back again, with more trouble from my OTTB
Hey guys. Remember me and my ex-racehorse, ex-cross country horse, 5-year-old green TB, Baron? I told you 9 out of 10 times he refused to listen, wasn’t good about his leads, spooked at absolutely everything, galloped over fences 2’3 to 2’6, leapt/reared into the canter, and after he’d cantered his trot would be choppy, fast, his head would be high and tense, and he was overall just a ball of nerves and anticipation. You told me to take a couple huge steps back and just walk, trot, and eventually reintroduce the canter for a while. It made perfect sense, I rode him this way every day for 7 weeks straight, and at first it seemed to have worked. We’ve even dug out the old Pessoa rig and have been lunging him in it at the walk and trot, working him up to about 20 minutes total without the clips even attached to the rings [we have them clipped and then tied to the rope, about five inches away from the clip so that his head is just past or on the vertical]. My trainers and I have also been riding him in draw reins once or twice a week. He looks wonderful: enough fat that his ribs no longer show, his back end and topline finally built up; even his hooves have a better, higher heel that when he arrived with his long, low, racehorse feet. After we took off the draws, he’d still be a bit tense with his neck and head, but would settle in and finally relax after about 5-10 minutes of straight trotting. He stopped leaping into the canter from the trot and eventually his canter became relaxed, smooth, and the best it’s ever been. Still though, there were as many ups as there were downs. Some days he’d be tense and fast and flip out every time he passed a jump, and other times he’d be fine. He was so inconsistent, but when he was good, he was really good, so we took him to a 3-day show just for flat classes, only 2 one day and 3 the next at that. On the schooling day, we tackled the cover arena as well as his regular open one, and I schooled him until he was relaxed and did look at anything in both. The next day, he was flawless in warm-up, but as soon as we got into the show ring he was more of his old self: fast, tense, and nervous. He even tried to leap into the canter from the trot without cues again, something he hadn’t done in a long time. The next day, I schooled him in draw reins before my 3 flats, and they were his best hack classes ever. We were still low in the ribbons, because they were hunter classes and while he was relaxed, slow, and flowing in his movements, that head and neck were still tense and high. But he didn’t leap, our transitions were flowing, he picked up the correct lead every time, his trot was more relaxed than ever, and he was finally, finally evenly paced. I was ecstatic, because after all that work, after tough rides every single day he was improving. Finally, we saw progress.
We had to leave the show before the third day for a week vacation, and so I asked my trainers to ride him for me a few times while I was gone and at long last take him over a few x’s. But we came back to bad reports. One trainer had only ridden him twice, and in her attempt to jump him over a 16’’ cross rail, fell off. It was like he’d never seen a jump before in his life. He’d refuse, or go in really tight and scoot over it, or jump it like it was 4 feet high every time. It was just one x, and when he didn’t improve over it after god knows how long, she just trotted him around the arena. The next training ride, no jumping, just hacking with draws, and he still had way too much energy. I got back three days ago. Rode him in a lesson first with draws and then without the first day, and he was great. Relaxed, pretty evenly paced, and no jumping. The next day, I just took him on a little walk-trot trail ride around the property to get out of the arena. Yesterday, I rode him in a flat field next to the arena that’s set up with three jumps. Did him over poles for a while, then put a pole between the standards. Hitched one end up on the lowest hole trotted him over. He looked a bit, but didn’t leap, just stepped over it. Put the other end up and trotted him again, and he ducked his head to look but jumped fine: no scooting, and he didn’t jump like it was 4 feet. I did it a few more times until it was perfect, then took him up.
I just got back from my lesson today. He was the worst he’s ever been. Fussy with the draws, tense, nervous, and fast the whole way through, and even though he’s been ridden in this arena for months, he spooks at everything on a regular basis, but today he was even wilder. I took him over an 18’’ x with a flowerbox probably 25 times, back and forth, and my trainer was right, it was like he’d never seen a jump before. He didn’t improve, just continued to scoot, duck to look, leap like it was huge, and overall didn’t listen to me one bit.
Now, I’m scared, frustrated, and upset. Scared, because I don’t want to ruin him, like it’s so easy to do with OTTBs. Scared because we paid 12,000 for him, and if we got to the point where we had to sell, I doubt we’d get 5,000. Frustrated because I’ve put so much time and effort into this horse and now we’ve fallen back even farther than where he was when we got him. Upset because who wouldn’t be? He’s so inconsistent that I just don’t know what to do anymore. It would be better if he was steadily bad or good, so at least we’d have something to work with. And it’s hard, continuing to go from such a proud high whenever he’s good to a low the next day when he’s bad again. I just don’t know what to do, it’s like I’ve come across the one horse you can’t train.
I’m sorry this was so long, and I’m sorry this was more of a vent then anything, but my trainers aren’t giving me anything new to work with, so I’m asking you guys. Do you have anything for me that we can do at home? I want to send him to a month or two of professional training, but my mom doesn’t think we can afford that. So, please, any bit of help is extremely appreciated. All I want is a tiny little bit of steady improvement.
Hang in there! If you've gotten him to relax even a handful of times, you can get there again!
Maybe you need to spend more time on the ground with him? I know with my new Appy, the more time I've spent on the ground, the more responsive he's been in the saddle. And he was extremely tense when I got him too. So maybe focusing on more the ground will improve your relationship in the saddle.
