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.