Thoroughbred Logic: New Year’s Perspective (And Ten Training Tactics That Work)

“I’m going to chalk 2022 up to being a transitional year – one where the building and the progress is the proverbial two-steps forward one — or 14 — steps back.”

Welcome to the next installment of Thoroughbred Logic. In this weekly series, Anthropologist and trainer Aubrey Graham, of Kivu Sport Horses, offers insight and training experience when it comes to working with Thoroughbreds (although much will apply to all breeds). This week, come along for the ride as Aubrey takes a look at where Thoroughbred Logic has been and where it is going.

I am thoroughly tempted to start this piece off with an enthusiastic, “Happy New Year!” as much as a hearty, “Good f&*%ing riddance, 2022.” Well… there it is.

The last year has brought ample joy, hardship, questionable decisions, strengthened friendships, devastating losses and yes, really wonderful successes, too. I’m going to chalk up 2022 to being a transitional year — one where the building and the progress is the proverbial two-steps forward one — or 14 — steps back. So in all the good, the ridiculous, and the downright bloody awful, there is still so much to be learned. And that perspective is the beauty of the arbitrary nature of a day in the middle of the darkest months of the year, where one can both look back and dream of what is ahead.

I am ridiculously excited about both of these horses and what they will do in the coming year. Here, Needles Highway ponies Madigan Cat. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

I mean, let’s be honest: In the horse world, it is rare that things ever slow down long enough to really take stock of where you are and where you want to go unless a nearly mandatory cultural event (ahem, New Year’s) requires some thought. Even then, that reflection is sandwiched in between doing stalls, training the young ones to lunge, grid work, syllabus planning (yep, somehow still a professor) and in this case, trying to keep my barn from flooding… again.

Louis (Unbridled Bayou) and his not-quite-right blanket kinda sum up how I feel about 2022. Photo by author.

So, before focusing on this concept of perspective (and trying to make something productive from the process of ‘laugh so you don’t cry’), let’s take a quick look at where Thoroughbred Logic has been in its first 12 months:

In January 2022, Horse Nation launched this article series and we have managed to publish 46 weekly pieces. The topics dealt with everything from ground work, to first rides, to showing and clinics, to approaching training conundrums and common issues, as well as figuring out how to laugh through the bucks and baby moments. Alongside this, I also hosted three Thoroughbred Logic clinics here at Kivu Sporthorses and worked through these concepts in real time, demo-ing first rides and working with riders and their OTTBs ranging from three to 20 years old.

Teaching from astride Beans (Giant’s Gateway) at the last Thoroughbred Logic Clinic. Photo by Cora Williamson.

Going forward, Thoroughbred Logic has some exciting things ahead. This article series will continue on a weekly basis and, with any luck, we’ll be able to fit in four Thoroughbred Logic Clinics here at Kivu or nearby (the first clinic is February 12 — more info here). Honestly, writing these articles and teaching the clinics has been a highlight of this year and I’m super excited for all that is to come.

Some new things are on the horizon too —  there is the fun (or what I think is fun) idea of digging more into the life of the Thoroughbred on the track and at home in their race farms. Add to this that I also plan to start ‘profiling’ horses here once a month. I have been kicking rocks around an idea of the different “types” of Thoroughbreds and the various ways to approach their training and handling. Working through the horses with whom I have long-standing contact will provide a basis for really honing in and being more specific about training tactics and approaches. There is also exciting talk of increased reader involvement in the articles and additional media (video, audio, etc.) coming soon to Horse Nation’s social media (stay tuned for all of that!).

Louis (Unbridled Bayou) at the RRP TB Makeover this past year. Having given him two month off, I’m very excited to see where he goes this coming year. Photo by Lauren Schuster.

With these exciting and hopefully attainable goals in mind, I return to the notion of ‘perspective.’ All ‘perspective’ is is how we look at things and where we choose to center our focus. The changing of the calendar from 2022 to 2023 doesn’t really mean much. OK, sure, Thoroughbreds are technically one year older on January 1 than they were on December 31. But, it still gets dark way too early and, in my farm’s case, it is still raining and the mud seems incurable. I could look back at the past year and focus on the failures, the losses, and the time that was wasted… or I can learn from all of that and focus on what worked.

Running out of 2022 and into the new year like this herd of goobers: Forrest (Don’t Noc It), Rhodie (Western Ridge), and Ranger (Cowboy Night). Photo by author.

So to kick off the year on a positive note and learn from the last one, here’s a short list of a smattering of things that were productive here — things that worked:

  • Inside leg to outside rein (Yes, yes… that one still works nearly every time).
  • Tack that FITS
  • Reaching out for help to folks who know their stuff (not the internet, please) and being willing to try what is offered.
  • Keeping a team composed of an awesome Trainer, Vet, Farrier, and Body Worker who you trust.
  • Getting off property, cross-training, and playing in new environments.
  • Giving the horses time (to let down, to settle in, to learn new concepts, and to get where you want to be going).
  • Remembering to laugh through the stress and ridiculousness.
  • Realizing that if it is not working, something probably needs to change (for instance, your environment, your tactics, or the nature of the partnership).
  • Treating competitions like an adventure and a way to take the temperature reading of your training — AKA stressing less, enjoying it more.
  • And finally, prioritizing the things (the horses, people, trainers, situations, jobs, etc.) you love and be willing to walk away from/re-home/quit the things that don’t.

We’re all looking forward to these days… Photo by author.

So on that note, here’s to the initial rides of the year and to dodging the snowflakes and torrential rains as the days inch towards increased sun, warmth, and fairer weather. Cheers also to making plans for the season ahead that actively learn from the last 12 months. It will be exciting to write, ride, and coach my way through 2023. I hope that everyone is able to hop up, kick on, and laugh through the crow hops. Happy New Year, folks. May this one be better than the last.