Wednesday, February 25, 2009

25 Things

There is a facebook message making the rounds called “25 Things About Me.” I, personally, have refused to fill one out because I think these things are too time consuming. But I checked with Jag about this and here is what he wanted to post as his “25 Things About Me”

1) My birthday is on April 15th, tax day;

2) I have a wart on my left thigh (don’t worry its harmless). I prefer to think of it as a “beauty mark”;

3) Miss Wendy says I have a high pitched “girlie” squeal when I’m trying to be a tough guy. She’s mistaken. Just check out the first 15 seconds of this video to see!

4) I can’t get enough of the endorphin rush from cribbing;

I'm addicted
I'm addicted

5) I have black dots in the middle of my white socks right at the base of my fetlocks (ankles). I’m told this is a sign of good luck;

6) I love treats – any kind, any flavor but peppermint most of all;

7) I still have my wolf teeth;

8) I have cowlicks on either side of my neck at the crest;

9) I like to spin my poop all over the stall but will pee in only one spot;

10) I don’t like the horse in the mirror. He makes me very angry and I yell at him (in my manly voice);

Damn The Scentless Bastard

11) I like Miss Wendy very much – for some reason she becomes embarrassed when I show my affection;

12) I’m able to remove my winter blanket without undoing a single buckle. And then I pee on it for good measure;

13) I grunt like I’m a weightlifter when I’m working hard - I love a good workout;

14) I like to chew the bit when I’m concentrating on my work;

15) I won a $14,000 claiming race my 2nd time ever racing which was at Arlington Park;

16) I was a late bloomer - I didn’t start racing until June of my 3 yr old season;

17) In 2002 I won a $4,000 claiming race and 9 days later I won a $10,000 Allowance race, the only Allowance race I ever won;

18) I won at least one time every year I raced;

19) The other geldings in the barn annoy me;

20) The barn cats annoy me;

21) The barn dogs annoy me;

22) The mares in season squealing at me annoy me;

23) I sent the chiropractor across the aisle like a ragdoll one time - he annoyed me (I heard he had to get adjusted himself after that! Ha! Got him!);

24) I’ve parted ways with Miss Wendy only a few times – once in knee deep snow and she had to walk ½ mile to get back;

25) Best of all, I like to holler “HI DEE HO” to Miss Wendy as soon as I see her – she makes my life fun!

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...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Setting Goals, Making Plans

Setting goals and making plans has always been important in all aspects of my life. Retraining myself and Jag is no different. So I have set some goals for this summer's show season. My goal is simple and broad. I want to get Jag (and me) to the show ring and be respectable. Jag has never been to a horse show - this is outside the fact that it's been a long time for me and I've NEVER been in a dressage show. I talked this over with Betsy so we could create a game plan and put it into action.

The first show we hope to get to will actually be a training show which will put us through the motions of showing without it actually being a formal show. This sounded good to me. If Jag had a bucking fit or became very high spirited, I would be in the company of my peers in a little bit of an informal setting (no big time judge). A good way for us to start.

will winter ever end?

I have two opportunities. One will be on May 9th at a cool winery/B&B/Stable called Black Star Farm. It's only a few miles away from where my horses live and it'd be fun to be part of a "for fun" show to start. The other opportunity is a training show strictly for Betsy's students. We are talking about holding it at one of the student's farm which is up for sale and quite literally around the corner from the barn where I keep my horses! If I go to that show, I may take both my horses. For some unknown reason, Toby has come down with a phobia for horse trailers. He had always trailered well in the past. This will give us an opportunity for a short ride and if all else failed I could still get him home - I'd just have to ride him home!

Assuming Jag does well handling my nerves in the show ring, the plan is to then make Horse Shows By The Bay our goal. Horse Shows By The Bay is a big 3 week long horse show that brings in many of the top riders across the country. It's the biggest show in Michigan and it's right here in Traverse City! Unfortunately, I will be working the U.S. Senior Open the weekend the dressage events take place. So Betsy will show Jag for me and I'll get the big event video taped. Going to a big show will be great experience for him to have under his belt and it'd be fun to have my friends there cheering for him. I imagine they will be texting me with updates!

This is our game plan and hopefully we will get to where we want to be. We may have some potholes in our path but we will tackle those as they come. And maybe we won't get to Horse Shows By The Bay specifically but my goal is to get him into the show ring. I'm sure we can meet that broad based goal!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An Introduction

Welcome to my blog about retraining my Off Track Thoroughbred, Jaguar Hope. Not only am I retraining him but retraining me, a hunter/jumper trained owner, as we both learn about Dressage. A new challenge for both of us!


Me: I have a completely cool job working in golf. I teach, explain, officiate and write about the Rules of Golf for the ruling body of golf in the United States. I love my job. It takes up much of my life but I don't think I'd have it any other way. The time that I do have for me is filled up with horses - my passion. In my spare time I am a lover of horses, a horse racing fan and advocate for race horse welfare, an equine photographer, as well as a hobbyist in equine competition. I used to compete in the hunter/jumper world for years until I got very involved in golf. You can say I took a 15 yr hiatus from horses. Now I'm out of denial and back in full force!

