One Year With An OTTB: Oh The Things We’ve Learned

If you can believe it’s been a whole year since my darling Thoroughbred walked off the trailer from the track then well, that makes at least one of us because I sure can’t! That also conveniently means that we can officially celebrate one year of running this blog!

Yes indeed ladies and gentlemen, it’s been exactly ONE YEAR to the day since the racehorse formerly known as Sure Prize rolled down the driveway and what a year it’s been! It’s been an actual process of blood, sweat, and tears and truth be told I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I look back at the past year it’s been one giant crash course in training, riding, patience, and perseverance. My abilities were tested from the very start and I knew that if this relationship were going to be a beneficial one to either of us, it was going to take a whole lot of work on my part.

So work our butts off we have. Little by little, one day at a time, one training session at a time. And through all of that work we’ve learned. The operative word here? WE have learned.

A few examples.

We’ve walked through fire… and also over a sheet of plywood, both of which turned out to be equally as difficult and terrifying. While we may not hard tie, we’ve compromised and started to understand the concept of ground tying. We walk and trot and canter all (mostly) under control and with steering (most of the time). We tolerate fly spray after being VERY opposed to the idea a year ago! But ask us to walk a center line and we’ll do our best impression of a drunken toddler… we can’t be perfect after only a year together.

After all we’ve had bigger demons to slay — like cows. The killer cows sent Indy into orbit the first time he laid eyes on them. And despite his initial shock and awe, he recovered enough by the second day for us to do our best impression of a cowboy and his trusty ranch horse. We might not be winning any AQHA World Championships any time soon but we can certainly hold our own (in the class with the rest of the greenies and TBs).

We’ve worked on balance and straightness, rhythm and relaxation, and slowly it all started coming together. Like a puzzle with hundred of pieces, once we got the foundation in place we’ve started adding in the more difficult features — jousting, walking through tarps, learning the gate and barrel pattern.

There were also times when things got incredibly difficult with him and when, after landing an involuntary dismount, I was honestly a little afraid to ride. And then I got thrown from someone else’s horse and as I said that day, there’s no better way to make your own horse look damn good than to fall off of someone else’s.

We worked through the uncertainty to build towards certainty, trust and confidence. When the going got tough I didn’t walk away, WE went back to basics.

If I can give any new OTTB trainers or amateur OTTB trainers any advice it would be this: work to make every session educational and enjoyable. It’s not always about all work and no play; in fact I would say that some of our most productive sessions have been when we started without an agenda and slowly started focusing on issues as they came up. Brick by brick. And most importantly: have patience and do not compare yourself or your progress to others. It won’t change where you’re at and it will only make you frustrated. Focus on improving your skills and building your relationship with your horse.

The retraining process is a never-ending one and while the Sure Prize and I still have a long ways to go we’ve already made some serious improvements in the one short year we’ve been together.

The satisfaction you get from retraining an OTTB isn’t something for the faint of heart and it isn’t something that happens overnight. But if you’re willing to be patient and work from the ground up you might find yourself enjoying the process in the meantime.

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