On Monday I put my first ride on Rain Dance. Before I ride any unfamiliar horse for the first time, I like to test them out on the ground first. Sometimes it's just a few turns on the end of a lead rope, sometimes I do a bit more round pen work. With Rain Dance I opted to use my pony horse when working him on the end of my lead, and then worked him around the round pen on foot to get him to hook on, followed by some lineless ground driving in the round pen. I tend to work with most of my OTTBs in this way because of how heavily one sided they tend to be. I start using a pony horse first when doing ground work because the added height makes disengaging the hindquarters and changing direction a bit easier. Some of those big horses try to evade pressure and switching sides by putting their heads into the air. In many cases they succeed, so I started using a pony horse for this task.
Once I got Rain Dance to pay attention a bit more closely, I tied up the pony horse and worked him on foot to get him to hook on. Because I had started with the work on the lead, he was much more relaxed than if I had just turned him loose in the roundpen and started chasing him around.
After I had Rain Dance hooked on well, I sent him away at a walk and followed behind him. I used my body position coming in and out of view of each eye to drive him left and right. This exercise is great for horses that are heavily dominant on one side. It is one thing to spend time on the side of the horse that he is less dominant on, but the act of switching from one side to the other makes a horse use the portion of their brain called the corpus colloseum. In humans, this portion of the brain is well developed. So if you see something on your left, it translates to your right and vice versa. This portion of the brain in horses is not very developed. Ever wonder why your horse spooks at the trash bag on the side of the trail when you go out on a ride, and then again on the way home? It's because he literally saw it one one side and not the other. So the second time he went by, it was as if he was seeing it for the first time all over again.
After practicing this exercise for a little while, rain Dance was relaxed and focused. He stood patiently ground tied to be saddled and I sent him around the pen through all three gaits to make sure he felt comfortable in the saddle before hopping on. I rode him in a thin rawhide hackamore, and we went through all three gaits both directions. He took some coaxing to go into the lope, but we ended on a good note with just the right amount of forward. Surprisingly, many OTTBs lack true forward. But I will go into that in my next blog entry.
Over the next few days, I continued to work on groundwork principles before riding that will help Rain Dance be prepared for things he will encounter under saddle, and in being handled on the ground. By day three I put him into a snaffle and began working on lateral flexion, the beginnings of collection, and lateral movement of the hip. By Friday we were riding all around his pasture around his new friends, doing a lot of long trotting. He is already showing improvement in softness, and his willingness to learn amazes me every day. We ended Friday by leaving the confines of home and cooling out riding through acres of trees in the Christmas tree farm across the street. We used the trees to steer around, and he didn't even bat an eye at anything we saw along the way.
I did begin working on one more thing with Rain Dance this week that stemmed from #tallhorseproblems. And that is solving the ever so difficult task of mounting a 16.1 hand horse. Let alone an OTTB, which many of you may know, they don't tend to want to stand still to be mounted. At the track riders are legged up on the walk, so they don't know anything different. There is still a bit of refining to be done, but if you climb on to a fence, mounting block, or anything with a bit of height, and kiss 4 times Rain Dance will side pass to it to be mounted. I'm excited to see how far I can take this little trick. :)
Thanks for following this weeks in depth update of Rain Dance's training. Stay tuned for our next post, and enjoy some photos and video below.
Until next time.... :)