We Might Have A Racehorse After All

No, I didn’t see the Belmont, either. I got home right after the race. I had to work today, and I went straight to the barn afterward. There was a brief break in the rain and I wanted to take full advantage! It had been an actual storm earlier, so everyone was inside. Lucky wasn’t too upset about coming out, though everyone seemed mildly disappointed I wasn’t coming to feed them.

Going from our start in the arena, I wasn’t sure that this was going to be such a good day. Lucky was fine for mounting, and he walked nicely, but trot got a little high-headed, and cantering started out more up than forward. I tried a few circles, a fairly flat figure eight, changes on the diagonal. The outdoor arena is sand, but it’s not a perfect square–there’s a wide strip of grass along one long side that makes it kind of an oblong L shape. We were having more issues than last week with the left lead, and I decided it might be a good idea to try cantering straight along the grass. I took up rein (yes, the splint is off, and I’m supposed to be working my finger to get the stiffness out), got my leg on–and we were at a bouncing jog, moving at a 45-degree angle to the track. I sat deep and he went back to a walk, head still up. I decided to try some more trot circles, and he decided to go back to lugging towards the gate corner and refusing to stay in a trot.

Because they’d been inside, I’d opened the gate to Lucky and Dino’s paddock, figuring we’d go ride in the field. Given his mind didn’t seem to be with the program, I considered not bothering. I’m honestly not sure why I changed my mind. The old me definitely would have stayed in the arena, or even switched to the round pen. Today I decided that the rain was holding off, I don’t often have the pastures to myself, and if he was worse out there, I could always get off. So we opened the gate, and despite that being his wonky corner in the ring he backed for it and went right out. In my head, I was planning on keeping it to a walk on loose reins, but once we got in the pasture (it’s probably about five or six acres; the one Trudy, Takota, and Dom share is a bit bigger) it just seemed too wide-open to pass up, so I asked for a trot. This time, it didn’t take nearly as much leg and no reminder taps with the whip. At this point, with no swerves at the fence or runs for the gate, I figured what the heck and asked for a canter, in the general direction of his favorite, ie the right, lead.

Needless to say he picked up a left.

A few entries back, Natalie at Retired Racehorse wrote a post about letting a retired racehorse act like a racehorse once in a while. We weren’t quite blowing it out (for a start, I don’t think Lucky really wants to work THAT hard) but we were definitely were not working circles and figure eights. He still wasn’t exactly leaping into a soft, round, show-ring-ready canter, but on the grass with me in two-point he was much more forward, far less interested in stopping but ready to come back when I stood up and asked. And the idea of going forward bothered me substantially less than it used to. I don’t remember how long it took for me to be comfortable with Benny wanting to go fast, let alone with the idea of riding outside the nice safe ring.

I suspect the difference is with Benny, I was twelve, and pretty much all I knew about racehorses I learned from watching network coverage of Grade I stakes (this was in the pre-TVG days), and reading Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry books. I had no idea about any of the nitty-gritty details, like how ‘pull’ means ‘go faster’, what kind of stabling hours they are used to, or how alien the idea of rounding and bending can be. I also didn’t have any idea that most of them, at least those who’ve been at it for a while, really will stop if you just ask nicely. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to test that theory in the open hay field (with no fences, and two roads, and those dogs across the street with no fences on their side) and on the track (all of the above, plus I know from hand-walking him that he knows what it’s for). But I am figuring it might be worthwhile investing in a neck strap and reins that are easier to grip.

Just someone stop me from buying the white leather. Fashion aside, it would be a pain the rear to keep clean.

Bit of Bother

The weather is indeed very much improved. It’s colder than I think it ought to be in May, but it was sunny and clear, which was an improvement. (And of course cold means fewer bugs, so even that has its good points.)

I think that Lucky is not feeling the love for the jointed Uxeter Kimberwicke. First, he continued to be a butt about bridling, though part of that might be I can’t use my left hand as effectively with the splint on. Once I’m up, the curb action seems to prevent the giraffe imitations he was doing with the D ring snaffle, but he chews constantly and turns his head side to side, as with the Dee. I was trying the Kimberwicke as I think the rubber pelham I have is a little too large (not width of his mouth, thickness of the bit), but the only one I have on hand is jointed. In fact besides the pelham everything I have is a single-joint: the kimberwicke, the copper dee, a jointed eggbutt that is 5 1/4″ and would therefor be too big for him, and a full cheek that came with the used bridle that’s 4 3/4″ and would be too small. I think I need to find a thinner mullen mouth pelham, rubber if possible.

