Tuesday, February 24, 2009

From The Track to The Hack - The Early Days

Getting a racehorse straight off the race track was a new experience for me. Fortunately there were some things that I intuitively knew from being a racing fan: he'd be very fit, he'd had a strict routine of working out most every day, he was handled often, and he didn't get turned out.

Retiring from racing was going to be a culture change for him that could be good or could be traumatic for him. I have heard of retired race horses becoming depressed if they don't have a job and work every day. You might hear about it in the racing magazines how a horse is brought out of retirement because they were miserable and wanted to be at the track.

An example is Gretchen's Star, an older gelding still racing in Kentucky. I actually contacted his owner to find out why he was still racing. Hadn't he proven himself by now and deserved "the good life" of retirement? I found out his owner, a nice guy to talk to, had attempted to retire him three times. Gretchen's Star was simply miserable and depressed each time. So the owner/trainer carefully plans out the horse's races and lifestyle at the track - a very light racing schedule, daily turnout and the attention he demands. He's a happy horse.

In my opinion, it's not unlike people - some relish retirement while others like to work till the day they die.

Thankfully depression was not something Jaguar Hope went through. Maybe it was because I worked to keep his brain engaged. We did small things like walking around the property, daily grooming sessions and eventually trying the longe line. Anything to build our relationship and help him with the transition.

Once he arrived, I had to wait a few days for my farrier to arrive and remove his racing plates (shoes). They have small toe grabs on the front of the shoes to help with gripping in the deep track surface. At his new home we only had rock hard ground baked to a crisp from the late summer sunshine. The toe grabs would not allow him the give he needed on the hard surface and he could hurt his tendons, ligaments or worse if he was turned out with them on. But once the shoes were removed and plain front shoes put on he was let out for some exercise.

jaguar hope10

Jaguar Hope enjoying his first turnout

Within about a month he seemed to be comfortable with his surroundings and I had ridden him a few times in the arena. He seemed ready to try on our local trails. I went with two friends who are experienced riders. Jag was amazing. He was steady, brave, never spooked, he could lead the way, be in the middle or be at the end of the line. Nothing bothered him. We encountered several deer, a porcupine in a tree and even an owl that was on the ground and flew up in front of us onto a tree branch. All those things got his attention but he continued to keep with his business. I was even brave enough to gallop him in a field where a riding path was mowed along the perimeter. He pulled on the reins wanting to go faster but we kept control and most importantly he knew whoa.

I was on cloud nine. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to have such a brave and intelligent horse.
My main goal in all of Jag's new experiences was to get him to go through them calmly. He made that very easy but it was also choreographed by me and my experienced friends. I deliberately took him out with friends who agreed to do "granny rides". Basically they are only walk/trot rides with lots of stops to let the horses have a picnic on the grass. The "picnics" were crucial. Whenever it seemed one of the horses would get excited, we would make a point to find a spot to graze. This diverted their attention from wanting to create some trouble as well as settled them down. There are some choice spots too! One area has some lovely dutch clover which became the most favorite picnic spot of all.

Ahh! The Smorgasbord!

Overall, my goals were to get Jag to be relaxed in his surroundings and new routine. And it was important that all our new experiences were non threatening. My final goal was to get him to lose some of his fitness. We successfully managed to meet most all those goals with patience and time.

Now if only that flock of wild turkeys hadn't flown into his paddock that one day...

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