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.



Another Spring Season Ended

Zelda hunting in Acton
This season went by way too fast. I didn’t get to hunt as much as I wanted, but the hunts I rode in were great fun!

Sadly, the spring hunting season has ended. I only hunted a few times but each one was tremendously good fun and I did get both horses out.

Zelda huntingOur last hunt was one of those perfectly sunny spring days that was verdantly green. We’ve had a lot of rain in New England this spring and everything is glowing. Zelda got this hunt, partially because she’s barefoot and the footing here is always excellent.

This was a hunt where she finally settled in. I think the last one (which was about 11 miles) taught her to conserve her energy because we might be out for hours! She was far more adjustable and didn’t even think about bucking.

I’ve been riding at the back of the field with a friend of mine who has a green horse. I think it’s very helpful for a horse to learn to hold back, no matter how much fun it is to whip or ride with the huntsman. Zelda took some convincing, but for this hunt, she was a real lady.

Despite the peaceful look of the photos, we had a few good runs in between them! Next season I’m going to have to try a Go-Pro so that I can capture the action.







Zelda's well-deserved roll.
Zelda enjoyed a well-deserved roll after the hunt.

Freedom Hunts Again!

Freedom hunting
This was our first hunt back since last October, when he stopped wanting to canter.

I was thrilled to take Freedom out hunting last weekend. There were certainly times when I never thought he’d feel sound enough to do it and I had come to terms with the idea that he might have to scale down his activities.

But, after injecting his SI joints (minimal impact) and 8 weeks of Doxycyclene, he’s feeling a lot better. He’s still not 100 percent, but I think that some of it is that he anticipates pain and gets a bit anxious.

I chose this hunt because it was close enough to ride to the territory. I thought that would give me the chance to evaluate his soundness and take the edge off him. Also, the first time I trailered him this year he got very anxious and upset (not like him), so I wanted to take the trailer out of the equation.

That ride turned out to be a bit more challenging than I’d expected. I mapped out a route that would keep us off the roads except for one small stretch. What I’d forgotten was how many cyclists are on the road on nice spring Saturday mornings.

Freedom's hunt
We rode out from our barn to the start of the hunt. The hunt backtracked to a field not far from where Freedom lives so I hacked him home from there — about 9.5 miles total.

Just my luck, as I hacked down the 1000 feet of road, a friend drove by in a car to tell me there was a pod of about 30 cyclists coming right behind her. She was kind enough to stay next to me in her car while I aimed for a plot of land that would get me off the road, but we weren’t fast enough. I don’t know what these cyclists thought is going to happen when the come darting by a horse at high speed, but now they know that the horse spins in the road and the rider screams at them. I managed not to use any obscenities, but I sure came close. After about a third of them had gone by (the care didn’t slow them down at all), the rest pulled up and let me retreat onto a grassy area. They are just lucky that Freedom doesn’t kick.

Freedom was a bit less than chill after the bicycle experience, so we had a few minor confrontations about crossing downed logs and walking around new gates, but we arrived at the hunt territory, four and a half miles later, still in one piece. He’d felt pretty good — no soundness issues at the trot or canter and he picked up both leads without complaining.

He felt good until about the seven mile mark, at which point I felt him get discombobulated — most likely because he was tired. So at that point, I hacked him home (what a good boy he was to leave the field without complaint). By the time we rolled into the barn he’d covered about nine and a half miles and was feeling pretty mellow.

The flask
No hunt would be complete without a few flasks making the rounds!

Zelda learns what tired is

Hunting under the blossoms
What could be more beautiful than hunting among the spring blossoms?

Today we had a lovely hunt through the historic territory of Old Millwood Hounds and in the backyard of the Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. It was only 34 degrees this morning and it only warmed up to the low 50s, but that meant perfect hunting weather.

We covered about 10 miles on our hunt. Zelda was very peppy during the hunt but once the adrenaline wore off she was beat.

We had a small field today and I was invited to ride up front with the huntsman as a back up whip. I’ve never had the chance to whip off Zelda before and she had a blast. She was full of energy but most of it went toward watching the hounds, rather than acting naughty.

I think this was a good learning experience for her, though. After 10 miles she was dog tired — to the point where she almost slept through her dinner. We haven’t been able to hunt much this spring and Zelda is not as fit as she is at the end of the season.

