Learning to lunge.

Lauren started her on the lunge line, and started me lunging her, too. The first part was getting her to go out on the circle, and respond to voice commands to walk, trot, canter, whoa. She wasn’t strong yet, obviously, and her go-to was to do a downward transition as soon as she was tired. Not a bad trait for when we’re starting out – she didn’t, or couldn’t, just gallop and gallop.

She also needed to get the strength back to balance herself at the canter on a circle — this was easier going to the left, as it is for most racehorses. They race to the left, and there’s not necessarily a lot of training to get them to do much of anything else. What we want as Hunter/Jumper riders is a more refined set of capabilities – we want brakes but we also want balance and grace at the walk, trot, and canter. By the time of this video – taken about two weeks after we got her – she was just starting to get the hang of things.

(For some reason this video looks upside down, but it plays right side up.)

The first week.


First order of business, besides feeding her and getting her checked by the vet, was cleaning her up. The first time I took her out to groom I was nervous – would she kick or bite? Was she sensitive to the touch? But like many Thoroughbreds she was used to being handled — and she seems to love being groomed.

It took three days to get much of the dirt out of her coat, and even then I wasn’t finished. But there was a horse under there, and a brown bay coat began to reveal itself as a reddish mahogany color, even if her fur was shaggy and her hips jutted out.

I had to go to the tack store with a list, too, of everything she needed. Heavy, medium, and light blankets. A “cooler” – a fleece for right after a workout on a cool day. Bridle and bit, saddle pads, groom box and grooming tools, fly spray, mane and tail detangler. Fortunately, I already had my saddle, which, even used, had cost more than she did.

A few hundred dollars later, plus anticipating the visits from the vet and the farrier, I called Kevin who was back at work in Washington, D.C., where he was commuting to at the time.

“I’m sorry I bought a horse,” I said.

“That’s okay,” he said. “It’s exciting. I told Ernie about it today.” (His boss.)

As a friend said, “It happens.”


First day.


The first day of training means not doing anything, just letting the horse rest in her new environment. If OTTBs are coming right off the track, it’s especially important to give them some time to wind down after that busy life. In Bizzy’s case, she’d been off the track for two years, because the racetrack where she worked, Suffolk Downs, was closing. Though there were still a few race days a year — six spread out over three months rather than a ninety day meet — her trainer didn’t have the means to bring her horses back and forth. So she’d brought them home to New Hampshire, with no income for them anymore, and had begun to sell them off.

Bizzy was the only one who was so thin. We never could figure out why, exactly. We dewormed her right away, got her tested and treated for Lyme, and just fed her – and fed her, and fed her. We gave her a salt lick and plenty of water, and let her settle into a new routine of stall time, turnout, and handling – starting with grooming.

Lauren texted me that morning when she turned her out and said, “She just did a quiet canter across the field.” It was significant because it was probably the first time she had cantered in two years – as we’d seen, she hadn’t really even had the room to trot.

Time to eat. Good hay, good grain, grass.
Fortunately for us, she loves her stall. I guess she had plenty of time outside over the previous two years. On her first night, she walked right in, just as easily as she had loaded on the trailer. The horse was exhausted and hungry and she knew a good thing when she saw it.