Monday, July 18, 2016

The speed we go

I have seen several posts lately on the speed people bring along a young horse and I thought it might be fun to document the mental process my trainers and I have for Odin.
Somewhat recent conformation shots.  5am rides are not conducive to new photos

Because by almost anyone's definition, we are bringing him along quite slowly. And this has confused plenty of people.

I mean, he is now 5, he is super athletic and scopey and trainer R says, we could bit him up right now and take him in some 5 y.o. jumper classes and he would do everything asked and would likely be competitive.  So why don't we?

The full answer should probably go back to when I bought him.

Odin has been mine for not quite 8 months.  He came off the track around March 2015 after bleeding so badly they had to van him off the track (side note - the vet ultimately thinks the bleeding was that bad due to a lung infection, not exertion, but his connections decided to retire him anyways). After some downtime he moved to CO and began retraining last summer.  They did a great job with him and started him over fences, took him to some shows, but then in late summer he popped a large splint and spent over a month healing.  Maybe closer to two months.

I came out to meet him right when he was going back to work.  The horse I purchased clearly had an amazing brain, all the right parts, and some great basic training but was unfit, couldn't hold a lead in back for ten seconds, could barely pick up his left lead, had a sticky right stifle (connected the two previous issues, no doubt), and was obviously physically immature.
From the day I tried him out.  Silly no neck baby face.

OK, so a lot of that right there might explain part of why we are so slow, but I will continue to explain.

He was also still a smidge lame on the right front.  We thought it was residual from the still tender splint, but it ended up being in the hoof from stepping on himself  - the crack showed up a short time later.

His first month or so was letting him finish healing while we got to know him, having the chiro out, getting his feet done, playing around under saddle, figuring out his personality, etc.

Then while I recovered from surgery, R and R2 started working on building a solid foundation from the walk up.

Perhaps this could have gone faster, but Odin was throwing in growth spurts and every time had to learn to use his body all over again.  We also got him on estrogen for his stifle which was a huge help but then he mentally had to learn that he could hold a lead behind when he was so used to swapping.

During those winter months - this Florida horse's first real winter since being a baby in Kentucky - you could barely touch him with your leg.  He was obedient and never scary, but strong and forward and hard to put together so we didn't want to get him particularly fit.  We popped him over fences from time to time to keep life interesting, but jumping was not our focus.

As R2 said, if you can't canter, you can't really jump.  And while of course Odin could execute the gait, it was a long way from the quality canter you want over fences.
Wheeee canter flail.  Could he be leaning harder on my inside leg?

I joked that by spring, we had just gotten him back to the place where he was when we bought him, a horse you could walk and trot around on quietly.  Except that physically he was a different horse and mentally he had learned quite a lot about his riders and what was expected of him and had a few new tools in his tool box.

By the time he turned 5 in May, he had a solid left lead, had stopped getting taller (thank you), could hold a lead in back both directions, and was starting to build muscle in the right places.
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So logically it seemed like the right time to start asking for more, over fences and in general.  And we have....sort of.  As it got hot, Odie got somewhat sour and behind the leg.  Working through that has taken some time.  Right now, most rides start with the "cranky baby" trot and then you can get him into better work.

R2 has also really been working on his canter and getting him to use his back.  He still finds this very hard.  Ironically, his left lead is now his easier way and that canter is very nice.  Not so much to the right, so we are now working on getting him stronger that way.

He is still building a ton of muscle - no joke people routinely don't recognize him between his constant color changing and musculature changes.  And riding him still doesn't always feel like the same horse each time.

The over fences work has slowed down as we continue to make sure he has all the needed skills on the flat.  We jump him and it is awesome and fun, but it is still secondary to all the rest.  We are just applying the same flatwork principles to a jump and he is trying to figure it all out.

And here we are today.  The goal is still to have him loping small courses by end of summer, but every day we pretty much see where he is and what he can do and take it from there.  Maybe we could be moving faster and everything would be fine, and there are certainly times I have felt a brief urge to push, but logic comes in and says, what's the rush?  We aren't getting him ready for resale, I have no desire to show, and if we do this right, I will have the perfect horse for years and years.

While he has always been pretty mentally mature, he has been much slower physically and I have tried to be careful to balance that.  Keeping him mentally engaged in the game while letting his body figure things out.  I think if we tried to push more now, he would try because he is game but it would ultimately hurt his brain because his body isn't quite capable.  And I don't want to have to undo things later when we can just wait and get there in due time.

And as a disclaimer - I am not judging what anyone else is doing, this is just what is working for us.


  1. This post makes me so happy. He looks so good!! :)

    1. Thanks, it also helps when their scrawny adolescent bodies start agreeing to put on weight instead of just height!

  2. All horses mature at different rates it seems! Nothing wrong with taking your time.

    Annie has done a lot so far but I know she is having fun and there isn't pressure she's just telling us what she has fun doing and we're seeing where that takes us. :)

    1. Agreed, it is totally about just listening to what your horse is telling you

  3. Agreed, one size does not fit all in training. Some horses can and will handle more than others, but good for you and your trainer for finding the right rate for you and Odin.

    1. Thanks, it is always an interesting process and fraught with peril for overthinkers like me.

  4. keep doing what you're doing bc it's clearly workin for Odin!

    1. Thanks! "Luckily" he is happy to share his opinions on things....