Watch our spotlight trainers in action!
It is one thing to read about these trainers’ successes, shortcomings and their methods while working with off the track Thoroughbreds — but it is another thing to see it. This month we challenged our Retired Racehorse Project showcase trainers to share a valued training method they are using with their mounts through video so that we can see their progress and learn from their methods. Continue reading below to see what each trainer and horse combo are up to and to pick up on some new methods that might help with issues you may experience with your own horses!
Kallie Zeinstra – Competitive Trail, Professional
“Jacob’s transition from track life has not been easy for him… because of his difficulties, I elected to take him back to the basics and start him under saddle all over again.
Kallie and the ever adorable Jacob have opted for a fresh start in their training program in order to help Jacob cope with the drastic change from track life. Despite some mental stumbling blocks, Jacob seems to adapt well with slow and consistent training. With that in mind, Kallie wanted to share her training methods with working with a horse in hand leading up to riding over ground poles.
In the first video, Kallie is working with Jacob in hand in his LightRider Bitless bridle. The second video shows Jacob being ridden over poles in the same bridle and in a LightRider Bareback Pad. LightRider products have been beneficial when working with the cautious gelding. While many horses come off the track with positive experiences, some bring some mental baggage with them and Kallie has found that this lighter touch and one on one feel of the bareback pad has really helped Jacob to relax into his surroundings and trust her.
These exercises are super easy for anyone to recreate at home, but Kallie wants to remind everyone to keep it fun and take it easy! Start with simpler obstacles that you know will not take too much time for your horse to adjust to and build upon that. This not only builds your horse’s confidence in himself, but also his trust in you. Setting your horse up for success will prevent him from becoming frightened when he encounters more difficult obstacles. Working with a horse in hand helps build that trust and relaxation, as well as teaching them how to use their body in new ways without the communication difficulties that can come with under saddle work. Kallie uses obstacles such as boxes, ground poles, tarps, and pool noodles to keep the horse focused and keep their mind and feet busy.
As you watch the videos, you can see that Jacob is (for the most part) listening and responding positively to Kallie and his surroundings. In the under-saddle video, Jacob is moving forward (something that has been previously challenging for the worried gelding) but not as confidently as he did in hand. Kallie will continue to encourage him to move forward and become relaxed. Unfortunately, the weather has not been consistent in Michigan and have caused a few setbacks in their training, something Kallie feels is reflected in the videos. She hopes that with warmer weather and continued exercises that Jacob will continue to blossom.
Victoria Gomez – Show Jumping, Amateur
“At this point, we are trying not to rule out the RRP, but I also will not push her to make it there if it can compromise her well being and health throughout the rest of her life.
Of course, things rarely go as planned. Victoria has been battling on again, off again lameness with her mare Athena for a while now, but when the mare finally cleared up from a nasty abscess and had a week of soundness Victoria was ecstatic. She made plans to film her training video over teaching a horse to accept contact through the reins and from the leg. Many first timers training any horse make the mistake of relying too heavily on their hands and minimizing the use of the other training aids. Victoria had plans of showing how a horse moves laterally at the walk to show a correct and balanced frame, which is key in the jumper ring as some of the tight turns you must maneuver require balance.
After Victoria returned home from Rolex, she unfortunately found her once-sound mare was again lame. After getting veterinarian approval for Athena to have shoes back on and to for her to have turnout following many weeks of stall rest, Athena unfortunately was showing favor to the same foot that had once had the abscess. The vet came out once again and it appears as if there might be another underlying issue that the abscess was masking. Athena came out sound after weeks of stall rest after the abscess was drained and fully healed, but once she went back out on turnout it appears it aggravated the true problem. The vet will be returning to do x-rays of Athena’s stifle and hock, as well as an ultrasound of her adductor, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus muscles.
Victoria will have a clear treatment plan for Athena once the vet conducts those tests, but at this time she is unsure of how far back this injury could set them for their plans of competing at the RRP. She has no intentions of rushing the healing process as Athena is only four and has a life ahead of her. All the pair can do for now is stay positive and hope for the best when the vet comes out to conduct further testing. Victoria would appreciate some positive thoughts as they navigate this difficult time in their career together and we hope to update everyone next month on Athena’s injury and plan for the RRP.
Katie McIntyre – Field Hunter, Amateur
“No matter what cross country questions you want to start with, choose something straightforward and that you as a rider are comfortable with.
With her background in eventing, Katie had hopes her confidence on the cross country course would help better prepare Porter for his debut as a field hunter. As they prepared for their first event of the season, she opted to perform her training video over schooling a green horse over various cross country obstacles, especially ditches. Porter has been cross country schooling some, but he still required more exposure to the excitement you will experience in the hunt field.
