This morning was all about taking a few steps back and creating a straight and malleable horse again (the rest of the week will be similar).  Today we only worked in the walk and trot, working on moving both his shoulders and hindquarters around as well as improving on leg yield work at the walk, and simply working on moving forward and straight at the trot. Allowing him to stretch his head and neck down and out, as he starts to use his back.  Its amazing what the addition of hind shoes, and a fresh brain ready to learn can do, his trot work is getting better and better as he learns to bring his back up, his walk has also progressed immensely, and he greets me eagerly in the morning, ready to get to work. Gotta love those smart OTTBs!  Free jumping seems to have renewed his motivation to work, work, work (not that he had ever lost motivation - it is just much more noticeable now!)

Thursday will be make-over day so we can get some new photos to keep track of our progress! 
Friday we free jumped the boys, and they were fantastic! 

Ryker thought it was a blast and galloped and bucked around like a hooligan after going through the chute - you could see him almost wagging his tail like a dog with pleasure. We started simply with poles and progressed up to Xrails, one at a time (up to three), as he figured out to jump over them, instead of through them. Once he figured it out we put the last one up to a vertical, and then an oxer.  At the start he was hesitant and curious, but willing - he never stopped, but took his time to look at them on the approach - at the end he was forward and bold to them, making the striding tight.  The efforts he made over the fences was enough to clear them, but he did not over jump them to an extreme. The Xrails became big canter strides and the small Oxer a solid effort - I can't wait until he is ready to try it again for height, he has so much power!

 Here is first time over the Oxer, and last time through:
And here is a still shot of his last jump. Look at those knees! :D
While free jumping was great for Ryker's brain, it lit a fire in his belly. On Saturday he was ready to roll! The excitement brought us back a step or two in terms of balance and rhythm, and all he wanted to do was run around - at least he was not lacking forward motion off my leg!.  We were able to consistently pick up the left lead after much lateral work to get his body straight - once he was straight and forward he popped right into it (Surprise, surprise!).  

End of week two assessment: Intelligent, Bold, and Athletic 
I ran across these two articles and video this past week, the studies that are being done in Ireland are fascinating! They are tracing the genetic origin of TB speed - looks like it was a Shetland!  

The video gets at the question of "just what makes a champion?" - going through the mechanics* of a racing TB to discover just what makes these huge animals so fast, and what factors identify the ones that are truly incredible athletes. 


*If you are very squeamish, I would not suggest watching the video without preparing yourself - just a word to the wise - it is an excellent exploration and very worth watching, but does involve the majority of an equine necropsy. 

Ryker has been very good this past week.  Getting right to work without a lunge at the beginning of our ride. I've been working on solidifying lateral aids in both the walk and on the ground - he's starting to figure out that some leg means go forward, and some means move over. We been working on starting to stretch at the trot, making him move forward off my leg in a nice forward, flowing rhythm accepting a contact - the nice forward flowing trot has become much easier for him, and we have moments of stretch, whoohoo!  

The canter, however, is a different story entirely. I'm working with a race horse that only canters right! Who whould've thought?  ;) 
 Ryker has been very quiet in the canter, he moves well off my leg and is very responsive for downward transitions.  Picking up the right lead is easy for him , which he surprised me with on the lunge line , and continues to do so undersaddle.  His left lead however, seems to be much harder for him - He has very little trouble picking it up on the lunge, but with a rider aboard he is a little lost - the lead itself is not overly strong, nor is it balanced like his right lead.  At the beginning, before getting frustrated when all the tricks I had up my sleeve didn't work, I simple re-established what I was asking for on the lunge line and called it a day.  From there I did a lead change onto it as immediately as possible, which was not very consistent, but got his left lead stronger.  Now we can get it occasionally in the corner or off a very small circle - the transition isn't pretty, but its there, and it is wonderful once he picks it up - progress! 
  Since he is easily bored, I've been adding trot poles, and just recently canter poles, towards the ends of our ride to keep his mind engaged. Those are a non-issue for him, easy as pie, and he tends to make a beeline for them when we first get started walking around the ring. He sure is motivated! 
If there is one thing that I've taken from every person I've ever ridden with, and a piece of advice  that has been given to me repeatedly for this project, is to take it slow in order to make steady progress.   Ryker has been fantastic, working on aspects on the ground that translate to aspects undersaddle,  starting simply and adding pieces slowly . Like in lunging, for example; I started with a rope halter and long lead working on "whoa" on a straight line, and then progressed to doing so on a small circle.  From there came lunging with the rope halter, the addition on a surcingle, a bridle, side reins, long lines and a saddle - all before sitting on him.  Some may say I've gone a little too slow, but I want to be sure that Ryker has the building blocks to succeed when something new is being introduced.  

