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Race Horse to Ranch Horse: Passing It On

Autumn in review: Jobber teaches his first lesson.

The day after we got home from the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover in October, it began to rain.

Jobber arrived back at home in New York on the Sunday after the Makeover, cantering gleefully across the grassy pasture calling for his herdmates in a fine mist that hung in the air. From that point forward through the rest of the fall, it certainly felt like it rained just about every day — or if it wasn’t actively raining, the fields and pastures were way too muddy for any productive riding.

Memory is a funny thing, however, as I look back at photos and Facebook posts and realize that not only did I have a few good riding days in there, but we actually got some work done around the farm as well. In mid-October, we hacked out on a sunny day only to find a cow in distress that needed to be cut and hauled down to the barn for treatment; all of her tractability and symptoms of extreme discomfort “mysteriously” vanished the moment we tried to separate her from the herd and she gave Jobber a run for his money to get her cut and separated into a catch-pen so the trailer could come pick her up.

Earning our keep. All photos by Kristen Kovatch.

The following day, the entire herd had to be rotated to new pasture, and while we normally try to do this with multiple horses, no one else was available to ride out. Using the farm layout to the best of my advantage and making the most of the maxim “act like you have all day and it’ll take you 20 minutes,” Jobber and I managed to round up the small herd, push them across a creek, through the woods and into the next section of pasture all by ourselves.

Sign of the changing seasons…

I suppose we did get in a fair amount of casual riding in October before the calendar flipped pages again, and Jobber came cantering across the pasture to me for his supper one evening literally on three legs.

While the logical horse owner in me knew that this was most likely an abscess, the panicked horse mom in me immediately thought “BROKEN FOOT.” (This would, perhaps, prove to be part of a larger pattern.) As it turns out, it was in fact “just” an abscess, but it would be well into December before the abscess had finally burst, drained and healed enough for Jobber to finally have the remaining front shoes pulled for the winter — the hinds had been pulled a few weeks prior. I like to have my horses go barefoot in the winter if my farrier feels that their feet will hold up to it: I believe the hoof needs some time out of shoes to stay strong and supportive, and I also really hate watching my horses wobble around on snow-shoe stilettos.

Except this year, there was no snow — which meant that despite having my farrier’s blessing to have his shoes pulled with some conservative trimming, Jobber was still quite foot-sore for the first ten days being barefoot. I hung on the gate watching him slowly pick his way around the winter paddock, wondering if I had made a giant mistake. Fortunately, with careful application of Venice turpentine and Absorbine’s amazing product Magic Cushion, Jobber’s feet toughened up and he was finally able to trot up sound.

Also, he got super fat. Anyone thinking an OTTB can’t live out 24/7 (like I used to believe) should come meet Jobber.

Faced with a warmer-than-usual winter, it was time to put Jobber to a different sort of test: teaching his first lesson.

There would be no better hand to swing a leg over Jobber for his first not-me rider since my coach hopped on him way back in June than Haley Ruffner, a former middle school/high school rider of mine when I was coaching an interscholastic team in the early 2010s. (If Haley’s name sounds familiar, you may recognize her as the author of Horse Nation’s Academic Equestrian series.)

Haley is a lovely, empathetic rider who is always good to her mount, and when I offered her an opportunity to come hop on something different from her baby reiner and the school horses she’d been riding, especially in light of her recent dabbling in her intercollegiate dressage team, she jumped at the chance. While this wouldn’t necessarily be a dressage lesson, I knew that the flatwork I had done with Jobber had a strong foundation in dressage — which ideally, is the foundation for all horses’ training.

I’d like to think that Haley learned a few things from Jobber over our 45-minute session (like exactly what that pesky outside rein is for, and how to really use it) but I certainly learned a lot about Jobber that will go on to help me as we continue training: namely, if you ask him for something correctly, he’ll do it correctly, and if you ask for something in a way he doesn’t understand, he’ll go like a giraffe. That’s perhaps an oversimplification of the riding process, but I learned that I have a truly honest horse who is certainly well-suited at this stage in his career for this kind of lesson. I don’t intend to ever sell Jobber, but it’s certainly nice to know that I have a horse who could teach a more upper-level lesson for the right riders.

Haley and Jobber.

We have a few cow horse clinics tentatively scheduled for the winter and early spring — whether or not we attend will depend on the kind of weather we get between now and then and how much I can keep Jobber fit enough to fairly ask him to perform. This is the kind of winter in which it stinks to be on #TeamNoArena, but as I flip back through photos from the summer and fall, I know it will be worth the wait to enjoy a nice long canter through the pasture again.

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