Friday, August 22, 2014

Red Nugget Perfection

I have 11 days of freedom left before I am succumbed to the perilous life of desk jockeys. Summer hasn't been all fun and games, getting licensed has been a BITCH, but I am pretty grateful for a job that pays actual real person money!

Also been really nice to have the freedom to ride whenever I please.

Really getting anxious about what will happen when my days are spoken for from 7am-6pm.

What I'm most worried about is keeping this big boy in constant work once my free time becomes essentially nonexistent. He's been improving in massive strides (haha equestrian humor) and I would hate to staunch that progression as he comes into his 6th year, with show season looming ahead in spring.

I already am exceptionally lazy and have to force myself to get outside in the humidity and ride the beasts. What happens when I'm exhausted from early mornings, the commute, being on the phone all day and other office fuckery?

Winter is no joke. I don't know about you, but as I get older, my tolerance for winter wind, sleet and snow gets lower and lower each year.  Virtually nonexistent. NO amount of vests and carhartt's make me want to venture outside and ride. GEORGIA I WANT TO BE IN YOU.

I was EXTREMELY spoiled in MO with a pretty warm, covered indoor arena with decent footing. Most days I would get off Yankee sweating and it was no issue to ride.

Here, I have a nice muddy field. Not exactly conducive to schooling dressage. Forget jumping alltogether.

When Yankee was a wee lad he spent all winter hacking out and learning the basics, like stopping when I ask & steering without careening. Luckily B has all that mastered already, so hacks would really only keep him in mild work. Not what I need.

I have another post about my winter plans, but what I really wanted to show was some more Bacardi progress! Last post was his weight, this time its his flatwork.

We had a huge breakthrough about 2 weeks ago with half-halts. His brain just all of a sudden made connections to inside leg-outside rein-supporting inside rein/outside leg and what a half-halt actually entails. Like sitting on your ass and stop plugging away with your forelegs.

Please, ignore my sexy faces in all photography. 

Learning half-halts through bend
 I added figure-8s and 3-loop serpentine's to our flatwork repertoire and at first he would blow out his shoulders in the turns and take off in his little racehorsey giraffe trot. AKA, losing balance and freaking out about it.

After extreme patience on my part, and a weeks worth of flat rides, with consistent application of cues, he started to make the connection. I also made a discovery. He needs a HUGE amount of outside leg through turns, in exact coordination with half-halting so as not to confuse him to "go faster". Like, a lot more than a normal horsebeast. Like, all the way from hip, through thigh & calf contact down to heel.

Last week he gave me two BRILLIANT rides and on Tuesday it was the same thing. I can't get over the work ethic this guy has. (Sadly I haven't ridden since Tuesday because work stuff and torrential rain.)

SEXY trot
Working well through his back and moving forward with energy (look at those neck muscles!)
With Yankee, I never had this amount of progress in such a short amount of time. We continuously had backslides in training and more frustrating rides than productive ones. Bacardi just progressively builds and gets better each ride, a little at a time. IMO, it has to do with the difference in temperament. Bacardi has always been steady & calm. Sure, things scare him and those spooks are explosive, but he isn't a "nervous" animal in general. Yankee is definitely HOT. Always. He's obedient, but at a moments notice he will catch fire and fly. Like, if jumps are present. Or, I ask him to gallop. But he NEVER spooks. And once he's learned something he will do it. But, it takes longer for him to learn. Always interesting the difference in OTTBs across the board.

I also tried a little somethin' last ride and asked for a wee bit more of a trot. He gave me this...

I was so caught off guard by the power push that I fell back! What a good lad! It is so important the babies understand what leg means in addition to half-halts and that they actually RESPOND to it.

Trot work definitely improving by leaps and bounds!

We still have work to do in the canter. His normal gait is brilliant, but hes still on the forehand and a little behind the vertical. In time, with strength, this will improve.

At first glance, this looks pretty good. I always take note of toplines though. This one is not engaged and through. You can actually see the U shape from withers to croup. While this is in the "down stride" of the canter, he should still be more lifted in the shoulders. Also, I don't have a still of it, but his foreleg (RF) continues to land BEFORE his hindleg (LH) which indicates he's still leading with his front end. He is also sliiiiightly behind the vertical, but hasn't broken too far in the neck yet. Granted, this is me nitpicking, just the fact that he canters CALMLY now is an exceptional win!