Or maybe I should borrow one of the BO’s Tom Thumbs. I have never encountered a horse less interested in bit contact. I almost wonder if he’s afraid that if he leans on the bit I’ll ask him to run! In the bits with a curb, he limits his head-lifting, but I’m starting to think I could ride him without the snaffle rein. Even at the trot (and the canter, when we get it) he’s going off my leg, but largely ignoring the bit. He’ll turn from the rein if I ask, he lowers his head if I tap the curb, but in general he goes forward from the leg, slows from the seat, and he’s grasping when to move laterally away from the leg as well. He even managed a very slow, very hesitant, lots of encouragement turn on the forehand today. (All right, moving away from the right leg required a bop from the bat behind my leg, and both directions took a VERRRRY long time, but it’s not a timed event, and he didn’t back or try to walk forward more than a step.) He also stretched at a stand-still til his nose touched my boot.

Yes, I did all this with the splint. We stuck to the round pen, as I didn’t want to chance anything where I might need to really have use of my left hand. We even got something of a canter, and it only took two tries for it to be the left lead. I’ll see the bone and joint specialist tomorrow, and hopefully get some idea about when I can start getting some use back.

Gone Walkabout

Between cramps, fatigue, and just a general desire not to deal with anything up to and including getting out of bed (fortunately for the dogs’ bladders I managed that part) I decided not to ride today. Instead, I figured if I did a lot of grooming, I might not get all the winter fuzz off, but there’d be less of it next time. In an interesting inverse of my old horse, Lucky appears to be shedding out to a darker summer coat than his red-brown winter coat. Benny would turn black in the winter, and shed out to seal brown. Today he got the curry, the stiff brush, the soft brush, and the rub rag, and he was more than happy to stand there all day if I wanted. I’m starting to see the light at the end of the winter-coat tunnel.

And it’s not that I doubt the vet. But I still very strongly question her calling the bare patches and dandruff sarcoids. For one thing, I wouldn’t expect those to respond to iodine and bag balm. I am tempted to treat one of the spots with a topical fungicide and see if that speeds any healing. I had thought about giving him a full iodine bath today, but the high today was maybe the low fifties.

So instead we took a walk. The farm has a training track–nothing too impressive, just a half-mile sand oval that’s pretty narrow. I haven’t had Lucky out there before, and I’m honestly not entirely sure he recognizes it as a track, or at least I wasn’t three-quarters of the way around. Even though we did spend the last furlong with him jogging and crab-stepping, I don’t know for certain that he decided this was a track and that was appropriate, or if he was simply anxious to get back to the pasture area and closer to the other horses. We also hit the scary, scary woods and the trails there, and in that case I’m pretty sure it’s simply that he can smell and hear the others, but can’t see them. Especially when Dom and Peanut (next door horse) started calling. As long as he had the chain on, my arm got tired, but he kept it to prancing. We also had a lesson while walking on the track in “Crowd my space, get poked with my elbow.” Lucky does at times have issues when walking with “my space” versus “his space.” He’s not being aggressive, just I think genuinely clueless.

After our walk, he got another rubdown and his iodine and liniment, followed by cookies and a peppermint (his favorite part of the day.) When I put him back in his pasture, he had a gallop in a circle before settling down to graze. No bucks, and it wasn’t exactly a flat run, but it’s good to see him being a horse.

I brought home his extra halter (the track halter) to clean so I can swap them out and clean the one he’s wearing, which has sand ground into it. I cannot be the only person out there who gets fed up with the fuzzies and sponge bits from trying to use a rag or sponge and just puts the mink oil on with their hands, right? Right?

Also: In the time it took to write this, I normally would have scanned most of my favorite forums on COTH. Instead, I barely finished reading the one thread about McLain Ward and Sapphire at the World Cup. I don’t know what’s a bigger train wreck, the FEI ruling or this thread. I can’t believe it took until page 17 or 18 to get Godwined, but it’s still going on. Godwin means thread’s over, guys!

Little Good, Little Bad…

Mostly the weather. Bad. BAD. Mid-forties, constant rain, and wind. The kind of weather that’s depressing when you’re indoors.

