Monday, Jun. 3, 2024

Chapter 26: At The Thoroughbred Makeover

For the second time during the Trainers Forum I heard Dale say, "Well, I dunno. This is all getting more complicated than I'm used to."

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For the second time during the Trainers Forum I heard Dale say, “Well, I dunno. This is all getting more complicated than I’m used to.”

Dale Simanton was one of the presenters, along with Lainey Ashker, Louise Robson, Eric Dierks and myself. Lainey, Eric and I were there as eventing trainers. Louise was there as a dressage trainer. Dale, wearing cowboy boots and a buttondown shirt, was the voice of simplicity in our ever more technical discussion on everything to do with Thoroughbreds.

Dale went on: “I just ride ’em.” To be more clear: “Sometimes I’ll ride for a while.” To be even more precise: “I ride ’em till they figure it out.”

I believe Dale gave this answer, not because he couldn’t have explained something more clearly, but because it was the opposite to what the rest of us were doing, which was give a complicated answer to a simple question.

I appreciate complicated answers sometimes—which is when I can understand them—but most of the time I don’t. I guess it depends who your audience is. What Dale brought to the table, besides a lifetime of successful horse training, was much needed balance. (Training horses is all about balance: our balance when we are on them of course, but also being vigorously aware that we are constantly trying to help the horse find his mental, emotional and physical balance.) Sometimes a simple answer is the best one.

Tik and Remarkable Freestyle

In addition to sitting on a training panel at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, Tik Maynard won the freestyle competition with Remarkable 54. Photo by Megan Stapley Photography.

A lady near the front of the auditorium stood and asked: “How do I get better bend in my Thoroughbred? She is only off the track a few months and always seems so stiff.”

I was happy to let Eric answer this one. And then Louise took a shot at it. I always appreciate hearing different points of view, rather than unanimous ones. It is what gives me the chance to make up my own mind.

When people asked questions sometimes we gave specific technical answers. Most of the time though, I noticed, we gave broader theoretical answers. In this case, I think the owner got some great specific exercises to try.

“Next question?” our moderator, Ross Peddicord, of the Maryland Horse Industry Board asked.

Valerie, Lainey’s mother, looked at me:

“Tik, I have horse that won’t go near liverpools. Sometimes I can get him over it, but it always returns in new situations. Often it gets worse the harder I try, and then in half an hour he thinks the whole ring is one big liverpool.”

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“Well, Valerie, that is a tough question.”

Giving Valerie a specific task to try in response to a question like this, without seeing the problem first hand, is at best a guess and at worst dangerous.

Some horses with a specific fear can overcome it, with patience and good timing, in one session. Other horses may struggle with an issue for years. Often it is possible to replace skill and experience with patience and empathy. But not always.

“Let me tell you about something Buck Brannaman has done. And just bear with me, because I’ll get to your question at the end,” I said.

“With two horses that are really attached, that call for each other and can’t concentrate when separated, Buck has them go through something he calls ‘The Divorce.’ He has the slightly better behaved horse stand in the middle of the arena, and the other is ridden around. The rider keeps the horse working when he is near his friend, and the walk breaks start to happen further and further away from his friend. He starts to associate being near the other horse with work, and being further away with rest.”

Valerie smiled and nodded. She could see where this was going.

“What I’m saying is, you could do the opposite. Work around the outside of the ring; every time you get near the liverpool, take a break. You could even give him a treat next to it. This might take a while, but I think he will start to think the liverpool is the best place in the world after a while.”

This concept is best summed up in the saying: “Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.”

Tik and Remarkable XC

Tik Maynard placed fifth in the eventing competition at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. Photo by Megan Stapley Photography.

The last question we got at the forum was from a lady in the back.

“When you are looking at a Thoroughbred, how do you decide if you like him?”

Lainey took that one first. She explained how she relies a lot on her mother’s opinion. How Valerie has a unique way of seeing the potential in an off-the-track Thoroughbred. She doesn’t ask to see the horse jogged, or free jumped or ridden. Instead she will ask, “Can you please let him go in the round pen?”

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Valerie then watches what the horse does. Does he take off bucking? Or is he dull? How is the quality of his gaits? Is he curious about his surroundings? Or scared?

It was interesting for me to hear this because, although unorthodox, Valerie’s method has been successful time and again. Most of riding and training can be reduced to science, but there will always be an art to it as well. Some may even call that art magic, and I wouldn’t be the one to disagree.

I also suspect the best riders do not necessarily have the best eye for picking horses. They tend to be two different skill sets.

I passed on the question myself, mainly because I don’t have a good system for picking Thoroughbreds yet, other than relying on family and friends for suggestions. (And some good luck and timing in the case of finding Remarkable 54.)

Valerie then passed Dale the microphone. He took it and leaned back, not quite ready to answer.

“Well,” he said, and shrugged. “I just think, if there was a bunch of Indians headed my way, and I had that horse tied up nearby, would I like to get on him to get away, or would I have a better chance on foot?”

Sometimes a simple answer can sum up a lot.

Remarkable 54 and Tik Maynard finished fifth of 39 in the eventing and first of 25 in the freestyle at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. The winner of the Most Wanted Thoroughbred was Lindsey Partridge and her beautiful Ontario-bred 8-year-old mare Soar (Trajectory—Pyrenee). The pair competed in the competitive trail and freestyle disciplines.

Tik Maynard grew up in Vancouver, Canada. He’s the son of a grand prix show jumper and a Grand Prix dressage rider. He competed in Pony Club games as a child and went to the Pan American Games and World Championships in modern pentathlon. After spending three years as a working student all over the world for some of the sport’s biggest names, he now focuses on eventing and natural horsemanship. He’s based in New Jersey along with his wife, four-star eventer Sinead Halpin, who also blogs for the Chronicle.

Tik blogged for the Chronicle from 2009 to 2011; you can find those entries here.

 

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