Friday, October 23, 2009

He's Never Had Cookies Before?!

I spent some time working on the ground with the big guy today. First, I turned him loose in the arena to stretch out his legs and get some energy out. He enjoyed himself, bolting away a few times and letting out a few little bucks, but was more interested in sniffing the hay and shavings we have stored in the corners of the arena.

Then, Tiny and I both took the first steps of the beginning of his education. We worked on personal space, staying at my shoulder, and walking on HIS feet, not mine. He is a quick learner and caught on fairly well. He is still a bit pushy on the ground, but not nearly as bad as I thought he was going to be.

After his lesson, we headed back into the barn. A few of my students who had been tagging along watching our session went for the customary "after work" horse cookie. They offered it to him, placing it their open hand. He sniffed it, pushed it with his lip, licked it and knocked it to the floor. They tried again and he wasn't the least bit interested in it. He didn't know what it was.

I told my students that "Gus" (which is what everyone here has been calling him,) probably had never received horse cookies before, and it was obvious that he didn't know what to do with it. They all looked mortified...

"He's never had cookies before?!" It was at that point which I realized just how much we spoil our horses here, not to mention the incredibly skewed perspective my students have of how they believe "all" horses are treated...

Here are some photos of the big guy from today! Comments on his conformation would be greatly appreciated!

Trotting while sniffing the ground... I see the movement of a dressage horse here!
And stretching his legs out!



  1. Hi there.

    I am a life-long horseperson who grew up on the racetrack, and have re-made dozens of former racehorses for new careers. The best advice I can give you is treat your new project just like any other horse. Don't expect him to be difficult - or flighty - in a situation, until he is. Then deal with it just like you would any other horse. They have very specific re-training issues, but most of them have to do with physical limitations that are caused by going around and around in basically a straight line day after day. They don't know how to bend, have limited steering, have never had a rider's leg against their sides, and have been taught to "hold" onto their rider's arms, and in many cases hanging on them as well. None of these things make them bad horses, they just have had a different education. Many people start off treating them like ticking time bombs, and that is half the problem.

    I have found that most of these issues resolve themselves once the horses become physically stronger through regular work.

    They usually have difficulty with tight turns for a while, so I don't recommend lunge line work in the beginning. I personally start all of mine in a plain snaffle, going on short trailrides with a calm buddy. Most racehorses have had very little time outside since they were foals, and are fascinated with trees, grass, leaves, hills, and even water. Many of my riding friends are often amazed that one of my track horses will calmly cross a large puddle or stream on their third trailride, when their so-called broke horses refuse to do so! Most of them will walk along very nicely on the trails, as long as you aren't in a huge group or trying to cross large fields in a big hurry. Walking along over small hills, roads, and fields allows them to build muscle and joint flexibility that they will need later for ring work. It's important to give them the time to develop the physical ability to work in a confined area, as well as the mental ability. They usually have a very good work ethic, and once they are physically able, they will do anything you ask. A few months of trailriding - or even tossing one of the kids on him bareback to walk around the barn area or indoor ring - without asking him to do small circles, or concentrated ring work will give you the best foundation for later work.

    One other important thing is, don't treat him like he's made of glass, or made of dynamite either. If you want to work on him in the aisle or in his stall, expect him to stand there politely and not crowd you. When you walk him around, expect him to walk beside you, not on you. Don't baby him because of his background, and don't be over-cautious with him because of his size. If you expect him to be good all the time, he will probably surprise you with what a gentleman he can be.

    Good luck, they are definitely worth it. I wouldn't have any other kind of horse.

  2. Just sorta is Faith??

  3. We bought a ranch horse and had a similar cookie experience. He'd never seen one before and it took a couple of tries to "teach" him how to eat cookies. He caught on pretty quickly, but it took more than one try. Carrots took a *lot* longer. For a while, he'd just take in a piece, swish it around in his mouth and then spit it out as if to say "what exactly is the point of this orange thingie anyway?" He did eventually figure it out but I think he had to see one of his buddies actually CHEW and swallow it before he was willing to believe it was edible. :-)

  4. My guy loved carrots but he thought the apple I tried to feed him one day was POISON. He spat it out, gave me "that LOOK" and turned away. I was surprised, but figured since he is also very unhappy with paste (wormer, bute, Banamine) of any kind, he thought I was trying to "dose him." Today he eats apples--because I started putting him in his goody bucket along with carrots and other "stuff." This is also part of building trust. He eats "cookies" today too. Anything I hand feed or show him and put in the bucket is a "go." He doesn't do sugar, however. He takes the cube to be polite and then spits it out.

    JMR gives excellent advice. I agree with everything, having worked through those same things myself (except it was five months after I paid for my horse that I found the tattoo, so I was rehabbing an OTTB and didn't know it ;o) On trail riding with other horses, I learned something very interesting. A lot of trail riders are clueless when it comes to etiquette, like not galloping off without letting everyone know that's what you're going to do, and a former racehorse thinks he has to run TOO because he can't be left behind. When riding with people like that, I would take my horse to the side (not behind them, in other words) and suddenly he wasn't IN the pack and we were "winning." It was good for him to learn he could be ahead, in the middle or dead last and it was okay.

  5. try peppermints! i find those are REALLY common on the backstreach at the racetrack

  6. Question: What are 'cookies'?

    I'm in Australia and we don't have anything like that here.

    Our horses get treats like carrots, apples or the odd pre-prepared treat (the sort you buy from the stockfeeders), which I'm guessing is perhaps what cookies are.

    Nothing too technical here but I love his colour, demeanour and his eye. He looks athletic and confident. He will do well in whatever path you choose for him.

    How is dear old Faith doing now that she's a lady of leisure?

  7. Tiny may not want to eat "cookies" or certain treats because unfortunately some racehorses are constantly given medications in food so it may take a while for him to trust treats as something good. Good luck!

  8. I'm no conformation expert by any means, but he has a nice uphill build, I absolutely LOVE his coloring. He stands under a bit in front and is a little farther back in the hind legs than I like to see. I also like the way his neck ties in and his head is very nice, with a very kind eye!

    In the second picture, it appears that his left front foot turns in, but I think it is just how he is standing?

    Also, his shoulder appears to be somewhat on the straight side? Overall though I can see why you wanted to rehab him, he's a nice boy!

  9. :-) My horse didnt and still has problems with figuring out treats. She will eat them out of buckets... But refuses to eat them out of your hand. I have tricked her a few times and had my hand over the bucket with the treat in it.

    Congrats on the new boy, he is gorgeous.

  10. Well, I'm no conformation expert, but I see a great shoulder here... the shoulder angle is determined by drawing a line *imaginary of course* from the highest point of the wither bone to the point of the chest (where the shoulder blade protrudes to a point in the chest area)... to me, this is a great shoulder... now, further to this, if that line and another imaginary line (one from the point of the chest to the point of the elbow) from an angle greater than 90 degrees, you are looking at an ideal dressage horse, since his movements will be flowing and smooth. The angle of the shoulder should always be taken when the horse's head and neck are at rest, not forcing down or up. He has a great neck, great head, great chest, good hip and a good back. His legs are in good shape and straight, we might be fooled by the way he his standing, but I believe this is just an illusion from the picture... he also seems to have really good, solid hooves. There might be rebalancing to do and that might solve the issue of his standing toed in (or not). He looks like a fast one and is beautiful!