I’m often asked why I want thoroughbreds instead of Quarter Horses. Well, I have the most wonderful, loving Quarter Horse in the world named Harley; sorry but this is true. First of all, I love all horses. It is impossible for me not to, but thoroughbreds have a special place in my heart. I absolutely love working with them, riding them, and watching them run. They take my breath away each and every day, and they are so smart and wonderful to work with. When Chaco runs towards me, I think of my grandpa, and stand there in awe. I’ve felt this way since I was born, and I guess I don’t know how to change.
I live in Western Colorado, which is the Quarter Horse Capitol of the world I think, so people find it odd to see someone who rides a very tall horse. Chaco usually is the tallest in the room, and before Chaco came into my life it was Shandoka. The main question I’m asked is, “Aren’t you afraid of your horses?”
No!!!! Why on earth would I be?
When I came on the scene, my grandpa was deep into horse racing in both worlds; thoroughbred and quarter horse. When I was a baby, his main racehorse was named Chiller who happened to be a quarter horse. He was written about several times in the papers, because he dominated on the track. He also did when he came home for a rest. When I was six months old, as the story goes, my grandpa put me on Chiller’s back, and Chiller bucked me off. According to my grandpa, when he caught me, I was giggling. Not sure if that part was true, because who laughs when they’re bucked off except for the rodeo guys? My grandpa told me that is when he knew I’d be horse crazy.
My grandpa bred thoroughbreds at the time. We had two mares named Equideen and Chee. I remember my grandpa teaching me how to feed them carrots, and how to keep my thumb down so they wouldn’t eat my thumb instead of the carrot. I remember him showing me their teeth, because I became afraid of them biting off my thumb, explaining to me how similar they were to ours. I remember him showing me how to walk behind a horse and where a horse can see and not see. I remember him teaching me how to lead horses, and how to sit on them. I remember him teaching me how to feel for heat in their legs, and he taught me how to play with them. He taught me how to be with a horse; simply be with them instead of always doing something with them. I would climb into their corrals, and wait for them to walk up to me. I remember being nervous when we walked into the pasture as the horses galloped up to us. I slipped my hand into grandpa’s, and his perfect calm moved into me, which the horses immediately responded to. The horses slowed and came for a nuzzle instead of running us over. Without knowing it, he taught me how to stand my ground in the presence of horses.
I remember waiting for them to put their noses to mine. Oh how I loved that, and how I still love that moment. I remember playing tether ball with my first horse Big Ruckus. I remember how important it was for us to love on Orphan Inga after her mother died a week after she was born. What I remember is how much my grandpa loved and adored them. I loved watching him with them, how he moved with them, and that smile he always had on his face as he watched them walk or play. I loved how calm he was no matter how much Ruckus acted up, and he was a ball of fire let me tell you. I loved watching how he worked with the horses, and by watching him, I learned how they responded. They adored him, but more importantly, they respected him. I saw his respect for each and every one of them, so I guess it’s in my blood to love them as much as he did.
Thoroughbreds for some reason got a bad rap for being spooky horses. I’m not sure why this happened if you consider how they deal with incredible amounts of noise and stress on the track. People are running around waving stuff, tractors are driving around, there is an ambulance that follows them, and the loud bell when the gate opens. If you read the third part in my series about Man o’ War, he had to run around people that came onto the track in his last race. The crowd was so loud after American Pharoah won the Triple Crown and he never spooked once. True, he had cotton in his hears to muffle the noise, but he still heard it.
Personally, I think people get scared when they get on them. The power you feel underneath you is amazing, and you wonder if you can handle it if they open up. You either become scared of it, or you accept it. If you choose the former, then the thoroughbred will wonder what in the world you’re scared of, and everything around him or her will seem spooky. The horse will keep trying to figure out what is scaring you, because it certainly can’t be him or her! In the coming weeks, I will write about my ways of desensitizing a horse, and you don’t have to buy a thing to read it. I get creative, and it’s worked quite well for me considering I ride alone about 90% of the time.
I’ve moved away from horse racing into the Off Track Thoroughbred world. Now I want to share with everyone my journeys with these wonderful horses, so maybe more of these beauties will have a second life once they leave the track. Too many OTTB’s head to slaughterhouses after their career as a racehorse ends. Most of these horses have absolutely nothing wrong with them. In 2016, approximately 23,000 thoroughbreds were sent to slaughter. There are protections in place stating that owners and trainers need to rehome them afterwards, but these protections aren’t strictly enforced at all and there are ways of getting around the protections. If a killer buys a thoroughbred at an auction, they hold them for ransom by selling them at prices people can’t buy them for. There are several organizations out there that take them in an rehome them. Some are great and others not so great. My favorite is https://www.facebook.com/NTWO.org/. They made a promise to take in any horse off of the Louisiana tracks, and they’ve lived up to that promise. Rood & Riddle, one of the premiere veterinary clinics in the country, volunteers their services to help the horses in need of care. It is a wonderful organization. Please take a look.
Thoroughbreds are handled constantly by humans from the moment they’re born, so they are people oriented; they want to have a relationship with a person. They are groomed, bathed, doctored, walked, ridden, have their legs wrapped, exposed to all sorts of situations and sounds, and they love to work. I seriously have never met a lazy thoroughbred. I’m sure there might be a few out there, but we haven’t crossed paths yet.
In my opinion, if there is one, they could be in pain or burnt out from the track. Give them six months to be a horse, let him or her play, graze, and not have one thing asked of him . Like people, horses need vacations too. If they are constantly asked to work, they can develop a bad attitude towards it. I gave Chaco four months off after I brought him home, and I let him tell me when he was ready to work. How did I know? Chaco became happy. He kept running up to me during play time snorting away, and when I’d go out to saddle up Shandoka, he’d stand there waiting to be saddled up too.
They are so smart, and they pick up on new things quickly. Retraining them for new careers is not as hard as you might think. Yes, they can be fast, but in future blogs, I’ll write about how to teach them to rate. They are great at working with cattle, jumping, three day eventing, dressage, barrel racing, poles, trail riding, and liberty work to name a few things. The only limit they have is the limit YOU put on them.
I rode my horse Shandoka all over the mountains here safely. I’m not saying we didn’t have problems, but usually those problems were created by me not thinking ahead. Shandoka taught me a lot, and I hope to pass this on through future blogs. Chaco is a dream on the trail. He is calm and trusts me when I ask him to do something. On one of our trail rides last summer we came across a bear and elk, and he never spooked. I completely trust him. We ride alone without any issues whatsoever.
After Chaco’s surgery, I had to move around him in very tight quarters, and he never spooked, kicked or got nervous. He let me do what I needed to do while finding my acrobatic maneuvers to work around him amusing.
Thoroughbreds are playful, loving, mischievous, powerful, beautiful, fast, thoughtful, caring, brave, curious, and eager to work in partnership with us. The thing that stays with me the most when I think about and work with thoroughbreds is something my grandpa told me. “They know exactly who they are,” he often said, and they do. They know their ancestry, the history that pumps through their hearts and souls, their beauty as they gracefully fly over the ground, their power as their legs fly forward reaching for the stars, their gentleness as they rest their nose on our necks, and the awe they strike in our hearts as we feel their power beneath us as we move with them covering ground like no other being can.