“You saved her.”

I’m one of those people who is thrilled by horse racing. I know there are abuses; I know there are accidents, maimings, and fatalities of horse and human alike. I know there are cruelties and everyday examples of all the ruinous stupidity that money can bring and buy. I know that my own horse, a daughter of Xchanger –who led the Preakness field for the entire first half of the race in 2007 – ended up in a New Hampshire backyard emaciated, filthy, and forgotten. It is a capricious sport and like all sports it is a business. When animals are involved in a business, its ethics become all the more complicated.

When people see the pictures of Bizzy from the first day, they inevitably say, “You saved her.” That’s true – but not just because I wrote a check, cleaned her up, and fed her. I brought her to a barn where she is trained, worked and partnered with again. Where she’s respected for the athlete that she is.

Because we are starting her on a new career, Bizzy now has a good life –even a great life— especially for a Thoroughbred. She is not a pet or a lawn ornament. I believe her sweet and curious personality would turn to arrogance and depression and her strength would become unwieldy if her mind and body weren’t turned toward learning and working.

Racing gives us these intelligent, athletic, all-out Thoroughbreds. Good people give back to them through kindness, mutual hard work, and respect for all they are born to do.


Walking without help, wondering when it would get easier.

April 1, 2018. I’m dating these posts because I’m a little behind, and it’s been a journey. Over the last three weeks I’ve been heading down to the barn to ride Bizzy at the walk. She’s been very up when we bring out into the ring, and broncing on the lunge line. When we would walk, at first, Lauren would lead her with me on her back, like a pony ride.

One day she was so up, and it was so windy, we didn’t ride her at all, which is so unusual for us. Lauren lunged her, and then I lunged her, and then we took her inside and groomed her and discussed emergency dismounts. Why was that on our minds? Because the week before Lauren had hopped down mid-bronc back to the gate in the middle of what had been a good-ish ride.

So over the last few weeks, when I’ve had a couple of walks on her that went well, and where Lauren left us to walk on our own, it felt like a breakthrough. But it wasn’t the real breakthrough we were looking for, as it felt tentative. I was aware of her ears constantly. She was looking for excuses constantly. Pricking her ears forward at anything. “Come on, Bizzy,” I would think as I drew her back to me, her ear flicking back or just flopping down as indication she was listening again. One of the times recently, when Lauren was still walking beside her, she tried nipping at her to get a rise out of her, to get an excuse to flip upward.

It was like that the whole time. Each time there would be a spook or a scoot; a few times I felt what it was like to get air between my seat and the saddle. But each time I would be centered, and after that initial adrenaline-inducing surge, she wouldn’t really do that much – and we would live to ride another day.

That was our winter into spring. Snow squalls, huge winds, nervy horse, wondering if it would get better, when it would get better, would we ever trust it and trust her.

Taking it down to the walk.

Over the course of November through March, really through the winter, Lauren was working her at the walk and trot. By February, we started only walking her. She was so up every time, so over-responsive to every aid – especially contact – that it seemed the only thing to do was just to walk it out.

We lunged her, of course. Lauren rode her more and more, around the snowstorms and whenever she could. I rode whenever I could get down there. Bizzy stopped going into orbit the way she did in November and December every time Lauren put the leg on or gave a little bit of contact, but still she was spooky, tripping, looking for some little reason to scoot or jump. But still, it was all we could do to have a nice, contained, relaxed walk without someone holding her or walking alongside.

The idea was (and this is echoed in everything you read about bringing Thoroughbreds off the track): Let her walk and relax. Let her realize we’re not going to ask for a single other thing. Let her do this in the worst months for horses – the months when their backs are cold (hence all the bucking and broncing on the lunge, kicking out and stretching out that back), the months when some horses are nervy anyway.

The idea was for me to know all I was going to do was walk. And her to know all she was going to do was walk. And then, through that, learn to accept a little bit of pressure on her mouth, a little bit of leg now and then.

Along with lots and lots of scratches on the neck and praise, telling her she was a good, good girl.

Lunging in the wind

April 6, 2018. Today was a brilliantly sunny, cold, wildly windy day. The trees are dotted with red with the first flush of buds. It’s supposed to snow a little bit tomorrow. I was on my way down to the barn when Lauren texted: “It’s a lunge day only for Biz. She’s feeling good with the wind!”

It was good timing. Kevin and I had gone down just to hand walk her last Sunday, and I haven’t yet lunged her by myself when she’s feeling good. I had walked her for fifteen minutes when she decided to crow hop around a bit, then stare down at me. I knew she needed more than walking, but I’ve never lunged a broncing horse and wasn’t prepared to try, so I reluctantly put her away.

Today she walked right up to us in the paddock, veering from Lauren toward me when she saw me, which made us laugh. She thought she was choosing the easy one. But not for long, Biz. I’m going to learn how to handle you any time.

The first lunge was a wild, twisting, galloping bronc-fest, interspersed with long-piston trotting that could have won her a dressage ribbon. I watched how Lauren stayed basically still in the middle, bracing the lunge slack behind her back, wearing her deerskin gloves to be able to hang on.

When the mustang seemed out of her, and she’d settled into regular gaits, Lauren brought me in. She reminded me to hold the loops of lunge line in my left hand (but never around it!) and use that hand to take up the slack when I needed to, freeing my right hand to guide her forward. She reminded me to stand in the middle, not walk around in a circle after her – a reminder I needed several times.

Above all, she reminded me to relax. To drop my shoulders, keep my right elbow loose and in at my sides, to let the horse do what she knows very well to do – to keep on a circle walking, trotting, cantering as asked. And in this way, it became like riding. As I relaxed, she did. When I unconsciously started walking around, she went faster. When I stood still, she dropped her head. She sped up a few times and I experienced the tension on the line, realizing how big she is on the other end of it and yet not worrying about it too much. Just keeping things going.

There are so many subtleties to lunging though it seems you’re just supposed to stand there and hang on and not get tangled up in the line. Getting back around her when she decided she was done and turned in prematurely. Giving a very slight half halt when she was getting ahead of herself without goosing her for more.

Just learning to be with her, be with me, be together. Like riding.

This is not from today but a couple of months ago, and she’s being a perfect angel in the snow.




Second year, stronger horse

Since November, 2017, we’ve been in our second year — which has turned out to be a year of a brand new horse. The true Bizzy is beginning to emerge. Though last year at this time Lauren was jumping her – and I was trotting to crossrails and cantering away — we’re back to flat work for the moment. We went through a period of lameness over the summer and into the fall, and got that sorted out. (A slightly clubby foot – managed with injections and an excellent farrier and she’s back in (just) business.)

When she came back from that she was stronger. She’d built muscle over the summer. Her foot didn’t hurt. She’d been eating and enjoying her paddock and the other horses for months. And now — last November — she was ready to get going with that new body!

She expressed it through broncing on the lunge line, just jumping up and down while staying on a circle – which is a perfect expression of her youth and strength combined with her desire to be a good girl and do what we are asking. Then she expressed it with Lauren on her back, sailing four feet up and all four hooves off the ground when asked to canter to the right.

Was she lame again? Did something hurt? That was all I could think of. But Lauren thought about it and thought about it and sorted it out. It was the contact when being asked to canter. We know that contact on a thoroughbred means go; the jockeys keep a tight contact to ask for a gallop. Bizzy didn’t like going to the right (again like many OTTBs) because she wasn’t as balanced that way. And, she doesn’t know her aids yet.

To test her theory, Lauren took her back to the lunge line and practiced giving her “contact” with the line, drawing it down from where she stood and then verbally asking for a transition to trot or canter. Lauren treated it like a half halt – not a hanging down on her mouth. At first, Bizzy replicated what she did with a rider on her back – she exploded into the next gait. But eventually she accepted what it meant and made the transition without fuss. In both directions.

