Thoroughbred Logic: Horse Profiles, The Good Kid

“I know that as a good horse gains the hope and the expectations that sneak in, they often get fast tracked. He’ll only go BN this spring if he is ready for it. And I’m having to be careful of my enthusiasm for the seemingly quite talented and sweet redhead.”

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 profiles one of the horse in her barn — the good kid. 

This year, one of the things I wanted to start doing with these articles was to write about specific horses. While this might sound niche, I find that I use the horses I know best as examples of what to do/what not to do with other Thoroughbreds. Equally, when presented with similar issues and personality types, I end up beginning stories with, “That sounds a lot like ____, here’s what we did…” So to kick this off, I’ll use a softball: Gumbo, the good kid.

Gumbo hanging out at Chatt Hills this past weekend. Photo by author.

Gumbo (JC: Bayou Prospector, 16.1h 2017 Thoroughbred Gelding) earned his quite unsophisticated name when he set the record for how quickly I needed an emergency vet once he reached my farm. He is a good kid, a very, very good kid, but he’s still a Thoroughbred who insists on keeping life interesting.

I hauled him home from Winchester Place Thoroughbreds, arriving around 9:00 PM, and had a vet putting sutures and drains in his shoulder less than 12-hours later. His five total minutes in turnout were an epic fail. The dude calmly walked out into his small paddock, trotted to the far corner, saw a bigger grassy field and did the first thing his brain conceived of: halted, sat back, and aimed to jump a four-foot fence. Unfortunately, instead of clearing it, he hit the hot wire, aborted the jump, broke the board back into himself and required God-knows how many stitches to sew up the huge pocket and tear at his shoulder.

Gumbo and the by-that-point-healed shoulder injury (shaved patch) shown here during his first post track ride in early December. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

The good news, the dude was perfect for his three weeks of stall rest and perfect for the vet and all of the cleanings he needed daily. He was quiet to hand walk up and down the driveway, and basically just the most handsome failed-fence-jumping fool. The downside was he earned his silly name because the vet needed something to write down and “dumbass” didn’t sound terribly professional. Dumbo. Gumbo. It has Bayou flair… so close enough. It stuck.

On the ground, Gumbo is easy. He has only been here since mid-November, but he is the horse I’ll hand off to green barn hands to walk out to the field (yes, he now turns out in said big field). The averagely successful, recently retired racehorse is also perfectly happy to have any of my working students/interns hack him around. And even better, after a few moments of nerves at his first schooling jumper show, he settled in and has been a charmer off property. This both makes me super happy and makes for a pretty boring article: Good horse is good and does good things. Great.

Gumbo at his first show looking mildly concerned at the mini-horses and guinea hens but holding it together. Photo by Amanda Woomer

There are a few catches there and a few things to draw out. The first is that the ‘good horse’ is still on their own trajectory of growth and it is not a linear ride. As they succeed, especially early on, they are at risk of raising hopes — rider hopes and trainer hopes. Hope is awesome, but at some point, the expectations might outstrip the horse’s uphill momentum and lead to statements like, “I don’t know what’s going on, he was doing so well.” He is still a young, very green Thoroughbred, so even if a good kid, he needs the grace to be held to similar standards of those who struggle from the get go.

Gumbo up and over fence one in Chatt Hill’s stadium round (he’s cute, ignore my focus face). Photo by Maggie Gilbert.

Last weekend, Gumbo went to Chatt Hills and was outstandingly well behaved in the blustery weather and around sometimes questionably behaving horses. He cross country schooled, hung out while I moved and adjusted stadium fences, taxied my butt around for another few hours schooling other horses and hung out like a champ in his stall. He finished his first Starter Three-Phase with a sixth place — totally fine by me for the horse who had never done a test in a dressage arena or jumped around a 2’3″ course. Best thing, he was brave and foot perfect on Cross Country. I joked with my team saying, “Just wait, he’ll be going Beginner Novice next month.”

Gumbo clicking around dressage at Chatt Hills. Photo by Jennifer Kelly.

He might. OR, he might need to slow his progression. I’m not worried either way, but I know that as a good horse gains the hope and the expectations that sneak in, they often get fast tracked. He’ll only go BN this spring if he is ready for it. And I’m having to be careful of my enthusiasm for the seemingly quite talented and sweet redhead.

The great thing of him being a good kid is that I get to work on the basics — not just the basics as obstructed by fussing, bucking, nerves, or so on. He needs more time to learn to turn off the outside rein, bend and hold his shoulder up and to the outside, and he needs to learn footwork over fences in stadium (cue the grids). Oh yeah, and I need to train in a serious half halt in the process. Sure, all of these things are a lifetime of work and improvement, but he’s at that wonderful place right now with all the temperament, body, and brain (and thankfully no more stupid pasture fence jumping) to be able to learn all the skills that will enable him to be quite successful. That folks, that is very exciting.

Oh, there’s the Wakanda house? He didn’t care. Gumbo boldly took on the Chatt’s starter XC course with no hitches. Photo by Maggie Gilbert.

So what’s the catch? Is there a catch? Every horse has one. It is that proverbial other shoe I am always looking for — you know, the one that drops. Gumbo’s “catch” are his ankles… well… just below his ankles: his mild osselets. Osselets are a boney callous formed from racing which, when they do not impact the joint or the joint capsule, are simply ugly bone growths.

These things might need their own article at some point, but for now, a short summary will do. Equus Magazine explains, “During high-speed gallops, the fetlock joints of speed horses, particularly those with long pasterns, can dorsiflex (extend) so much that the pasterns sink almost parallel with the track surface. A callus of sorts forms on the joint’s front face where the top of the long pastern bone hammers against the lower end of the cannon bone.”

Gumbo’s osselets from racing have zero impact on his joint or soundness (THANK GOODNESS). Radiograph by Countryside Equine.

Gumbo’s osselets are thankfully cold and set, and when we radiographed all the views, they show clear joint space and callousing that is nowhere near the joint capsule (cue happy dance). The area just below his ankle might be ugly, but the joint, the leg, and the horse is sound and has no limitation. Back to thinking about that Beginner Novice move up we go.

And better yet, if the exterior look of his ankles keep the stunner from selling, he’ll just end up coming to Kentucky and the Thoroughbred Makeover with me in October. Either way, for this handsome redheaded good kid, I’d say it is a win.

He certainly doesn’t lack the scope or the boldness to get around. Photo by Emma Peterman.

So if you have a good kid, you’re in luck! Here’s hoping that if there is a proverbial other shoe, it is just a small one. And now I need to go look up where that ridiculous metaphor came from, because who is out there dropping shoes as a form of ringing in bad news??? Anyway… go ride, kick on, and enjoy the hint of spring. Winter is almost through… and that is something I’m willing to hang my hopes on.