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Reign Day – Diary of an Ex-Race Horse – Day Two

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Reign Day on his first full day at Bits & Bytes Farm.

This morning Reign Day had his head out of the stall looking for his breakfast. He had lots of manure and many wet spots in the shavings so we know that all functions are go! This is important to check before giving feed.

Next on Reign Day’s agenda was to get out to pasture. We like to put new horses by themselves for a few days but keep them in sight of other horses to eliminate the stress of being alone. Don’t let your new horse have too much grass if he has been at the track and not on grass. We have a small paddock with just a little grass and we put out hay for the horse. We don’t want to founder a horse by allowing him too much green grass in a short time. Not a problem at this time of the year but it could be if Reign Day had come in later in the spring. Try to get the rear shoes removed at the track. They often have toe grabs and you never want to turn a horse with toe grabs out with another horse and you do not want to get kicked either!

Reign Day walked around the paddock checking it out and he soon found the hot wire on the top of the fence! I like to be there when that happens in case the horse gets too upset. Reign Day bolted away from the fence and quickly quieted down. Smart horse. You can see in the photos that his eye is still a little worried. That will soon pass and he will feel comfortable at our farm.

Depending on how far the horse has traveled we sometimes get on them the second day. Reign Day has had a week of turn out at his owner’s farm and he traveled easily from Kentucky to Georgia. He is eating well and not nervous. Later today we will take him to the arena and show him around and do a little ground training. Depending on what he tells us, we might get on for a short ride just to see what he is like. His trainer at the track also galloped him and she says he could go to a show tomorrow.

It’s not his First Ride and it won’t be a Rodeo!

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Walk the horse around the arena so that he can learn the boundaries.

The weather a favorable for a ride late in the afternoon. I’m Tellin Ellen’s (Ella) mom Tiffany wanted to bring her over for the first ride so why not start two horses and let Tiffany experience her new horse from the saddle. First we rode Ella and then we brought Reign Day to the arena by himself.

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I'm Tellin Ellen has been lunging for two weeks since leaving the track.

It is important to understand that these horses have never been in our arena. If something spooks them and they take off, the last thing you would want to happen is for them to run through a fence and get hurt. The first thing I do with a new horse is to walk him or her around the arena and let them learn the boundaries and see what is in the arena. The horses usually think they are going to the track to work out when we lead them up to the arena. It is confusing to them to see an arena. Race horses are not usually broke in an arena and they are not sure where they are or what is expected. I like to let some of the pressure off of them by lunging them . . . that works if they know how to lunge – most race horses don’t know how to be lunged. You can also turn them loose after showing them the boundaries. Don’t just jump on them if they are tense. I’m Tellin Ellen has been lunged for the last two weeks since she left the race track. She was calm and easy to work with. Reign Day just arrived and has not had the chance to settle in and he  has never been  taught how to be lunged.

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Reign Day picked up the lunging idea right away.

Lunging is not difficult. There are many books and Internet sites that will tell you how to do it. What you want is for the horse to circle you. You need to look at his hip and guide him with your hand in the direction you wish him to move. Reign Day picked up on the cues right away and soon he was circling me in both directions at the walk and the trot. There was noise and cheering from the school next door and he was paying attention to it but still doing what I asked.

His trainer at the track had filled us in on Reign Day. We knew a lot about his temperament and we knew that he was an easy horse to ride at the track. His trainer had been working on getting him to walk straight and to bend around her leg when he finished his less than stellar racing career. He also did not like to stand to be mounted when he came to her for training. She had been working on that and Reign Day stood quietly for me to mount.

Safety First

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Safety first! Always wear a helmet and have a helper the first time you ride ANY horse.

Before I get on we take a few safety precautions. I wear a protective vest and helmet and have an experienced person to hold the lunge line. I use a mounting block and I kick it around and knock it over to see the reaction of the horse before I step on it and make a noise.  Reign Day did not care that I knocked over the mounting block and kicked it a few times, so I got on. No rodeo. Barry held the lunge line like a lead line and lead us around. You can tell within the first few seconds whether you are sitting on a powder keg. Usually, the horse is dead quiet and so were Reign Day and I’m Tellin Ellin. I asked Barry to let the line out so that I was riding the horse around him as if it were being lunged. Since we had already lunged the horses, both of them were comfortable circling Barry with me controlling them. Within a few minutes I asked Barry to unhook the lunge line and let us go. We were then free to walk and trot and change direction or circle.

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Barry held the lunge line for the first few minutes of Reign Day's ride.

Now is when you get a good idea of what you have. Both Ella and Reign Day were “push” horses. Rather than having a horse that wanted to take off, these horses had to be kicked to move forward. Ella was really quiet and let me kick her several times as I demonstrated that to Tiffany. Reign Day was more responsive to the leg and the seat. I like to “test the breaks” before picking up the speed. Most Thoroughbreds are very sensitive to your seat. I asked Reign Day to stop by doing a half halt and sitting back a little – he stopped. I then demonstrated how you can turn a Thoroughbred by turning your body from your hips and looking in the direction you wish to go.

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Riding an off-the-track Thoroughbred is the best feeling in the world!

Next I asked for a trot and we quietly trotted around the arena. We did see that Reign Day still needs to work on turning. This is a common issue with horses fresh off the track. I kicked with my outside leg to keep Reign Day from turning towards the gate. He blew out his shoulder a little and so the next time I ride him I will carry a dressage whip that I can apply to his side or shoulder to keep him moving in the right direction. I don’t usually ask for a canter on the first ride as the turns in an arena are a lot tighter than the race track turns. Ex-race horses are weak in the back end and lunging them at a canter to build up strength is best before cantering on the tight turns of a riding arena. They also are not used to working for more than 20 minutes and both Reign Day and I’m Tellin Ellen are young and have a shorter attention span. The important thing for this first ride is to make it a positive experience for the horse and the horse’s owner.

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Reign Day went into a quiet comfortable trot with just a little leg pressure.

I did a short ride on Ella and then let Tiffany enjoy her new horse. Tiffany was grinning from ear to ear and is excited to try all different types of competitions with this elegant mare. She will have lots of fun working with Ella and we are looking forward to working with both of them in the future.

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I'm Tellin Ellen is a tall elegant mare who is a delight to ride.

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Tiffany rides her beautiful gray Thoroughbred mare for the first time.

Reign Day was interested when another horse came into the arena and we used that as a chance to walk along side and see what he would do. At the race track, the horses are often ridden in company to teach them to be competitive. We wanted just the opposite. At first Reign Day thought he had to catch up to the horse but when he did, he just wanted to walk along side of him. Not surprising because he was not competitive at the track. He finished last just nine days ago in his last race.

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Reign Day is not competitive.

Reign Day was perfect and because he had only come to the farm 24 hours earlier, I only did about ten minutes of riding and then got off and gave him a good rub. Reign Day loves having his head rubbed. Learning the likes and dislikes of a new horse are part of the fun of getting to know each other. I am looking forward to learning more about this kind sweet horse.

Read Day Three . . .

Back to Day One
See more photos in Reign Day’s photo gallery.