This is a little better. His shoulders look more lifted and his back is more engaged through the bridle. AKA withers higher than croup. I LOVE the reach he has with his hind end, but he's still landing front first (in this still, his RH is juuuust touching the ground while his LF already is weight bearing). Still a little behind the vertical, and just a touch more broken in the neck. BUt again, this will improve!

The biggest win on this baby has been his transitions. When I first rode him he was ALL over the place at the canter. Crooked, legs flying everywhere and GOOD LUCK getting the correct lead the first four times.  Right lead was impossible in general. Both up & down transitions were messy and hard to ride. He would brace in the bridle, fall over and run sideways in all transitions. Now he's soft through most down transitions, great up into the trot, and even up into the canter he's gaining more and more balance. Left lead canter he gets the first time I ask, and about 75% of the time we get right lead on the first try. Good boy! I tried to upload my damn video but it worked all night and still was only at 49% this AM. Maybe one day.

Here's a link to my short instagram video I uploaded yesterday of one of our down transitions. Truly a huge win!

I feel so fortunate to come across a young horse with naturally brilliant gaits. With Yankee, his trot is lackluster and his walk is worse. Luckily, I won with his canter. But its taken 8 years to get him to sit back at the trot. Worth the work though!

As a final note, I added a social media button in the upper right corner of my page, so if anyone feesl the urge to stalk me on Facebook, or follow us on Insta, the links are at the top! Also, I finally updated the "About" pages at the top of the blog!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Eat All The Things, OTTB Style

First off, S/O to everyone for the huge outpouring of support in my last post. 

Confronting fear in adulthood is embarrassing and difficult enough, without adding in a thousand pound animal that could also kill you. Love my blogging nerds for their virtual shoulders.

Secondly, I got a massive response on my FB to my most recent progress pic of Mr. RedBaby and his eating habits. Quite a few asked how I did it.

No but really

Ok, but really. It is really expensive and not for the faint of heart to try and fatten up an OTTB. Let alone a five year old. Notoriously difficult, renounced for their ability to eat everything in sight and not gain a pound, the thoroughbred, IMO, is one of the toughest keepers out there, in general.

Yankee was my guinea pig. He wasn't exactly skinny, but he wasn't in excellent condition either. I got him about 3 weeks off the track and he looked like a greyhound. OTTBs come right off the track with tight bellies and huge muscles. Transforming their bodies around into riding horses takes a massive amount of calories. Lets not even mention winter. I spent about 6 years finding the right mix of grain, hay and supps for Yanks and now he's fat as a fiddle.

Lets start with this picture of B, the day I brought him home.

I want to say he was 8 months off the track here. Not emaciated by ANY means. Not 100% sure of his backstory, so I WON'T guess, and supply incorrect information. His old owner is by NO MEANS at fault!

That being said. I wanted another 100# at least on him. Ribs gone, hips filled in and hulk out those muscles. This would not be cheap or easy.

Since the diet Yankee was on kept him slick and fat, I decided to go with that for B as well. I'd played around for years with different nutritional information and finally found one that worked. Why mess with a good thing? The key to success is READ THE LABELS.

The boys get TWO types of grain NOT pre-mixed, hand mixed at every feeding. This ensures exact proportions everytime! The first grain is SafeChoice Perform by Nutrena & the other is Omelene 200 by Purina. Both available at TSC for about $17/bag.

Click the link for more info. At a glance though,
SCP has 14% protein, 9% fat, 15% fiber + array of other nutrients
Omelene 14% protein, 6% fat, 7.5% fiber + amplify fat nuggets

I chose this particular blend for the high fat, high protein in each. 9% fat is A MUST for my boys. Anything less, and they drop weight. I mix grain to balance out the nutrients in each, and cut back on the sweet feed component in Omelene.

Bacardi gets an entire scoop of each at each feeding. Twice a day. Thats 6 lbs @ AM/PM, for 12 lbs A DAY!

At first, I was also giving  him 2 lbs of beet pulp in the AM. but he got picky and quit eating it after 4 weeks. I also did not see much of a difference with it. So, I have an entire unopened bag just chillen in my barn if anyone wants it.

What REALLY made the difference was getting his skinny ass on Smartpaks. I know there are a lot of you out there skeptical of the benefits of feeding supplements. I swear by it though! I actually did a post a while back on what I give Yankee (also took years to perfect) if you're curious.

