The Transition From Paddock Ornament to Sport Horse
Those of you who have been following our story know that Rocío came to us skinny with no muscle tone whatsoever. The reason for this (and once again, if you’ve been following the blog, this will be redundant) is that she was rounded up five years ago. She’s been standing in a holding pen for five years.
Given that we have a deadline (August 7th) for this competition, I have had to go about her training in a careful way. I want to make sure that I work with her every day, but I don’t want to make her sore.
First, we adjusted her regime so that she has unlimited hay and worked towards giving her a little bit of grain per day. I assumed she had never eaten grain before because of the hesitant way she approached it — however, this quickly evolved. She can’t get enough of it now.
We keep in mind that, since her stomach is not used to grain, it may be sensitive. This is why we opted for low-starch, low-sugar WellSolve, and we keep the amount small. We also feed her rice bran, which is easy on her stomach and has a high percentage of fat. She already looks a lot better.
My trainer Ainslie and I have come up with a simple conditioning plan. Given that much of her early training took place in the roundpen, it was tempting to ask her go around in many circles every day. When we train horses, we also put a lot of emphasis on yielding the hindquarters and lunging for respect, which requires small circles and sharp turns.
Because tight circles put a lot of pressure on her joints, I made sure to spend no more than a few minutes per day at the beginning roundpenning and lunging. I’ve been extending the amount of time that I do this a little bit every day. Still, it’s taken me almost three weeks to work my way up to twenty minutes of circles a day. I’m moving very slowly.
In addition, while her walk and trot are lovely, it seems that she has done very little cantering in her life. Given that she has just hung out in a holding pen, this makes sense. I’ve been asking for a few canter strides in the roundpen each day, and it’s gotten easier for her. Only when she seemed like she could canter easily with no rider did I ask her to lope under saddle for a few strides.
Our policy under saddle was similar to our policy with circles: I only rode for a few minutes the first few weeks, and I’ve been working my way up to longer rides.
One truly unique thing that I’ve learned from Ainslie during my time working with her is the value of trail walks. Walking up and down hills and stepping over logs and around stones is perfect slow conditioning for a horse. Ainslie and I make sure to take her for a two-mile hand walk through the woods at least five times a week. I’ve started riding her for part of this walk, but I don’t ride the whole time yet, and although I will soon, I’ll wait to make sure she seems ready. She still tires too easily for me to feel comfortable doing this.
Often, Ainslie and I just end up ponying her in between our two mounts.
We also noticed that the stall we have for her, which is attached to the roundpen, requires for her to take a step up every time she walks into it. And walk in and out of it she does — at least a hundred times a day! She loves walking in to check out what’s going on inside the barn, and stepping back out to see everything around her corral. Ainslie pointed out to me how good this was for her conditioning.
We also started lunging her through poles and over small jumps, which also helps their conditioning. We only do this once or twice a week, maximum, so as not to stress her joints. She is such a talented and enthusiastic little jumper that we asked her to jump the barrels several times – she thought it was the coolest thing!
Already, Rocío has bulked up and even seems to be getting a little bit of top line. She stretches down by herself on the lunge line, and this gives me faith that this program is working!
Another thing that we had to consider is that while the mustangs got their shots and feet trimmed before we picked them up, they have most likely have never had their teeth done. I put the bridle in her mouth but refused to work her in it until our dentist came to look at her.
He was nice enough to fit her in on Wednesday, and boy, am I glad he did. “On a scale of one to ten,” Ainslie asked him, “How bad are her teeth? Ten being the worst.”
He answered, “Ten.”
She had a wolf tooth that was so bad, it had practically become a part of her jaw. He had to tranquilize her to get it out, but he said that, even tranquilized, she was “very well-behaved.” She seemed to know she was being helped. It took him an absurdly long time. We gave him a generous tip (thank you, donors!) as it was a tough procedure for him.
I am so grateful that I made sure to get her teeth done before working her in the bit. My dentist says she must have been miserable already, but it would have been unbearable for her.
While I know that all trainers have different conditioning plans, I had to take Rocío’s small size and lack of conditioning into consideration. I’m confident that this is a successful plan for her and hope to hear your thoughts on the matter!
Also, every other Saturday we host open training sessions for the public to attend. We hope that this will get Rocío used to a crowd. I was lucky enough to have a friend present to document last week’s. Here is the video if you want to see the highlights of her training session that day. Our next Mustang Saturday is May 9th at 4pm and we are located at 14 Breezy Point Road in Acton, MA.
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