I'm happy to welcome Natalie Keller Reinert to Equestrian Ink today as a guest blogger. Natalie has two horse-related blogs, which are listed at the bottom of this post. Here's a bio I "lifted" from one of Natalie's blogs:
It's always been about Thoroughbreds. I've ridden Warmbloods, Arabs, and Quarter Horses, but I always come back to TBs. At 13 I got my first OTTB, at 19 I got my first gallop job, and now I have a farm of my own raising babies, training young horses, and writing about it all. This is my passion. Thank you for sharing it with me here. - Natalie Keller Reinert
Who's having fun here, exactly?
I spend my days with Thoroughbreds. I breed, I train, I reschool OTTBs. In prepping my posts at Retired Racehorse Blog, I do a lot of research, lurk on a few message boards, and try to find out what people are doing with their Thoroughbreds. There are so many issues out there, so many OTTBs that are slipping through the cracks after their "forever homes" turn out to be very temporary indeed, that I knew there must be some sort of communication gap between the racetrack and the boarding stable.
What I find is that there is a significant population of riders and trainers which thinks that anything outside of perfectly contained, on-the-bit, submissive obedience, is nothing short of dangerous.
Horses are motion. They are prey, constantly on the move, scenting the wind, listening to the sighs of the natural world around them, waiting for the shoe to drop. When you are prey, you are always waiting for the end, and you know it will be messy.
Extreme submission calls for the horse to put away his instincts and follow blindly. Some might call this a beautiful expression of partnership. But submission/domination is quite the opposite. You might be having fun, but what is your horse thinking? Nothing. He's waiting for you to think for him. It really doesn't sound like fun for either party. You're working too hard - your horse is just going through the motions.
I went through a very windy spell as a teenager. My Thoroughbred, Amarillo, had taken me through some frightening rides, I'd taken some very bad falls, and although we had found a physical reason for the behavior and corrected it, the incident left scars. I'd grown up on his back, but now, after six years together, I was terrified to take him to shows.
I eventually got up the nerve and took him to a horse trials. Convinced that he was going to start leaping about and showing his heels to everyone (and I'd seen his heels, from underneath of him, and wasn't looking forward to a repeat performance), I took him for a walk around the grounds. He went like a giraffe, all neck and his head so high I couldn't have reached his nose, despite being just fifteen three. His reach was incredible; even at the walk, I could barely keep up with him. He pulled at the halter and broke the chin strap. I felt dread at the thought of getting on that beast.
But eventually, the time came to tack up and I swung into the saddle, sick with anxiety. I got the same reaction walking him under saddle that I had in a halter and rope. Amarillo's brain was clearly going at a hundred miles an hour, and I had nothing to do with it. We went towards the warm-up area to prep for dressage, and I felt like I was looking at the world framed by two pricked ears.
Then someone's voice called out to me across the ring. "Look at that horse, he's having such fun!"
And it clicked. Amarillo was happy.
He was happy to be here, amongst all the other horses and excitement. He was a racehorse. He was in his element.
I loosened my tense fingers, asked for a trot, and he ducked his head into the bit, not to buck, not to grab it and bolt, but to round up, trot with pleasure, do his job as he wanted to do it. There was no question of submission, there was simply the two of us, jogging across a field somewhere in Florida, surrounded by joyous, leaping horses. And if we didn't perform a Grand Prix dressage test, well, we got a few sevens and eights in a Training Level test, and we did it on each other's terms, not on my own iron-clad ones.
Thoroughbreds thrive on one-on-one communication. They know their jobs, as racehorses, and the very good ones know how to work with their jockeys to get to the front of the pack and stick their nose in front. Trying to dominate a racehorse is simply nonsensical. Asking for total submission, a denial of the heart and intelligence that makes them great.
