Reason came into my life about 3 weeks ago. A dark bay, 4 y/o, OTTB gelding. He came of the track with a mild bowed tendon. He’s sweet, sensitive and quickly becoming quite the gentlemen.
The first couple days with Reason (named after, “everything happens for a reason”) were spent just getting to know him on his level. Feeling him out, letting him get to know me. No pressure. I wanted him to get to know me as just someone wanting to say, hi. No big presence.
Reason was being kept in the guest barn for a qurantine period to make sure he wasn’t carrying anything. He was to be there for two weeks. You have to remember that Reason is an off track Thoroughbred. Hyped up on life, or so it seems.. He had a couple weeks at another barn which he came to directly from the track, which was his re-homing barn, so he did have some idea of what barn life outside of the track was like for at least a short period. But other than that, his exposure to this new lifestyle is slim to none. New place, new people, whole new life essentially.
For those almost 2 weeks, Reason was really great in his quarantine space. I visited him daily, would bring him out for short walks, hand grazing. But nothing more than that. To make matters a little trickier, he’s injured, so he has to stay as quiet as possible. And I couldn’t just toss him into turn-out, letting him blow off what steam he had. But Reason’s an excellent patient considering the circumstances. He’s been staying quiet and agreeable.
Now, he was moved up to his paddock space, where he’s been hanging since Thursday. This was Ink’s old paddock. It’s a nice location for a horse needing exposure, but at a comforting distance. He has prime eye on the back of the main barn, hay barn and some of the parking lot. Ink loved it here for that reason. I’d usually find him hanging out, looking on, watching all the action. It also has nice sandy footing, mostly for perfect rolling conditions :).
After those first couple days of simply saying hi, I began a regular grooming practice which consisted of it’s own training opportunities. Teaching Reason to stand, un-tied. There is no place to tie in the paddock nor was there in his little paddock in the guest barn, so I taught him the beginnings of standing quietly. He learned this very quickly. As I said above, Reason is a sensitive horse, very responsive. So just a simple giggle with the lead rope, was all that was really needed. Repeat, repeat and ALWAYS release. I have no idea what he learned, or knows from his race days, but I have to assume nothing and explore the area as if it was his first time. It will only solidify the basics and leave nothing for speculation.
Oh I should also mention why exactly I didn’t take him to the barn to cross-tie or use a tie post. Well in the beginning, I had to keep Reason down in the guest barn vicinity for the same reason he was down there in the first place. But my main reason was a couple of things. First off, I wanted him to be able to get familiar with his very current surroundings, expose only as his confidence was solidified, step by step. Because mainly; he’s still fresh, injured, everything is new and he’s sensitive. I thought baby steps were key to his development. Nothing needs to be rushed besides, but I don’t want to overwhelm the horse. I also wanted him to get to know me first, before anything else. Once he knows me, I know him, we are able to approach each step with the trust in each other.
The first problem I ran into was the other evening. I have been giving Reason ricebran and some alfalfa pellets. I opted to do this in the beginning verses the staff at the barn only because I wanted to put down the rules with Reason. He is not to ASK for the yummy stuff, but to be INVITED. Meaning he has to wait patiently to be cued to come (My first cue is to walk away). He was getting this very well. But, he challenged me the other night. I came in with the bowl, to put into his feeder, asking him to move away before I came in. He did, a little, but was very fussy, tossing his head, striking out as he danced around. But he stood still for a bit at the opposite end of the paddock. I walked in, put the bowl in his feeder and waited. He became increasingly impatient and challenged me. I was unsure of what to do. This is tricky, again because he’s injured. I don’t want him moving at all like this. I stood firmly, asked him to “HO.” But he kept challenging. I could have walked away and just not given it to him as a simple correction I supposed. In hind-sight that probably would have been the best option given the circumstances. I made him stand for only a little bit, after allowing him to come in and eat. But he was on edge a bit and it wasn’t how I wanted to end it. The next evening, I took hold of the situation before I was going to bring the bowl in. I was clear and direct with Reason. I asked for a walk, then a stand, walk then stand, while I stood at the other end of the paddock. He still challenged me, but I stood clear. We kind of did a couple mini-join-ups. And after this, I followed me to the feeder, waited with all his thoughts on me. And was very patient and waiting until I invited him to eat. I think I defined the role between herd member and herd leader there :).
I have to remember that horses are un-predictable and plans should be flexible to accomodate a growing horse or just a horse in training. But all the while, those basics and the structure of whatever training scale or way of training you use, needs to constantly in play, clear and direct. And I need to be “on” at all times. But I will say that my next steps, just to validate what I’m thinking is;
- 5 days of walking/hand-grazing down the upper-path (right outside his paddock)
- 3 more days of the above adding in beginning to walk to the wash-rack.
- 2-4 days of adding standing at wash rack with a couple minutes or less of water time.
- 2-4 days of adding standing inside of wash-rack.
- First bath?
That is my plan so far. Things might go much faster than predicted above. I know race horses get bathed on a daily basis, but it’s not so much the premise of the bath as it is the surroundings that Reason will be exposed to. I want and HAVE to do it in a slow manner for his safety sake (injury) as well as for his mental well-being. I want everything he gets exposed to, something he wants to return to time & again! Creating lots of “happy places.”