Part Six; Routine & Work. But don’t forget Fun & Rest.
This one seems pretty self explanatory but I see so many people get it wrong time and time again. I really believe that if you do not have a balance of Work and Fun or Routine and Rest you will not end up being successful with an OTTB.
OTTB’s are used to a routine at the track, so keep that going. If they have been used to a routine since they were a baby then it is pretty fair to say that they will appreciate routine in their new life with you.
Routine’s are good for a number of reasons for your OTTB:
- They have a purpose; OTTB’s thrive on a sense of purpose. They love attention, can thrive under the correct kind of pressure and love to know what is coming next. So give them a sense of purpose by showing up to them and asking things from them.
- It keeps them interested; Boredom in an OTTB is like boredom in an anxious person. It will do no good whatsoever. A horse that is bored can become that horse who gallops around the paddock bucking and bolting. Sometimes that is okay if he/she is having a little play time, but if they take a fall or slip in the mud; it’s vet bills galore! So keep them interested and in work and they can mentally rest for the remainder of the day in your absence.
- Exercise; A healthy mind comes from good energy, exercise, breathing and a big hit of Seratonin! So keep that exercise coming for both of you.
- Consistency; Being consistent is key to any good relationship. Turn up on time, be the same cheery partner to your equine friend. If a certain behaviour is rewarded one day it cannot be corrected the next. Be consistent with him/her and they will know what to expect but also what is expected of them.
Work is one of the things I see people make mistakes with the most. Work is not putting your OTTB on the lunge and getting him under the whip in Canter until he is sweaty and dead-dog tired and “safe” for you to ride. That is cruelty. That is not work.
And you will end up with a horse that looks at you like this !
Work is working together, well at least that is what I think and like us humans work can be physical or mental.
When you are riding your horse it should be broken into a few stages.
The first stage being a Warm-Up, the second stage being a Revision, the third stage is Work/Training and the fourth stage is Cool-Down.
So work is only a quarter of what you should be doing when you ride.
Work can come in many forms. Work can be walking and learning to leg-yield. Yes it is more mental than physical; but it is work all the same. Work can be Walk to Canter transitions which is both mental and physical. You need to also be aware of how much work you should do with an OTTB. They are all different and all learn differently so try to make your training sessions to suit their needs and your work will seem easier.
I do not work my horses a great deal. Freddy is worked twice a week maximum and three times a week in the lead up to a competition.
The two rides are training and revision and quite possibly for 30-45 minutes total (for the four stages). The third ride may just be a little 10 minutes on the lunge. A walk, trot and a canter both directions to see if he is sound. Or it may be a little light trot on a loose rein. Nothing more.
Moo is worked two to three times a week and four times a week in the lead up to a competition.
The first ride on Moo is just a Walk, Trot and a Canter both ways. I usually do a few pirouettes and a couple of leg yields at the trot and call it a day. The second and third ride is where we revise our learnings and maybe perfect a canter transition or work on a square halt. The fourth ride is the day before or the morning of the competition. Just to see where his mind is at, if he is responding to me and listening. I usually make this a very early morning ride; 6am if I can. OTTB’s are used to working in the morning and Moo loves the beginning of a day, so the day before the competition I appease him and give him a super happy time with me to build his confidence for the next day.
At the end of the day at a competition you want a horse that is happy and willing. A unicorn that canters and is positive and you feel as if you are in a magical story that is all about you!
Fun with your horse is what makes all the hours of work looking after them worthwhile. Owning a horse is a 24/7 hobby. You do not get to throw your horse into the shed like a set of golf clubs, leave your shoes full of grass and mud and then not see them again until next Sunday.
Owning a horse is like having another member of your family. It is expensive, time consuming and can break your heart if they get hurt or something goes wrong. So have fun when you can!
When I am at a competition or riding I have fun. If Moo puts in a little hump because he feels fresh I giggle at him. If he keeps searching my back pockets for carrots and nuzzling my back when I am picking out his hooves I go with it and laugh at him and enjoy the moment for what it is. Sometimes he laps at the hose like a dog for a drink so I let him enjoy that moment. Don’t be so serious and never ever forget how it felt when you were a little girl and Mum and Dad bought you your first pony!
When it comes to competing we can all forget at times to have fun and when you do, you miss out. The best thing about horses and animals in general is that they live in the moment. They do not worry about money, houses, careers, image or status. They just enjoy the sunshine and the day and moment for what it is. Remember to see the world through their eyes and when there is time for fun grab it with both hands and enjoy it!
Rest is so important in not only training an OTTB but life in general. If you do not get enough rest or enough sleep then you are no good to anyone and neither is your furry friend.
Ensure he/she has enough rest by providing them with a safe and secure home, a consistent feeding schedule, rugs and good quality hay to snack on if there is a cold winters night and clean fresh water that they can access at any time.
Resting to a horse is not the same as what rest is for us. Resting for a horse is about no stress, not necessarily sleep. They do not need a vacation to Hawaii to feel rested; they simply need to be left alone and have no stress.
I spell or rest my horses a lot. After each competition I give them at least 4 or 5 days to themselves. I rug and feed them but nothing more. I also give them most of December off. It is quite hot in Australia in December, it is also Christmas and my birthday so it is a good time to have a spell for both of us. A spell is a period of time where you do not bother your horse. In all relationships; whether that is with your OTTB, your friend or your partner, a period of not seeing each other can sometimes be just what is needed to come back to each other fresh.
So spell your horse often and give him/her a break from work and from you.
Happy Riding & Keep Smiling