Natalie Keller Reinert
I enjoyed your post and found the last paragraph particularly interesting. I only trained one mostly TB horse in my life, but he was quite a challenge for me (who always had QHs). His impulse in all situations was "charge". It took me forever to teach him to give and collect the way I wanted him to, but once he learned it, he was a really fun horse to ride. He had a tremendous amount of try, and we used him for team roping, which seemed to suit him. From what I understand about dressage, its very much about submission--correct me if I'm wrong here. And my sister-in-law trains TB racehorses and I am constantly amazed at what sort of behavior is tolerated in these horses. They drag their handlers all over the place and its just accepted. I can only suppose that the idea is to leave the horse's self will as intact as possible, thus that he has that "personal" drive to win, just as you describe. Which must make retraining such a horse for a sport like dressage (requiring at least a lot of obedience, if not total submission) very difficult. What a good point.
(I also am addicted to TBs.)
Oops, posted before reading your comment, Laura.
TBs do well in dressage but you need to train them tactfully, to keep it interesting and fun. Most of mine have had no trouble with the obedience and submission, but it's sometimes tough to keep that "relaxed back" that you need for dressage, especially at a show. That can be a little frustrating.
And yes, you can depend on most of them to "charge" when stressed; it's what they're bred for, after all. It's been interesting for me to adjust to my first QH after my years of OTTBs. I miss that "charge" more than I thought I would.
I'm a big fan of TBs - have one and a WB/TB cross - I love their drive, work ethic and fire and independence. It does take some working with and some tact, but they will definitely give you their all if you treat them with fairness and consistency.
I also find this post really interesting. I have noticed that some riders really click with TBs while others butt heads with a them. I have ridden a few TBs in my life but admit I do have a hard time understanding and working with them. I appreciate their athleticism and heart but I have a hard time understanding them. I've had lots of success working with pony breeds but when I ride a TB I find lots of my pony methods don't work. I'd love to work with TBs more though with a coach that really understands them because I do think they have heart that cannot be matched.
Also I really like your point not to retrain a OTTB but build on trining they already have. I think this is a good point for any horse being retrained for another disipline. Makes better sense.
Laura, thanks for your perspective. It really does depend on the trainer, what kind of behavior is acceptable! Many Thoroughbreds come from the racetrack as model citizens - they load, they don't run you over, they clip/wash/trim- basically all the hard stuff that show horses often try to kill you over. When I first left Thoroughbreds for warmbloods (a brief diversion, to be sure) I was astonished at how much trouble Grand Prix jumpers were giving me over things like a body clip, or hopping onto a trailer - things that I had taken for granted with Thoroughbreds, who are usually expected to stand nicely for these things from a very young age.
That isn't to say they're all like that, of course, and I've had some real characters over the years - the stallion that had people so petrified of touching his ears that they were actually taking the bridle apart before putting in on his head comes to mind - but all in all I believe most trainers - and definitely the grooms and hotwalkers who are doing the handling - have a certain expectation of good manners. As much as you can expect from a three-year-old colt oated to the eyeballs and exploding around a 12 by 12 box, that is.
If you can get a Thoroughbred to want to do dressage, you're in business. The key to Thoroughbreds - and I think most horses should be treated this way, even if most horses do not demand to be treated this way - is to convince that them that they're having fun. Or, find what it is that they find fun, and make their work center around that. I found, with the horse in the column, that he enjoyed being the center of attention - at least, he thought he was the center of attention. Maybe it was the fact that he only visited the winner's circle a few times, I don't know. But the horse bloomed in company. He was always better behaved at a boarding barn, in the company of other horses in the arena, than at a small farm, working alone. His natural movement and ability always came to the forefront, and that was something that I never could have trained and certainly never have demanded from him. I had to find his happy place and work from there.
Final Call, my current OTTB, seems to really prefer working after he's had a nice gallop. He wasn't enjoying going straight into a suppling, transitions, voltes and serpentines warm-up. He was annoying and head-tossing at the trot, as well. My solution is to put him in his comfort zone by taking him for quick stretching canter, after which, he seems comfortable and ready to learn whatever I can teach him.
Thanks again for all the comments.
You captured the essence of the TB once again, which is probably why you do so well with them, and can help so many of your readers. Thank you.
"When you are prey, you are always waiting for the end, and you know it will be messy." What a wonderfully apt phrase!
Nice post! I have 2 OTTBs... never had a TB before. I'm off to read your blog...
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