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The Dark Side of Training

February 28, 2016

With the participants for the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover announced just 13 days ago, social media has since been liberally peppered with training blogs, horse-specific Facebook pages, videos, photos, and all sorts of other announements.  As an accepted participant, I did plan to eventually start up a blog and find ways to creatively showcase my OTTB along with the rest of the 480 trainers, but I wasn't in any hurry.  Although I had two eligible horses, I knew I didn't have time to support them both, so I focused my attention on the one that transitioned well and was loving life, and left the second one to gain some weight and be a horse.  Just last week, Horse #1 sold to a wonderful home with a well-known dressage professional as her potential Makeover horse.

With only one horse in the wings, I still wanted to put a pause on blogging until we got into the full swing of training to see if he was going to enjoy his job and make a good partner.  But, life gets in the way.

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Kasa (his full JC name) is a 17.0hh 2010 TB gelding with a big blaze and four white socks.  He is very friendly and has been quite the gentleman since coming off the track 8 weeks ago.  On the downside, we've been dealing with some stubborn weight-loss issues.  On the positive, he has been perfect about cross-tying, grooming, bathing, and standing for the farrier.  No nefarious, hidden track vices or habits so far.

 

I start all my horses in a rope halter, regardless of how trained they are.  It's incredible the amount of training you can get done and the amount of problems you can solve without even getting on.  A sturdy rope halter with an attached lead of good weight both simplifies and clarifies the connection from horse to handler.  As much as I would love to climb on my training-method soapbox, as trainers are wont to do, this initiatory post has other intentions.

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On Sunday, February 21, I had just returned from a jumper show with a student in Lexington after getting only an hour of sleep the night before (I bartend weekend nights - until 3:30am or so), and some small part of my sleep-deprived brain thought it would be a good idea to get Kasa out for a few minutes of ground work before going home to crash.  We made our way over to the tire pedestal to work on his listening skills.  Ten minutes, I told myself, just ten minutes.  Things were going well as we leg-yielded both directions around the tire, but as he stepped up the first time, the now-even-smaller human on the ground became less interesting than the new taller world from the tire (as seen above).

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​​After stepping all the way up and over the tire, I told myself, just one more time.  Two step-ups, ten minutes, then go home.  Back on the ground, his attention didn't return to me, even though we were back in the same zip code.  Somewhere between my slow reactions and his, I looped the rope in my hand and lightly tapped him on his rear after making noises and jumping up and down didn't catch his interest.  Instead of moving his hind end away from me, per usual equine reactions, it shot up and expelled a hoof, effectively high-fiving my right hand - both breaking and dislocating my thumb.

 

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 The moment I decided to start my first blog came as I sat in the hospital bed awaiting surgery.  Reading training blog after training blog, I realized that most of them just fed the peaches and cream of training.  There's nothing wrong with good reports; in fact, it's fantastic that everyone is so upbeat and progressing so nicely thus far.  On the receiving end of what I would term an unfortunate training day, I wanted that story to be shared as well.  It's not like something crazy happened; it was an unfortunate circumstance in training that just happened to put a major roadblock in our training.  I'm certainly not angry or upset with Kasa; I can list off way too many times I've tempted fate and come out unscathed.  If we, as equestrians, were scared of a little pain or the possibility of danger, we certainly wouldn't choose to put our lives in the hooves of beasts 10x our size with minds of their own.  We would take up cycling.  It was, though, a good kick in the seat on many fronts.  For one, when you know horses, their body language, and their reactions better than the back of your hand, it's easy to become lax and assume you can avoid getting accidentally hurt.  For two, running at breakneck speed in life, going from job #1 to job #2 to job #3 to riding my horses, and so on and so forth, isn't healthy. Nothing gets 100% of your effort or focus if you're stretched too thin.

So, take a moment for yourself today (and seriously be thankful for all your appendages).

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