Training Spot Run
This is the diary of Spot Run. He is a 16.1+ hand Thoroughbred, born in 2004, who has just come off the race track! Spot is a dark bay with a white spot on his forehead and intelligent eyes. He is very social with the other horses and, just like all Thoroughbreds, he wants to please you. My name is Katelyn Oliver and I am a 16 year old sophomore at St. Francis High School. I’ve been riding since I was eight but I’ve never owned my own horse (until now!). Elizabeth Wood and I are training Spot to be a sport horse and teaching him how to jump. Of course, not that he needs it! Apparently, he’s already jumped a four foot high fence to go see some buddies.
Day 1-(January 30, 2011)
Technically the first day was Saturday the 29th, but I couldn’t be there to watch Spot Run unload from the trailer because I was at Homecoming and so I consider today to be the first day instead. I got there around noon and my mom and I had brought some food in a celebration for Spot’s (and Texan’s) arrival. When I first saw him I noticed he was a little skinny and his ribs were showing. His back end also needed to be filled out. Elizabeth (the barn’s owner and my trainer) explained that when a horse first comes off the track they will be a little skinny. Riding a long distance in the trailer is hard on a horse. We took him out to a pasture with hay and no other horses so he could get used to being out. Spot was so funny. He was a little unsure at first and just walked around. He checked out every corner and then started trotting around. He noticed the other horses next door to his paddock and greeted them, too. My dad and Elizabeth got some great photos of Chanago, River, and Spot with their noses pressed up against each other.
After everyone was done eating Elizabeth and I brought Spot into the barn and brushed him. I learned that sometimes race horses have never been cross-tied because they are tacked up in their stalls. We didn’t have time today to check and see if he was okay with the cross ties so instead my mom and I traded off holding him while Elizabeth ran over him with a brush.
Out in the ring, Elizabeth first lead Spot all the way around to let him get used to the ring and check everything out. Then Elizabeth tested him by dropping the mounting block near his feet to see how he would react. She dragged a pole near him and waved it in the air, too. The funniest test was when she took a bright orange cone and sat it on top of Spot’s head! He didn’t react to any of the test and seemed pretty calm. The pole waving scared him a little but he just stepped away from it.
Next, Elizabeth put Spot on a lunge line. I found out that some race horses don’t know how to lunge, but Spot seemed to do fine. He was a little confused at first and just backed away when Elizabeth urged him on, but after a few seconds he got it and started to trot around. Afterwards, Elizabeth got on Spot with Barry holding the lunge line. Elizabeth only had to be on the lunge line for a few minutes before she realized Spot didn’t need it. He rode around beautifully and even put his head and body into a natural frame. He was so well centered and balanced.
Then I got to get on! I loved him right from the start. He felt a little nervous when I first got on him and Elizabeth held the lunge line. He had this spring in his step and he was so comfortable. I had to keep my hands very quiet while I rode because Thoroughbreds have sensitive mouths. I worked on getting him to walk around in a circle and keeping his head bent to the inside. Mostly I tried to get him to listen to me by just barely tapping on the rain with my pinky. When he started to stretch his head down, Elizabeth told me to reward him by giving more rain and to stop tapping it. I also did a little trotting and practiced transitions between walking and trotting. He did so well with everything. It was hard to believe he had just come off the track!
Day 2- (January 31, 2011)
I went to see Spot after school today. It had been raining since morning so the ground was pretty muddy and Spot was a mess! I brought him in and cleaned him up in his stall while Elizabeth finished her emails. He became so calm while I brushed him that I thought he might fall asleep.
We tried putting him in the cross ties today. Elizabeth and I put him in the ones out in the hallway so that he would have room if he freaked out. Spot did fine, though. He got a little upset when Barry came in the barn from behind him and he tried to turn to see Barry. Spot twisted in the hallway and we had to push him back over because the chain got a little tight on one side.
Elizabeth told me that you want to have something that can break attached to the cross ties in case the horse decides to freak out and jerk away. Elizabeth uses hay string. You also want to make sure the hay string is attached to the clip that hooks onto the horse’s halter because if he breaks away you don’t want the chain still attacked to his face as he goes running down the hallway.
We took Spot up to the ring again and he seemed a little anxious. The wind was a little loud and he couldn’t see the other horses. Spot was flaring his nostrils and breathing kind of heavy so Elizabeth lunged him before I got on.
I worked on the same thing as yesterday: getting him to listen to me and making his head bend to the inside. I found out that if I wanted to keep Spot to the outside while still looking in, I could shift my weight to the outside foot while still keeping my leg pressure with the inside. He instantly did better. I also learned that if I just corrected him by bringing his head quickly inside and then letting it go back, he started to get the idea better than if I kept trying to hold his head to the inside.
