We got Cease Lass after she had been retired not only racing, but from breeding. She was 12 years old, and had had 3 foals. She had obviously had plenty of downtime, and her ground manners were pretty good. That b being said, she had no formal off the track training. My sister Jess and I were 14 and 15 at the time, and until that summer we had only ever ridden in supervised settings. Now we were guiding trail rides, teaching lessons, and helping run a summer camp. As far as we were concerned, we were the best horse trainers on earth (as every teenage girl thinks they are).
The first time we rode Cease Lass, Jess got on her in the round pen. She kicked her forward, and backwards she went, right through the top two rails of the fence. But we were two teenage girls who had just gotten their first horse, so there was no way that was going to/ stop us.
We were there 7 days a week. The two of us fed all of the horses on the farm Monday through Friday after school. I guided trails on Saturdays, and Jess on Sundays. So, Cease Lass was handled every day, by the people that rode her, ridden probably 3-4 days during the week, and then would bring up the rear on several guided walking trail rides a day, every weekend. We didn’t do anything fancy. We weren’t teaching her collection (I honestly did not even know what it was at that point in my life) or maneuvers of any kind. We jumped her over things on the trail that were in the way, rode her bareback in from the field, but most of all, we loved on her and just enjoyed her. I think it was at least a year and a half before either of us decided we actually wanted to do more than just ride her for the sake of riding. So Jess decided to she wanted to teach Cease to properly jump, and I wanted to teach her barrel racing. You are probably thinking, how in the heck is that going to work… But you know what, it did. We had gotten that mare so broke, that I could go to a barrel clinic one weekend, and my sister could take her into a jumping lesson that same week and you would never know I had been practicing a speed event on her. We started to teach her the things we had never heard of, like collection, pacing, and control of stride length from books and tapes (yes this was prior to actual internet. At the time the only internet I used was AOL Instant Messenger), and we kind of made it all up as we went along. All the while we kept on spending time with her and riding her just for fun.
By the time we were both headed to college, we had had that mare for three years. And my sister had a dead beginner riding her in 4-H shows while she was away at school. Looking back on it now, I don’t think that mare in her entire life with us, has ever gotten training sour. She has never taken a bad step (and she is 22 years old this year), and she is the most broke OTTB I have ever been around. She had two people “restarting” her with very different styles of riding. Heck that mare had less formal retraining than any horse I have sold, or trained for a competition, and yet I bet if you would have taken her at 10 months after we first got her to the Thoroughbred Makeover in KY (had it existed when we had her), she would put most of our current RRP horses to shame. Go ahead, say its the mind of the horse, say we got lucky with an extremely nice mare, but we have all seen nice minded horses go the wrong way in a training program. What made this mare so great, was that we didn’t have a deadline. If she didn’t understand something, or if she spooked on the trail, or if she refused a jump… We were just thrilled that we were still on her back and that we hadn’t torn down someone’s property. We didn’t look for holes in her foundation or training and then school her on them. We didn’t repeatedly ride the arena in circles, or force her into a frame that she had no idea existed. We did not set out to find a bunch of schooling shows to prepare ourselves for things, we just went to shows and said.. "well lets see what happens." And then we would go home, ribbon or not, and just keep riding. We built a relationship with this mare and we learned together. Because we didn’t know any better, if something did not work WE CHANGED. We assumed it was something WE were doing wrong, and not that our horse was not listening or not respecting us. Our naive minds would just trouble shoot until we found the right answer, because we were humble enough to know we might not be doing something right.
Look, I have gotten horses darn broke since Cease Lass. Heck, I got Indian Rain Dance extremely broke on a 90 day deadline. So, I’m not saying that we need to be rid of the deadlines. I'm not saying, don't show your horse, or don't school them and work on things. What I’m saying is that once we put the title of “Horse Trainer,” on our backs we take on this boat load of pressure to train in fancy ways. Be it wanting to sell a horse in 60 days, train a client’s horse in 90 days, or be ready for a competition in 10 months; We put deadlines on ourselves to get a certain amount done in a certain amount of time. But here is what we need to start realizing, and thus changing, about the way we as professionals train horses… You should not train any differently because of a deadline. That deadline should not be a time by which maneuvers should be perfected, it is a point in time where you see what you’ve accomplished up until that point. It is a glorified time to take a progress report of where you are at and what you have achieved. If you want to flip a horse in 60 days, then you sell what you’ve got at 60 days and price accordingly. If you have had a client’s horse for 90 days, that is when you show their owner what you’ve gotten done, and if they want more refinement, then you tell them it will be more time. If it’s a show, you show the horse you have and nothing more. That’s the tough one… Gosh, how many times have you witnessed someone in the warm up pen watching someone else work on something their horse has not perfected? Then they school it right there before they go into the show pen, getting themselves and their horse into a stressed out mess based on someone else's progress. How many times have you seen a futurity horse quit in the show pen? How many times have you lost your temper with your own horse because you have been working on something for a while and you think the horse "should have gotten it by now?"
I want you to ask yourself, what horse is of more value to you? A horse who at the end of, lets say 10 months, has a solid foundation, and more than anything is willing and wants to work, or a horse who knows every maneuver in the book but resents you for making him do it? Because resentment comes from rushing. (It rhymes and we are sticking with it).
I guess the point of this is to say that the deadline itself is not your enemy. The enemy is who you let yourself become in trying to meet it. Do not train FOR a deadline, train INTO a deadline. As a friend once told me “Have faith in your program, and your horse will come along just fine.”
Have a great weekend! Disco is on his “bi week” as they call it in sports, and enjoying some R&R. It has been good for the both of us, and I plan on going back to some "childhood" ways of training when he is done with his vacation. I also want to make a point to say I am still very excited for the Makeover, and to see HOW FAR we get BY THE TIME the get there. I will be sure to keep you posted on how he is doing soon. In the meantime, I’ve got some photos below of the most broke OTTB I’ve ever trained (with the help of my sister Jess Parisi), Cease Lass.