He has certainly settled into a routine, greeting me in the morning for our early ring time.  Another piece of advice I have been readily given, and take to heart regardless of the horse and situation - keep a routine.  Whether its gallop sets every 4 days  to prepare for a big Event or grooming and riding at the same time every day, there is a lot of merit to keeping a routine.  Steady progress can only be achieved by consistency (within a routine) , this does not mean I do the same thing every day with Ryker - My goal is not to bore him out of his mind, but to give him some sense of security while he is being mentally challenged.

And without further ado, 

Ryker has now been ridden twice, and has been as mellow as can be.  He is very willing and is quite mature (surprise, surprise, since he is 7...).  He has a very basic grasp of lateral aids and he responds very well to contact with a soft mouth. 

I can't wait to really get started now that we're working undersaddle.  So far he has taken to things very quickly - ex. lounging, longlines, poles (at walk and trot) - I can only hope that he will take to questions undersaddle just as quickly.  

 In other news, he got front shoes back on today! He's been a little footsore without front shoes and slightly long toes, especially since the ground has been so hard and unforgiving for turnout.  We'll see if anything changes about his attitude undersaddle. 

Day (I'm not sure any more!) assesment: Quite, Sensitive, and Intelligent. 

Go Ryker! 
The "before" shot
Gotta love thoroughbred brains! Not only is Ryker a trickster, but he is a smart cookie.  Today and yesterday were all about learning "whoa" and just pushing buttons on the ground.  Ryker was fantastic, even though we pushed his limits a little. We worked on walking over a pole (which he figured out really quickly, and very calmly) and lounging, which was very interesting - you could see him working everything out on his face.  By the end of the day we were lounging walk, trot, and a little canter in both directions, as well as halting nearly immediately to "whoa".  Ryker's reaction to having his brain a little melted was to jump a little in the air and stop and look at me with the expression of "I DONT GET IT!... explain it to me again..." and would willingly try again and again. 
First pole
to the right!
Finally back in Alfred!  Spent some quality stall time with Ryker today.  Just simply giving him a once over  and a good scratch.

He was very quiet and responsive in his stall, letting me pick up his feet, play with his nose, ears, tail, etc. just letting me push his buttons so to speak.  He was very cuddly, which I did not expect right off, more than willing to groom my shoulder for a whither scratch, and climb right into my pocket.  He was a little mouthy, albeit very polite about it - kinda like the cartoons where the horse tries to sneak in a nibble of the carrot in the back pocket - that's Ryker.  It was a game to him, and he was well aware that he shouldn't be playing it - needless to say, no hand treats - but he certainly isn't a biter, just a button pusher.   Speaking of button pushing, he also figured out how to get out of his stall and go gallivanting around the farm, his stall door is not only latched but was very well tied - to keep such a thing from happening.  Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a trickster! 

Day one assesment: Sweet, sensitive, and SMART

On another OTTB related note, the Retired Racehorse Training Project ( ) has picked horses! One of them is Solidify, he came from Fingerlakes and is now with the MidAtlantic Horse Rescue in Chesapeake City, MD. Solidify was one of our top picks for this project.  Great to know we have eyes for the good ones, and good luck to Solidify!

Tomorrow starts day two:  Starting ground work (pictures to follow)