How long does it take to restart an OTTB?

Restarting OTTBs
In this excellent post from Denny Emerson, he talks about the need for taking as much time as you need.

We all read stories about the people who buy a race horse off the track and a few months later are cantering around a Training level course. My experience is that it takes a bit longer. Sometimes quite a lot longer. It depends on your ability as a trainer, it depends on how much time you have to ride and it depends on the horse.

Freedom is my third OTTB. My first one, a tall gangly chestnut gelding, never was able to overcome his soundness limitations. I sold him to a lady who mostly wanted to trail ride.  My second OTTB was a lovely mare but hung her knees over every jump. Not suitable for cross country jumping.

13 years later, Freedom is still a “hot tamale” but he always tries his best.

Freedom is athletic and sound, but came to me with anxiety issues. It took me months to earn his trust and months before he would walk under saddle. He did learn to jump around week three. It was the only way I could get him to pick up his left lead!

I can remember one hunter pace where I came on my own. In the warm up area, I asked several teams if they would ride with me. They took one look at Freedom, who was, shall we say, not very calm. They all turned me down. Freedom and I got the last laugh. We won. But he cantered every step of the course.

I thought that Freedom would never make a hunt horse. For the first two years I owned him, when I rode him with other horses he had to be first. If I asked him to go behind another horse he would throw a tantrum. He’d paw the ground, fling himself in the air and basically be a pain in the butt.

It took time. Lots of time. And lots of patience. Eventually he figured out that going first wasn’t everything, even though he was bred and trained to be first. He decided that he could trust me and I learned that for all of the bouncing and posturing. I could trust him.

I started hunting him slowly. At least as slowly as you can hunt. He hilltopped for awhle, then learned to jump at the back of the first field. Turns out he loves to hunt and even more than that, he loves to whip. Thirteen years later, he’s still a handful. But he always tries his best and the time it took to get him there was worth every minute.



4 Reasons Why you Should Try Riding Bitless

Zelda rocking her bitless bridle
Most of the summer I’ve ridden Zelda bitless — mostly using the Flower Hackamore.

Since the end of June, inspired by Anna Blake’s post on riding bitless, Zelda and I took it on a challenge. I’ve tried both the Flower Hackamore and a Nutural Bitless bridle. I also tried a leather bit that attaches under the chin, with no headstall. That was a complete bust. She spit that bit out with gusto and I was left with a set of reins attached to . . . nothing! She is quite clear that she likes the Flower Hackamore the best.

It has been years since I’d ridden bitless on a daily basis and it reminded me why it’s an important exercise. Not, as you might guess, because I think bits are inherently terrible. If you have light, steady hands and the bit fits your horse’s mouth well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using one. In fact, the communication you have with a bit is very subtle. Nope, riding bitless is good for the rider because it shows you where the holes are in your technique!

Here are my reasons for why you should try riding bitless.

  1.  Bitless bridles make you realize how much you ride with your hands. Remember that I just said that bits give you very subtle communication? The opposite is true with a bitless set up. And that’s often a good thing, because as humans we are noisy with our hands. We move them, we jiggle the bit, we want to fix everything with them. Remove that noise and the silence is deafening. Your horse will be happy when you leave her mouth alone (when I switched my Trakehner to bitless many years ago, he immediately started to jump so much better! It was sobering to realize that I had been picking at his face on the way to every jump). In fact, you might think she’s not listening at all. Persist, even if she ignores you for a time, because you will find new ways to talk to each other.
  2. Riding bitless makes you ride with your seat. As soon as your horse starts listening to you, new conversations emerge. Your horse becomes more attuned to the way you use your seat, how you shift your weight, whether you control your speed by half halting with your thighs. Suddenly your hands aren’t so important.
  3. It’s much easier for your horse to snack. With so much lush grass around, Zelda is very grateful to not have a bit in her mouth. Although she is not allowed to eat during our rides, she certainly takes advantage of this as soon as we’re done.
  4. There’s no bit to clean. And in the winter, there’s no bit to warm. There’s an appealing simplicity to riding bitless.
A bit of lipstick
It is a good thing when your horse has a bit of foam around her lips. This is a result of the horse having a relaxed jaw. Although this is often associated with bitted riding, all of my horses produce a small amount of foam around closed lips when ridden bitless.

I’ve taken Zelda out on the trails and also schooled her in the ring. She goes just as well now in a bitless bridle as she does in her bitted one (although I’m not sure I’d take her hunting bitless).

The Zilco Flower Hackamore uses the placement of the rings to apply some leverage/pressure both on the chin groove and very slightly on the poll. Unlike the Nurtural bridle, which uses a cross under design, you use a direct aid very similar to a bitted bridle. I’ll write more about the Nurtural Bridle later, but since Zelda had a clear preference for this one.

One safety precaution. When you first try riding bitless it’s a good idea to start in an enclosed arena. I was very glad I did that with the leather bit because once Zelda spit it out, I had no control.

With the bitless bridles, I never felt out of control but it did take a few rides before Zelda was listening in the same way she does with a bit.



Wide Footbed Stirrups – Do They Make a Difference?

Jin Stirrups
For those of us with bad knees and wonky ankles, finding the right stirrup can make a real difference.