Jaguar Hope: A Thoroughbred horse - Bred in Illinois by Jaguar On The Run Stables, Jag was born to run. His sire is the Eclipse Award winner Turkoman and he's out of the dam, Enduring Hope. He's a 1998 model that began racing at the age of 3 and raced 71 times, earned $88,983 with a record of 15 - 13 - 9.

Here is a video of one of his races:

How we got here:

In May of 2007, I found myself at Great Lakes Downs one evening with a co-worker. We were both on a business trip in Grand Rapids, MI and decided to spend our evening at the nearby track. Both of us had just returned from a fantastic trip to the Kentucky Derby and we were still in the horse racing mode. We had a great time making our $2 bets and enjoying a good dinner. We were about to leave before the last race but my friend talked me out of it. Thankfully she did because out came the most beautiful horse I'd ever seen. I quickly checked my racing form and saw he was a 9 yr old gelding running in a $4,000 claiming race and had won his last race 2 weeks earlier.

Jaguar Hope

Being a volunteer for CANTER - MI I knew that many horses like Jaguar Hope, didn't have great opportunities once their racing careers were over. However, I didn't let that control my impulse to immediately ask his owner if I could retire him. I felt I needed to check into him a little bit more to see if we would be a good fit. Two weeks later, I was at Great Lakes Downs in the morning to check with the trainers on the backside for horses they wanted to list with CANTER or donate to CANTER. We stopped by the trainer's barn that owned Jaguar Hope. We asked one of the workers if Jaguar Hope was there and he was!!! This was a stroke of luck as this trainer only brings in his horses from his farm to the track when they race. So I got to say hi personally to Jaguar Hope - who was super friendly - gave him a treat as well as saw that his legs looked really really clean (not that that would have changed my mind about owning him).

I wrote a letter to his owner immediately upon my return home. A few weeks later he called and said "sure thing, you can have him if you'd like"! I just happened to be working the U.S. Women's Open at the time and so we made arrangements for me to get him in August once I was done with championship work. He asked me to pay a very agreeable amount to purchase him. Done deal!

I'm not new to Off Track Thoroughbreds (OTTB's) as I already had in my possession an ex racer that was once my niece's hunter/jumper horse. He is my "been there, done that" guy. He was relatively successful as a race horse early in his life and then for some reason it ended during his 4 yr old season - it's a mystery to this day what happened although he has a mark from a broken bone just below his left eye. I'm guessing he had a gate issue... totally a guess! He entered into my niece's life when he was discovered by her trainer in a field in Lansing, MI. He became her hunter/jumper horse in the AA circuit and they did well. My niece ended up having some issues come up in her life and riding came to an end. This is when Toby - her horse - entered my life. There's more to his story but it will have to be the topic for another post.

So I felt I had the patience and understanding of ex race horses and felt I could take the next step of getting a racer straight off the track with the agreed upon help of my friends and trainer.

At this time I was working with a terrific trainer, Karen Maas. Karen knows more about horse psychology than anyone I know. She has played a key role during the time that Jag came off the track and learned life away from the track. She was always there for teaching him regular horse things like treats and going on trail rides along with teaching him some elementary riding basics. It may not sound like much in writing but for a horse that only knew life on the track for 6 of his 9 years it was huge.

Karen is part of a group of friends I refer to as my "team." My team consists of Karen (foremost a good friend and trainer), David Vanderlind my farrier, Tonja Molby my vet and Mark H. my chiropractor (yes mine AND my horse's). I rely on all these people to help me figure out issues with my horses and to come up with a plan to remedy them. They are all very important in my horses health and I trust them implicitly. They are the "A" team!

So now we come to my current situation. I've always noticed that Jag is a beautiful mover and very athletic as well as showy. So I felt he'd be a better fit for Dressage than going into the hunter/jumper world. When Karen came up with some personal health issues, I had to look for someone who is trusted within the local equine community in dressage training. Betsy Van Dyke became our gal to teach us the fine points of dressage. Probably the best trait about Betsy, which attracted me to her as a trainer, is her sympathy and understanding of the horse she is working. She's quick on the praise yet is equally quick to let the horse know they are doing wrong. It always seems to be done in a calm conversational manner which is really cool! They seem to have a constant conversation between them, horse and rider, which is beautiful to watch. Jag loves praise and it's great to see him working hard and trying for Betsy when she rides him. He tries for me as well but I'm sure that my conversational skills through riding are not quite as clear to him as Betsy's. And that's my challenge to learn in riding!

So here we are. Starting out in dressage and wondering where it will take us. I will be blogging about it as we move along so you can tag along with us if you'd like. We are not always perfect but most importantly we are having fun. Afterall, this is my recreation and fun should be first and foremost. We hope you can become part of our support team! Welcome!

Here's a video to demonstrate our ultimate starting point. My very first ride on him: