8 Things I’ve Learned From My OTTB
Things I’m obsessed with: dogs, tic-tacs, “DDP” (translated that’s, Diet Dr. Pepper) and learning new things. If it will push me out of my comfort zone and towards new, audacious goals, I’m about it. This year, one of my goals is to compete on my OTTB, Cowboy Swagger at the Thoroughbred Makeover barrel race in Kentucky. The mission of this event is to increase the demand for thoroughbreds and showcase them in a variety of different disciplines on top of providing them with careers after the racetrack. Every year, professionals, juniors and amateurs are invited to apply to compete side-by-side in 10 disciplines including barrels, competitive trail, dressage, eventing, field hunters, polo, ranch work, show hunters, show jumpers, and freestyle. (If you want to learn more about it click here.)
Cowboy Swagger is MASSIVE. I mean ya’ll, really, he’s huge. Coming in at 16.3 HH and off the track, I’m so excited to unlock his potential. There’s just one thing, he’s scared of the barrels. No, I’m not kidding, he straight up cleared one like we were in the show jumping arena. But you know what, I’m excited. Why does this make me excited? Not because I want to tempt fate (shoutout to my helmie) but because it’s given me an opportunity to problem solve and approach a new situation in a really unique way. And ultimately, learning and sharing that information with you is MY FAVORITE thing.
Here are 8 things I’ve learned while training my OTTB:
1. HOMEWORK IS IMPORTANT
Take a deep dive into everything you can find on the internet about thoroughbreds. I spent 2.5 hours studying every OTTB that’s been posted on YouTube. I watched videos of thoroughbreds competing in cow horse events, barrel races, pole bending, dressage shows and hunter jumper classes. If you want to do something, take the time to study up, the internet is a FREE resource.
2. KEEP IT KANYE
This is what my friends and I call keeping our emotions in check. It’s not necessarily something I learned when training my OTTB but it is something I already do that has been a major advantage to me during this process. It’s so easy to have an emotional response when it comes to our horses but I always keep it cool, calm and “Kanye” when it comes to any horses I’m around. We all have good days and bad days and it’s no different for our horses. Your horse should not have to ride the rollercoaster of your emotions. Whether you’re winning in the arena, just had a really nice practice or had the wheels totally fall off, keep your attitude and demeanor the same. This will really do great things for your progress.
3. DO SOME ROADWORK
Have you hit a roadblock in the arena? It’s time to do some roadwork! Assess what the root of that problem may be. Remember, OTTBs are taught to go forward and turn left. I’ve found that by starting out on the ground with some desensitizing work that we’ve been able to make huge strides in the arena in a matter of 24 hours.
4. DON’T JUDGE A FISH BY ITS ABILITY TO CLIMB A TREE
I emphatically believe that every horse makes no matter their breed, background or age we just have to set smart goals for them. Thoroughbreds are bred, raised and trained to run long distances so for them the sport of barrel racing can be a bit like asking a wrestler to pole vault. In barrel racing we ask our horses to run in at 30 mph, turn, go the other direction at 30 mph, make a 360 degree turn, complete the final turn and run out as fast as they can. It’s a game designed for a sprinter—a horse that really wants to drag their back hock and turn. When training my OTTB I’ve had to remind myself of something my dad always told me, “Don’t judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree.” What this means is, I can’t judge Cowboy Swagger on his ability to stay on track and focus while also expecting him to move out and turn on a dime.
5. BACK IT UP
Cowboy Swagger isn’t unlike a lot of other horses I’ve worked with or swung a leg over in my career—he hasn’t quite learned how to use his hind end. This is because of two things. The first is that quite frankly, it’s just not the way his breed is made. Unlike a quarter horse that is bred to really plant their inside hock and turn, thoroughbreds are bred to run long distances and cover a lot of ground. Forward momentum is their jam. This doesn’t mean that we can’t teach our OTTBs how to engage and really drive with their hind end. For the next 14 days, that is what we will be working on.
6. BE HONEST ABOUT WEAKNESS
This is something I love to do with myself as well as my horses. Assess your horse’s weaknesses—and for bonus points, your own. The easiest way to get stronger in a matter of minutes is to check in with yourself and your horse and really be honest about where you both are at. How are you feeling? Are you making progress? Remember, progress only has to be 1% everyday and in a matter of 100 days you could be 100% better. Once you’ve done checked in with yourself you can start to put together a plan for yourself and your horse that will have you crushing your goals in no time.
7. KEEP PUSHING
I love reminding myself regularly to step outside my comfort zone. This journey with Cowboy Swagger has reminded me that it’s OK to feel like you took two steps back one day because chances are the next day is when the magic happens. Keep pushing, the boulder you’ve been shoving will eventually start to roll and you will gain momentum.
8. CONTROL THE HEAD WITH THE HIND
I’ve saved the best for last. No really this tip is HOT FIRE. Lately, training my OTTB has reminded me how important it is for us to really make sure our horses are traveling in a way that allows them to round out their backs, use their hind end and keep forward momentum. Doing this will automatically cause a horse that likes to hollow out their back and put their head straight up in the air to lower their head and eventually even out. Before you try changing your equipment, try this!
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