After several years of reading The Paulick Report, and having been at the track in previous years, I have come to the realization that racing will not change in my lifetime. It is full of people indiscriminately using not only “therapeutic” drugs, but also performance enhancing drugs. Anything I could accomplish, even if Oz made $20 million, it would change nothing. Oz would be considered a freak and I’m sure many would think he would have made even more $$ if he had been trained in the “traditional” way.
I have no desire to risk a horse’s life for virtually nothing. Racing is not a pleasant sport and most horses do not like it. The fact that they do it, is just because they are horses. They put up with what people ask or demand of them, be it harsh bits, whips, spurs, etc.
I am 66 and plan to spend the rest of my life relaxing and enjoying it – and my horses. They have a good life and are happy. When they are happy, I’m happy.
Here are some of the herd, here in Taos. Others were standing behind me and were always too close to take photos.
Oz has suddenly become awkward and trouble prone – is it the Terrible Two’s? First he got his feet tangled while tied, after having 2 months of no incidents of any kind. Then I caught him with his feet tied again a few days ago. He was really struggling, so I yelled “whoa” from the porch, while getting my boots on. To his credit, he immediately stopped fighting and fell down on his side, flat out. I ran over, touched his face and assured him he’d be fine. He never moved a muscle while I was freeing him, he just laid there perfectly calm and still. When I got the rope loose he took a second and then got up normally, I took his halter off, and he trotted over to see if Bettina had left any food. He really is just unfazed by things.
After those episodes, which I blame on the giant horse flies, I stopped tying him up. All was good.
Until this morning. I woke up and looked out the door to see if Lucy, Sweet Tea, and Oz were around. To my horror, I saw Oz standing with my wheelbarrow hanging from his neck!! I have no idea how long he’d been that way, I hadn’t heard anything to indicate a struggle. And he was acting like nothing was out of the ordinary, just calm and quiet as if he had things hanging from him every day. I had just gotten up out of bed to look outside, and had only a big T-shirt on. Got my boots on and ran out half naked. The wheelbarrow is not light, and is rated for a load of 200 lbs. How the heck was I going to get it off of Oz?
I have always believed a horse’s personality and intelligence matter when it comes to training and performance. Not to say the most intelligent horse will necessarily be the easiest to train or the best performer, as horses can make decisions for themselves and may not want to perform. Is the horse of average, or even below average, intelligence likely to be a better performer? Less likely to argue and to just comply? I think it depends on the horse/human relationship. Of course it’s just my opinion, but I believe that relationship is what makes the difference. Horses want to be respected as intelligent and unique individuals. I believe that two different people will get different results if they trained the same horse. I believe horses want to be able to trust and respect their humans, and want their humans to trust and respect them. And horses want to feel their human is competent enough to be in charge.
I know a lot of people will disagree that horses “want” anything, or care about who trains them, but I believe it makes a big difference. And I believe without doubt that they think. IF they are allowed to. And that is key. I give my horses a lot of freedom – time loose without halter or fence. I allow them (or my GOAL is to allow them) to become the best horse they can be. Smart, confident, thinking, and happy horses. I want to avoid any lack of trust in me or themselves. Because of that my horses are not nervous or fearful. They observe and think, and choose accordingly.
The horses who I’ve raised from birth (Rainmaker and Oz) or from a very early age (Lucy – 3 1/2 months) were/are thinkers and not nervous. It’s so much easier when they have little to no previous human experience! They have no fear of me. They respect me as dominant (read in charge) but are not afraid of me or the things I do. And they want to be near me. If I am outside, even if it’s just on the porch of my apartment, the horses stay around. To get them to go away, I have to go inside, and then they will leave and go graze, or whatever.
Now to my point, which is that I love Oz’s personality. He is smart, confident, and can be stubborn if he feels like it. Determinedly stubborn, not just stubborn for no reason. For the last couple months I have been tying him to my horse trailer to feed him. This is for two reasons, first, so Bettina can eat her grain without him “sharing” it with her. Second, so he can get used to be tied. Horses really need to learn to be tied. Really tied, not just for a couple minutes. I do use a Blocker tie ring, and recommend everyone use one. It’s such a safe and easy way for a horse to learn what being tied is.
From the very first time I tied him to the trailer, he has accepted it without issue. Not fussing or impatient. My routine is to tie him, and tell him I’ll be back. Then I go feed Bettina, and get Oz’s food ready. It may take me five minutes, it may take longer, as sometimes I’ll give the other horses treats. Last I bring Oz’s food to him and dump it in his bucket. I try to remember to set a timer for the length of time I think it will take Bettina to finish. When I think Bettina is done (about 12 minutes), I go out and free Oz. There has never been a problem. Oz is usually just standing there, assured I’ll come free him.
Today was the exception. I went over to free him (he’s on the side of the horse trailer where I can’t see him) only to find him literally hobbled! He had the lead rope around his left ankle and around his right leg, in a way that had his feet right next to each other. It gave me a shock, but it was clear that though he was irritated (the big horse flies are out and he couldn’t really defend himself) he was not scared or nervous. He was quietly trying to free himself, but calmly and gently, not freaking out at all. I walked up, encouraged him to take a step forward to loosen the rope a little. It fell off of his right leg, and then the loop around his left ankle fell to the ground. I took his halter off and he went over to see if Bettina had finished all her food.
