Sheldon is settling in nicely. Already he seems more relaxed — meal time is no longer quite so emotional and he’s stopped running the fence line every time he can’t see another horse. I suspect he’s starting to count on the fact that we do feed twice a day and he almost always has hay in front of him.
His personality is starting to blossom. When he first arrived he didn’t want to be caught when he was out in the big field; now he always comes up for a scratch on the head and if I’m working in the field he follows me around.
I’m sure he enjoys the space. He’s living an in/out stall with a good sized paddock. Almost every day he gets turned out in a larger field to play, often with Freedom. So far the two geldings are getting along pretty well, At least they are now that Freedom has “explained” to Shel that the mares belong to him! Fortune still gives Sheldon the evil eye, but Curly spends much of the day grazing near him on the other side of the fence.
I’ve started slowly with Sheldon — most of the time I ride alone so I want every ride to be as non eventful as possible.
So far, most of the excitement has come during the saddling process. Sheldon is very “girthy”. As soon as I put the saddle on his back he gets anxious and if I tighten the girth too quickly (which would be quite slowly for Freedom), he get “light” in front.
So, we do everything slowly. I put the saddle on his back and give him some pats. After he settles down, I attach the girth and bring it under his belly, fastening it on the lowest possible hole. Then we wait.
A minute or so later, I tighten it up just enough so that the saddle won’t slip when I walk him off and I continue to inch the girth up at regular intervals. I’ve considered whether this is a symptom of ulcers and am feeding him some alfalfa to buffer any stomach acid, but I suspect it’s more behavioral. He may believe that he’s on the way to race and it will take him awhile to learn that he has a new job.
Currently I’m riding him in a double jointed loose ring snaffle and a Micklem bridle. I like the Micklem because it helps support the bit without tying his mouth shut. He seems okay with the snaffle although under saddle he grinds his teeth a bit. I may try a full cheek snaffle on him or maybe a pee wee bit, which is a thin sweet iron mullen mouth.
Normally, I’d put a running martingale on a new OTTB as it gives you some leverage if their heads go up but doesn’t make them feel trapped. However, with Sheldon’s girthing issues I haven’t wanted to fool with the breastplate too — and so far he hasn’t shown any inclination to fling his head up under saddle (I had a mare once who must have been part giraffe and I learned to use the martingale to keep my teeth from being re-arranged). I do ride with a neck strap as I figure it doesn’t hurt to have an extra handle.
Of course, that sounds pretty dramatic and our rides have been anything but. As I mentioned in previous post (Starting with Sheldon) when Sheldon feels anxious or stressed he . . . stops. Sometimes it can be a challenge to get him moving again without adding to his stress level. I learned very early on that making a kissing sound is NOT a good idea as it causes him to startle and get worried.
Most of the time I ride him in the paddock where we’re surrounded by fencing but recently I moved him out to the larger field where I can work him on a very slight hill. I always lunge him first. It’s not so much that I’m trying to tire him or get the sillies out, it’s more to help him settle and to distract him so that I can get his girth tight enough to ride. He’s very well behaved on the lunge line and I don’t encourage playing. I also keep the circles very large to avoid putting any stress on his joints. He looks nice and sound on the circles. Shortly after he arrived I started adding MSM to his feed as I think it’s a good anti-inflammatory and he looks a bit more comfortable now than the first time I saw him.
Under saddle Sheldon is like driving a car where the power steering is broken. In other words, turning is not an exact command, but is more of a suggestion. We generally get where we’re going, but not in a hurry. That’s fine with me, if he’s stepping out and has his ears forward, I’ll take that as a success.
When I dismount, Sheldon always gives a big sigh — of relief, I suspect. Nothing bad has happened and now he gets a mini-massage. Sheldon loves to be massaged and is quite dramatic with his yawns and licking.
I think that he’s starting to enjoy his life and pretty soon he’ll figure out that the only racing he’s going to do is in the pasture with Freedom.