Of course, where was my crazy horse when I got to the barn today? Horse who has all-day access to his nice cozy stall with straw and a full bucket and a manger full of hay? Standing out with his butt against the east fence in the cold rain. Though he wasn’t all that unhappy about being taken inside. Grooming involved quite a bit of scraping and toweling–though oddly enough mostly on his right side. He just seems to get dirtier on his right side.

The farrier came on Tuesday. I wasn’t able to be there, as I had programs to do at a school fifteen miles the other way from home. Because of the garbage weather, I didn’t take my camera today, and I wish I had, because I took some “before” shots of his feet last weekend. And they were pretty darn ugly. Lots of flaking where the nail holes were growing out, his right front (with the quarter gouge) was very obviously too long and his left front was very clearly too short and too heel-high. Well, Rich again worked miracles. His front feet aren’t perfectly even yet, but they’re much, much closer. There’s nary a speck of flaking or shelling to be seen. Could we have a barefoot OTTB? Stay tuned. (And for those concerned, this farrier wouldn’t hesitate to put on shoes if Lucky needed them.)

Call me crazy, but we saddled up anyway. Lucky decided that he was not going to be especially cooperative today. I suspect a HUGE part of that was the weather. It took several tries to stand for mounting in the big ring (though to his credit he did not step off until I asked once I was up) and then we’re back to inverted, head up, evade, today with bouncy bouncy instead of a dead stop. It became clear pretty quickly he was not going to pay attention and we were both getting soaked, so I decided to settle for a circle and a halt. He had the circle down, but the instant we were into the wind the halt went out the window. A request for a ‘stand’ was interpreted as ‘back’, and the instant pressure back released he was bouncing forward again. I finally got off without a good halt and decided that if the big ring was full of too many interesting things we could try the round pen. It’s a rail fence, and not quite six feet high, so he can still see out of it just fine, but it limits his options (and is a little farther from interesting things like the pasture and the horse who lives on the other side of the woodlot.) He was not thrilled that we were going to the round pen instead of away and we had another minor discussion about standing to mount. I won, faster this time. Again, he didn’t step out until I asked (smart boy!) and this time we had a minimum of bouncy-bouncy. And I’m quite pleased the gate swinging a bit on its hinges was not even worth his attention. He’s a looky-lou at times, but he seems to at least reserve it for things which are actually interesting. By this point, my nose is running, we’re still wet, it’s still windy and we’re still cold, so we went around the ring a couple times, and as soon as I got a good, steady, continued halt, we were done. When I left after wiping down him and the tack, he at least seemed to have decided the nice warm stall was the place to be.

On the subject of his needing to be looking around, I registered at calracing.com, which has race replays from several tracks outside California, including Tampa Bay, Presque Isle Downs, and Delaware Park. So I registered and got a chance to actually watch Lucky run. I find it very educational that his trainers have felt it prudent to run him in blinkers. My old OTTB Benny was, according to his race owners, very prone to racehorse ADD–“Hey, look, a horse to my right! Oh, wow, is that a crowd over there? Hi people!” He ran in blinkers. I also VERY much enjoyed his race from July 1, 2008 at Delaware, where he went off as the longest shot in the field, 25-1, and paid $60 to win after getting out front and opening up too much daylight to get caught when he started to fade. It’s also good to know, looking at his front-running trend, if he ever runs away with me I just need to hold on ’til the 3/4 pole and he should be done. (Kidding, but he does show a pattern of going to an early lead and being done at 3/4 and fading.)

Saddle Note

Bid in on a saddle on ebay. We shall see….(Oh, well, if I don’t get this one, there’s another that’s a Buy It Now, not auction.)

The good news weather-wise is, no more snow. The bad news is it’s supposed to rain all weekend. I just keep telling myself at least it’s not snow.

Stick-to-it-ive-ness

No pictures today. I didn’t take the camera, plus it takes so long to upload things on dial-up. (Yes, I am living in the stone age here with the dial-up.)

Lucky was not exactly thrilled to see me. He was less thrilled by whoever was walking a dog in the hay field, which he could see through the barn door. (The BO wasn’t thrilled, either, because there wasn’t supposed to be anyone walking their dog out there.) Also a little weirded out by two of the BO’s grandchildren walking around the farm, but he got over that.

