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.
The weather was again great. Lunged Zola, who went very nicely, with weak bucks at the canter, and actually had one depart without a buck.
Lena was next and she was very good, relaxed and calm.
Sweet Tea was last and she was more willing to relax, though she was not actually relaxed. She was also much more willing to stop from the walk and it only took two whoa’s. At the trot she would go back to the walk most of the time. At the canter she was too tense to really listen, but did stop much better than yesterday. By the end of her session (no more than 15 minutes) she was listening for whoa, so she could get a treat.
Zola’s withers have come up since last year. She really is a beautiful girl, and those withers go all the way back past the middle of her rib cage.
Lena’s is growing – apparently focus is on her butt at the moment.
I wish I had taken good photos of Sweet Tea when she first arrived. She has definitely grown. When I initially saw her, my first impression was, “what a peanut”. She was tiny and all leg.
I’m going to try to get another photo of Zola and Sweet Tea together, as I am sure Sweet Tea is bigger. In the late fall I noticed that her butt was higher than her withers, and now her withers are again higher than her butt. I frequently get her confused with Chance. She was actually quite beautiful on the lunge – looks like a different horse when she’s moving – and is a good mover. It’s easy to see why she was fast. Hopefully, the new bigger, stronger version will be just as fast, if not faster.
I lunged Zola the other day (the 16th). I worked all day on Wed and Thu, then it poured all night Thu. Things dried out nicely yesterday (a miracle) and today I lunged her again. This is not for exercise, just to build a routine of work, work out kinks, and judge mood. Zola was very good, but still in a bucking mood when cantering.
I also lunged Lena, which is still pretty new for her. The last time she was lunged was October so I really felt we might have to start from scratch. She surprised me by being very good. Relaxed and just walked off on a nice circle. When I asked her to trot, she responded very well and with a nice easy trot. Then the unexpected happened. Horses never cease to amaze me. All the other horses came flying across the field at a full gallop, looking as if they’d never seen Lena before. Of course the excitement had an effect on Lena and she started pulling away. I held her but she reared (she is a rearer more than a bucker). She ended up falling down and then stepped on the lunge line, breaking it, and took off. What a bunch of lunatics! They ran around like idiots – acting like Lena was a new horse.
I just followed along and retrieved Lena. I tied my lunge line back together and put her back on the circle where she did very well – again. As I went to switch the line to the other side of the halter she started walking off, right into me, so I pushed her off and she galloped away. Geez. Another long walk to go get her again. Once again, back to the circle and she was fine. So it all went well.
It’s inconvenient training a horse in a huge field, but I do have to say that it sure makes for trained horses. A horse who will behave, be calm, and obey in the middle of a field is doing very well. Often horses who are calm and obedient in an arena are not all that calm or obedient when they leave it.
Finally it was Sweet Tea’s turn. I put her on the lunge line and she walked off nicely. She moved into a trot without being asked, and then into a nice canter. Since I want horses to know the words walk, trot, canter, and whoa, I asked her to whoa. She clearly had never heard that word before and as I started to ask her, with the line, to slow down, she went faster. I kept shortening the line and she really kind of panicked. Just before I finally got her to stop she was galloping around me in a 6 foot circle.
I was wearing my fanny pack with horse treats and gave her one for stopping.
We spent the rest of the time working on walking and stopping. She was very good at walking, but really not sure about stopping, though she did finally get to the point where it only took 4 whoas. For each actual stop she got treats. It’s sad to see that while she is a very good girl, she really has only learned one thing. Go. The confusion and near panic at being asked to slow is especially telling. One also has to wonder if she was rateable, or if her resistance to slowing down is the reason she always went right to the front. I didn’t get the impression that stopping was something she didn’t want to do, but was instead something she didn’t think she was supposed to do.
I think Sweet Tea will return to the track this year as a more mature and confident runner. Not to mention slightly bigger and definitely sounder.
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.
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.
Several weeks ago – not too long before the heat wave – I was riding Chance and suddenly realized I was thinking about racing him at Kentucky Downs. I couldn’t believe it. I was day dreaming while riding!
Since then I have been so much more relaxed, especially on Zola. Not that I was tense, but I didn’t have the naturalness and lack of concern that I had years ago when I rode regularly. I guess it could be called trust – not just in the horses, but in myself. Being comfortable in the saddle, no matter what I was doing.
Like bike riding, horseback riding is something you never forget, but if you stop bike riding for 10 or 15 years, you lose the naturalness you had years before. When I was in my early teens, I practically lived on my bike in the summer. I could ride with no hands for a very long way (miles). I could stop in a skid without thinking about it, I could coast in to a stop while standing up, on one side of the bike, standing on one pedal with one foot, while the other leg hung free. I never gave it a thought it just happened one day, naturally, and became part of my my muscle memory.
