Mar 23 / Laying Down The Foundation


This post is about how we start retired racehorses horses here at Leighton Farm. The subject is Apollo – who we now call Pauley. One of my helpers began calling him Pauley and he really IS a Pauley so there we are! He likes the name too!

The way I am working with Pauley at this time isn’t much different than the way I start out any horse that comes here from the track or even another farm. The first thing I want to convey/teach them is to pay attention to me at all times when I am working with them. Normally, I do move forward to riding within a few days and continue to do short longe sessions before mounting each day. I design each training program to fit the individual horse, incorporating the core principles and goals that are the foundation of our training program. In Pauley’s case, he is not yet ready to be ridden, but that will come very soon, at the walk.

I know this video is long and in a way boring because it’s about 20 minutes of walk, but I hope you will watch it long enough to see where Pauley and I go together. The lesson he learns and the progress we make. I also want you to realize we could and will to some degree, have the same lesson when I am astride, but I think you will agree that getting his focus on me and not the environment before getting on him is a great decision.

Along with teaching the voice commands – which will be useful in any future endeavor – longeing is a vehicle for developing this new relationship between horse and handler and eventually rider. As things progress, longeing becomes a warm-up and reminder of the basic principles of our Leader/Follower relationship.

In a way, my insistence that he focus on me at all times is a domination, meaning I am the dominant one in our relationship. This is something good race trainers/handlers try to avoid. If you have gone to the track you will observe handlers seemingly ignoring many “impolite” behaviors of the horse. These behaviors are acceptable in the racing world because we do not wish to dominate the horse any more than is absolutely necessary. The race handlers view is simple, “So you’re feeling good? Great! Go ahead and kick up your heels as we walk together.” “Try to kick out when I’m grooming you, I’ll stay out of your way.” In racing, we want the horse to be “King Kong”, we want him to have the confidence to go head and head and seize the win! We do not want to horse to look back to us and ask “should I stay or should I go?” The will to win must be prominent within him or her and he must not ask anyone for permission. Consequently, the relationship between racehorse and human is very different. The first and for safety’s sake, thing I address is the “new rule of engagement”.

In this video, Pauley had not worked on the longe the day before due to the weather. Saturdays are always busy here at Leighton Farm and this day was no exception. I had wanted to start earlier but as usual I couldn’t get done in the office early enough to beat the “masses” down to the barn. You will hear my husband in the background trying to do some work on the farm with the tractor. You might ask why I started work with Pauley at that time. The answer is because he had to learn what to do when he’s feeling great and there are lots of distractions. What is he to focus on? The only answer is ME, of course! Since I’ve been working him on the longe at the walk for nearly two weeks now, it’s a good challenge and next step in our program.

Please note how I handle him when he stops moving forward and turns in. I don’t run out to him and get him going. I try to encourage him from my current location to “make the right decision” by doing what I have already asked. I don’t want to transfer any power to him by allowing him to make me move from my position. His making me move gives him control. Instead, I want him to choose to do as I ask. I will go out there and insist – only if it is absolutely necessary. Also notice, I don’t get mad or frustrated. Either of these is a distraction that will change the subject, and he will pick up on my mental state.

As you can see, he does carry on a bit, but he is a baby horse in a busy environment and he is feeling good! Imagine if I had turned him out at liberty – even in a round pen, as he is scheduled to do this very week. I get him to come down off the high by requiring him to pay attention to me. I know, I say “hey, hey, hey” a lot. I could in fact say anything or make any noise. The number of times I say hey, hey, hey is the number of times he becomes distracted and I use these words and tone to bring his focus back to me. This develops his attention span as well as letting him know what he is supposed to do when there is a lot going on. The answer is simple – pay attention to me!