Thoroughbred Logic, Presented by Kentucky Performance Products: Why Change & Chaos Are ‘Easy’

“I am proud of them for their quiet strolls around the facility, their eager walk (but willingness to stay at a walk) as we carouse through the woods. But I’m not surprised. They are Thoroughbreds, after all.”

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 why Thoroughbred handle change so easily.

In the past week and a half, I have looked at my horses and been grateful that they are Thoroughbreds more times than I can count. I mean, we all know I have a predilection for these guys — that’s nothing new. But moving farms is new. At least for me. Depending on which map you’re looking at, shifting my farm the few inches (nearly 1000 miles) from Georgia to New York wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for all that went into it on both ends of the trip. But for these horses? Meh, it was just another long day at the office.

The travel time itself was 22 hours on the trailer (four of them based on routes and shipping got to overnight for a few hours in stalls… so maybe 16-18 hours on the rig). When they stepped off at the new location in Bath, New York, all but Hudson (Primetime Spy) walked quietly into the barn, curious not scared.  And Hudson has an excuse — he has been on pretty strict stall rest so airs above ground were to be expected.

Wolf (Louisiana Moon) hanging out before a ride at the new Kivu Sporthorses Location in Bath, NY. Photo by author.

I’ll spare you all the complicated logistics of moving 11 Thoroughbreds, but all horses loaded without antics, trailers managed to get there within about an hour and a half of each other (despite taking different routes and leaving at different times). The rig with seven on arrived first. I had three in mine and rolled up the hill to the farm an hour later. Ramen strode off his private ride last. By the time I was there, all seven who beat me to the location were already tucked into their alfalfa quietly munching away.

We let them all eat and decompress in stalls for a few hours and then I kicked all but Koops and Hudson out into their new fields. With halters off, they did laps (miraculously keeping all of their shoes on) exploring their new digs with typical Thoroughbred enthusiasm. And then they settled, clipping eagerly at the well maintained grass and relaxing into their small herds.

Turnout is pretty quiet these days. Photo by author.

And that was it. They learned the new routine, the new hay, and the new noises. The indoor sits directly behind their stalls and when we’re not making use of it, the barn is primarily one set up for barrel racing. The smack of reins and the flying footing that whacks the walls of the stalls as the girls turn and burn behind them had the horses alight for the first day. By day two, heads didn’t leave their hay mangers when the western training began.

Under saddle, we have explored. There’s the indoor that I’ll be grateful for in the winter, but mostly I have hopped on these kids and taken them on hacks in the outdoor and ridden out to the pond and up and down the small mountain through the woods. It is a new place with new things — new gravel ditches carved by fast moving rain storms, swampy areas to traverse while taking the most efficient route to the outdoor, the sound of rock dust footing hitting metal barrels as we ride by. There is the pond and the construction site near it, the woods with their deer, ground hogs, and crows. And then there was the Western Ranch Horse clinic this weekend, that brought in perhaps dozen cows and lodged them off the backside of the barn. That turned some heads, but largely the horses were unfazed.

I’m not sure which is prettier – the scenery or Neil (Lute’s Angel). Photo by Sarah Hepler.

Overall, this place is stunning and I just want to take it in. And for these horses, just like shipping, it is just another day at the office. They are alert, kind and occasionally unsure (you are certain we need to hop across this ditch??? Go through this swampy patch????) But they are willing. And more than anything else, they are as curious as I am. I am proud of them for their quiet strolls around the facility, their eager walk (but willingness to stay at a walk) as we carouse through the woods. But I’m not surprised. They are Thoroughbreds, after all.

Wolf and Littles exploring the trails. Photo by author.

Before they retired from racing life, before they came to settle into my constant chaos, these horses had busy lives. They hauled to races and training centers and entered shed rows and stalls of all ilks; they wintered at trainer’s farms or backsides. They loaded and unloaded from trailers of all shapes, sizes and forms, and often they also traversed the better half of the country, some moving from Kentucky to Minnesota and back (Neumann — Bubba Bob), or from New York to Florida then Delaware for resale and back to Georgia to me (Forrest — Don’t Noc It). They have seen rough roads and air rides, kind hands and efficient hands.

A typical peak at the backside of the Fingerlakes track. Photo by author.

On the backside of the track, there is regular organized motion — hot walkers, moving horses in the shed row, legging up to ride out. There are people and trailers and construction and tractors and loudspeakers. Up front there are flags, grandstands and a paddock (where horses are walked, tacked, and jockeys are legged up and on) that can look like a warmup arena. And out on the track there are start gates, cars, officials, a bell or a gun to signal the start of the race and a gaggle of people who flock down on the adrenaline-fueled horses for photos upon their win.

The paddock at Fingerlakes Gaming and Raceway in Farmington, NY was a fun spot to watch the horses get ready to run, but also a good reminder of what they see each time they add a race to their file. Photo by author.

These horses have often had a whole life before they retire and begin again in the sport horse world. Sure, there will inevitably be new things in their second career. Big open fields sometimes have not been in their curriculum for years. Crossties might be new and of course what we ask undersaddle is a good bit different than the all out race (though depending on the trainer and owner, what we ask — quiet walk, trot, canter, changes, etc. — may well already be solidly in their vocabulary).

The point is this: they have for years had the experience of new things, different things, chaotic things. And thus, when changing barns, hauling to shows, moving across the country, they often have enough experience to apply to the situation and stay sane, alert, and largely happy. Each day that I walk down the aisle at the barn and realize how well adjusted they are, I’m grateful that the barn is one of Thoroughbreds. (Yes, yes, there are lots of other great horses out there — lots of other stellar, adjustable, easy to settle-in types, but I’m thrilled with a barn of mostly greenies, that we’re batting 11-for-11 of mentally figuring it out and being largely unbothered by everything (except maybe the cows… Rhodie — Western Ridge) would like to let you know that they are certainly not to his liking).

Neumann channeled Rhodie’s sentiments and was keenly aware of the sudden arrival of the cows. Photo by author.

So go ride folks. Go explore the new places and new things. And yes, praise your green Thoroughbred for taking it all in but maybe don’t be too surprised when they not only meet but exceed your expectations.

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