I hope to keep this page regularly updated with the latest on how he's doing
and the successes (and maybe setbacks, too!) of his retraining. I hope my friends enjoy it as a way to check in on him,
and I hope others find it useful in their own endeavors with ex-racers.
|Thunder in his first horse show, April 13, 2008.
MAY 4, 2008
I APOLOGIZE for the long haitus in updating this site!! So much has happened since my last updates
in Fall - and here's the story....
Shortly after the last 'photo session' we took of Thunder (in October) he developed some serious health
issues which at first appeared to be a rapid onset of a horse disease called EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis). Thunder
could barely stand, he clearly had an issue with his nervous system and was very unstable on his feet and he could
not even get out of his stall. Needless to say, I was very afraid for him. After about a month's time confined
to his stall, the symptoms subsided, and it became more obvious that the likely cause was actually a neck/spinal injury of
some sort which he probably incurred roughhousing with his paddock mate out in the field.
He had spent the entire month of November in his stall. By December he was on the mend and returned
to his routine of days outside in the field, but In order to give him proper time to recover, I did not attempt to ride him
again until February. At the beginning of January, under his vet's advice, we began a rehab program consisting of a
lot of handwalking and then work on the lounge line. By the time February rolled around it was clear that he was ready
to roll, and we worked slowly under saddle for another month, and did not begin with his work over fences again until March
He never showed any kind of issue or regression again, and so by April he was jumping the regulation "Green
Hunter" height at home without any problem, very nicely and evenly. We decided it was time to take him to our first
horse show....please check out the photo page (link on the left hand side in the Navigation column.) He has been to
two more shows since - the 2nd show was the opening of the Maryland Saddle Association's circuit the following weekend (where
he won his first ribbon over fences, a 4th place) and then at the end of April, we went to the debut of the Black Eyed Susan
Hunter Trio Series, where Thunder really came into his own. We came home with a Grand Championship for his Green Hunter
division (this is the photo on his main page.)
I'm so proud of him...and we are looking forward to an active summer show circuit, and I promise to do a
better job of keeping the page updated. It was a tough winter, watching him struggle with his health and worrying about
his recovery. He is a horse of many miracles.
Once again I have
slipped up on updating this a little but I am making amends with an update today! :) As you can see from Thunder's October
photos page, he continues to progress fabulously....and if our plans come together it looks like we may be only weeks away
from attempting Thunder's first horse show!!
He has been comfortably clearing heights of 2' 9" in the yard,
but when we show we will definitely make his first appearances at lower heights, which would likely be in the 2' to 2'3" range.
We *did* have one minor setback worthy of note on this diary page...our
first fence crash, which occured at the white double-bar fence pictured on his October photos page. Something (a cause
unknown) made him slam on his brakes one stride out from the fence and I went right over his shoulder in a not-so-graceful
sommersault and into the top bar. It gave both Thunder and I a good spook, and although I jumped right back
on him and forced him over it several times to erase it from my head and his, he definitely has moments of hesitancy now that
we're working through. I think it scared him more than it scared me...it wasn't a "dirty stop" (horse terminology
for malicious intent to unseat a rider or deliberately refuse a fence - usually accompanied by the horse ducking out from
under the rider) - I don't think Thunder had contemplated that I'd fly off him at that speed if he stopped quick right before
a fence. He knows now!!!!
Aside from that incident, all has been great with his training.
He has shown real progress in learning his lead changes and his flat work is becoming more and more fine-tuned. I am
looking forward to giving him the chance to prove what he can do in a show ring.
Here's a look at Thunder traversing the Oxer fence, below.....ears
up, happy face, knees coming together, with plenty of clearance room!
|Sept. 29th - Thunder over an oxer
|Check out the other (even better) oxer photo on his October photo updates page!
Yet another great
day of schooling over fences. We warmed up by trotting and cantering ground poles and then quickly challenged him with
new things he hadn't seen before - a new fence with a solid drop and then a two-fence line, six strides in between.
He mastered everything presented to him and even ignored the flower boxes underneath the 2nd jump in his line. (Note
the flower boxes on the jump in the top picture - taken on this day!)
