We’ve had a lot of rain the last week and the ground has just now gotten dry enough to use the track. Not dry enough to gallop, but good enough to trot.
There is a 50% chance of rain today, so I worked the horses at their first grazing “break”. They eat for a while then come in to hide from the bugs for a while. I started with Zola, putting her on the lunge line to check her energy level. She seemed quiet, so I got on. She was a little balky to start, but not as bad as in the past. All I asked her to do was walk around the track twice. I’ve changed the configuration a little, moved the north turns further toward the road, hopefully making it so we can go faster than last year.
Zola offered a little trot but I really just wanted her to walk. It’s been almost a year since she was last ridden or had a bit in her mouth, so I want to give her a chance to get used to the weight and the bit.
After Zola I decided to ride Chance. Partly to get him fit and partly to get myself fit. I just wanted to walk, to get him used to the new turns and “homestretch”, but there were a couple flies bothering him so I asked him to trot. Went about halfway around at a trot and then he wanted to gallop. It really was too slippery for galloping, so I held him to a trot, but it wasn’t easy. He really wanted to go. This is the first year I’ve started him up and had him be so eager. Normally he’s pretty lazy in the beginning. Could he be trying to tell me something?
Lena stood by the fence watching it all and waiting for her turn, which finally came. I lunged her with the saddle and she was better than last time, but still not 100% relaxed about it.
As I said the other day, Chance was wild. Running harder than I had ever seen him during any of his workouts at the Thoroughbred Training Center. What does that have to do with Gary Stevens? Two words. Rehab duration.
When I got Chance in 2009, the plan was to give him time off and then run him. And I did give him time off. But was it enough? We, as humans, make determinations of what we think is enough time off. I really thought he would run well last year (2012) but that was not meant to be. I didn’t even train him in 2011. And this winter I decided to give up.
And then Gary Stevens came out of retirement. I had read his book and learned he has serious knee problems, and clearly enough pain to force him into retirement. Now, after 8 years off, his knees feel good – or so he said in an interview I saw on TV. And I believe him. In eight years his body has healed at least some of the damage.
Perhaps Chance – and any horse – needs a longer rehab than we think. I can only say that when I watched Chance the other day, I didn’t see an “old”, or slow horse. Far from it. He is only 10 – a horse in his prime really. A horse whose body has had time to heal – not that he had any noticeable issues, but maybe he just felt burnt out. Now he seems to feel fresh.
I’m excited to see how he does in training.
I had to get hay this morning before I turned the horses out. They have to be in the fenced 20 acres when I’m not home, obviously. When I got back and had the hay put away I opened the gate and called the horses. They came running! Part of the way I could only hear thundering hooves, then when they came into view Roxanna was in the lead. As they turned to head toward the gate Chance came from the back and took the lead – way out in front, and running.
Normally they would run out, do a little circle and start grazing, but not today. They were all fired up for some reason and took off across the field at a serious run. Maura and Chance had determination in their faces and I have never seen Chance run so fast. Certainly not during his works at the Training Center in 2010.
It’s amazing how they can all look like a bunch of crossbred pasture pets and then transform into racehorses in the blink of an eye. Chance looked fantastic. I wish I had had my phone with me! I have totally taken back my plan to retire him from racing and will try to get him to Kentucky Downs in September. He must have run at least 6 furlongs altogether. At one point I was standing in the road and he was running the length of the pasture and I yelled out, “Go Chance! Go!” And he actually dug in and went faster. What a thrill. Of course everyone was running, but not as hard. And not all in the same direction! What a video it would have made. They thundered by me several times, into the fenced area and back out. In and out. Across the field – up and down. As they slowed there was rearing and bucking and prancing. I’ve never seen them that wild and I loved it.
Lunged them all a little while ago and they all went well, not too surprisingly, as they had clearly taken the edge off. This was Lena’s first time on the lunge with the saddle since October, and only her third time total. She was good. She did half of a stiff-legged crow hop and that was it. I won’t say she is completely comfortable with the saddle, but she was not afraid.
Zola went around once at a lazy trot and stopped – as if to say, “I worked out this morning.” I asked her for a canter and she gave one without a buck. I sent her the other way and she stopped again and looked at me. Since the whole point of lunging her is to get her to relax and be calm, I made her walk one more round (only so she wouldn’t believe she is in charge) and then quit.
I had lunged Sweet Tea first and she went well. Much more relaxed, but still not sure about whoa. But it’s definite progress.
Quite an enjoyable day.
In all honesty, I don’t know.
The weather has certainly not cooperated! Rain, rain, rain, rain, snow, rain. Every time it gets nice enough to dry out and I plan on working with someone, the very next day it will rain again. It’s raining at this very moment.