Elizabeth taught me how I could stop Spot without using much rein. I learned about half-halts. If you picture your back against a wall while riding, there should be space between your back and the wall. When I wanted to stop, I rounded my back to lie it flat against that wall. This shifted the weight in my seat and told the horse to stop. I did okay with it but not great. I got Spot to slow down but never could get him to stop completely unless I used a little rein. But still, this was better because then I didn’t have to pull back on his mouth as much.
We trotted some more too, but he was a little fast because he was still anxious with the wind blowing. Overall, though, it was another great day!
Day 3-(February 1, 2011)
We tried the cross ties again today. Spot didn’t freak out but he twisted a lot to look behind him. Elizabeth told me to face him towards the barn door, but once another horse was brought into the barn to be tacked I had to turn him around in the cross ties so that he could face the other horse (Bo). He did better with Bo there and didn’t move around as much.
Out in the ring, Elizabeth showed me how to lunge Spot. I was just as new at it as he was. Elizabeth showed me how I have to look at Spot’s rear end instead of his eyes so that he would keep moving. Then she told me to hold my arm, the one holding the lunge line to his mouth, out in the direction that the horse is moving. It took me a little bit before I could get Spot to go. He kept backing up instead of moving forward and I was tempted to look at his face each time instead of his back legs. I had to swing the extra rope from the lunge line behind, or even at, Spots rear end to get him to go forward.
I had to remember to give Spot a lot of the rope so he could go in a bigger circle because he isn’t used to lunging. Once I wanted Spot to stop, Elizabeth told me to slightly tug on the lunge line and then bow so that he knew to transition down to a walk and eventually stop. I was surprised it worked so well. I couldn’t really tug on the lunge line at first because Spot had started to move into the circle, but once I bowed he slowed down and came to a walk. Then I was able to get him to stop by just slightly tugging on the rope. Elizabeth told me to make him walk towards me. I gave him a rub on the neck and told him he was good.
Afterwards, I got on him and walked around for a little while. Elizabeth didn’t keep me on the lunge line for very long today. We worked more on getting Spot to bend and put his head into a frame.
When I started to trot I tried one of the trot poles. He was doing so well that Elizabeth and I decided to try the whole line of poles. She has it set up as one, three, then one. There’s a single pole on the ground, then a couple of steps later there’s a series of three poles spaced four and half feet apart which is the normal trot spacing. After that there’s another single pole. We were all amazed with Spot as he practically glided over the first 4 poles. He only stumbled a little on the last one but that was probably my fault. I looked down a little, which you’re not supposed to do.
We tried the poles again and he got a little wiggly. Elizabeth said I needed to get more contact with the bit and to keep him straight with equal pressure from my legs. Spot and I worked on extending his stride, too, by half-halting but driving him forward with my seat. He got more round when we did this and went into a frame. Then I came at the poles again and the last time or two I got him a lot straighter by using my legs but still not letting him get too fast.
I cooled Spot off . He seemed to do even better in the wash rack because the ropes weren’t as long as the chains in the hallway and there wasn’t as much room to wiggle.
Tomorrow we’re going to try using a different bit with Spot. The one we were using before belong to Elizabeth’s horse (With Wings) and Spot chews on it like he doesn’t really like it. Elizabeth’s letting me borrow a bridle with a rubber bit. Hopefully Spot will like it better!
Day 4 (February 2, 2011)
We cross-tied Spot again and today he hardly moved around. The new bit seemed to work a little better. He still chewed on it some. When I tried to get more pressure to get more connection, he started bobbing his head. Elizabeth said I needed to be gentler and focus more on trying to get him to relax and put his head down instead of getting him into a frame. I worked on getting Spot to stretch his head down like before by tapping the rein and loosening it as he put it down. I almost had him touching his nose to ground at one point!
We then started trotting over the poles again. Dr. Susan Llewallyn Goodman and her new horse Imatexan (or Texan for short) rode around with Spot and me in the ring. Spot did just as well as yesterday with the poles. Elizabeth even rose one of the poles up on top of the support that hold up the jump standards. The pole was only a couple of inches off the ground but it caught Spot a little off guard. He tripped over it the first time but after that he picked his feet up every time and was able to go over the risen pole!
I was also impressed when Baroness Von River (the feline head assistant trainer) came into the ring and was running around. Baroness was walking along the fence as I came at a trot toward the poles, and Spot hardly even looked at her. Then there was the tree that fell! Susan, Elizabeth, and I were stopped toward the center of the ring when we heard a cracking noise. A dead tree fell down near one of the pastures and made a lot of noise as it came down. Both Spot and Texan didn’t freak out though! Texan had her head up and was side stepping a little. Spot just swung his head up when he heard the first crack of the tree. Other than that, the horses hardly reacted when this 100 foot high tree came down.