Introducing…Who’s My Boss

It all happened pretty fast after Oh So died. I was still grieving, but my trainer Lisa had come across a young horse the same day when she went to meet a student at Loch Moy to school cross-country. She’s seen him before and liked his look, but obviously wasn’t thinking of me at the time. She waited a few days before mentioning him to me.

We went up and watched him do his first little show at Twilight Eventing at Loch Moy, and he was pretty quiet and willing, then a couple of days later I went to try him at Destination Farm in Maryland.

Two weeks to do the day that we said goodbye to Oh So I drove up and picked up Who’s My Boss.

For the first few weeks I was still in such a daze about everything. Was I ready to take on a young horse again considering my past trauma with Thomas? Was this too soon? Did I need more time to grieve? Should I have looked at more horses first? Was it a bad sign I was ambivalent? Should it have been love at first sight? Should I have asked more questions to his previous owner? But he was a good deal for the amount of experience he had, and I trust Lisa, so we took the chance.

He’s a 7-year-old OTTB who race 33 times at Charlestown until June of last year. He even won six races. Destination Eventing let him down and restarted him in the winter. He’d been schooling a few times, and they said he was very kind and willing, which is what Lisa wanted for me for my next project.

Our first couple of weeks we longed in the round pen to see what he was like, then got on and walked out to the ring and gradually to the fields and down the driveway. He’s been fairly willing under saddle, and we’ve had a couple of jump lessons now where we’ve introduced one gymnastics and canter poles.

Unfortunately a couple weeks after he came he got bit on the back, so I couldn’t put a saddle on for two weeks. Then I was traveling a bit for work, and now this week we’re dealing with a puncture wound on his hock, so even though it’s been about 7 weeks, I feel like we can’t get off the ground, so to speak. I would like to be able to be consistent. Luckily, he seems to pick up and retain information easily, so I think he’ll come along quickly.

I took him to a friend’s farm close by while he was healing his back wound to do some trailer practice, and he had a meltdown in the trailer, breaking my butt bar and scraping himself up, so I feel like we’ve had a pretty big setback. I would feel comfortable starting to go places for lessons now, but we need to do some more confidence-building work first at home before we try that.

My dressage trainer Heidi came for his first lesson with her last week, and we worked on getting him to start softening and bending. She says he’s 7, so it’s time to stop babying him. I’ve been doing flatwork in a jump saddle for now until we can get him his own saddles, which was supposed to happen the day he came in with a swollen hock. Horses….But at least I have a few with me to try when he’s better.

She also helped me with the loading, so we’ve been practicing getting on and standing and backing off when I say so. Next step is to close the butt bar and take a short ride around the farm. I’m nervous about it. I’ve never had one who has a problem with the actual travel. Loading issues can be fixed, but he has to stand quietly while we’re moving. I think I’ll be getting a trailer camera for my own peace of mind.

It’s a little strange looking through a different set of ears.

I feel like we’ve been bonding slowly. He seems a little aloof at times. He doesn’t love grooming, but Oh So didn’t either when he was first off the track. He definitely watches me and is attached to me in his own way, but he doesn’t have that soft, kind eye that Oh So had. But I think it will come. He’s not a cuddler yet, but Oh So wasn’t either until much later.

I don’t think he’ll have much problem with different types of jumps. He seems very willing to jump the panels and things we have in the ring at home. I think the biggest thing will be independence. He came from a very busy barn and always traveled and hacked with other horses. I’m alone a lot of the time at the barn, so he’s getting used to it.

So for now it’s just leaning about ground manners and trailer practice, and once I can get back on, it will be full speed ahead with the flat work and grids. He needs a lot more strength and more weight, but we’re slowly working on that too. He seems a bit gangly at the moment, but I’m confident it will come together.

This all still feels like some sort of alternate reality. This is not how I expected my life to go so soon. I still feel like a piece of me is missing. I miss Oh So and our partnership, and I miss competing. At least now I have some goals to work towards. With Oh So I felt like I was coasting along because he was such a schoolmaster, and we had such a great partnership, and building one with a new horse takes time and patience. I’ve had to get back into “training” mode a bit, and consider everything I do from the perspective of a green horse, and it’s been awhile since I’ve done that.

Part of me wishes I was more excited about this new journey, but the truth is, I’m nervous. Breaking my ankles after Thomas dumped me while I was getting on four years ago still gives me anxiety every time I put my foot in the stirrup of a new horse, especially an OTTB. So far this guy (barn name TBD) has been pretty good about that part, but I think it will take me awhile to trust him.

Change is always difficult for me in every aspect of my life, but I’m grateful to have the chance to continue doing the thing that gets me out of bed every morning and what I’m most passionate about. I’ve got amazing friends and family around me cheering me on and telling me I can do this and helping me through my grief about Oh So. No horse will ever replace him in my heart, but I’m trying to keep it open to new possibilities.

Book Review: New Track, New Life: Understanding And Retraining The Off-Track Thoroughbred

This review originally appeared in the July/August issue of the Chronicle’s Untacked.


New Track, New Life: Understanding And Retraining The Off-Track Thoroughbred

By Kimberly Godwin Clark

This book came across my desk at exactly the right moment. I’d just picked up my new off-the-track Thoroughbred and was excited to start his retraining. I’ve brought along two other OTTBs in my life—one straight from the track who was quite simple and sweet, and the second who came to me with walk, trot, canter and knowledge of basic jumping, but after reading Kimberly Godwin Clark’s book, I realized there was a lot about the breed that I didn’t know.

Clark has galloped, trained and owned Thoroughbreds for 30 years and has been promoting them for adoption since 2007, both on her own and through her non-profit, Thoroughbred Placement Resources, so she brings a wealth of detailed knowledge.

Before I bought my OTTB, the only time I’d ever been to the track was to watch a race on a summer evening, so Clark’s step-by-step description of how the track works was extremely interesting. She describes the details of everyone’s job at the track, what kind of tack your OTTB wore, and how they were ridden and trained. She then walks the reader through a first trip to the track and what to expect—researching the horse online before you go, etiquette in the barns, evaluating a horse for sale, and how to make an offer.

In the second half of the book, Clark offers advice on everything from how to start a recently retired race horse to what to feed, how to deal with turnout, behavior modifications and when things go wrong.

If you’re new to OTTBs, it’s always a good idea to get help from an experienced person. But before you embark on the journey, New Track, New Life is an educational read to help you have a positive experience with your new partner.