Back in the “old days”, stirrups came in one flavor. Fillis. Then came the evolution of the stirrup into flexy, bendy composite things that cost orders of magnitude more than those plain metal ones.

For a long time I scoffed at those expensive stirrups. Then my knees started to hurt. Then I developed tendonitis in my left ankle. I started looking more carefully at those fancy brands.

I’ve had a range of the flexy bendy ones. I tried the Royal Rider composite stirrups (I actually dislike them because they are so light that if you lose one while riding it’s hard to pick it up again). I remembered that when I’d done a lot of trail riding one summer, I’d bought western endurance stirrups with wide footbeds. They’d been a lot more comfortable, even on really long rides.

Then Tack of the Day had Jin stirrups on sale. If you haven’t been sucked into the wonderfulness of daily deals arriving in your inbox every week day at noon, sign up now. You’ll buy a lot of things you never knew you wanted needed and snap up some bargains in the process.

So, do I love the Jin stirrups? Yes and no. I like the wide footbed and the tread pattern. The wider footbed is more secure, it helps my knees and my toes never go numb (the pain we go through to ride!). Overall, I think they provide more support and I am less likely to lose one, especially when riding in wet conditions.

What I didn’t like about them is that I can’t use them on my Webber-style leathers. The buckle doesn’t fit through the eye hole. That was almost a disaster because I had to dig through my tack trunk to find regular leathers and I still don’t like the bulk under my leg. Well, that and the price. I still find it hard to swallow that stirrups cost more than $225. But if you can find them at a discount, they are worth a try.


Tevis Cup 2017

When I was sitting at home in the comfort of my arm chair and taking my horses for gentle hacks along the groomed trails near my barn, 174 riders set out on a 100 mile trail ride of brutal territory, determined to finish in 24 hours or less.

Endurance riding was first developed in the early 1900s as a military test for cavalry mounts. Horses were required to go on a 5-day, 300 mile ride carrying at least 200

The First "Bucklers"
The First “Bucklers” — Wendell Robie, Bill Patrick, Pat Sewell, Dick Highfill and Nick Mansfield.

lbs. But many people consider the Tevis Cup to be the father of endurance rides. The first ride was organized in 1955 by Wendell Robie, Bill Patrick, Nick Mansfield, Dick Highfill, Pat Sewell, set out to prove that modern horses could traverse the rugged trail from Lake Tahoe over the Sierra mountains to Auburn in a single day. They all succeeded. But their finish rate is unusual. From 1955 through 2011, there have been 9,278 starting entries, of which 5,066 (54.6%) finished.

Tevis Buckle
What’s the reward for riding 100 miles in 24 hours? A belt buckle. Earning a Tevis buckle is the crown jewel for endurance riders.

In 2017, 92 riders completed the ride; 82 did not. Some horses came up lame, some had metabolic issues. All horses must pass a pre-ride vet check for soundness and horses at Tevis are inspected at 20 checkpoints along the ride. During these mandatory holds, horses’ heart rates must recover to 60-68 bpm and then they are inspected by vets to make sure they are fit to

Barbara White
Barbara White, shown here on the infamous Cougar Rock, has 31 Tevis Buckles

continue. Not all “pulls” are horse problems, though. Some riders suffer from altitude sickness or dehydration. The elements of the ride are unforgiving—with temperatures ranging from 40F to 120F in the span of 24 hours, trick footing and deep, treacherous canyons.

Tailing up Cougar Rock.

So steep are the canyons that some riders choose to navigate them on foot, often using “tailing” to allow their horses to pull them up the slope.

Hardly surprising, this is a ride dominated by Arabians. In fact, the top 10 finishers this year were all arabs. But there are a smattering of other breeds and the occasional mule who also complete the race.

2017 Winners

Tennesse Lane won the 2017 Tevis Cup
This year’s winner was Tennessee Lane who completed the ride in 10 hours on her 17-year old Arabian gelding Auli Farwa.
Lindsay Fisher was second on Monk
Second place went to Lindsay Fisher on her 15-year old Arab gelding Monk.
Jeremy Reynolds was third on his 7-year old Arabian Mare Treasured Moments.
Jeremy Reynolds was third on his 7-year old Arabian Mare Treasured Moments.

To recreate the Tevis Cup experience, I hope you enjoy the videos below. They aren’t from 2017 but they do give a good sense for some of the toughest — and most beautiful — parts of the ride.

Spa Day for Freedom

Between the bugs and the humidity, I’ve been less than motivated to ride. So, when I pulled Freedom into the barn yesterday, I started our session with a massage. He’s a funny horse. Sometimes he just hates to be touched — to the point where he can get almost aggressive. But yesterday I found just the right spots and he enjoyed it so much that I decided to keep going. Yawning, licking and chewing are signs of release. You can see that he got into it. When we were done, I put his fly sheet back on and turned him out. Sometimes it’s good just to give your horse a treat!

Who wears it better?

Zelda in her fly sheet.
As part of my effort to keep the horses comfortable in fly season, they got new sheets. These are Dura-mesh sheets from Schneider’s Saddlery. I used to live down the street from that store and they have good products at fair prices. I like the textaline sheets. they are more durable than a lot of fly sheets, important for my two.


Freedom in his fly sheet.
So, which horse wears it better? Thank goodness they’re not self conscious about wearing the same colors!