View Full Version : Movement, tracking-up and athleticism

Dec. 11, 2009, 01:30 PM
I just bought a 3yo OTTB through an eventing agent as a potential Prelim prospect - I saw photographs, but no video. The agent assured me that the horse was very athletic and the reputable vet who performed the PPE thought the horse was very nice.

The horse arrived at my barn and he's cute! Nice conformation (just like the photos), nice shoulder, nice hip, good angles, short-backed, good feet, etc.

BUT...I've had the horse free longing in the arena and longing on the line w/ really long side reins to a loose ring rubber snaffle

1) Tracks-up at the walk, but does not over-track more than 2".
2) Trot starts out very short and choppy, articulates hocks a lot but doesn't seem to be reaching them forward or pushing w/ his hind end. Looks sound and passed his PPE.
3) Does not track up at the trot unless practically running at the trot.
4) Does stretch really well long and low down into the side reins across his back but doesn't really seem to improve his step.

I haven't ridden this horse yet, he's only been here for a couple of weeks, still settling into his new life. I've bought other OTTBs but they usually track-up free longing from the beginning.

Is this the kiss of death for dressage? Is there anything I can do to improve stride length and reach from behind? Do other people have success stories about a horse that started out short but improved with work? Is tracking-up really an indication of athleticism? I guess I don't care that much if I am always in the lower 50-percentile after dressage as long as we can still gallop and jump at prelim (eventually).

Come Shine
Dec. 11, 2009, 01:45 PM
How are his feet? One of my horses started tracking up a lot better with a different re-set in front.

Dec. 11, 2009, 01:53 PM
The horse arrived w/ really long toes and racing plates. We pulled those off and trimmed him up the very next day, now has steel shoes up front and barefoot behind. Angles are surprisingly good, heel looks nice.

Dec. 11, 2009, 01:55 PM
How does he look off the line and without the bridle and side reins? (circle\ring could be too small - side reins could be too restricting for him mentally at this point)

OTTB feet could be impacting his movement as would his strength too. As an OTTB I am guessing he hasn't spent a lot of time working on his balance at the trot.

How is his canter and jump? Those are more important as a prelim prospect.

Remember you can always improve a trot but you have to work with the canter you have. Plus when it comes down to it movement only counts for so much after accuracy and obedience so I wouldn't worry too much about movement at this point, you have a long ways to go yet (and no horse is ever PERFECT). History dictates that you can still be successfully competitive if you don't have the prettiest mover.

Count your blessings that he's a sound OTTB :) You're ahead of the game already.

Dec. 11, 2009, 01:56 PM
Unless the horse truly moves like a jackhammer, I wouldn't worry too much right now. Definitely make sure the horse isn't footsore (frozen ground?).

But a lot of young TBs are tight in the back and it takes time (not warmup time, but MONTHS of work) to develop reach and swing. For some it's simply a matter of relaxation, others lack the strength and balance. The trot is the easiest gait to influence.

My adv TB mare did not track up well when I got her, until about 6 months of consistent, quality work. The trot still is her weakness, but it has come a long way. As she got stronger and more supple, she naturally lengthened her steps. Her trot will never be elegant and floaty, but it is powerful and correct, sufficient enough.

I have had similar experiences with other OTTBs; appearing to be choppy movers, but really just needed to learn to become a "back mover" and not a "leg mover."

How is the horse's canter?

Dec. 11, 2009, 02:00 PM
I bought an unbroken 2yr old ISH out of a frozen upstate NY field on the strength of her gaits and her pedigree. She had a phenomenal walk, a very good canter, and a very average trot (to give her her due, she WAS being ponied off another horse, the wind was blowing something fierce, and I was in no mood to hang around! - I took a look at that foot-or-more overstep at the walk and said "put 'er on the trailer!" :lol:

In any case, through training her trot has improved significantly. Your OTTB has probably never been asked to use himself and stretch out across his back, and once he starts relaxing and learning how to do that, I bet his gaits improve ten-fold.

How fun and what a great Christmas present :) Sounds like a great project, good luck!

Dec. 11, 2009, 02:21 PM
Most horses right off the track move like that. Give the horse some time off out in a big field if possible to relax mind and body, and then start him over.

And remember the canter is often a TB's best gait, so his canter should give you a sense of how nice this horse will end up being. The trot with OTTB's improves with time and training.

Dec. 11, 2009, 02:26 PM
Like lstevenson said, their best gait is their canter. An OTTB has spent his life cantering and galloping, they rarely trot and when they do, they are usually being held on to pretty tightly. :yes: He doesn't KNOW how to trot yet.

My guy had zero trot as a 3 yr. old. Thankfully, I could tell, both from watching him and from sitting on him, that he had a trot, he just had no clue how to actually show it. He's rising 6 and is really starting to show some really good trot work. The best thing, though, has ALWAYS been his canter.

Remember, they jump from the CANTER (I believe it was Bruce Davidson who said that this past weekend). If he's meant to be an event horse, he'll be galloping and jumping MOST of the time. Yeah, we want nice movers, but his most important gait will STILL be his canter. BD ALSO said "you can improve the trot 80%. You can only improve the trot 20%." Give your guy time. He'll show it to you. :yes:

Dec. 11, 2009, 02:41 PM
An OTTB, particularly a cheap runner like us eventers usually end up buying, is very likely sore as heck in his hindquarters and back. Time learning how to use himself, build strength in the hindquarters and back, some chiropractic and/or acupuncture, should make a world of difference.


Dec. 11, 2009, 02:54 PM
I haven't ridden this horse yet, he's only been here for a couple of weeks, still settling into his new life.
A "couple" of weeks!?! Don't even look at his walk for six months before you begin to form an opinion on it.

Everything in his mindset and body right now can wipe out his ability to walk. Watch his back and look for improvement there. One of the last horses I pulled off the track (scratched to race the day I bought him) went from barely stepping into his front prints to stepping well beyond them as his normal walking around stride in about 6-8 months. His canter though was consistently excellent.

If your guy already has a nice canter I wouldn't worry so much about the walk--it will come. With unbroken youngsters I look at the walk to judge the canter, but with young OTTBs I tend to evaluate them "backwards". If the canter/gallop is good I feel pretty good about being able to find a walk.

Stretching and long and low work will be your friend, as they are tried and true ways to access the OTTB's back...

Dec. 11, 2009, 03:05 PM
A green horse -- especially a young one -- will rarely/never be able to track up while stretching down into side reins.

If you want the horse to track up, he has to move forward from behind, which in this case, will almost always mean lifting his head and shoulder.

Forward comes first. The side reins are fine for contact (but let the horse choose the contact) but if you want him to move forward and track up, let him decide where he puts his head.

Your horse is only three and still growing. Just focus on moving forward and (then) steering. Like William Micklem describes in the 5th leg article, let the horse learn that he's responsible for carrying himself.

Dec. 11, 2009, 04:56 PM
I agree with the folks who said don't worry, he's 3, he's fresh off the track, etc. etc. I'd also get him onto a high fat diet and cut out his carbs and sugars. Let the fat build the muscle. Work him lightly and for short stretches. He's probably really sore. Have fun!!

Dec. 11, 2009, 05:13 PM
agreed - you probably won't know fully what you have until he's had a few months to relax. There's often a lot of body soreness going on.

Dec. 11, 2009, 06:09 PM
Assuming he had back shoes before and has not been without them for quite some time until now, I'd bet that's part of the problem (in addition to general track muscle soreness). I pulled my semi-decently moving P mare's back shoes a few months ago when I started grad school, and WHOA it freaked me out at first, because she basically stopped tracking up for a good month and a half (just out in the field) until her feet adjusted. The ground was quite hard at that point and they bruised somewhat, so it just took time--she was never uneven behind, but just appeared to be going up and down with her back end when trotting without reaching forward as you described...but, it resolved itself with time and all is well again. So, I wouldn't worry too much at this point!!

Beam Me Up
Dec. 11, 2009, 06:56 PM
I wouldn't worry about it too much--it seems like most horses immediately off the track don't really trot well.

If it makes you feel better, mine's been off about 7 weeks now and has a lovely canter/gallop and an absolutely crap trot.

Strength is definitely an issue, as is mental confusion (trot as a gait to be worked at as opposed to a transition between walk and fast).

Cantering makes them work through their back a little more and move better--trotting it is so easy to drop the back and giraffe around if they are lacking strength.

Dec. 11, 2009, 07:17 PM
I remember looking at one with a friend many years ago, we watched her breeze and we never saw an actual two beat trot. She also didn't come close to tracking up at the walk. She ended up being a lovely mover and was sold as a childrens/adult hunter I believe. They change a lot.

Dec. 12, 2009, 03:35 AM
my OTTB doesnt track up at the walk unless she is relaxed (so about 50% of the time she isnt), her trot is choppy but once she gets moving she has quite a nice lengthening, and has a nice (jumping) canter. Her jump is incredible.

She is 13 now so i can only imagine what her gats looked like off the track.

Dec. 12, 2009, 02:21 PM
I would second the chiropractic mention above. With a horse off the track, you're often dealing with a good amount of bodysoreness (is that a word?). I know with mine a couple chiro adjustments made a HUGE difference in his flexibility in the hips/lower back. His problem wasn't so much tracking up, but in being able to step under and over in the lateral movements. Lost tons of the "over" part when it was time for an adjustment.

Dec. 13, 2009, 12:09 PM
The new guy (as yet un-named) certainly has everything I could want in the cuteness, willingness, personality and good brain departments - for which I am very grateful.

Right now I'm only working him 1-2 times per week. Pony's "work" consists of 15 min of free-longing and maybe 15 min on the longe-line. The rest of his days are spent 12hrs on turnout and 12 hrs munching all-you-can-eat hay.

Thanks for the recommendation on food - we're working towards the high-fat/fiber diet. We're increasing his beet pulp and oil and reducing his sweet feed. Hind shoes and chiropractic work are also good points to consider for helping him feel better.

I have to focus on patience. Okay, I am feeling much better!

Dec. 13, 2009, 04:00 PM
I'll add my voice to those advocating for the chiropractor. I just recently started having my guy adjusted, and I've had him for 3 years. I can't believe how much more comfortable he feels, but much more noticeable for others.. he has finally started gaining some real weight, and I'm starting to cut back on his food. The weight gain directly correlated with the chiropractor. Anyway, it seems like something to do at least once and see what the they say, and if it helps. I wish I had done it sooner.

Also, I got my guy just a few weeks after his last race.. they need some time. Just be patient :)

Dec. 13, 2009, 06:06 PM
As others have said, too, be sure his feet are in order. That can sometimes be the hardest part, physically. That was Vernon's BIGGEST hurdle and while we had him more or less sorted out after having him for a few months, he is just in the last 3 months or so really seemed to be finally on the right track with his feet.

He was a little foot sore when we got him and still had racing plates on. We pulled his shoes and gave him a good trim and turned him out to rest his baby brain and body. When we turned him out, it was squishy muddy and perfect for newly bare feet. A week later, we got a dreadful cold snap and all that squishy mud turned to hard, choppy, frozen ground. He didn't really come around until he went to Aiken a month later, and still had to be in Aiken for a month before he felt 100% again. :( His sore tootsies played a big part in his trot.

Dec. 13, 2009, 06:22 PM
You have him now... I bought a three year old and he couldn't trot either, but eventually I got a big offer on him on the basis of his good movement. He had to grow into himself ending up about 17 hh. He may be just body-sore and not yet found out how to move.

Dec. 13, 2009, 11:46 PM
Even with one correct shoeing done, it probably wasn't enough to do much for angles. And if it was a drastic change, then he is probably sore as heck from it. I would let him rest, free lunge for now, then long line. Chiro might also help, but for me the big thing is he is a baby and hasn't developed yet.

Even if his trot does not improve much, his canter will dictate his jump. I've known horses that swept the ground at the trot, were utterly breath taking... until they jumped. One specifically took your breathe all right, but in an "OMG we're gonna die" way (he jumped like superman with both forelegs *straight out* :eek: ).

On the other hand, I've known a few that trot like sewing machines. One was a successful prelim/int eventer that was donated to my college when he needed a downgrade. He packed around novice and training for a while, and then when he needed another down grade he packed around beginners. He was more than worth his weight in gold, despite that trot.