Bacardi gets Cool Calories 100 (2 sc in AM, 1 in PM), SmartDigest, SmartShine and SmartFlex II Support. CC100 provides essential fatty acids for skin and hair condition, calories for weight gain and exercise performance. Contains 5 times the fat of an equal amount of high fat, stabilized rice bran, which is bangin' when it comes to a fat supp. SD is designed to support healthy digestion by providing probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes. The key to sups? SHOP AROUND. Use that handy "compare" button SmartPak gives you to find what exactly benefits you and your horse!

SmartDigest and CoolCals obviously related to digestion. Click links for more info!

Another BIG thing to remember is Roughage/forage! "They" say 2lbs of roughage per 100lbs of body weight is appropriate, PER DAY. So, a 1,100 horse would require approx. 22lbs/day through grass or hay. This is a guesstimate though and EVERY horse is different!

People tend to measure by FLAKES, but this is not as accurate as actually weighing the hay out as flake and bale size can differ greatly.

To be honest, I just gave Bacardi as much hay as he would eat, without bothering to weight it. I'm trying to get him to gain weight so I wanted him to stuff his face! (This is the most important key aspect in getting weight on an OTTB, besides providing clean water at all times.) Which attunes to half a bale a day PLUS 12 hours turnout on good quality pasture. With Yankee, he also required alfalfa hay in addition to the grass hay/pasture. (In winter, the boys will get 3lbs of alfalfa cubes/day.) This amounted to a shitload of hay and I've been through about 100 bales in 3 months....and @ $5/bale....

Along with allllll of that, Bacardi (and Yankee) get stalled half the day. In summer, its during daylight, with fans, because they are princess ponies who loathe bugs. In winter, it will be at night. If they had choices, they'd never go out. This is essential to weight gain as well! Horses outside will expend MORE calories by walking around, stomping, etc etc than those inside, sedentary.I TRIED having Yankee on full turnout and not only did he hate it, bu I basically was dumping money down his throat and nothing ever stuck to his ribs.

They also get free choice Himalayan salt licks, as well as access to fresh, clean water at ALL times. They drink so much, its insane. Once I start work, I will have to equip Bacardi with three buckets in his stall.

To sum up a very lengthy post, 12lbs of grain a day, unlmited good quality hay, 12 hours turnout, 12 hours stall, salt, water, and supplements!

Pictorial evidence that it works

Week 1 on far right, week 4 on bottom left, week 6 on top left

Week 8 on top, week 12 on bottom
And that my blogging friends, is how I get my OTTBs fat. Its not cheap and its not fun running to the feed store so frequently, but the evidence is in that last pic. Just look at him! (I wish he looked like his shiny self, but the lighting was AWFUL).

In just 12 weeks he's gained probs 10#, and his topline and loins have filled in nicely as well! HILLWORK people! Hillwork, trails and dressage!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Getting My Balls Back

Deciding what to blog about was really difficult. For once, I actually have blogposts for days and deciding on one was not easy. I had a ridiculously busy weekend, so before my high wears off from XC schooling, I shall share, and the other topics will have to wait for now.

The last time I went XC schooling was ages ago. Last spring I think. It was always an ass pain to school XC in Missouri because the opportunities were limited, cost a pretty penny and were far away. It also was the most important because I don't think Yankee and I ever got a clean XC at Training level. Main reason we have yet to move up to Prelim. He either spooks at spectators or we have time faults. Because we NEVER practice it! I was SO spoiled here in Ohio because Twin Towers Park is like 20 minutes from my house and is free to use. FREE.

Literally, one the only thing I missed most about Ohio, while living in MO. TTP almost makes up for the shittiness of Ohio in general.

So, to say I was ecstatic about going this past Sunday is a major understatement. SCHOOLING SUNDAY BITCHES OOO KILLEM.

 To be honest, I was scared out of my mind. I've spent the last 2 years denying I have a problem. And we all know the first step to fixing it is accepting it.

I spent my entire life completely, 100%, stupidly fearless. Spirit didn't help considering he jumped anything you pointed him at. Refusals? What are this. Safety? Is that a thing? #zerofucks

Falling off at sanctioned show on a horse who had never refused once, or ever had issues jumping, will fuck your brain up though. Permanently.

