Ryker is loving spring!  He's been out on his first trail ride - it was not super exciting, he had so take some time to think about a "nasty pile of rocks, drainage ditch" - but he went over  no problem with a little prodding.  He also was convinced he was going to the track and jigged a bunch, he wasn't going anywhere, just excited, and was totally fine with not being in the lead.   Once he realized we were back at the barn his expression changed from amped and nervous to slightly confused and relaxed, I foresee many successful trail rides to come :)

On another note, he is officially listed for sale! So exciting and so sad, I love him to pieces and want to bring him home with me to VT, but he is awaiting his lucky person! http://www.equine.com/horses-for-sale/horse-ad-2000747.html

Also, here is our most recent video --- In the rain! (that's how us Eventers do! He was so good out in the rain, he seemed to almost enjoy it!)
Ryker is moving forward, both in his flat work and over fences.  He's been working on creating more of a connection with the bit in his trot work, his back and shoulders are slowing beginning to come up; he is still figuring out how to canter with a light contact while allowing me to sit on his back.  I threw a flash noseband on him the last day before spring break, because he felt like he was ready for it.  He is a sensitive soul, so I didn't want to immediately clamp his mouth shut, but as he's  progressed with his understanding of contact and half-halts he's been using an open mouth as an evasion to the bit.  Although it took him time to calm down about it, he was wonderful once he settled.  The previous day we had a great jump school, working on adding poles to single fences - we had a pole, one stride to a vertical, on stride to a pole. He was quite calm about it, hopefully we can start adding more poles and eventually build them up into gymnastics. 

I decided instead of having him ridden lightly while I was away for spring break (Down in Southern Pines, NC to work with my personal OTTB with Denny Emerson at Tamarack Hill Farm) to give him a week off to contemplate the two wonderful progressive rides we had just had, and to recharge his batteries for when I return home. 

At my last school on my mare with Denny yesterday, there was a horse, Hawk, who was nearly identical to Ryker both in  build, way of going, and in attitude.  It felt like I was watching my own horse school with someone else.  It was wonderful to see a horse with a very similar mental state, and to soak up all of the advice Denny gave to the rider and to see the horse progress (hopefully Ryker will be just as athletic and willing as this horse). Denny's biggest comment with Hawk was to "lower the intensity"; that he needed to learn that everything is not as intense as the race track.  Denny had them trot everything first, calmly and quietly to bring everything down a notch.  This will be Ryker's M.O. for the rest of the semester, calm quiet rides, getting him to settle and focus on the job at hand - I have high hopes for him, and hopefully Denny's advice for Hawk will help Ryker progress.
Sorry for the delay! ...computer issues... 

Ryker has been doing very well,  he's had a few long weekends off here and there, but always comes back ready to work. We're trotting and cantering small crossrails and verticals on their own now.  We attempted to take him though a gymnastic - the same one-stride that Pogo excelled at, and proceeded to take a few steps backwards.  Ryker is a little bit of a sensitive soul, and tends to internalize everything, often it feels like I'm sitting on a bottle rocket that's fuse has been lit, but ends up being a dud and not doing anything exciting - I do love boring!  The amount of poles and standards in the one stride just blew his mind, so we're sticking to single fences for now -I've started relating poles before and after fences, about 3-4 stride away, and he has no problem with that.   Some horses do better with gymnastics, and others with single fences - he's just a single fences kind of guy.  The more confident he gets the more we will begin to slowly build courses together and introduce elements of gymnastic work (VERY slowly).  On the flat he has mastered the half-halt in the canter, and to right at the trot, the left is still a little inconsistent, but we're almost there! We're also continuing to work on all of our lateral aids, and our transitions into the canter, both of which are quite nice most days.

On another note, he's shedding what little coat he has like a beast, spring anyone!  Unfortunately he's also developed a little patch of track scuz on his hip - Anyone out there have a remedy ? ...I know we've all got some "magical" combination of things to cure scratches, but I personally don't have an arsenal of tricks up my sleeve for track scuz!
I'll let the video do the talking, but we've been spending a lot of time working on cantering ground poles.  Here is our first canter "fence".  Although it's more like a pile of poles, the goal is to keep a nice consistent forward rhythm as he figures out were to put his feet and use his body with a rider aboard.  From here we'll start to introduce adjusting the stride to poles and then eventually to jumping real fences.  Our "long term" goal is to school the IHSA course at the end of the month - whether or not we can do it fluidly as a course, or simply by jumping single fences, will depend on a lot of things. The rest of this week is dedicated to flat work (I might even pull out the dressage saddle), with and without poles - working on creating a sharper transition into the canter, learning to be more responsive to the seat and leg (especially, the seat), and improving our half-halt. 

