t even want to walk. Some horses just don’t transition well to the new lifestyle and he was one of them. We were really worried about him and even tested him for Lyme but he was fine. I kept promising the farm he would be fine and they kept saying they had to hide him behind the barn because he looked so rough 🙂 He was getting plenty of food but when your body hurts it’s hard to let everything relax enough for the calories to catch up.
He finally started to look better so I wanted to bring him to the farm and at first he was what I would call a horse that is weak behind. When I rode him he felt funky behind. I really just don’t worry about that but I am very aware of the level of work that I require of them. I worked 10-20 min sessions under saddle but I did most of the work on the lunge line teaching him how to go forward and use his body in the correct way. He feels like a different horse under me now. Instead of bucking every other stride at the canter he happily canters with just a little wee around the corners when I make him step evenly in behind. He trots forward and engages from behind and his back feels relaxed instead of him moving like a pogo stick.
Normally, I would introduce jumping under saddle but with him I think it will be easier for him to learn the mechanics without the rider as he develops his muscles. I love free jumping but with the footing my jump chute is on grass and not great for this freezing/thawing weather.
I took him out last night and set up a little intro exercise. Just a cavaletti with a pole in front for him to trot over. At first he was like OMG I can not do this and just stood there like nope. So I walked him and he followed me picking up one leg at a time. Left front, right front, left hind and right hind. I was cracking up. Then I asked for a little trot and he did the same at the trot once or twice and then he was like oh cool and used his front end but sort of clunked the back-end. Another time around and he went WEEE and jumped it real big and then threw in a happy buck 🙂
He was so proud he wanted to just keep cantering around and jumping even when I wanted him to stop. I made a little cavaletti oxer and he thought that was way cool. He was strutting his stuff. Should have seen the trot on him!
I think letting them figure out the footwork on the ground makes it so much easier than trying to do it on their back especially the first few times. Once a horse figures out the footwork and gets confident you are good to go. I think lunging over fences is probably something a lot of people don’t do of but it has great benefits. I only tripped myself once and I didn’t fall down so that is good 🙂
You can dress up the fence with a little brush box or something like that. Antother good way to introduce scary things without being on their back when doing it. I feel like Shoes is an exceptionally smart and athletic horse. He tries so hard to please and just has the best personality. The groundwork is going to pay off in helping him become more confident.
I will try to video some of this over the weekend when I have daylight.