Didn't know my pic was being taken, but obviously deep in thought and worried
I always thought to be scared was weakness. Maybe it is. But I also savor life and really don't want to die  jumping. My older self now realizes that falling off CAN happen and it HURTS and you COULD die. Thus, my issues with jumping were born. Aimee had a very good post early this month on fear. It summed it up perfectly. You can't describe why to anyone. It just is.

Unfortunately my fear is easily transferable to a hot, emotional OTTB.

Not yesterday though.

Oh hai eq! I love you!
 Yankee was ON his game and unstoppable. Literally. He was slightly brain dead when it came to half halts, but he jumped every single thing I pointed him at the first time, without hesitation.

Baby Trek=still looks like massive death trap
We warmed up briefly over BN fences, and he was basically ripping my arms out in excitement and anticipation. I was just happy to be jumping again and feel all his positive energy towards jumping. But I was terrified.

And I was scared I was scared. I had NEVER been that nervous on a horse in my life. But all my thoughts about failure, fear of falling, and sliding into jumps came rushing back. I almost felt paralyzed and it freaked me out more than the thought of jumping a training level height fence.

I told myself to snap out of it and grow some balls. Yankee was more than game for anything and I had jumped every fence on the park hundreds of times without fear or getting hurt.

So I did the dumbest thing you could possibly do when petrified.

I pointed Yankee at a Prelim jump and closed my eyes.

Didn't die.

In fact that's my favorite picture of the day. Yankee carried me, ignored my anxiety and looked FAF doing it. Seriously, what a guy.

I won't say I was "cured", my fear still lived in my belly all day. But Yankee was so game for everything that I was able to push it aside and ride my horse to each and every fence.  It was mildly liberating.

My happiest moment was our ability to stay relatively put together through a pretty big and complex coffin. Not only did it seem massive and SOLID, but it was on a bending line. Course designers, I swear.

"Shit, what am I doing and why?"
Trying to prep for that bending line
"Oh god, dying"
 Sort of what it looked like, haha. Those rail fences were very...upright....and that ditch was huge in my eyes. But we nailed it first time through.

Yankee. Such Majesty. Such awesome. Very horse.

I knew it was probably pretty stupid to be jumping things that scared me shitless, but my logic was that Yankee could attack anything I pointed him at and it was only giving me confidence. Right?

Really though, I lost my damn mind when I saw the biggest jump on the course and was like, "why not?" Yankee was aching to jump it (literally, everytime we got near it he would get all prancy and try and rush it like a linebacker) so I gulped down my nerves and pointed him at it.

Chanting my mantra, "eyes up, heels down, shoulders back", Yanks sailed over it without a second glance.

I almost peed a little. Why does he carry me over shit like this? #beastmode

 The feeling after not dying and effortlessly flying over possibly the biggest fence I've ever jumped with Yankee, is hard to explain.

I don't know if I'm just stupid, or deep down actually brave. But either way I feel like I gained a shred of confidence back. I was also proud of myself for keeping my shit together over fences. My eq didn't suffer greatly in my time off and I'm happy with that. Solid schooling day.

I doubt I would be able to do this in competition for a while yet, but just knowing my horse is game for it still is a massive reassurance.

I don't usually brag intentionally. In fact I try to avoid it because I find it egotistical. I share experiences, but I rarely say "Yeah, Yankee is basically the shit and I know it" but after yesterday I can't help it. HE IS AWESOME. Not only  does he have the ability to scale shit like that ramp, but he has the drive, heart, attitude and beauty that goes along with a champion. I loved Spirit, and cherished my time with that ponybeast, but I've never had a connection with an organic being like I do with Yankee. Its like our brains are connected. Where one of us is weak, the other makes up for it and carries the other through. We have each others backs, always and nothing can break that, or top it. I wish we had had more opportunity to exhibit his talent in sanctioned events, but just knowing I own one of the most badass horses I've ever come across is pretty cool. And I trained him. Me. It may have taken 8 years, but I can now hop on him ANYWHERE and he is cool as a cucumber. Flying changes. Lateral work. 5ft stadium fences. Combinations. Trails. Cross Country. Galloping. Flawless transitions. Willingness. Trust. Love.  Maybe he wasn't meant to win events, or show, but to be that horse of a lifetime for me. I hope each and every one of you have or get the chance to own a horse that makes such an impact in your life like Yankee does for me.