I have retired Chance. He was an experiment only, and now that he’s 10, there seems little point in running him. He did prove to me that barefoot is better. I have never seen a horse come back from a race so fresh – and I mean while he was walking back from his race. He wasn’t winded. He wasn’t exhausted. He wasn’t unhappy. He was happy to go to the post as well. And he was sharp enough, despite living out 24/7, to break out of the gate first. He ran no worse than he had been running, and in fact he ran better if you take into consideration the following:
Turfway fall meet vs Suffolk Downs
$7500 claiming race vs $5000 race
And not fit – the race was to be a workout.
I really do feel he improved and if the meet hadn’t closed, with a few more races would have been competitive. But it seems fate had other plans for Chance.
Zola on the other hand, I feel, has the chance to be a successful racehorse. She is unstarted and totally sound, physically and mentally. She is mature, tough, and smart.
Lena is in the same condition. Sweet Tea, who also may run this year, is probably sounder than she’s ever been in her life, and she was blazing fast on the track – with a chip in her ankle and fractured sesamoids. It would be great to see what she can do when she’s at her best.
Still, the weather and finances will dictate if they make it to the track or not. Only time will tell.
Yes, it’s been quiet here at the Racehorse Experiment.
I confess that money comes first when you have 11 horses to support. I have been busy building my trimming business, and also finishing another book. This one is not on hoof trimming, but is about my life with horses and all the amazing things horses have done over the years – and all they’ve taught me. Finished it yesterday! Now it just needs another review before the galley print and the (hopefully) final review.
Now that the book is out of the way, it’s back to the horses. There will be no racing this year – again. Which is very disappointing, but it does seem the Universe itself is working against me there. Chance was so close to racing in July, only weeks away. Then it was too much time off, and too stiff competition at Churchill.
Time this winter will be spent on getting Zola galloping. Since she won’t have to go fast it should be possible to ride a good part of the winter. It will also be a good time to start Lena under saddle. As for Chance, once hunting season is over, we will be hitting the trails. There are some good big hills down the power lines which will be good for building up his wind and the muscles in his hindquarters.
I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!
I have been doing a lot of soul searching lately – much of it caused by reading posts on the Paulick Report. The greed and lack of concern for horses’ welfare, the number of people whining about how racetracks basically owe them a living, the use of the phrase “racehorses are different” when anyone raises drug or health issues, basically the use of horses as objects, assets, “products”, has sickened me. Part of me would be quite happy if racing was to die.
Yet part of me still wants to see Zola race, and Lena, and hopefully a foal from Tiz Life (Beauty).
Compounding the issue is the fact that I have to haul all the way to Churchill Downs to work any of the horses on the track. It’s over 60 miles away, so there is significant fuel cost, along with the exercise rider’s fee. Not to mention coggins tests, health certificates, license fee ($150). All of this is not really expensive, but in my situation, it’s hard to find “extra” money. So that has been a factor.
Losing over a month of training really set my plans back and was very discouraging. Winter is coming – and I really don’t like winter.
I downloaded the stall application from Churchill – not because I’m applying for stalls, just to see what requirements are for being on the grounds. However, I did read that stalls will not be given to horses who have started for $5,000 unless they have since started for more money. So basically, the level of competition at Churchill will be stiff.
And most importantly, it just seemed like the Universe was telling me to put this dream aside. And for a while I bought it. However, I’ve learned that when I make a truly correct decision – from the authentic small voice – then it’s over. But it’s not over, racing is always in the back of my mind, and frequently in the forefront. Clearly the issue is not settled – which means my interpretation of events is not correct.
Deeper soul searching has revealed the truth. I am suffering from fear. Fear of failure. So simple. And what is fear of failure – it’s the ego’s fear. So my ego is clearly involved in whispering in my, ear so to speak, ”Don’t take the risk of being embarrassed if you’re not successful.” Insidious. And effective. Plus it just seems so daunting – hauling to the track.
So, the result of all this thinking? I’m just going to continue to do what there is to do. Ride, haul, etc. and see what happens.
The horses have not been idle all this time. I’ve ridden Chance a few times – there is no urgency since I now plan on waiting until Turfway opens. No point in overmatching him because Churchill is closer. I have decided not to do too much more galloping and to focus on using the hill and trails to get him fit. He can get fit for speed at Churchill.
I’ve worked with Lena, lungeing her with the saddle on. And I’ve got Zola back to the point where I think I can ride her next time. I have been lunging her with tack and she has been full of energy – and bucks!! In fact, one day once she started cantering she couldn’t even control herself, she just took off running. I let go of the lunge line and boy she just flew. Of course she scared herself with her outburst and was glad to come back when I called her.
On a more upbeat note, my book is selling. And more copies this month already than all of last month. Unfortunately payment from Amazon comes at the end of month following the month of sale. Waiting has been hard.
I am working on another book – about my journey with horses. Would be great if I could write for a living! Racing would be so much more fun if I truly didn’t care about the monetary aspect or outcome.
Life is good – but never simple it seems.
I tweaked my back Friday. Doing nothing. I had gotten hay the day before and was fine. Was fine Friday morning, until I got up to put my breakfast plate in the sink. Then ow! Nothing serious, but it was enough so that I wasn’t going to ride. It’s something that happens periodically, most often after getting hay, and usually it goes away in an hour or so. Not the case. Saturday it was better but not completely. And since riding Chance would aggravate it, I decided to pass on riding again.
I was going to lunge Zola but decided to work with Lena. I want to get her started under saddle while the weather is nice, so decided to teach her to lunge. Then will come lungeing with the saddle. She was good. I don’t spend a lot of time actually lungeing. It’s not about exercise, it’s about learning, and horses learn very quickly. She went in both directions and seemed to get the idea enough for one day. Her whoa was very good! We probably spent 10 – 15 minutes max.
Today I rode Chance, just at the trot, as I build up my stamina again. After that I decided to saddle Lena. She is just so good! I walked up with the saddle. She wanted to see and sniff it, so I let her. Then I just put it on her like I do Chance – no special delicate care. The stirrups clanked. The saddle is an all purpose English saddle and weighs at least 15 pounds. I girthed it up as I do with Chance. She couldn’t have cared less. I snapped the stirrup leathers. She just stood quietly.
At that point I went and got my phone to take some photos. I took a few with her tied to the trailer, but they never come out good for some reason. I wanted to lead her with the saddle. Often a horse won’t react to the saddle until they start moving. I led her into the backyard, with the intention of rewarding her by letting her graze. She was fine, acting like she’d been saddled many times before.
In order to get my phone, I dropped the rope and left her to graze. She was completely relaxed and I used the opportunity to get a good picture for a change – with her head down of course.
It’s pretty clear that she’s unconcerned with the saddle!
This morning, as I brought Chance and Tina out to get their breakfasts (Sweet Tea gets one too, but she appeared to be staying in the barn), the rest of the crew came along to get their little bit of grain as well.
While they were all filing over, I heard a whinny. Looking in that direction I see two horses on the hill – the hill that’s not fenced! A quick check revealed the missing herd members – Roxanna, cunning mustang that she is, and her new protege, Sweet Tea.
There are some sections of my fence that are (were) nothing but rope. A trip up the hill revealed the bottom strand had rotted and left a place for clever girls to duck under.
It was a simple matter to open the gate I created so Chance and I could gallop up the hill, and call the girls, who were more than ready to come in. Not so simple was the necessary fence repair I had to do! While the girls had gotten out at one spot, there were several sections that needed to be secured. With the exception of the fence down by the barn, all the fencing is barbed wire, a material I have really grown to respect. As horse people, we hear how terrible barbed wire is. I have to say, I like it. It’s a pain (literally) to work with, but once up, I don’t see how it’s so awful. I was worried at first that the horses wouldn’t see it, that they might get in trouble. But none of that has come to pass.
It appears the horses see it, and respect it. No one tries to scratch their butt on it, a common problem with wooden fences. There is nothing to chew (not that mine are fence chewers). In Paris, with the fancy wooden post, foal-safe mesh, and oak top rail, several boards met their demise, broken by butt scratching – and leaving spears of wood to potentially impale someone. In some cases the entire board would fall off, landing in the grass with nails up! I have seen the results of horses hitting high tensile wire – basically a cheese cutting wire for flesh! The horses accept the barbed wire as something to be avoided – like the hot tape.
So now the fence consists of all barbed wire, or hot tape. Hopefully there will be no more escapes!
I was planning on riding Chance today, but now I am so sore I can barely get up after sitting! It’s a quarter mile (uphill!) to the section of fence that was repaired. So, aside from the actual work (no easy task) there was 1/4 mile up to see where the horses got out, 1/4 mile down to get materials, 1/4 mile back up with tools and material. Another 1/4 mile down to get more materials, then 1/4 mile up to fix the fence. And a final 1/4 mile down.
So much for my relaxing Sunday. LOL!
The track is mowed and the turns reconfigured to ride a little better. The track is starting to look pretty good as the grass is growing and filling in the bare spots.
However, the horses have changed my riding schedule. Previously, I’d let them out as soon as the sun was up (they were clustered at the gate waiting) and then they’d come in somewhere between 11 and 2, depending on temperature, bugs, etc. That left evenings as the perfect time to ride. A couple weeks ago I went out at 6 to let them out, and everyone was in the barn. They kind of reluctantly came out when I called them, but around 7:30 I heard thundering hooves and looked out the window. The entire herd was galloping in and headed to the barn!
