In the story of... series we tell you the full trainings story of a horse. We try to give a lot of detail on their past, their issues and their character. We talk you through the full journey we have gone through with them and what the results are, and where they are today, We hope these stories will inspire you, and give you a better view in how we train horses here on the ranch. Feel free to shoot us a message if you have questions on these stories or if you'd like to know more about the things we've worked on with this horse. We love to connect
Daisy is a Standardbred that used to race when she was young. She came to us right after her racing career was over. She was the first standardbred that we ever had, and the first ex race horse we ever had. So it was totally new to us. The first thing we noticed was that she was really not behaving like other horses. The way we train horses is based on how horses communicate with each other. She responded different to this, and we realized soon that since she had been started racing so young, she did not really have a lot of time just being a horse. We felt that maybe this is what she was missing, she needed some time with other horses. Just some growing up and learning from and playing with other horses. So we put her into our big herd, and gave her time to just be a horse. Play, get into trouble, and learn from our other horses how to behave. Very beautiful to see for us that the longer she was in the herd, the better she was responding to our body language. And the more she started to communicate with us.
After some time just being a horse we slowly started to do some groundwork with her, but never really on a regular base until this past summer. This was the first time I really had the time to start her up. I used the round pen to begin with her, this because I realized that that was the only spot where she was responding to what she saw in the moment and not anticipating about what was going to happen. I assumed she was never round penned before, as with all other groundwork exercises you clearly saw she was stressing and not responding to me anymore.
Daisy wanted to do 1 thing mostly when you worked with her and that was going super fast, with her head up high and of full adrenaline. Just go, not thinking, just go go go. The first thing I wanted her to see is that people can make her feel calm, and work does not have to be stressed. Actually the first thing I wanted her to do, was to do nothing. Just hang out and relax. But before we could do that she needed to trust and respect me as her leader. That would make her feel calm enough to do nothing.
So we started in the round pen, and as she saw that I was responding to her body language, and that she could read my body language the games began. She loved it, and got very into it. Throwing new challenges at me just to test me to see what my response was. And every time I proofed myself she got more relaxed. We played this game for a while, until she saw I was consistent and I was ‘’talking’’ to her in a way she understood. When she saw this, she could finally stand with me and do nothing. she could drop her head and just relax. This was a fantastic moment for us both. It felt great.
After this came the issue of contact. Daisy had never felt that contact was there to help. All she knew was to lean into it and go. We started with in hand with her in a halter. We did a lot of loose lead, with short switches into in hand. Just for her to stay calm and to see that she did not have to take off and go. She had to learn with this as well, to keep paying attention to me. To keep thinking, instead of stressing and just going forward. Once she started to focus and calm down a bit with in hand of the halter I started with the bit. The transition from halter to bit was easy, as now she had already learned that she did not have to stress and take off. Once we had a nice forward walk in contact, some nice halt walk transitions and some nice turn on forehands I wanted to do some lungeing with her. This because I wanted to show her that with another exercise she had done before, she needed to stay calm and focus on me instead of going into her old behaviour of stressing and just taking off. It needed to be a pattern for her, that whatever she was anticipating she needed to stay focused on me and respond to what I was asking instead of going off into her own world.
Of course I started the lungeing off the halter again, to make sure I had control over her turns and control over her speed. I waited until she would drop her head and relax, and did both turns nicely. After this I added the bridle and Vienna rein just to start shaping her body a bit more and showing her how to use her muscles better.
After the lungeing came the riding, the transition from the ground to riding was not a very big step for her. Also she was never ridden before (she raced with a sulky behind her) so there was not too much anticipating for her. So this started out pretty calm.
The biggest issue for her under saddle was her being super unbalanced and not aware of how to use her body properly. She would want to walk around with her nose forward leading every turn with her nose and falling in. So there was a lot of work to be done.
The first thing I wanted was for her to drop her head into a more relaxed frame instead of having her nose out and pulling forward. I wanted her to relax more in the contact. So we did a lot of turn on forehands to get her more relaxed. She did get more relaxed and in a better frame with her head. She went from too high headed to too low and a little bit behind the vertical. Now a lot of people would stress about this, and instantly try to fix this as this is not were you want her head to be. And of course it isn’t, but I think sometimes horses need time to get stronger and more balanced before they can be in the perfect frame. So at this time I was just happy she wasn’t high headed anymore. We started working on getting stronger. I did a lot of transitions, and making a circle smaller and bigger without falling in or drifting out.
This exercise sounds simple, but doing this correctly isn't easy. To have her so balanced that she turns in the circle nicely and comes out balanced and carrying herself is not easy. It takes a lot of helping from the rider with shifting weight, using legs and half halts all in the right timing. But this exercise helps so much with getting horses more balanced. I also added the turn on haunches, This will help shifting her weight more to the back and have her using her back more instead of just pulling from the front.
And this worked so beautifully, at the end of the summer she was going very nicely. She was balanced and her frame was way better. No longer behind the vertical. Im very happy with her progress. And now she is enjoying some very well deserved time off with her best friend Frodo (those 2 are inseparable) I can’t wait to give you all an update next summer on how she is progressing. And I’m very excited to have her starting in our lesson program next summer.
As Daisy is a standardbred people might be wondering about working on her canter. As a lot of people focus their training on that first with trotters. I didn’t work on the canter yet, I don't think there's any point to this, or that it's even fair to ask her this, before she is balanced and has the strength. I want her to succeed and I definitely don't want to cause unnecessary stress. By the end of last summer I did feel she was ready for it, but we were running out of time. So next summer we will definitely work an that and I'll update this blog with how we did that and how she does :)