SCHOOL, WEEKEND #2
We had another great weekend of
schooling over fences. Saturday was the heavy schooling day - we worked up to a two – fence combination requiring us to circle back and jump a 2nd fence,
which was Thunder’s first instruction to the concept of a series, and his
first introduction to a fence other than the one we had originally taught Thunder to jump over. Once he mastered that (which was a breeze for him) we threw in a ‘visual distraction’ in the
form of a flower box (for those of you non-horsey people, this is something all horse shows do – they paint the fences
bright colors and do strange, distracting things to them like using flowers, complete flower boxes or solid pieces to try
to add an element of intrigue or potential intimation of the horse to work through.)
At first I didn’t
think something like a flower box was going to distract Thunder much. He’s
generally not a spooky horse, he usually just needs to get a good look at anything worrisome.
Barbara (who was assisting us on the ground through all the schooling) warned me that she thought a flower box might
really wig him out and that it was a bigger step than I thought. I thought he was doing so well that it was worth moving on
to it anyway, but Barbara was right and I underestimated the reaction - because when Barbara moved the flower box in front
of the fence Thunder slammed on the brakes about two strides out and was like “What the HECK is that??”
Fortunately I was riding
deeper in my seat at that point and was thrown forward but still stable in the saddle…and took note of one good sign
that you don’t get to see until those ugly moments roll around….rather than trying to ‘duck out’ (the
most dangerous way a horse will avoid a jump – an evasive maneuver to the side which is the easiest way to unseat a
rider) he slammed on the brakes but kept his neck up to stop my forward motion as well.
Effectively, he caught me. If a horse refuses, this is the way you want
him to do it – one of my old coaches used to refer to this as a ‘safety’ stop. No stop in front of a fence is a good stop, but if he’s going to do it, this is the way you want
I let him get a good look
at the box and circled him back around. He took a HUGE leap over the box the
first time (an “Oh god, it might reach up and grab my legs!” jump)
but on the second trip around he relaxed and by the end he was ignoring the box.
On Sunday we went a little easier
after the heavy work from the day before. We worked on using ground poles (Ground poles are another term for the guide poles
we used in his first lesson as ‘trot’ poles – they can either be set up distance-wise as ‘trot’
poles or as ‘canter’ poles to help teach a horse where he should be putting his feet before and after a fence.) Thunder isn’t keen on them and is much more confident approaching a fence without
them but they are an important building block and we worked through them several times at both a trot and canter.
|Thunder at Edgewood Farm, May 12th
|Looking for some affection before his ride. He doesn't have to work hard at it.
MAY 14TH, 2007:
I have been very lax in keeping Thunder’s
“journal” updated, and for that I apologize profusely and promise to try to maintain it better!
Much has happened since the last update
I provided in October….for starters, I went to Kentucky this past fall on a work-related trip for a month and I took
Thunder with me….yep, I am now the proud owner of a full-size SUV and two-horse Sundowner trailer. He was a champ, he traveled well and adapted well to his one-month surroundings. When we returned to Cedarville Ranch in November, he was somewhat weary from his cross-country trip and
I had a lot of turmoil at work and so I gave him a break for a little while. Plus,
the cold weather seemed to irritate his joints and make him a little stiff, and rather than do something aggressive and invasive
as a first response, such as injections, I just eased up on him and upgraded the quality of his joint supplement (and he’s
doing great now…)
Most importantly, we had to move barns
AGAIN. Cedarville was having some problems with respect to its permit status
with the county and the owner received warnings about boarding horses on the property.
I became close friends with another person who had an OTTB in retraining at the barn – a chestnut mare named
Maggie - and the two of us began an extensive hunt for a good place to relocate. She
and I managed to find a fabulous private farm in Upper Marlboro with just enough open stall space for the two of us, and we
grabbed it up at the beginning of February. The new place has been fabulous and
we couldn’t be happier…and Thunder and Maggie were thrilled to make the move together and have become the best
of friends with stalls right next to each other.
This new place is 100% hunter/jumper
and so our experimentation with dressage basics has officially come to an end. I
think it was very helpful for both of us, but we’re now looking forward to Thunder’s career as a hunter/jumper. The owner of the barn we’re at is a very accomplished amateur rider, so there
is no organized instruction available to us on location – but with my trailer, I hope to trailer Thunder out for lessons
on a semi-regular basis eventually.
