Thoroughbred Logic, Presented by Kentucky Performance Products: New Year’s Resolutions For/From Your Thoroughbred

Here are some key goals for — or perhaps from? — your Thoroughbred for the coming year.

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 ride along as Aubrey shares her logic on the resolutions you can make for your Thoroughbred in the coming year. 

Happy 2024, folks. And happy birthday to all the Thoroughbreds out there. Here at Kivu, everyone celebrated with a few extra carrots and having iffy behavior told to “knock it off, you’re older now, you should know better…” — ahem, Forrest. The year ahead holds some seriously big things for each of these horses and, hopefully (crosses fingers and toes), for my plans, too.

Stop messing with him, Forrest (Don’t Noc It). Also featured, a very tolerant Titan’s Crown. Photo by author.

Skip ahead if you want to avoid all the sappy New Year’s mumbo-jumbo and just want to check out the Thoroughbred Resolutions

And while it is cliché, I appreciate this cold, dreary time of the year only for the slow down that encourages reflection on where you have been and on the potential of the literally and figuratively brighter days ahead. 2023 was not an easy year. Hell, neither was 2022. I have quiet hopes for 2024, but it feels a bit like the meme, “let’s hope someone lunged 2024 before we get on.” I am not a fan of energy-out lunging, so let’s just hope 2024 has had ample turnout and isn’t coming off stall rest like some feral colt.

As far as this column goes, last year met my goal of publishing 50 articles about training and reflecting on Thoroughbreds. I think that puts the whole series somewhere between 140 and 150 articles. And in my usual verbose manner, if we average on the lower-side of say 1200 words, we’re looking at around 168,000 words written. For perspective, that’s around 675 double-spaced pages. Apparently I have a lot to say on the topic. And the funny thing is, I barely feel like I have scratched the surface.

Needles Highway has been largely absent from competition (and this series) since tearing a muscle in his hip. Guess what? He’s back and sounder than ever in 2024. I’ll take that win. Photo by the Kivu Team.

Most importantly though, thank you all for reading. I was told ages ago that the average academic paper is read by seven people. Maybe this is not true… maybe it only held in the era of paper-only publications. But roll with it for now. Nearly every one of these Thoroughbred Logic articles this year had over a thousand views, with a few hot on the heels of 10,000. That is the biggest compliment this writer-trainer could receive. So again, folks, thank you.

On the more personal side of things… There’s a farm in Kentucky near Lexington called “Neversink.” Every time I drive by it, I nod and relate. Apparently, that was the motto of 2023: Too stubborn to go under, but not quite above water enough to really get swimming. 2023 watched me exit academia (again) and create Thoroughbred School here (so really I just transferred the academic energy to the barn). I played trial and error games with horses I bought, the men I dated, and my sales numbers — I haven’t quite gotten any of those right yet, but meh… it is all a work in progress. My boundaries got better, Rhodie (Western Ridge) beat cancer, and my personal and sales horses have never been nicer.

Ramen (Plamen) is one of my most recent sale projects, and man is he nice. Photo by Alanah GIltmier.

Regardless of the challenges, I feel like by not sinking last year, I was able to start to slowly put the cars of the train back on the track in a better order and make the necessary repairs. A lot of time and effort went into what doesn’t look like a whole lot of movement. But there they are, lined up and in decent shape (albeit most held together with dreams, duct tape and hay string). Now, hopefully I can get some fuel in the fire and convince the whole mixed set of metaphors to get moving. Maybe 2024 can be “Above Water” (…crosses fingers, toes, and hooves and calculates how much sleep is truly necessary to survive…).

Rhodie soaking up the sun in the new year. He doesn’t know it yet, but a lot of these big plans include him. Photo by author.

10 Resolutions for dealing with Thoroughbreds in 2024:

Here’s random smattering of resolutions and thoughts to kick off the new year, in no particular order:

  • Celebrate Thoroughbreds for all that they know coming off the track — most are good with chaos, loud noises, fireworks, gunfire, dogs, crowds, and, well, the utter hectic lifestyle here. They are catty and fast-footed when the chips are down, have at-speed lead changes, are used to a rider being ‘up,’ and have loaded in and out of trailers their whole lives. Training on the backside and running out in front helped instill all of that bravery and sensibility.

Nope, not afraid of George the heron. George for that matter, is also not afraid of my Thoroughbreds. Photo by author.

  • Recognize that Thoroughbreds are different than other breeds and don’t expect them to fit the mold created by the schoolmaster, the Quarter Horse, or the upper-level Warmblood dressage horse or jumper. Bitting them up, lunging them down, or trying to make them like the others generally only irritates them. Appreciate them for what they are, complete with their smarts, heart and try. Do that, and you likely won’t need the huge bit or the 40-minutes of prep.
  • Stop labeling bad behavior “Thoroughbred.” I’m a bigger fan of having good boundaries and/or calling a spade a spade without assuming bad behavior is part of the breed. Cute gelding but no personal space? Let’s train that. This one seems to have a bolting problem — let’s dig into their foundation and see what’s up. Today was a bucking day; I wonder if she’s sore. Weaving in the stall is new, time to investigate if it is only around food, or stall-type, or amount of turnout… etc. etc. etc…

Yes, Needles is loose in the aisle. No it is not because he is a TB, it is because I am dumb and he is smart. Human does not latch stall? Horse opens door. Photo by author.

  • Reward the try. Training something new to your mount? Celebrate the try — pat (or scratch) the neck, say nice things in encouraging tones, whatever they like. They might not get it right on the first go-round, but they’ll give you even more effort on the second attempt if they know you’re paying attention and there is space to learn, not only space to be right.
  • Mix it up more. Always find yourself and your horse in the arena? Mix it up and hack out, take to the roads, and stimulate their brains with new experiences. Bravery comes from meeting and overcoming new challenges they get to meet calmly and confidently.

Uno (Hold Em Paul) is about to break out of the arena and into the field to leg up for his first recognized event at the end of the month. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

  • Avoid drilling. Aim for progress not perfection when training and come back to it later. Their attention spans and desire to please will be right there waiting for you and tomorrow’s ride.
  • Reward with what they love. If they put in a ton of try, let the reward not just be a stretchy walk where you check out, but instead, maybe a happy gallop in the field or loose rein-trot about the arena.
  • Maintain their bodies with what they need. Body work, chiropractic adjustment, magnawave, any of the new-fangled treatments and therapies as well as veterinary maintenance go a long way to keep these sensitive beasts as happy and comfortable in their second careers as possible.

Jennifer Kelly (and Kate Smith) with Final Stretch PEMF magnawave Valine’s lower limb to help reduce the inflammation from a former abscess. Photo by author.

  • Enjoy the ride together. Not every horse makes an upper-level competitor. Not every one wants to dance in the sandbox. Whatever they love to do, support that. Finding them jobs that make them happy, with you or on down the road, is one of the most rewarding things around.
  • More alfalfa, please.

Hudson (Primetime Spy) and Neumann (Bubba Bob) enjoy the attention while apparently choosing to audit a lesson this winter. We’re all ready for sunnier, warmer days. Photo by Cora Williamson.

Happy 2024, folks. Layer up and enjoy the ride.

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