At first I figured something had scared them, maybe a feisty deer, or a bunch of turkeys bursting out of cover, but the next day was an exact repeat. This time I noticed that Huey was leading the charge. Knowing Huey, I figured it was a bug issue. Huey HATES bugs. I haven’t seen any of the big horse flies lately, so guessed (correctly) the bot flies are out. For some reason (perhaps he’s just smart) Huey cannot stand a bot fly anywhere near him. He will run, roll, hide, whatever it takes to avoid them. Clearly he has communicated this to the rest of the herd!
So now, instead of staying out all morning and coming in when it gets hot, they come in shortly after they go out. I leave the gate open so they are free to come and go as they please, but despite coaxing, they really don’t want to come back out until around 2. Then they are out until I feed hay, sometime between 6 and 7. That actually works really well, I just clap my hands and yell, “Let’s go!” and they all come in.
I don’t want to move the whole herd in before supper in order to ride. Nor do I really want to work a horse who’s been eating for hours, so now I will be riding in the morning, after the first grazing “session”.
Today I went out to get Chance at a little after 10. I didn’t plan on doing much, as I knew I wouldn’t be very fit. But I did remember to try on the surcingle. I played around with where to put the buckle so it wouldn’t rub or be under pressure. After the ride I could see that it needed to be tighter, as it had slid back a good 8 inches.
We walked around the track once, then I asked Chance to trot. I could tell he wanted to gallop, not trot, so I let him go, but kept him at a moderate speed. The turns did ride a little better, which was nice. Chance wanted to go fast, but he did listen and rated well. I only went around twice, as I could tell I wasn’t as strong as normal, but I was happy to note I was much more fit than I expected. After galloping, I rode around the field for a while, which was enjoyable. Chance is learning to be relaxed and trust me when we leave the familiar “work area”, I was very proud of him.
It felt good to be back in the saddle, and I’m looking forward to riding Zola tomorrow.
I was overly optimistic in thinking I could ride days ago. A quick walk down the road, which is basically the farm driveway, and I was whipped and panting. This recovery process has been quite the experience. At first, doing any kind of activity resulted in a rapid drop in blood sugar. Clearly I had nothing left stored in my system. After that – this was when I thought I was okay – doing any kind of “work” wore me out very quickly. But, finally, this past Friday, I felt good. Not okay, good.
I have truly been taking it easy – with the exception of one trimming day per week – and now it was time to see if I was truly better. The test? A little weed whacking. Since the drought, it has rained quite a bit (thankfully!!) and the grass and weeds have really grown. I limited myself to trimming around the foundation of the house, the horse trailer, and the travel trailer. I forced myself to stop – I felt good and wanted to do more – to avoid doing more than my body was ready for. I was tired, but it was a good tired, not an out of breath, I have to sit down, tired. And I slept good that night!
The next day, I felt good and decided to do a little mowing, just a section along the fence line, between the fence and the road. Again, though I wanted to keep going, I stopped. I don’t want to ever be in the state I was in last month again. It’s hard to overcome the desire to see something finished – for me anyway. The road that runs through the farm (the part I mow) is at least 1,000 feet. To mow both sides is to mow 2,000 feet. And I want it mowed!! As well as the track (3 passes is over 4,500 ft ). But I resisted the temptation to do more.
Sunday I mowed some of the yard.
After all that work I felt good. Better actually, as you can’t really get strong by resting. Yesterday, Monday, I was going to mow some more of the yard, but the track called to me. It’s amazing how much growth there was, it would have been impossible to gallop through the weeds that clustered along the clubhouse turn. I decided to just do the turn, mow it, and reconfigure it in the hope it would ride a little faster. Today, if it doesn’t rain, I’ll do the far turn. Then tomorrow, the stretches.
My thinking was, if I’m not strong enough to mow (some), I’m not strong enough to ride. So now I’ve mowed, I feel good, and I’m truly ready to ride!!
The owner of the property at the end of the road was here on Sunday. The place is just his occasional weekend getaway and hunting property, so he’s only here once a month or so, to mow. Of course he has a ride-on mower, while I have a push mower. Different beast altogether.
While I was talking with his wife, it dawned on me to ask if he minded if I trail rode in his woods (they border mine). He is fine with it, so I can look forward to some good riding!
Though I haven’t ridden Chance, I notice that he’s feeling good. When he walks he does so with some real energy (new), and he often trots along instead of walking (new). I think the exercise he had been getting, followed by a break (my break!) has done him some good. Hopefully, training can now continue and we can actually make it to the races this fall.
And the break actually had an upside for me as well. I was able to get my book published! The title is Natural Barefoot Trimming: The Hoof Guided Method, and it’s for sale on Amazon.