We were back in the round pen today, which is getting even muddier, as it made it to the low 50s here today. And Lucky apparently decided on a total work stoppage. We went around on the left rein a couple times, and he just planted his feet. Turning his head, he demonstrated he can flex really far, but he ignored leg completely and he wasn’t going to be tipped off balance and made to move. Needless to say, the grandkids were watching, and I suspect were unimpressed with my mad riding skillz. T., the boy, asked if he could try. I asked if he had a helmet. While he went to get it (no arguments; his grandmother’s rule is helmets on if you’re riding on the place) I got off and walked Lucky to see if he was sore. Really, I have not had a horse who was NOT sore stop so dead on me. He walked sound, so I readjusted the saddle. I had to laugh that T. has apparently never seen English stirrups run up before. I got up with the shifted saddle, and still no movement. T. got on. Since he’s never ridden with double reins I told him to just leave the curb rein down and try with the snaffle.

Now, maybe I am a wuss for letting a kid get up on my horse when I’m having issues. I think the part where I was really a wimp was I let T. try the crop after I had passed on it. I admit, I am leery about using a crop on an OTTB, largely because my Old OTTB never forgot what a racing whip meant: “Go fast.” Also, if he really WAS hurting, I did not want him to feel like he HAD to move, or that bucking was an option. However, that does not seem to be an issue for Lucky. T. tapped him and he walked on, not with a great deal of enthusiasm, but he did walk on. T. kept going on about how ‘smooth’ Lucky is, and found it hard to believe when the BO asked what he thought about Lucky being a racehorse. He wanted to know if Lucky was a trotter or pacer? It was nice to stand back and watch Lucky move, too. He doesn’t step out more than he has to, but he has a very fluid walk.

I did get back on, juggling the double reins and the stick–it’s strange learning to handle one as I don’t think I’ve carried one since I first started and a few of the schoolies at the Arab barn I rode at needed one. Lucky does seem to need a tap or two. I don’t know if it is soreness–he had some spots, according to the massage therapist, but nothing major. It might also be his teeth, as he does need them done. And I really do think he’s assumed that because the shoes are off, he is on vacation. If there is anything with his feet, we’ll know Tuesday, as the farrier was due. I think it may be some combination of ‘all of the above.’ The teeth should provide a major change, and the search for a reasonably inexpensive close-contact saddle, that might be lighter on his back, continues.

I got a new toy!

Anybody want to see Lucky?

I decided to bite the bullet and buy myself a digital camera. So of course since it arrived Friday afternoon I’ve been one of those obnoxious people, taking pictures of everything just because I can. I’m sure if anyone saw me taking photos of things like the house way across the snow-covered field while I was walking the dogs they thought I was odd. That’s okay.

So of course I took the camera to the barn. Fortunately the weather was cooperating and it was nice and sunny. Lucky is not exactly looking sleek and shiny, but I’m sure the shedding will start soon enough. And he could be so much muddier than he is. We’re now in the stage where the ground is going from soft to squishy, and there are places where the mud’s pretty deep and slick. I rode in the round pen, for the most part (that’s where the picture is from) and he is back to using stopping as a means of protest. I don’t think he’s sore. He doesn’t move as if anything is hurting him. I think he just is not entirely sure what he’s supposed to be doing, and if he stops and stands, maybe the crazy lady will stop poking him. I also made a point of riding out of the ring again, past the place where he had his tantrum last week. Because this was tricky enough, I dismounted, walked him to the other ring, got back on (for once I wanted him moving out as he was so close to the fence on his right side I couldn’t get the stirrup) and rode him out. There was a little bit of inversion, but no big giant freakouts.

For those looking, yes, that’s a pelham on him. I find that I am appreciating certain things about the way my old trainer did things. An OTTB is not a blank slate. They’ve been ridden, in a very particular way, and they don’t necessarily get it the way you might think a horse ought to. On the other hand, a good part of the reason I decided to switch to the pelham was that he was ignoring me and I wanted some flexibility in how I got his attention. Today, for example, I rode almost entirely off the snaffle rein, but I used the curb for some finer points. The old trainer didn’t even put the curb rein on the bridle, which would kind of eliminate all the things I needed to do with that bit. He does not seem to chew, head-toss or fuss as much with the bit with the pelham (it’s a rubber mullen mouth) when I touch the reins and I am wondering if the straight mouthpiece is more comfortable than a broken bit like the D.

Besides, on the shallow end, I think the pelham looks very proper-hunterish, and since I have the hands for it, why not?

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