Though I would have preferred he hadn’t gotten tangled, it was a great lesson for him, and a great opportunity for me to see his personality. It was also a great reminder to him that I am someone he can trust.
A horse having his front feet basically tied together is a very frightening situation. Most horses would have reacted more strongly than Oz. Many would have completely freaked out, reared, and perhaps even flipped over. I wish I had video of it, but I don’t carry my phone on me when working with the horses. And really, first things come first. The priority was to free Oz as quickly (and calmly) as possible.
Oz is only two and already confident and a thinker. He can only improve. My job is to not change his personality or to “break” him, but to train him in a way that allows him to not only be himself, but to allow him to develop even more confidence in himself, and trust in me.
I know I do things a lot of people would never do. Allow horses to be free (unfenced) and to roam around exploring. Tie a horse and leave it. Doing odd, unexpected things to see what the horse(s) will do. But how else can horses really learn or develop confidence. We all, horses and humans, have to have experiences to develop. Sadly, few horses are given the freedom to really learn. They are haltered and led around, tied, etc. Basically controlled at every point. Some lucky ones do have turnout, but they don’t live in a herd as Oz does, which is how horses are meant to live. So will a horse who has been allowed to develop as nature intended perform well? Time will tell!
In the meantime, I’m happy with what I see.
Well, while Oz’s first ponying lesson went well, the second did not.
It became clear pretty soon that Chance has decided he didn’t like Oz so close to him. He didn’t do anything “bad”, but he would make a face and Oz would stop and refuse to lead up. Well, you can’t pony a statue! I did keep trying and by some loss of attention on my part, the lead rope found its way under Chance’s tail! Chance tossed his head and gave a tiny crow hop. I looked back and saw the rope under his tail and realized I was in trouble.
To Chance’s credit, he really only did tiny crow hops and I thought I’d have no trouble riding it out. I was really determined to stay on, as Oz had managed to get over on the left side of Chance (I had dropped his lead rope in the hope it would come loose from Chance’s tail). I knew if I fell off it would right in front of Oz. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t seem to stay on and did fall off to the left side, right in front of Oz. I have to give a lot of credit to him. He didn’t actually step on me at all, he did hit me with his feet as I had not even finished falling before he was on me. He hit the parts that were still in the air, my arms and back, and did hit the inside of my left hip a glancing blow. Nothing serious, thankfully!
When I got up I realized why I hadn’t been able to stay on. The end of the lead rope had found its way to the crook of my left elbow, and literally pulled me out of the saddle, giving me a big rope burn in the process.
I landed on my left hip, on ground as hard as concrete, so the hip got the double whammy. It was a great test of my bone density! And it turned out to be good, nothing broken. At 65 I consider myself to be very lucky.
Now that I’m all better, it’s on to Plan B. Since Chance has said no to the job, I’m going to try my Paint mare, Lucy, as the pony. She’s friends with Oz, and they get loose every night together. They come to my door as the sun is coming up and let me know it’s feed time and they know where I live. I’m hoping it works out. But it will have to wait until the weather is cooler and the giant horse flies (immune to repellent) are gone.
I’ve always said that 2-year-olds are babies and shouldn’t race. I feel they are physically, mentally, and emotionally immature. Science backs me up as far as physical maturity, as the back (and some joints) are not fully developed until age 4 or older. Everyone points to the knees and thinks horses are ready to run when the knees are “closed”, but they are practically the first to close. In my opinion, a horse doesn’t reach its full strength (read power) until it’s much more mature than two. And as someone who has saddle trained horses, horses really understand things better when training is delayed until they are more mentally mature. The easiest horse I ever trained was an unbroken six-year-old I named Huey. Taught him to lunge on day one. On day three I introduced the saddle (western). On day six I hauled him down to a nearby trail and rode him on it. I do credit it to his being a fully mature horse. For those who have ridden babies, I’m sure you’ve felt them sway under your weight, and struggle to walk a straight line. Huey had no such issues – to me a clear sign that 2-year-olds are not really ready to be ridden.
Oz was born in the herd and lives in the herd. It occurred to me a few weeks ago (at times I’m very slow!) that it’s very clear that the HERD considers Oz (at 15:3) to still be a baby. He has never had anyone’s teeth on him (except his dam’s). He is free to go up to any herd member’s grain or hay and share it – even the herd leader’s (Shadow) who is extremely food aggressive.
So, since even the horses consider 2-year-olds to be babies, shouldn’t we?
I’m curious to see when the horses start treating Oz like an adult!
Though I am not planning on riding Oz until he’s four, there is lots to do to get him ready. The weather was nice this morning and I finally had the motivation to clean out my horse trailer tack room. Oz was a big helper! He and Chance were very interested, but Oz was right there watching the whole thing and checking out everything I had put outside. Since he was handy, I took the opportunity to put a saddle pad on him. He couldn’t have cared less, so I went a step further and put one of my English saddles on him – no girth. He just stood there and certainly didn’t care about the saddle. I like to do unexpected things, as it builds a lot of trust. After the saddle was off, I put a big tarp, folded in quarters on him. He didn’t care. Pushed it by putting the tarp on his head and neck. Left space for him to see and though he was not totally relaxed, he did stand there and wasn’t upset. All of this was without a halter or a lead rope.