She wasn’t in pain. There was nothing wrong. She just didn’t get it. Lauren’s a smart cookie. And so is B.

She loves to jump higher!

February, 2017.

By the end of the first session of free lunging, Bizzy was clearing 2’6″ and 3′, including an oxer – the top poles set on an angle from each other creating a wider spread at the top of the jump. That’s the first video, below.

On the second day, she was doing so effortlessly. What was and is still fun about it is she starts to get going so there is less need for Lauren to guide her through. Now sometimes we can’t stop her once she is going around – she’ll often come around again to perfect a jump she didn’t quite get right the first time. And when we introduce a higher jump at the end of the line, you can see her “lock in” as she’s approaching the first, planning her strides to get there and clear it.



You can see in this next video that Lauren’s not needing to do much to guide her through the jumps. Missy’s standing near the last jump so she’ll go over it, but there doesn’t seem to be any doubt about her plans to go over. Look how gorgeously she picks up her feet and sails over. This was her second day.

You can also see that she’s been gaining some weight and muscle tone.



This horse loves to jump!

Once Bizzy had gotten used to going over crossrails while she was on the lunge line, Lauren and crew took her to the indoor to do something called “free lunge.” The person still stands in the middle with a whip (used to guide the horse to stay out on the perimeter) but the horse is not wearing tack or attached by a line.

They set up a line of crossrails, and you’ll see in this first video that Bizzy took to it.

Eventually, they added a couple of low verticals.

Lunging with a vertical.

For the non-horsey people out there, I’ll just say that that jump that’s made by crossing the poles into an “X” is a crossrail. Once you put the poles straight across, in a horizontal way, the jump is called a “vertical.”

Once Bizzy was feeling confident about the crossrail, Lauren raised one of the poles to make a vertical. Now the horse needs to really think about picking up her feet so she can go over it and not crash into it. (Note: When she does crash into it, it’s not a big deal – the poles are made of a plastic composite and so they’re lightweight.)

In the second video, Lauren laid another pole on the ground ahead of the vertical. This is to help the horse “find her distance” – the distance from the jump where she should leave the ground. When a rider is on her back the rider partners with the horse to find the right distance before each jump. Watch in each video how she raises her head to get a look at it as she approaches.






Lunging with a crossrail.

As soon as Lauren showed Bizzy the crossrail, she incorporated it into the routine of lunging on a circle. It’s all just incremental, step-by-step like that. First, you learn to walk/trot/canter on a circle, and then you have get yourself over a little crossrail. I think before this point she had already been given some flat poles to walk and trot over.

What we discovered here, and what we’ve seen ever since, is that Bizzy likes to learn new things.  She doesn’t shy away, or run out, or balk in any way. When you’re there with her, you can see that she’s thinking, and each time she tries again it’s with a new effort. It’s been a pleasure to see her take an interest in learning and perfecting whatever we introduce.

In this case, watch how she goes over for the very first time (not bad!), and then the second, the third, the fourth. She learns to pick her feet up, and she starts to figure out when to leave the ground.


And in this next, short video, she’s thrilled because she’s really got it down, so she’s approaching with excitement and confidence. And you’ll see she attempts an actual little jump!


This is a mounting block. This is a crossrail.

I read somewhere that racehorses never encounter a mounting block because the jockey is always just given a leg up. When I first brought Bizzy up into the ring, she was cool as a cucumber until, sure enough, she gave a comically startled and shocked reaction to the mounting block. She ducked down, front legs splayed forward, and did a double take. We stood there for a minute and let her blow on it and sniff it until she could place the thing in her consciousness and decide that it wasn’t going to bother her again.

Early on, when we mounted her from it she didn’t know how to stand still. She moved forward and back and sometimes sideways, which doesn’t work. You don’t want a moving target when you’re mounting a horse. But pretty soon she learned, and then it was time to introduce the next big thing: The crossrail.

See below.