I also mentioned (as you can read below)
that Thunder had a sarcoid in his ear….thanks to the Regressin it shrunk to the size of a pea and is barely noticeable
anymore (although it didn’t completely fall off like I was hoping it would.) I
was thrilled with the results and plan to leave it alone at this point unless it becomes irritated again….and at this
point it is so small that I don’t think it will be a problem anymore.
Maggie’s owner and I have made
a pact (which was also one of my New Year’s resolutions) to get to our first horse show before the end of the 2007 show
season. We weren’t specific about when and where….but stay tuned!
|Thunder at Cedarville Ranch, Summer of 2006
|This is after 9 months of ownership....he finally put some weight on!
Thunder has settled in fabulously to his new home at Cedarville and I am enjoying
how much more I get to see him. We have begun dressage lessons, and are working on basics such as leg yielding and contact.
We do a lot of work on the lunge line now and it has helped with his agility and works out those initial 'creaky
racehorse kinks' nicely. Bending and flexibility exercises are helping him tremendously. He's a completely different
horse now than he was six months ago.
The biggest issue we're dealing with currently is health-related. Thunder
has a sarcoid in his ear (he had it when I got him, but it wasn't irritated then....) and after the bugs got at it and it
started to bleed (causing Thunder to rub, which created a mess) he has received a series of Regressin shots to help him get
rid of it naturally. So, it has been a little blown-up and inflamed, and not the most attractive thing to look at.
I have been putting an ear crochet on him when we're riding outdoors which seems to work, and this last week I think the sarcoid
has shrunk. The vet (our new vet, who is FABULOUS) says he's hoping it's off by the end of September or so, and if it's
not we'll consider just removing it surgically (which should not be a huge ordeal.)
Here's a picture of Thunder taken last week at his new digs! He has filled
out a lot at Cedarville and his coat is nice and shiny. One big advantage of Cedarville is that there's some choice
in what I can feed Thunder, and he is now on mostly a protein pellet diet. It works for him much better.
as I miss our friends at Meadowville, I have to admit that each day at Cedarville (two weeks now and counting) reinforced
the decision I made to relocate Thunder. I have been able to ride him SO much
more – I can see him all the time now, at least four or five days a week. The
first week at Cedarville I actually managed to ride two nights during the week, and that was during a five day work week on
our new discipline….Thunder and I have begun taking dressage lessons! Dressage
is as new to me as it is to Thunder, but our new trainer is optimistic that we’re capable of competing at least at the
lower levels. Jumping remains an option in the future and dressage
will be an excellent foundation for it.
the fact that our new trainer uses lunging as an important component to Thunder’s training, and the schooling of all
her horses and her students’ horses. I grew up with an instructor who believed
in lunging and that was how I learned to school horses – and it feels familiar and comfortable, and Thunder is taking
to it very well. In the short two weeks we have been at Cedarville, I think his
balance has already improved a lot because of our work on the lunge line – he now picks up both leads at the canter
comfortably, and is noticeably more balanced on a circle.
he biggest changes of the move was Thunder’s diet. His diet at Meadowville
was one of my pet peeves – he was limited in selection to sweet feed, which was slowly putting weight on him but he
was having trouble digesting the large amounts required to add the weight, and on top of that, sweet feed is basically SUGAR
– it’s full of molasses – and just like little kids, it can make horses very hot and difficult to focus. A better option for his diet was one of my search requirements when I was looking
for a new barn. Cedarville provides us with some options, and Thunder is now
on mostly a protein pellet diet with a scoop of sweet feed added for taste…as well as his usual supplements. I can tell his digestion is much better already, and in two weeks I SWEAR, between his diet and his
increased exercise, there has already been a physical change. For the first time,
I feel like I can see his chest developing, some muscling in his shoulder.
on Saturday afternoon, Thunder loaded up into a trailer and left Meadowville – his home for the past five and a half
months. The dressage instructor at our barn had offered to trailer him. He loaded up into the trailer perfectly and I drove behind him, watching his
long black tail hang out the back of the trailer for a little over an hour….
was perfect, but Saturday afternoon and evening was a little tough. Once he had arrived and was placed in his new stall, he
was very visibly nervous and a little freaked…bobbing his head, nickering at all the strange horses (in a mildly frightened
manner) and he paced around his stall a little frantically. We put a little “relaxer”
in his food – a mild, natural tranquilizer that is a calming agent in small doses – but he wouldn’t eat
his bran, so he never really ingested it.
feeling like a very guilty mom when I drove away from Cedarville after I stayed with him for a couple hours. But this morning I got to the barn bright and early, a couple hours after breakfast – and he
was a different horse. MUCH more relaxed, and visibly happy to see me (which
made me feel a lot better) he nickered at me and put his nose all over me when I got up to him. And he had eaten all of his breakfast.
are small paddocks (maybe a half acre each) right next to the barn he's in and I put him in the small paddock that has been
given to him for the next week, before we introduce him to a couple horses and attempt small group turnout in one of the big
fields. He was dodging flies and taking everything in when the funniest thing
happened…one of the harness racers at the barn came out with her sulky and driver, and proceeded to trot laps around
the track. Thunder was BUG-eyed. I’m
sure he’s never seen a horse pull a cart. He was absolutely fascinated
and didn’t move a muscle, neck craned over the fence and nostrils blowing, for the first ten minutes while the mare
lapped the track. Then, after the mare came past him on a lap, Thunder turned
and trotted his own paddock up and down, away from the track and back, with more knee action that I have seen him trot before
– and then he’d stop and watch, wait for her to pass, and then go trot again.
It was like he thought this was what he was going to be doing now and he needed to figure out if he could do it. The last time he moved he had a new job, right?
I was laughing out loud from my vantage point inside the barn.
to show him he ISN’T a harness racer now, I got on him today for the first time at his new place and we rode in the
absolutely gorgeous indoor arena. He was an angel, went through his paces very
calmly. I mostly rode him on a loose rein so he could look at everything and
we did a lot of walking. The footing is deeper in this arena and it requires
him to pick up his feet a little more but it’s good for him, and he seemed to adapt to it well.
right now is to begin taking some basic dressage lessons in a couple weeks, and give that a try. There IS a hunter/jumper instructor at the barn, but I haven’t met him yet or seen him teach. Ideally, we may do a mix of both, and figure out what Thunder’s talent is –
I’ll do whatever he wants to do (except drive a sulky)!
struggling to get to the barn this month during the week, I made a big decision - it's time to move Thunder to a barn closer
to D.C. I will miss Meadowville - as you can see from the photos, the facility is beyond compare and he has been well-cared
for....but he needs regular work to bring him along at this point, and it isn't going to happen while he's an hour away at
a barn where no one rides in the evenings. The plan right now is to relocate at the end of June.
I have chosen is a place in Maryland - just outside the Beltway on the east side - he will only be 20 minutes away, cutting
my travel time by 2/3!! The facility is nice, he'll have a good stall and another georgeous, lit indoor...AND....a track!
There is a 5/8 mile track on the property, designed for the harness racers - there are some at the barn (the barn is only
minutes from Rosecroft, where they race). I'm hoping that riding on the track won't mess with his head, because it looks
like a great place to ride outside. More on this place (with photos of his moving day, I'm sure) to come.
as mentioned in the photo updates, I have been working on taking him out into the fields a lot more. The first time
I did, he became very hyper and difficult to handle, and it was the first time I have been on him that I was truly frustrated.
I think he equated the open fields and change of scenery (as opposed to the indoor arena he was used to) to something
exciting that was about to happen - like a turf race. AHHH@!! Anyway, the second time I took him out, I was with
a friend on her horse, and since then we have been out alone several times now and he has adjusted to it fine and actually
seems to really enjoy it.
Thanks to a light work schedule the last couple weeks, I have made it out to the barn with
some frequency...and the trainee, now fully healed, has progressed very rapidly. He has made great strides, no pun intended,
haha. We have begun to canter in the indoor arena. He has stayed nice and relaxed and has a VERY comfortable rocking-chair
canter. He does not seem to understand my cue to canter (using my heel, and my weight,
and the rein.) He definitely does not understand my cue for a specific lead, either. We will continue to work
AND - the BIG news - yesterday Thunder had his first group lesson with an instructor....and
he jumped his first jump!! It was a small, simple crossrail but it was a huge step, and he handled it very well.
