You’ve done your research, bought your first OTTB and put a solid foundation of exposure and ground work on your horse: how do you move forward now in training? Clare Mansmann takes the OTTB relationship to its next level. Missed our earlier installments? Review Part I: Swipe Right or Left and Part II: The First Few Dates to catch up!
Thank goodness those first awkward dates are out of the way. I, personally, can only be on my best behavior for so long. Let’s get down the fun stuff where you can eat what you want, snort when you laugh, and start telling the truth about your crazy family.
Once the initial evaluation, ground work, and early riding feels settled, and you’ve gotten to know each other a bit more, you’re ready to begin moving forward with training. This early stage is absolutely not discipline specific. Despite our eventing background, the horses that come to us have no obligation to event, or even to jump. We are laying the foundation for a riding career, and the basics are the same. Each one of our horses will wear a western saddle and a loping hackamore and not necessarily at the same time. You should beg, borrow, and steal from every style of riding. We sure do!
Eve, age 5, in a loping hackamore. All photos courtesy of Clare Mansmann
A Healthy Relationship Starts with You
Before committing to anything worth doing, take a picture of yourself riding, draw a circle around it, and begin working on anything in that circle that needs fixing. Ask your trainer for help dissecting the position, fitness, and even emotional aspects of your riding. How is your posture? Is your leg too far forward? Too far back? Are you able to keep a straight line from elbow, to wrist, to the horse’s mouth (hint: this means your elbows should never be straight)? Are you reading books by Museler, de Némethy, Wofford, Dorrance, Podhajsky, and the like? Are you ready to assume responsibility for your horse’s training and any mistakes that can and will occur, and not blame the horse? Can you comfortably and correctly sustain a trot and canter for at least five minutes with no stirrups and a loop in the rein?
The education of the horseman never stops and never fades and is never isolated.
Not Just Tindering
We are working to create a long-term connection, not just a summer fling. For the next year, and even two, your OTTB will be going through all types of growth, musculature changes, changes in their feet, diet changes, and mental changes. Record everything you can because you will be amazed when you look back. Don’t worry if you see other horses moving at a faster pace. That horse is not yours and their time frame isn’t either.
The most important factor to remember is the concept of Forward. With a capital F. Forward does not mean fast; it is the willingness and responsiveness to moving off the aids. The racehorse has been trained in the concept of forward from day one, and everything we do builds on this. This is why we ride for quite a while with a nice loop in the reins, despite external pressures to make the picture sooner.
Eve, working on the lunge.
We have a very strategic purpose, despite seeing constant contact, straight arms, and rein fussing in so many riding videos. These horses are learning a new balance. They’ve been taught to ride flat and low. They lean and flatten into bit pressure, even the ones that seem to hold themselves away from the bit. They’re supposed to: that is how they are asked to increase speed and breeze. We want them to learn a whole new way of doing things, so we are going to ride forward from the leg in every way possible without rein interference.
Sounds pretty classical, right? This isn’t a new theory. We systematically teach the horse to carry themselves in the smaller space of the arena, over the terrain outside the arena, and over fences where the horse surely needs to learn to care for themselves without the rider interfering. If the rider does not hold their own independent balance and hands, they are negatively affecting the horse from creating a poor posture and muscle development to actual nervousness from the horse as they worry about the balance. They cannot do this if we are putting pressure on their front end with our hands, upper body, or both.
Contact, frame, connection, and especially stretch come first from riding forward off the leg, the energy comes over the horse’s back, through the rider, and then cycles back into the hind legs and up around again. The rider, with independent aids, helps to cycle that energy created from the leg to, first, their upper body and balance, and later through the rein connection. If you go straight to rein connection, the horse has missed an important developmental step, and so has the rider. Again, some horses progress through this quite quickly, and some take more time. A good trainer will help guide you and teach you the feel.