Our biggest adventure this week was going down to Bowie Maryland for the weekend. My sister is a resident of Washington DC, and so Rain and I made the trek down to visit her and her 22 year old OTTB mare Cease Lass and some other new friends. We stabled at their barn in Bowie for the weekend, and went for a nearly 10 mile ride in Rosaryville State Park on Sunday. What we did not know before we arrived, was that there would be a mountain bike fair and fun race that day. So, to say we got our fill of bikes for the weekend is an understatement. We passed them on narrow trails, passed them on bridges, and even hung out at one of their crew stations for some refreshments and treats. I was really proud of Rain at the crew station, because one of the biggest things we have been working on is standing in a group, and he chilled out with all of the bikers and his new trail buddies with no trouble at all. And let's talk about the bridges all over this trail! I was really proud of Rain for going over the narrow bridge that had no side rails, and was 3 1/2 feet off the ground. Not to mention that he went over it without anyone in front of him!
At the end of the ride we had a nice canter through the fields with all of our new friends. He took to that well, letting horses pass him, and passing others. I then went back into exercise rider mode for a short stint, and took him into a test gallop with my sister. It reminded me of my old track riding days. Rain held that nice easy pace and upped it only when I asked him to. When he hit 5th gear, Rain showed that heart that Carlos Martin raved about. I will say he needs some refinement in slowing down from 5th gear, but the really impressive thing about him was his ability to walk away after the gallop without batting an eye. Many horses gallop, and then become high strung after you have pulled up. They are then rearing to go for the remainder of the ride. But Rain walked back to the trailer calmly, as if he had never been asked to pick up the pace. So one thing we will work on intermittently over the remainder of our time together is entering that faster pace and coming down smoothly. This leads me to go off on a little training tangent not directly affiliated with Rain. More so having to do with OTTBs as a whole, or any horse's flight response for that matter.
One thing I can vouch for from having exercised horses on the track, is that there is a big difference between a canter or hand gallop, and asking for that next gear. I've ridden horses around that oval that are super easy to exercise in the morning with 50 other horses going every which way and pace. I've had horses that I could exercise "gallop" (fast canter or hand gallop) with one hand, and they would be easy to stop. Then I would go to breeze the same horse, and I would have my feet on the dashboard holding them back. And that could be with another horse, or on their own. So when you get an OTTB, just because you can walk, trot, canter in the arena, in groups, or all over the trail, asking for one gear higher can bring back the racehorse in them. That being said, I like to do a test gallop with any OTTB that I retrain, just to see where that horse's mind goes when asked to enter that situation. From that I know if it is something I need to work on. When that horse goes to its next home, the owner may be someone brave who could decide they want to feel that 5th gear. I know when I was 14 and got my first OTTB with my sister, it was no more that 4 weeks before we decided "I wonder what it's like to gallop an ex-racehorse." Luckily our OTTB with no retraining before we got her, was strong but very controllable. On the other hand, that horse's new owner may never have the intention to go faster, but their bombproof horse could still spook and enter that flight mode. It is important that any horse is prepared for that situation, so that if they enter it intentionally or not, they can come back down safely no matter who is on their back.
In no way am I telling you to go out and ask your horse to go into 5th gear on your next ride. I look back at myself at 14 years old and think to myself... "wow that was not the smartest idea." This is just a base I cover with all of my horses, and I want to remind riders to not get complacent, and to never assume! What is that old saying...
Below are some photos of our ride in Rosaryville State Park. I am so proud of how Rain did on the ride and of how he handled an entire weekend away from home. He really is a special horse.