Riding with the huntsman is a real treat. There’s no better way to watch the hounds work. I wish I had been able to take pictures, but I had my hands full most of the time. It was one of the times that I wished I had a “Go Pro” camera!

Here are a few pictures from the beginning and end of the hunt.

Hacking to the first cast
Hacking to the first cast
Relaxing after the hunt
Relaxing after the hunt. I love the dandelions!
Zelda after the hunt.
Zelda after the hunt. She enjoyed that beautiful green grass.

Get ready for the Maryland Hunt Cup

The Maryland Hunt Cup may be the closest thing we have in the States to the Grand National. The four mile race includes 22 timber fences, with several of the jumps approaching 5′. The 121st running will take place this Saturday, April 29th.

Program fro 1804 Hunt Cup
The first Maryland Hunt Cup was run in 1894 and was won by Johnny Miller owned and ridden by John McHenry.

The race began in 1894 as a competition between the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club and the Green Spring Fox Hunting Club to determine which hunt had the best horses. The first year entries were limited to members of the two hunt clubs. The next year it was opened up to horses owned and ridden by members of any recognized hunt in Maryland. In 1903,  it was expanded to horses owned and ridden by members of any Hunt Club in North America. Today, there is no restriction on where the horses and riders come from. The only thing that has stayed the same is that the jockeys must be amateur riders.

I had my hands full

Hounds at attention
I love how the hounds are standing at attention. Of course, they are waiting for treats!

Today was the first hunt of the Spring season and boy, did I have my hands full! I thought about that idiom while I was driving back from the hunt and my fingers felt stiff and swollen holding the steering wheel. The expression may not have derived from an equestrian meaning, but it certainly could have. I didn’t get many photos today because I needed both hands on the reins and Zelda was pulling hard!

We had a spectacular day to hunt. Although it has been hot here in New England, today the high was in the low 50s and despite the promise of a cloudy day, it was bright and sunny. Zelda was my mount of choice. I’m hoping to hunt Freedom soon but although he feels good most of the time, we still have days when he’s not quite himself.

Heading to the first cast
This hunt starts at the end of an aqueduct.

Zelda was, perhaps, a bit more than herself. It’s funny how a horse who is kick along quiet at home turns into a fire breathing, snorting, piaffing, and bouncing ball of energy when she’s chasing hounds! I gave her a 15 minute warm up to make sure there were no bucks lurking, and she was pretty well behaved. My friend riding behind me did ask at one point whether I was asking her to leap from side to side. I guess it looked like we were dancing. Instead, we were negotiating for control. Zelda was pretty sure that I was doing it WRONG because I did not let her gallop full tilt down the first hill.

Waiting for the hounds
There’s a beautiful pond right at the start

All the horses were a bit jazzed up from the excitement of being out hunting again and the brisk weather. To accommodate a few people who wanted to go a bit more slowly after the first check, I held back and led a second field. It was when we approached the first jump — a nice log that crosses the trail — where the first real tantrum occurred. Zelda locked onto that log like a heat seeking missal and when I told her that she needed to go around it? She had a toddler-worthy meltdown. It’s always good to establish early in the hunt season who is in charge, so I was pleased when she capitulated, and even more pleased that she’s not that hard to sit even when she’s jumping in the air and spinning around. The silver lining of having such an eager horse is that I almost never have to post; she can canter in place with the best of them and that’s so much easier to sit.

I’m glad that Zelda is so enthusiastic about hunting. I will need to remind her at home that she is completely capable of collection and animation. That she does not need to be kicked into a canter and that I can remember clearly that she is not on her forehand when she’s galloping down those trails. I will also remember at the next hunt that I should wear gloves. By Saturday, my hands will just about have recovered!

Hacking home
Since it was the first hunt and neither horses (nor riders) were very fit, we hacked the third piece. My left ankle was very grateful for the break!


Tools of the Trade

Hunt Whihp
A good hunt whip is an excellent tool. I often carry one when I’m trail riding because they make a good crack and can scare off a wayward dog. Of course, you do need to get your horse used to the sound or you could end up impaled on one of those carved handles (by the way, did you realize those are for opening gates?).