The journey to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover 2020 continues! Read on for our third update from Marion Edel.
Since my last blog post, Grey has checked off some major baby horse milestones. I know restarting a horse off the track isn’t for everyone, but at least for me, I get so much joy from each little accomplishment. I’m loving every minute of staying in my lane and keeping my focus on Grey. As I’ve shared before, mentally, he’s ready for anything. Physically, we have some work to do.
Grey is still struggling with his straightness, overall balance and pushing from behind. On the flat, we focus on exercises to improve that, like counter bending and spiraling in and spiraling out on a circle. For a few moments at a time, Grey will be balanced, pushing from behind, over the back and into the bit. In those moments, I get a glimpse of what kind of horse he’s going to be when he “grows up,” and it’s amazing.
Once he’s stronger, especially with more muscle in his hind end, these little moments should become more frequent and easier to achieve. This time next year, he should ride like a completely different horse.
Even though we still have a long way to go, he’s gotten much stronger since my last post, and we’ve started jumping a bit more. Grey did his first work through a grid and it was incredibly helpful with his foot placement and takeoff spots. We went slowly and didn’t add a fence until he was comfortable with what we had already set up.
Grey’s first vertical. Photo by Amy Ramseur.
By the end of the exercise, he was trotting into a grid with a cross-rail bounce, one stride to a small vertical, one stride to a 2’6″ oxer. It was one of our best rides to date. He never stopped, never got tight in his back, and stayed very soft and quiet on the backside of the exercise. It was especially significant for me because I’m hoping to compete in the 2’6″ show hunter division at the Makeover, and this was our first time jumping a fence that size. It was also Grey’s first time jumping through a grid, jumping a vertical and jumping an oxer, so it was a big day for both of us!
Grey’s first time doing gridwork. Video courtesy Marion Edel.
In addition to our flat work and over fences work, I’ve been doing some groundwork to help with Grey’s desensitization, even though he’s already laid back. I introduced Grey to what I (formerly) called the Blue Tarp of Doom. It was a complete non-issue and he happily walked over the tarp on the ground, started falling asleep when I shook it around, and let me drape the tarp completely over his face and body. He was completely unimpressed. Never in my life have I been around a horse so quiet.
The Blue Tarp of Doom. Photo by Marion Edel.
Instead of dressage as my second discipline at the Makeover, I’ve started considering some of the other options like competitive trail. I would love to do something different than my “core” disciplines. It would be a cool experience, and I would love to try something new.
South Carolina lifted its “work or home” order at the beginning of May, so Grey was able to go on his first field trip this past weekend. Between the travel restrictions with COVID-19 and not having my own trailer, I haven’t been able to get off-property until now. A friend from my barn was going cross country schooling in Aiken and kindly invited Grey and me to go with her. I was comfortable going since I used to board at a barn with a gorgeous cross-country field and have completed a couple of horse trials at my favorite level – Tadpole.
The only hiccup of the day was that Grey was too big to fit on my friend’s horse trailer so my trainer graciously allowed us to borrow hers. Other than that, the whole day went smoothly. Grey was an easy traveler for the 3-hour trip from Greenville to Aiken and after arriving, was quiet enough to tie to the trailer to tack up. The only difference in his behavior off-property was that for the first 20 minutes, he was a bit pushy on the ground. At home he’s a perfect gentleman, so I haven’t done a whole lot of groundwork to teach him about my personal space bubble. I’ll be doing that moving forward.
He fits! Photo by Marion Edel.
I lunged him just to be certain he didn’t have any extra energy he needed to get out (he didn’t) and after about five minutes of lunging, I got on. He was so relaxed that we headed right out to cross-country. Grey was wonderful in the field and while he gave a few prelim-sized jumps the googly eye as we rode by, he never spooked at anything.
Grey, being a 17.1h, big-boned, gangly goofball, had to figure out how to navigate the uneven terrain so he wouldn’t trip. He was a quick study and we had a lovely warmup at the trot and canter. Our first jump was a small log (this is generous… it was a big stick) which was a non-issue. When we cantered it, he offered me a nice lead change, which was a fun surprise!
Learning through osmosis (I hope!) Photo by Marion Edel.
After that, we went over to the water complex, which earned the first and only snort of the day. He wasn’t keen on following a friend in, so I just walked back and forth along the edge of the water, inching closer every time. After a couple minutes of that, he was comfortable enough to cautiously walk through it. By the end of the day he was happily trotting and cantering through the water without hesitation.
Proud Mom moment here. Photo by Conoly Sullivan.
The friend I trailered with was having a lesson on cross country and while she was taking her mare around the training level course, Grey and I wandered around. I was thrilled to discover that he was comfortable walking away from his new friend and stayed relaxed even when they were out of sight.
When we met back up, my friend encouraged me to take Grey over a slightly bigger log that was maybe a little over 2 feet tall. Once again, Grey blew me away with his willingness. He went over the log without hesitation at the trot a few times and ended up picking up the canter on his own, jumping it beautifully.
I wish I could describe how fun this was. Photo by Conoly Sullivan.
The only stop of the day was on that same log when I tried the canter approach. It wasn’t a dirty stop at all (Grey moves too slowly for anything abrupt) and was completely my fault. I had my canter, saw my distance, and relaxed my leg – whoops. Grey needed me to support him with my leg all the way to the base of the fence (a fact I knew but buried somewhere deep in my mind). That was Grey’s first stop and I did beat myself up a bit for not giving him the confidence he needed. But then I remembered that I’m human and an amateur, and mistakes happen. It’s all part of learning, and Grey never got tense or worried. We went back over the log and ended the day on a great note.
Moving forward, I’m hoping to continue to get Grey off-property as much as possible, while focusing on building muscle at home. I’m confident that the challenges he has under saddle will resolve once he is stronger and using himself correctly. I’m tentatively planning to school at a horse show in the next month and would love to continue cross-country schooling whenever we have the opportunity.
Even though I’m developing Grey primarily as a hunter, I would love for him to be an all-arounder that can show in the hunters and equitation, do a first level dressage test, jump around a beginner novice horse trial, get around a basic trail course and who knows, maybe I can find someone who will let us play with cows one day. Grey’s temperament is so easy going and willing that nothing is off the table!
Grey’s temperament captured in a picture. Photo by Marion Edel.
Marion Edel is an adult amateur who lives in Greenville, SC with her husband, Chris. They share their home with a Rhodesian Ridgeback and two cats. Marion grew up on a Hanoverian breeding farm and has been riding her entire life, focusing mostly on hunters and jumpers. Marion recently purchased her first OTTB and is a first time trainer for the 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover.