Editors Note: This series follows the journey of Las Vegas horse trainer Jennifer Osborne as she prepares for the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover in Lexington, Kentucky. Each month, Jennifer will share her progress as she makes her OTTB mare competition ready.
In the last month Flynn has gone from her first ride to her first home show. In order to get to the Thoroughbred Makeover in October and do well, I have to get Flynn well broke and used to traveling. There is a lot to do in a short amount of time but at the end of the competition my main goal is to make sure she is a solid equine partner.
As I stated in my last update, I always start the race horses as if they have never been ridden. The basis of the ground work is to gain respect without fear. First, I free lunge them and then I move on to lunge line work. The first stage of lunging is to get the horse to move off in a circle and then turn and face me when asked to yield her hindquarters. During the second stage of lunging, I step in front of her drive line and ask her to move her forequarters away from me and go off in the other direction.
When I do these two steps with Flynn I am earning her respect by getting her feet to move forward, backward, left, and right. I also make sure to reward her anytime she wants to walk and relax. I have learned over the years that with race horses, emphasizing walking and relaxation, teaches them fairly quickly that they don’t have to always try to win the race. Rewarding the race horses when they walk opens the door to a relaxed and willing partnership.
When Flynn first came to Las Vegas, she was pushy with her front end and would walk on top of anyone who led her. If you watch horse racing you will notice that most of the horses walk on top of people and do not respect personal space. The best way I have found to cure this behavior is backing. So while Flynn was learning
It only took a day or two to teach her to respect my space and only come up to me when invited. This keeps Flynn safe and it keeps me safe. It keeps her from jumping on top of me if she becomes scared or pushy. All of the ground work in general allows me to communicate with Flynn in a way she understands so we can stay safe together. It also helps to show her that I will not hurt her and decreases her stress while around humans.
After backing and lunging, I had two more major ground work exercises to do before I rode her. The first was long lining or ground driving. Even though Clinton Anderson does not do ground driving, he told me that any extra ground work is always a good thing because you are not leaving out steps. I use the ground driving to teach the horse how to steer and stop. That way I am sure I have a good amount of control before I get on. Most of all, I don’t want Flynn or me to get hurt because of a communication error.
The last thing I do before I ride is the Jeffery’s Method, which is laying all over the horse and desensitizing the horse to feeling a human on her back. You basically become a human curry comb which actually relaxes the horse. Since I have been doing it this way I have not had any problems with the first ride of any horse. By the time I rode Flynn for the first time she basically looked at me like what took you so long.
Once I got on, I flexed her from side to side to soften her body and relax her mind. The flexing is also the basis for a one rein stop. If you don’t teach flexing before a one rein stop you run the risk of the horse bracing against your hand and possibly flipping over. Teaching the horse how to give to rein pressure first allows the horse to understand what you are asking, so in high pressure situations everyone is on the same page. One rein stops also help the rider to steer the horse better because the horse is learning to give to pressure immediately.
Flynn’s first ride basically consisted of walking of a few steps and then one rein stop; trotting off a few steps and then one rein stop and so on. This foundation training for her is so important and will shape the way she can be handled for the rest of her life. While it is not super exciting stuff, she needs tons of repetition of this fundamental training. The beginning of her training will focus on her being soft and supple and just being all around broke.
During Flynn’s first ride she did not run off, buck, or bolt. She waited for me to cue her to walk off and responded well when I used the one rein stop. For the first time in her life she is being asked to soften and not rush around. It is my job to teach her that she will not be in trouble for taking it slow and relaxing.
Flynn is well on her way to being a great partner and riding horse. I knew by pulling back the curtain to this training that I would open myself up to criticism and that’s okay. I know that there a lot of people who have never seen this type of training and may have objections. But I think that it is best in life and in horse training to always keep an open mind. I am in no way saying that my way is the only way or the best way it is the method that works for me. I am always learning and always willing to see what’s out there. I can’t get enough of horses and everything that have to teach me and I am happy to share this journey.