One final note to this update - Thunder had his first couple lunge lessons in the small 'pony'
pen on our barn property. It's not a space large enough for him to fully exend on the lunge line, but it's large enough
for him to learn the basic concept. The first day, he struggled - he kept stopping and ducking in towards me, and didn't
want to move in the clockwise direction. By lesson 3, he was moving in a solid (but small) circle in both directions,
without any apprehension of the lunge whip. My plan is to continue with his lunge schooling on evenings where I can't
get out to him early enough to ride (i.e. no one is at the barn, and riding alone would be a little dangerous) but when I
CAN get out there, even if we're lunging in the arena under the lights (probably a better locale anyway!)
Well, after five days of hand-walking for an hour at time, Thunder should have his
first day of turnout today. The patient has officially recovered. The hand-walking was a bit of a struggle...he
feels great and was bouncing off the walls, and was hard to handle. He reared a few times and tried to pull away,
which made me nervous the first time because we were in an open area. After that, I kept our walking to confined areas
like paddocks and pens, as a precaution. Very bad behavior, but I'm trying to be understanding about it, I know he's
frustrated to be penned up in his stall when he has been fully fed, the weather is nice, and he's full of energy.
One of the silver linings to the cloud is that he has put on a few more pounds while on stall
rest. I took his blanket off yesterday when we walked and was impressed with how he's filling out, even in the last
couple weeks. His coat looks great too. I will take new pictures of him this weekend to post.
Stitches are out and the wound looks good! He was well-behaved for the vet. I'll be hand-walking
him for the next four days and then we'll see how he's doing, and if all still looks good we'll try turnout.
I spent my weekend at the barn with the 'patient' who is recovering nicely and will have his stitches out
by Wednesday of this week. He's ready and rarin' to get out of that stall....I'm hoping the vet will allow him some
turnout relatively quickly here. I will provide a new update as soon as he's cleared to do something worthwhile (turnout,
light riding, anything!) Meanwhile, he continues to put on weight, very gradually....and his coat is starting to shine
with a little pre-spring glow.
THUNDER UPDATE 2/26/06: Today was the best day we have had under saddle yet – I am so proud him, how quickly he learns
and how well he’s coming along. He was very low key and relaxed while we
tacked up and walked down to the arena, and stood still while I used the mounting block…all a reflection of previous
experiences and lessons he has already mastered. The most important new development
today was that two of his pasture-mate ex-racers were also working in the arena and for the first time, Thunder didn’t
get excited or upset by the presence of other horses passing him or working around him.
We trotted for extended periods today, the most exercise we’ve done under saddle to date – and he was very
attentive and well balanced. I continued to talk to him the entire time, because
I think my voice is a constant reaffirmation to him that he’s doing what I want, since my leg pressure is still something
he’s getting used to.
I had a video of our ride, he feels so graceful and light on his feet at the trot when he’s focusing and putting effort
into it. There’s a lot of spring, posting is very easy and comfortable
on him. Today was the first day I can say with absolute confidence that he’s
very evenly balanced in both directions, something that some racehorses find challenging in the course of their retraining.
we worked for about 20 minutes, the three of us (Thunder and his two other barnmates) stood in the center of the arena for
a good 10 or 15 minutes. This is critical schooling for him, because working
under saddle creates an automatic, habitual adrenaline rush and his good behavior is attributable more to his desire to please
me than his instinct or ability to relax. Learning to stand still is a big step
in overcoming the learned behavior of cranked nerves and pumping adrenaline. I
kept him facing his stablemates while we riders talked….he was excellent compared to how he has been in the past when
I tried to keep him still in the arena, but he was still chomping, pawing, and scuttling backwards at times, shaking his head. It helped Thunder that he could see the other horses, still and relaxed and probably
wondering what his problem was as he danced around. By the time we resumed work
again, we had achieved a standstill….for a brief period, at least.
tomorrow – he gets shoed again, and this time he’s getting the steel on all 4 – he has not had hind shoes
since his last race in October. He didn’t need hind shoes when he wasn’t
getting serious exercise….but his progress has been solid and it’s time to prepare him for more serious work. With hind shoes will also come splint boots….we’ll introduce those to
him this weekend.