When I bought a bike in 2001 (at the age of 50) it was a very different story. I felt awkward. Turning was unnatural, stopping was unnatural. I had to think and plan. Then one day several weeks later, I realized I was riding with no hands. Just like that, it was back. Without a thought, without trying.
That’s what’s happened with my riding. Suddenly I feel just like I did when I rode all the time. At home in the saddle. Natural, comfortable, unconcerned. I don’t know when it happened, just when I noticed it. And what a great feeling it is!!
Last night, when the alarm on the HR computer went off, and I brought Chance to a walk, I didn’t feel he didn’t want to do anything, but like me, he didn’t really want to go around the track. Booooring. So I turned to the right and as soon as I did, Chance’s ears perked up. We rode toward the hill to the outside of the track – fairly steep but not long – and headed up. Chance broke into a trot, and then a canter. We turned left at the top and came down the slope (at a walk) that runs in the same direction as the track, then turned left again into a circle that led us back up the hill a second time. We came down again and headed back up the track the “wrong” way. Chance was trotting and I figured he was eager to be done and get his grain. But no, when we got to the spot where I normally dismount, he resisted stopping, so we just continued the wrong way down the stretch. We kept going straight, ignoring the turn, and headed to the road. Deciding to see how hard it would be – or if it would even be possible – to get to the big hill, we crossed the road and continued further down to an open area.
Turning left into the open area, we found it quickly narrowed into what might have been a path years ago. Chance was a little concerned, but much better than I expected. We plowed our way through thick weeds, crossed big flat rocks, went down into a little gulley, then back up the other side. Crossed fallen trees and twisted our way through undergrowth and woods. I know I was having fun and I think Chance was too.
We did make it to the hill! And we headed up. This part of the hill is wide open and just long grass. Last year it was mowed, so I know what the ground is like, and had no concerns about hidden holes or rocks. We walked for a short while, then Chance wanted to trot. I was amazed what a smooth, airy trot it was. He didn’t seem to be working hard at all. Eventually, he broke into a canter which felt just as good, answering the question,”is he fit enough to gallop up the hill?” I would say a definite yes!
At the top, I decided I didn’t want to try to find our way back through the woods, so opened the gate that leads into the horse enclosure and headed back that way. This of course required getting off and then getting back on – which was again, not pretty, but Chance was a trooper and didn’t move a muscle.
What a blast!
Interestingly, though we were out for quite a while altogether, the max heart rate remained 174, and the average HR for the entire ride – including the hill climbings was 159.
Below are some shots of the hill. In the first one, taken partway up and looking back down, you can see the hill in the field where the track is (sunny area to the right). All these photos were taken late last September. It looks very different now. The grass on the hill is over waist high, and if you look to the right of the fence, where all the weeds are, that is all now grazed down. Behind the clump of trees is a barn, and that tree that stands alone is huge and is in front of the barn. The power lines are about halfway up.
Click on images to view larger version.
At the end of the ride, I took off the monitor and realized why I can’t consistently get the HR monitor to report a heart rate. I do not girth up as tight as necessary to keep the electrode pressed against his skin. I’m not going to girth up any tighter, so will have to work out another solution. Maybe a pad between the sensor and the girth – to keep it closer to the skin. As for the GPS – it really does require a battery fresh out of the charger only minutes before use. That is extremely annoying, but easily solved.
Later, after I fed Chance his grain, I walked down to the end of the road to check something. On the other side of the fence, Zola whinnied and followed along. I took that to mean, “what about me?” “What about me?” I ducked in and gave her some scratches – how can you resist a horse who’s so clearly asking for attention? Makes me feel good that she wanted her turn.
I had ridden Zola the day before. It was hot and humid, so I kept it short. She was very good. We trotted and walked, stopped and started, cut across the center of the track for the heck of it, and to practice steering. She did everything I asked and was a good girl!
The day before, I rode Chance. I didn’t feel well, as I’d done too much mowing in the heat, but I wanted to work on getting the HR monitor and GPS down. We didn’t go far, 1.02 miles, we did gallop, with a max speed of 18.7 mph, and a max heart rate of only 115. And the HR monitor and GPS were both working. So I was pleased.
I’m still working on mastering the computer and the data on the web to get the data in graphical format. Quite a challenge, especially as the manual is terrible. Googling for better instructions revealed I am not alone in finding the manual lacking. Apparently the manual for a similar product is much better – so I have downloaded it and will read it later. I can only hope it clears some things up for me.
Last night I rode Chance, and of course continued to try to get the heart rate monitor and GPS both working at the same time!
I soaked the belt in water while I got Chance. Applied gel to the first electrode, which goes on Chance’s right side, just behind the wither. This one stays in place well. Then put the saddle pad on, and the saddle, applied gel to the electrode that goes under the girth, down behind Chance’s elbow. Then attached the strap to the electrode, which wraps around the girth for security. I then put on the GPS transmitter, which is on an elastic strap that goes around my upper arm (left arm), and the HR computer watch, which I wear on my left wrist. Put my helmet on and bridled Chance. I felt good! Things had gone smoothly, and I thought, “I’m getting the hang of this!”.
I turn the GPS on and see the blinking red light which means it’s searching for satellites. Good. We get to the mounting block and I get on. My plan was to turn the watch on just before we hit the track, so that the time is accurate. I turn the watch on and wait for the heart rate to come up. It’s then that I realize that I forgot to attach the transmitter to the belt! OMG. I ride Chance over to the trailer, hop off and attach the transmitter. I struggle to get back on – I haven’t mounted without a mounting block since 2009. Chance was so good! He stood still while I clambered up.
Walking back across the road to the track, the computer beeps and says Check GPS. I check the GPS and it’s off. I turn it back on, see the blinking red light – for 4 or 5 blinks – then it goes off. I give up on it, clearly the battery had been out of the charger too long!!!! Of all the annoying things. By now I am frustrated but happy to see a heart rate of 31. However, the fun is going out of riding.
We walk around the track halfway and then trot to get away from a big horse fly – it’s after 7 pm! Neither Chance nor I is really interested in working at this point, so he is trotting relaxed and slow. As we go around the clubhouse turn, the watch starts beeping. I look at it and see a HR of 174! (I had made changes last night, setting HR zones, hence the beeping.) I am shocked to see such a high heart rate. This is the second highest reading ever – with the highest rate coming at full gallop. I had watched the HR before, and with a good solid trot Chance’s HR had been 99.
I immediately asked Chance to walk. He seemed fine, I had noticed absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, except he was making that “squeaky” noise geldings make, which he normally doesn’t do. Other than that he seemed uninterested in working. The only thing different than normal was that he had been out grazing for an hour prior to my tacking him up, and I let him have a small drink on our way to the trailer. And by small, I mean 7 or 8 swallows. Could either or both of those things caused his heart rate to be high?
And here is where I see the real value of a heart rate monitor. As a rider I can feel certain things about my horse. I can tell when he’s off, I can tell when he’s not interested, I can feel when he’s eager to go, etc. But since horses are prey animals they tend to try to act as normal as possible. What are they hiding? We normally have no way of knowing – often until it’s too late. Horses have been known to die while being ridden. Most often it’s assumed it’s a “sudden” death. Perhaps it’s not so sudden. Perhaps the horse was in distress for some time, but as instinct demands, was acting normal.
I would like to see HR monitors made much smaller and simpler and have them be worn by all racehorses while training or racing. A higher than normal heart rate for a particular activity could mean many things; illness, stress, pain, that the horse had just taken a big drink of water before being tacked up for morning exercise, etc. Maybe horses who break down have skyrocketing heart rates from the pain of fatigue. Maybe horses that die of “heart attacks” had heart rates off the chart and if they had been pulled up, might have been fine when the cause was determined. Whatever an abnormal heart rate means, it certainly shouldn’t be ignored.
The other day an email from ThoroEdge Equine Performance included the following link:
The article made a lot of sense to me and prompted me to go out and measure the hill on the farm. Taking my wrist GPS, I hiked up the hill. I should say here that I have two GPS’s, my wrist Garmin for hiking, etc., and the Polar G1 which just transmits speed, distance, etc., to the Polar HR monitor wrist computer. The GPS revealed that the distance to the meadow at the top of the hill is 1056 feet (.2 miles or 1.6 furlongs) and the change in elevation is over 100 feet. So it’s a fairly steep slope, without being too steep. The horses frequently gallop up it, so it’s certainly rideable.
There is a way up the hill without going into the horses’ enclosure. It’s currently blocked by a fence, but my youngest son, Mike, will be here in a couple days, and my plan is to create a gate so that I can ride through. I will, of course, let Chance pick his own gait and pace until he gets fit enough to canter up the hill while carrying a rider. It will be interesting to see if his heart rate lowers as he gets more fit. I personally used to be able to hear my own heart beat the first dozen times I went up. I no longer hear it, and it doesn’t pound like it used to, but it sure does beat pretty hard.