With the help of Nora Battig, Katie was able to let go of her personal concerns that come with schooling ditches and help encourage Porter to trust her enough to know they were not going to eat him. I think this quote from Katie sums up their afternoon schooling cross country the best, “Our video might not show a perfect first attempt, but you can see how Porter’s confidence grows as we continue.”
Prior to attacking the ditch, Katie schooled Porter over several straightforward jumps earlier in the day and then paired the ditch with some additional fences to make it less of the focus for Porter. Starting in both of their comfort zones helped to establish a pace and help Porter let down his guard and enjoy his job in the field. The most important thing, Katie emphasizes, is that you should keep the experience 100% positive. She gave Porter plenty of opportunities to look at the jump if he was unsure about it before trying it again.
After a day of schooling intro level fences such as a ditch, a bank and through the water, Katie thoroughly feels as if the team accomplished their goal that day. They are going to work on continuing to build confidence over fences, but she feels they both learned a lot about one another and that she has a good mindset going forward. She found throughout the day that they could take some things home and work on them on the flat, such as steering since Porter loves to go right over left. She loved getting to see him learn as the day went on and is proud to say that Porter attended his first starter trial and was clear on cross country! Their successful schooling session helped them tackle a course of brand new jumps and earn a bright yellow ribbon along the way.
Heather Louisiana – Working Ranch, Professional
“One thing racehorses don’t have much of is brakes. Henry was definitely one of them.
Despite a crazy schedule, Heather and Henry are making progress in their training and Heather is excited to share some tips and tricks for preparing your OTTB for cattle work. Her training video elaborates on a few basic maneuvers that prepares the horse for a reining pattern and sets them up ultimately for working a cow. Her main goal overall was to have an elastic horse that had good brakes, which as we all know many racehorses don’t come off the track with.
Knowing that Henry has a lot more go than whoa, the main exercise to work on is stop and go at all gaits. She also works on stopping followed by backing (which she says is a lot easier when your arena isn’t as difficult to work in as hers is — darn rocks!). It is important when working on backing to get the horse to come down into the bit, rather than fight it. In the video you will also see a turn on the haunches, which will later lead to a rollback which is essential when working a cow along the fence. Towards the end of the video the pair also demonstrates a side pass, which Heather is proud of as Henry couldn’t even attempt to do without having a bit of a breakdown. Each of the exercises is different, but they all require the same type of horse: a soft and supple one. Practicing these exercises with patience and understanding will lead you to the same progress that Heather is seeing each day in Henry.
While Heather tries to find ways to sneak Henry off to drill with her, she uses what free time she does have to continue to build confidence and trust with her horse. She thoroughly enjoys riding him and adores his sweet personality. Henry may not fully understand what she is asking of him yet, but she is slowly watching him put it all together. Heather hopes to take him off property more in the months to come and is anticipating some events they will be traveling to prior to the Makeover.
Amy Lent – Freestyle, Professional
“When you do long lining right, it helps aid with giving to pressure as you keep the outside rein behind the horse.
Amy and Azumi will be demonstrating some exciting training techniques to prepare a horse for driving, but Amy also uses it for her riding horses as well. She opts to start many of her horses in lines before beginning under saddle work as it helps her to see how they move and give to pressure. “They will know what I am asking for when riding, since I taught them in lines first,” says Amy of this training method. At the point when this clip was filmed, Azumi had only been in lines four times. After an unsuccessful session due to Azumi desperately wanting to return to the barn, Amy switched Azumi to a Myler combo bit and found that Azumi softened into the bit and relaxed much more.
If you are wanting to work with your horse in lines, here are a few things to keep in mind. When long lining, the horse’s body helps give a half halt on the outside rein as they move which keeps them moving properly and not bending too much to the inside. Amy starts off just asking for a little give to the bit while standing. Once she feels that give, she releases allowing the horse to have their head again. This not only rewards the horse, but allows Amy to see if she has the right bit for the horse she is working with. She then moves forward with a walk and a trot, navigating some obstacles and poles to change things up and make the horse more aware of their feet. Only after she feels the horse is responding well at the slower gaits does she move forward to the canter.
When Amy reviewed their training session filmed for this article, she did feel that Azumi was much better since having the bit changed. Amy intends on working with Azumi on stopping, standing, and backing as she feels those are not her strong points at this time. She does, however, go over obstacles well. Next in their program is to begin long lining and ground driving with something behind her as Azumi continues to grow.
It wouldn’t be called horse training if it was easy, but we do it because we love it. It is so exciting to watch each of these horse and rider pairs grow each month and getting to see their progress through video just tops the whole process off. Just a few short months until the RRP and each trainer is well on their way to meeting their goals. Check back on May the 26th to see how the second half of our showcase trainers are fairing with their mounts and see what training tips and tricks they have to share.