He has grown so much the last few months! His butt is about 15:3. He’s a laid back boy, with a stubborn streak. He was gelded on April 11, and refused to stand still after he was given drugs to knock him out. He just kept walking in a circle around me and I could not stop him! Took 3 shots to get him down. The castration took about 20 minutes and he slept another half hour after that. Tough boy. Also, when he is scavenging any potential leftover grain at feeding time, he puts his head down and avoids being caught. Once he’s convinced he hasn’t missed anything, he happily allows the lead rope to be tossed over his neck, or even just follows me to the gate to go back in. I like that he has a stubborn streak. I also like that he will squeeze through the gate to get out – I foresee no issues with the starting gate.
And though many will find this a little out there – he seems to have decided not to answer to “Baby” which is what I used to call him. I have been trying to break that habit, as I don’t want to be calling him Baby when he’s 5! To my surprise I noticed about a week ago that he no longer responds to Baby. I was calling him and he didn’t even look at me. When I called him “Oz” he looked right at me and came over. Is he smart enough to realize he is not a baby and doesn’t like being infantilized? I’ll never know, but I can’t imagine why else he would stop answering to his old nickname.
I planned to do it this morning, and despite the fact that is was very humid, I did it. I had already put it off several times. Not only was it Oz’s first lesson, it was also the first time Chance (aka Money Talkin) has ever ponied a horse. I was really hoping it would go okay, as ponying is a large part of the Kikkuli Method.
First I saddled Chance and tied him to the trailer with a halter over his bridle (bitless LG Bridle). Then I tied Oz to the horse trailer with a slip knot. I untied and mounted Chance, and of course, by then Oz had turned so that he was standing blocking his lead rope. I have to say here that Chance really is such a good horse, he has proven that on the trail and now he’s proven it again. To move Oz out of the way, I asked Chance to walk into him and he did. After a couple tries we got Oz turned the right way and I grabbed the rope and pulled it free. I turned Chance left and Oz followed along behind. Hard part over!
We walked along, with Oz walking behind Chance, not what I would have preferred, and not the way it’s done at the track, but good enough. And actually, on the trail, it would be handy to have him walk behind. Chance was very good and didn’t even think about kicking or trying to avoid Oz. Oz stopped a few times, but Chance stopped quickly enough that I didn’t have to drop the rope. In fact, Chance really seemed to get what I was trying to do, and I praised him frequently. I praised Oz too, because he was very calm and relaxed and didn’t try to play with or nip Chance.
It went so well, that after about a quarter mile we were done. It was very hot and humid, even though it was only 8 in the morning, and it had gone so well, I wanted to end on a good note. I untacked Chance and turned both horses loose, praised them again, and gave them a little bit of grain as a reward.
Oz is not as big as he looks in the photo – but he is a good size. I think he looks good.
I used to have a copy of Tom Ivers’ book The Fit Racehorse, but somehow it got lost. I managed to find an affordable copy recently, and have started reading it. It could have been written yesterday – that is how little racing has changed! I figure I will plan ahead and be sure I know what I’m doing as far as interval training, long before Oz is ready. I also found my digital copy of the Kikkuli Training Method of Horse Training, by Dr. A. Nyland. It is very interesting. Most interesting is that all early conditioning is done by leading the horse – either from another horse, or even a vehicle. This part makes a lot of sense to me and I will be doing it with Oz. I will be following the Kikkuli Principles as well. Of course Oz is not going to be a war horse, so the training will be adapted for racing. But I have already seen the value of resting, and understand that first we stress – not too much! – the body, then give the body time to adapt. And I know that doing the same amount of exercise over the same distance does not develop additional adaptation.
What is different about the Kikkuli training method is that the psychological effects of training are always being considered. And I totally agree with that.
Oz is already ahead of most other TB babies, in that he is out 24/7 moving, and moving over uneven terrain so that he must be aware of where his feet are, and also he will be more flexible than a horse always on flat ground. He is confident enough to gallop up and down real hills, not just rolling ground. And since he lives with mature horses, some of which have raced, he is not intimidated by galloping in close quarters or by older horses. Another way in which he has an advantage. He has had no steroids, his hooves are nice and short and well formed. He has not been treated roughly, so his spirit is intact.
He will be gelded next spring. This year he was interested in the girls – they smelled so good! But the mares were not having any of his baby attention and told him to get lost. He has adapted and is no longer interested. I imagine that will change next spring. I would like to keep him intact – but that is only because I truly love the minds of stallions and the fact that they are thicker skinned, braver, etc. However, it would be unkind of me to remove Oz from the herd, which is truly his family. Even if I got a gelding or two to live with him, it would not be the same. It would just be selfish of me. Besides, I sure do not need any more horses!!
Interesting days ahead!
It’s hard to believe Oz is a year old. His birthday was yesterday. The photo below was taken on May 22.