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 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.






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.


First ride.

We started with pony rides. You can tell from the expression on my face that it was a joy and a surprise to get on her back. She was so skinny and so wiggly, and it was just a thing to be up there. I think we only walked that day, with a very light contact as you can see. She had no muscles! Soon, when we would ask for a trot, she would do a little leap into it, and sometimes a crow hop.



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.)