Overwhelmed and cagey

Rosie spent two days at the racetrack after being “broke” at a

distant farm. She wheeled about thirty times in a single trip

jogging around a half-mile training track, terrified of oncoming

traffic and the scene that presented itself to this unprepared,

frenzied baby. At Thoroughbred racetracks, generally jogging

(or trotting) horses travel on the outside rail moving to the

left; galloping horses and those moving at a faster pace track

right toward the inside rail. On day two, in a half-mile gallop

(we tried a different approach to the oncoming traffic concern

and started tracking right), she slammed into the rail at least a

dozen times and ran at full speed in a panic — sans steering or

brakes — not seeing, hearing, or feeling anything in her path of

sheer, all-out, running terror.

She was trucked to Halcyon Acres that week for some reprogramming

authorized by a trainer in a huge hurry to get her

back. He failed to recognize the increased challenges associated

with retooling a horse that had been poorly started. Still,

we were determined to help this filly cope with what would be

ahead of her. Of course, the idea of the imminent broken human

body parts that would result if she wasn’t removed from

the track for a more controlled turning process was a factor.

Since time was of the essence, we started her in the round pen

the day she was trucked in. It’s preferable to give young horses

time to settle into a routine prior to tackling performance challenges,

but, sometimes, you make less than ideal choices with

the horse’s ultimate welfare in mind. We began with a brief lesson

in responding to body language and voice commands that

set the tone for future success with a quick reward for responding

to easy requests. She understood.

Day two was a lengthy session, as was the case for the term

of her stay, struggling to encourage a filly who had apparently

no good ground-handling experience to perform simple tasks

like picking up her feet and accepting basic grooming. First, we

spent more than an hour each day in the stall, tackling activities

that most yearlings are prepared to easily tolerate. This was

a filly that was expected to perform on cue with a rider atop at

the track! No wonder she was unresponsive, as terror set in, to

requests she was woefully unprepared for.

We proceeded to the round pen and then the trails for under saddle

activities with Gatsby (our canine assistant trainer) as a

constant companion and teacher. Generally, it’s best to implement

short sessions, quitting as soon as a win is achieved, but

we had twelve days to get this filly ready to go back to a track

with a trainer who wasn’t likely to permit patient daily regimens.

Plus, Rosie wasn’t very cooperative and it often took more

than an hour to achieve a proper response to a single request.

The trails were tough at first as Rosie had little confidence in

her mount and seemed to have no confidence in herself. Gatsby

helped lead the way through troubling areas and trotted at her

heels the rest of the time, getting her accustomed to traffic and

noise behind her . . .

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