Take some time off and have the vet go over him, then start over with a trainer that specializes in these guys off the track.
You're getting some priceless information and advice from people that know what they're talking about, are kind enough and care enough to take time out of their day to help. You would do yourself and your OTTB a huge favor by listening. Not only that we would absolutely love you come back here with an awesome update to blow our socks off and tell us you're having a blast and learning a lot with your boy.
Any video you could get would be helpful also...
Good luck... I was in your shoes 8 years ago, only mine was sick and needed a year to get healthy before we could even start to think about training. He was my first OTTB and I had no clue what I was doing. Then I had someone who called herself a "trainer" helping me. I had him take off with me on more than one trail ride because he was stiff as a board and would grab the bit and go. He had me questioning whether he was the right horse for me because I knew it shouldn't be that way. Once I started educating myself I started to figure out she really had no idea what she was doing let alone restarting an OTTB. I finally got lucky and found someone who knew the deal (much to the "trainers" dismay and bruised ego) and got me started down the right path.
Boyle Heights Kid 1998 OTTB Dark Bay Gelding
Tinner's Way x Sculpture by Hail to Reason "Once you go off track, you never go back!"
I didn't realize having a goal (even small) was such a bad thing. I obviously am not expecting to ram this horse into a frame and shove him into a show and expect perfection. ANY horse should be able to do a walk trot class...and I never said I was in it for the ribbon. Just the experience and validation of something I've been trying to work towards for 6 years. I've now been to 2 separate trainers and feel even worse off now than before I started.
Just as an aside - I never said I wasn't in it for the journey. I realize that it's not always roses and sunbeams and happiness in the training process. However I am an adult amateur rider trying to switch over from over a decade in the hunter ring to dressage, I haven't found it easy. I have set what I thought were reasonable goals, and I took what I thought were the appropriate steps (ie: reputable barn with reputable trainer that has proven results at upper levels with long term students also achieving good results through good training and horse care). It was never about cutting corners or not doing the right thing, however my budget dictates this is what I've got and I'm going to have to figure out how to work with it.
OP, there isn't anything wrong with having goals and yours sound very reasonable. I can certainly understand why you are upset, I would be to if I'd spent as much time, money, and effort trying to do everything right (reputable barn,trainer, ect.) and still getting no where. It has nothing to do with ego but everything to do with why many of us get into horses in the first place, we want to do something with them besides just look at all the pretty ponies.
I don't think giving the horse the holidays off will hurt anything and then, as soon as you can afford it, give him a once over with a good vet. If he vets ok then make the decision if you want to invest more time/money in him or cut your loses, move him on and try to find another horse that would work better for you.
I don't think your goals are unreasonable but horses have a way of destroying our goals....in both good and bad ways.
Ultimately, you need to work with the horse you have. It is ok to be disappointed you didn't compete. I totally get that. But at the same time, you need to change your expectations. This horse is NOT your old horse. He is different. He is not a packer or an UL schoolmaster. He is a green OTTB. Not all riders enjoy green OTTBs....that's fine. But you will certainly not enjoy the learning process if you keep wanting your old horse.
That said...if he is cleared by the vet....I'm not sure why you haven't entered a schooling show. I would (and have)...and think you should...even if you are not going to win. Goal should be to stay in the ring...and survive warm up. And find out how he deals with a show. This is part of his training and learning that going to a show doesn't mean going to racing. Hell..sometimes I'm just happy if I can get ON them at a show. Maybe you need to be with an eventer rather than dressage trainer? Some one less focused on perfection of contact etc. Going to a schooling show shouldn't be about perfection or even winning....it should be about training and getting them use to being in a different place than home..and not racing. So you should go as soon as you don't think you will be a danger to the others in the warm up
** The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits. -- Albert Einstein **
Jumping in to second BFNE's suggestion: See if you can find a eventer to work with until you get the bugs out of the system (Who knows? Maybe even longer if you come to the dark side!). Most, if not all, upper level eventers have gotten there by riding lots of OTTBs, and are really dedicated to developing forwardness and straightness with obedience. (I refer you to the 100 day racehorse retraining project if you're interested.) If that works for you and your horse you can then go to work with someone who is a full-time dressage coach/ instructor/ trainer.
They don't call me frugal for nothing.
Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.
The history I have had with my OTTB sounds a lot like yours. My guess is that other than having a green horse you have physical issues going on. I would get a good chiro out to work on him and a vet to evaluate soundness. I will say if it is physical and you continue to work him through that with the spooking, quickness, bracing/locking against the bit, it will become a habitat that you will have to slowly undo even if you can fix the physical. I brought mine back slowly after dealing with the physical issues and focused on long and low, relaxation and rhythm and even started jumping him again. I also did a lot of the ground flexions and exercises that are in a book called Lessons in Lightness. I now have a happy, willing horse that is perfect to ride even if I can only get on him once a week. Almost 24/7 turnout has also helped my horse immensely. I second the recommendation that you find a good event trainer. In my case, I started working with a jumper trainer that is also good with the flatwork. Good luck to you. My gut tells me this is a good horse that may be hurting, and if you can figure that out, find yourself a good trainer that can ride him if you don't think you can bring him back slowly yourself. I'm glad I didn't give up on my guy.
One of the first things I do when I get an OTTB is have a good body worker go over the horse (I also do it myself, but I have someone who is really good at helping me understand what I feel) to see where the horse is sore, tight, etc. and then plan what I'm going to do based on that. It's a bit less expensive than going first to a chiro and/or vet and if it's muscle stiffness they can help me identify stretches, etc. If they think it's more than that, they can tell me to bring in a vet.
For example, my current OTTB has some soreness in his SI. He's getting some acupuncture right now and it seems to be helping.
I've also noticed that this horse grinds his teeth excessively when stressed so he's getting TJM massage and I'm riding him bitless for awhile. You have to look at what you've got and then sometimes think outside the box for a solution.
Don't panic yet. Some horses need a certain kind of program or approach to learn and it may take a bit of trying to find the right person. My Trakehner was like that. He was a sensitive and difficult horse that many trainers didn't like and he didn't respond well to their approaches. I finally found someone who was willing to work with the horse I had and he turned into a wonderful horse. But there were a few times I was on the verge of giving him to anyone who wanted him.
OTTBS are wonderful but they can be challenging. Some of them have past injuries that impact their performance, some have mental baggage, others are just confused. You need to figure out what is bothering your horse and then find someone who has a good plan for getting you to the next step.
Goals are necessary, but they must also be realistic. Being frustrated because you'll miss another show season when you have a horse like this is not indicative of a realistic goal.
Getting a good vetting and some good body work is a starting place. Finding a trainer who works well with you and with this horse is another realistic goal. Getting the horse happy, understanding what you want, comfortable in himself should be your primary goal. If you reach that, then you can consider showing.
If you make that your immediate goal, chances are good you will get to a schooling show next summer. But showing is about you, it isn't about doing what's best for this horse. He doesn't care about showing. But he does care about the fact that he's uncomfortable and confused and probably pretty shut down right now; fixing that should be the most important goal. Focus on that and the rest will take care of itself.
"One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine
After a really, really bad start to the new year with this horse, which culminated in him spooking and bolting almost uncontrollably numerous times in a ride and trying to bite the barn staff I had a long chat with my BO. The plan was to put a bit of work in and sell him, however I felt that something was still nqr as he was getting pretty evil to handle, which he ha never been previously. I called my vet and she came out to do an exam - we had him scoped for ulcers and found some pretty bad bleeding ulcers (grade 3). We also did some flexions to see if he was sore anywhere... He showed nothing however we noticed a bit of funkiness at the trot. Called out my chiro and he has done a few adjustments, the SI joint was locked up and he suspects the horse had a fall in the paddock which was causing a lot of our under saddle issues. I've also changed the feed to a 'cool energy' feed and am working with a super upper level event rider who is going to put 90 days on him as soon as the back issues are settled, we complete his gastro treatment and he puts some weight and muscle back on.
I'm hoping I'm finally on the right track, We've been through the wringer over the last 2 months!
My OTTB was tough. I spent a whole YEAR walking and trotting (with an occasional canter to see what we had). I've had him 2 years now and he is amazing. He was a lot like you describe and the first thing I concentrated on was brakes... and teaching him that he gets a reward when he softens....it was a long process but so rewarding. He is the most fun horse I have ever owned.
THIS. Don't get in to a yank-fest. All these horses know is run fast, turn left. One of mine must have raced in a running martingale, because he was COMPLETELY LOST without one. He would literally lift his head and make sure he could feel the contact before he'd take a step. We had to have a constant conversation leg-to-hand to get him to relax and soften - any little inkling of soft/relax from him and I made a huge deal out of it. It took me the better part of two years to wean him from Mr. Martingale, but it has been worth it.
I am sorry to hear about the ul ers but I feel like this could be the light at the end of your tunnel. I have heard lots of times that ulcers will make a horse spooky as all get out but have never personally experienced the turnaround. Please do keep us posted, and good luck.
I'll get a lot of thumbs-down for this, and I admit up front that I'm being very blunt, but your statement here is a major red flag. If you're not in it for the journey with this horse, if all you want to do is compete, then take up tennis, where you only have your own body to be ruining with your lack of skill, or motorcycle racing where it's only metal and nuts and bolts that you're messing up. This horse will not get you into the show ring in short order, and dressage isn't just about showing. You have a lot, and I mean a lot, of back-tracking to do with this fellow. If you're not willing to go all the way back to groundwork, and THEN..then to take the time it takes, regardless of artificial schedules of competition, then you are doomed. He's a horse (with baggage). He is NOT an extension of your ego.
I'm making no assumptions about the OP, but I wanted to share a short story because this response hit home for me. I came to the realization a few years ago that I needed to have a different outlet for my ego than horse shows. I was given a gelding with baggage. Different baggage than the OP's horse, but baggage that was going to take much patience and retraining. Having my ego involved was going to make me less patient and less willing to go way back to the beginning and start over. I started doing sprint triathlons, where it was just my body and my goals and I wasn't impacting any other living being. I still do them and I get enough satisfaction from that level of competition that I don't feel the need to push my horse. He's made tremendous progress and is able to be my professor, but we still don't show. I really don't feel the need anymore. I'd rather just keep going on the journey together.
I've also changed the feed to a 'cool energy' feed and am working with a super upper level event rider who is going to put 90 days on him as soon as the back issues are settled, we complete his gastro treatment and he puts some weight and muscle back on. -Quote-Just aBay
Having an UL event rider work with him for 90 days may help him, but will not solve your problems. You need to find an instructor who can help you to find your way to "contact". There is no simple solution, it may take a series of minor changes in your approach.
Having been both an event rider, and a dressage rider, and having worked with UL riders and instructors in both disciplines, it has been my observation that event riders take a different approach to dressage, not always but usually. Most event riders would far rather go fast and jump. For dressage riders the devil is in the details.
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.