 (Ok, so maybe I did do a lot of the talking... er, typing).

I would just like to take this moment to say, there really is nothing like an Off the Track Thoroughbred's work ethic and heart. 

 Ryker certainly  has a ton of both, and as many an OTTB he loves his new job. Since my last post was so dang long, I will spare you the details of this past week's walk, trot, canter and, pole work that lead up to this video.

Without further ado:
Sorry I've left everyone in the dark this past week! Classes are ramping up (I have a few midterms this week, eek! ) so my blog time has been sadly limited. 

  Ryker is going very well, his walk and trot work have come extremely far. He's figured out how to move straight and forward, and has been doing more work on stretching forward and down and then coming back up.    His canter work, has been exciting. Last night was a true breakthrough, and I am now full convinced he has a grasp of both leads, and the aids to get them.  Since my last post however, it has been quite the bumpy ride.  We had one day where the focus was to work on picking up both leads correctly, he felt ready for it. We went around almost getting his left lead, but would fall onto the right.  So, instead of continuing doing the same unsuccessful attempt, running and eventually picking up the wrong lead, I got a little firmer. Firm in the sense of he had to be straight, and he had to move forward off my leg.  We worked on picking up the canter, regardless of the lead, without hesitation from the aids and called it quits.  
  The next day we continued on the canter work, it was a few days later, we worked on getting the left and right leads consistently correct.  He has the right lead down pat, but the left was still difficult (a little plug for Kait, it is always extremely helpful to have someone's eyes on the ground during every ride! Since we tend to ride the boys together, I can rely on her to catch thing I don't automatically feel).  In my attempt to not make the lead a big deal, and keep him straight, I had become crooked - it is not fair to say the horse has to be straight when the rider isn't! - big oops on my part.  Kait picked up on it, and we finally were able to get our left lead - the first time he picked it up was great. The second time, he took-off. 
   Now, I'm an Event rider, and I love to gallop (I've been secretly dying to gallop Ryker - don't tell him that); however, this took me by complete surprise, he has some serious power! My first reaction was "Oh %$^&!  I'm not wearing my vest!" (I've been wearing it, just as a precaution, since until this point, I didn't trust what he was going to do when he was pushed a little too far).  My second reaction was to bring my shoulders back, sit down, and pull up - this reaction would work wonderfully on a trained horse, that is simply being bad and may or may not buck (emphasis on avoiding a buck). But, I was riding a racehorse, it took my brain a second or two to register that my plan of action had to be different; when it did, I stood up in my stirrups, shortened and bridged my reins and planted my hands on his neck, all while careening around the indoor. From there I used my upper body as leverage and our handy-dandy "whoa" button to bring him back to a nice quiet canter, where I gave him some slack in the reins and let him lope around. We walked around for a bit, and then picked up the left lead again, the first few strides were quick, and then he settle right into it! Success!  :)
   Last night was our true breakthrough in the canter.  My intention was to give him the day off from riding, but to walk him around the indoor to let him stretch since the footing for turnout is so hard.  When I went to grab him from his stall he greeted me by the door with ears pressed as far forward as they could go, and dove his head into his halter.  Needless to say, he wanted to work! Bringing him from his barn, into the main barn was also a production.  He was a racehorse again, prancing and snorting, albeit very politely not invading my space or trying to pull me around, all the way to the barn. He jigged down the aisle of the barn, and when I stopped at my  locker (where we typically ground tie, or tie with bailing twine - yes, my crazy OTTB ground ties!) he stood patiently.  So I groomed him and tacked him up, amidst lots of licking a chewing and just general "happy horse" behavior - he even grabbed for the bit.
   The beginning of my ride was typical warm-up, stretching and moving forward before bringing him back and doing a little lateral work at the walk and trot.  He was focused and responsive, despite a lot of commotion in the ring (there were people working on roping - gotta love OTTBs, they don't care about much!) so I went for it. Our right lead depart was sharp and just generally spectacular, and our left was a huge improvement- I had to be very conscious about not letting myself get crooked. As well as staying up and forward enough, without getting in his way, so that even if he took-off there was no reprimand for picking up the lead.  He did to take-off once but only for a couple strides, and came right back (yippee!). We went back and forth across the diagonal and the center of the ring picking up both lead consistently - the best lightbulb moment ever, everything felt clear and correct and I got off to a horse who looked very pleased with himself.   

And as promised, an updated photo:
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!