Not sure what else to offer, as I'm not there to see what he does, or just how he is reacting.
first of all with an OTTB it takes a looooottttt of time for them to become regular horses. you should not be trotting anything until he is not tense and relaxed all the time, as far as your trainer riding him, he's prob scared and that's why he's doing that. i noticed with all the OTTB's ive trained they usually bond really well with that one person and will do anything for them, anyone else, good luck. you have to understand that they can be fine one day then crazy the next until they completely understand everything will be ok. it takes ALOT of positive reinforcement to get them into this mind set. so spending time with him even just grooming or walking him in hand is very beneficial. but those days when he's freaking out go back to square one and start over, for a lot of these horses routine is essential to get them to relax and start to trust, do not be frustrated or beat yourself up for this just trust your horse and he will trust you and just keep moving forward. One of my TB's that we dont know if she was an OTTB or not but she was abused pretty bad, it took me 4yrs to fix her and turn her into a good horse that wasnt afraid of her own shadow. i know it makes u want to pull your hair out and cry, trust me i cant tell you how much i did that. but this will make you a better rider and person and he is going to teach you a lot and you will teach him a lot. but you must take your time and it will all be worth it.
I agree with the above post. OTTB's seem to put a lot of importance on trust. Once you have mutual trust with a TB, they'll lay down in traffic for you. I'm sure it does take a lot more time with some than others. I also think they are more fragile than some other breeds, and need to know someone is up there to take care of them. I find when mine gets difficult or defiant, instead of getting into him and escalating the fight, I instead have to take things back a notch and get him settled down before re-asking for the thing that created the fight in the first place. I also think that most acting out comes from the frustration of not knowing what is being asked of them. Once it's made for clear for them, they feel safe.
That all being said, just keep doing what you're doing. Keep things consistent and very clear for him. The second he feels overfaced, back things down so he realizes you're not going to overface him and that you're there to take care of him. Even if you have to ride at the walk for the next month, make sure to ride every step he takes. Ditch those draw reins and teach him to walk on the bit. Keep his mind engaged by varying the steps to include leg yeilds, shoulder-ins, hanches-in, circles, etc. You've obviously already had success at getting him to relax, so you know what works for both of you. Keep it all available and use it the second he tenses up.
Possibly relevant to his varying disposition, what is he eating, and any chance he had Lyme disease? I ask about food since high carb diet can make a horse loony, alfalfa tends to affect TBs more than some breeds and Lyme disease can cause rapid personality shifts.
Hang in there. Consistency is the key.
I agree with Puck. ditch the draw reins. the draws plus lunging him with his head forced on the vertical that you may be asking too much, too quickly. just ride him with reins (maybe a martingale if it would help) and just go back to basics. it sounds like he is just overwhelmed, frustrated, and scared (of the jumps is what it sounds like). race horses need lots of time to recover from their former lives and most haven't learned a lot about how to behave. their just raced and then stuck back in a stall. try to get him moving forward, but soft on a rein with just gentle pressure. it just sounds like he needs more time. he's still going to have bad days, but if you let him stay in a comfort zone for a while, he'll start to feel more confident and i think some of this bad behavior will disapear. i hope this helps. i havent retrained any OTTB's but i did retrain an arab that had been bounced around for years becuase he was "unmanageable". all he needed was time to realize that he could do the things people were asking of him. feel free to message me if you have any more questions. and good luck with him! he's lucky to have someone now that cares so much about him. i dont have relaly any experience jumping so i can't give you any pointers there.
Do you have a huge turnout you could leave him safely in overnight? Most of the time the trouble with the OTTB's is they never learned how to be a horse, and an ideal situation would be a six month pasture stay with other horses, then brought back into training. A big overnight turnout might burn some of that energy without excessive lunging or chasing which can either break a horse down, or get them so fit that they need more work to get the energy out, causing a vicious cycle. Also, what are you feeding? 9 times out of 10, to much energy, nervous or otherwise, is because of feed. Change to grass and no grain! Don't make the switch overnight, but gradually. As for the training issues, it can just take time and experience, he will probably get it eventually, just pay attention to any improvement, and realize when good enough just has to be enough. Burning off his energy with turnout and low energy feed, might be enough to correct his ADD. Sounds like you are taking lessons, training is always helpful when you are impatient about how long it is taking to get the results you want, but learning how to do it yourself sometimes takes longer. Keep getting as much help as you can and let me know if the turnout/feed change helps any.
A 5 yo Thorobred is a very young horse and one just about to enter adolescence. He may look to be a big strong guy, but in his head he is still a youngster. You seem to be keen to move him on but he gets all nervous and fearful and he forgets what you have already taught him.
Well, your frustration and some frustration is coming through to him. He knows you are getting angry - he can sense it.
My fear would be that if you push him on too quickly then he is going to learn how to evade you and he'll develop some bad habits.
Go back and do the basics all over again. Take off the pressure. Little and often. Lots of praise. Talk to him with soft voice, No whips. Do some work on the ground. Let him see your face. Let him smell you. Let him feel your hands. Create for him a regular routine.
It takes time -especially for a highly bred youngster who has had several different owners. TBs can be very sensitive creatures.
Watch the food intake, no high protein high power stuff. Fresh green grass is enough but watch how much he gets.
Then as he settles bring him back into training but slowly. It is not easy to persuade a horse to follow your human schedule - he has his own equine priorities.
I would def take a look at what he is eating and maybe even have vet check him out for any issues with his back, etc. I have also been told magnesium deficiency can cause bad behavior. He is young and it may just take time. I know its frustrating. Try to hang in there. As for selling him, I would not even think about that right now. I am kind of curious where you bought an OTTB for that much, in my area they are usually about $1,000 so even if he was going well under saddle at least the way the market is in Florida you would be lucky to get $3,000.
Sorry to be blunt but just wanted to encourage you to stick with it rather than try to sell him at a loss. Stick around on this forum and it will help you deal with the frustration. (I know its helped me)
You have made a lot of progress, you got him to a show already and he didn't explode, that is something to be proud of. How long have you had him?
Good luck and let us know how its going.
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