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Went to First Event! However, Horse was VERY Nervous

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  • Went to First Event! However, Horse was VERY Nervous

    My OTTB and I went to our first event Saturday. This was a very small schooling show. We did the Intro A, Starter Division. We got a third and a fourth! However, we pulled out of the jumping. My OTTB was just freaking out over the busyness of the area and the warm up arena with the horses going here and there, etc. Freaking out to the point where I got off him and we just walked around and I tried to calm him down.

    For those of you that have OTTB's, is this typical behaviour? What do you do to get them to settle down? Just more exposure to the shows? Do you give them something to take the edge off? Tell me how you have handled this situation with your OTTB's. Thanks so much.

  • #2
    Gradual exposure in small increments. Tincture of time. Lots of patience.

    I took Bonnie to her first show when she was 3 months old: it was being held at the barn where she lived, but I put a leadrope on her and passed her around from person to willing person, just letting her be petted and cuddled and get right up there with all the horses, people, announcers, trailers, etc. Her mama appreciated the few hours off. She went to shows all the time after that, sometimes just standing around tied to the trailer, sometimes walking around with me, even being hacked around a little bit when she was old enough.

    And even then, with "years" of experience, her first "big girl" show where she actually competed was a bit of a wide-eyed wonder to her. No doubt my nerves played a role there, too. It took the better part of 3 years for her to become "ho hum" about the hustle and bustle of horse shows, even with a good head start and a generally quiet temperament. She is a very vigilant horse, though, and has to SEE and NOTICE everything.

    In these situations, when she seemed to be super tuned in to things like the cars on the road, the trees blowing in the wind--in other words, distracted but unable to make herself stop (these things never bothered her at home) I found earplugs to be EXTREMELY helpful. They're not legal in dressage, but are OK for the jumping phases. She "graduated" from them at age 7.

    I have zero faith in "giving them something to take the edge off" and think it's borderline dangerous and unethical, assuming these products work, which I'm convinced they don't. If you're just going to give them a look around and they're truly anxious and going to colic or something, fine, Ace 'em. But don't ride. Otherwise, they need to learn to cope and usually it's simply a matter of time, patience, and exposure.

    Itty bitty barn shows are your friend. Bonnie's first ribbon was from a podunk barn show at age 3, where she did the "poles on the ground" division with about 8 other horses attending. It has a place of honor.
    Click here before you buy.


    • #3
      Heh, heh. I still chuckle when I think about my OTTB's first show. It too, was a schooling show--a little, local, combined test. I had gotten her out to lessons and clinics before that show, and she was pretty acclimated to that. But somehow, the activity at a show is a different level and horses seem to pick up on that the minute you drive in.

      So we arrived at the show in a very dramatic fashion. I was alone so I didn't have someone to hold her in the front of the trailer when I went around back to undo the butt bar. She FLEW backwards out of the trailer,almost fell down on the ramp and tried to bolt off (something she had never done before). I just managed to grab the end of the lead rope before she got away. Then, she could NOT stand still tied to the trailer. Pawing, whirling around, staring wide eyed at everything. I did lunge her a bit and then tried to get a saddle on her. Luckily, I got two friends to help me because it took all 3 of us to get her saddled, bridled and someone to toss me up on her. My first thought was--"Why am I sitting on this powderkeg?"

      After I was on her back, something happened. She was all business. Went over to the warm up area, went to work, and put in a lovely walk-trot test! I did NOT see that coming! It was like once she had something to do, she was okay. But the standing around was just impossible for her. Then we had our little jumping course to do. She was fine with the jumps and stuff INSIDE the arena. However, there was this little stone pony statue that was on the outside of the arena. She became fixated on it and was mortified of it. So, we did most of the little baby course, but I couldn't get her to go near the part of the arena that was next to the "stone pony devil" statue. It was quite funny.

      Anyway--that was in early spring. By that summer, we were going to horse trials and she got better about the show atmosphere. She actually won her 2nd horse trail in July. So, it didn't take long before she "got it".

      Lessons learned for me are that I will now rent a stall for the first few shows, and try to bring a helper with me as well. Good luck! Things will get better.


      • #4
        Don't think it's just OTTB's, plain ole TB's seem to also be over-reactive and excitable in over-stimulating settings.

        I made it a point to go somewhere 3 out of 4 weekends, just for 5 outings or so. The primary purpose was attitude adjustment, over and above whatever we were there to do. Selected quieter outings such as dressage or trial riding to minimize the association with exciting cross-country gallops. And where possible a sensible experienced horse went with us to model the desired behavior. And of course I pro-actively managed treats and snacks to reward the behavior I wanted - and reassure my horse he hadn't cut all ties with his normal survival system.

        Worked well! My horse is more comfortable with what he can expect, and he's not on tippy-toes with a flagpole neck all the time. He's behaving pretty well away from home.

        If we haven't been anywhere in awhile I've found it's a good idea to go for a quieter outing to remind both of us how we do things, before heading out to a recognized event.


        • #5
          You may have found that he was better in the ring jumping then in the warmup itself.

          My friend took her ottb out last summer and the ring we warmed up in had pipe rail fencing curved to the inside. You know, like on a racetrack? That was interesting.


          • #6
            Originally posted by gooselover View Post
            For those of you that have OTTB's, is this typical behaviour? What do you do to get them to settle down? Just more exposure to the shows? Do you give them something to take the edge off? Tell me how you have handled this situation with your OTTB's. Thanks so much.
            It is typical for any horse who has not had the correct training, and unwitting owners can get hurt..
            Do you think they are born knowing how to handle a show situation ?

            DO YOUR HOMEWORK, or get a trainer who knows how to do it.
            ... _. ._ .._. .._


            • #7
              I really, really think it depends on the horse- not their background! My horse went to his first outing ever has an early 4 year old (he'd been on a hand full of field trips, but no shows. Closest he came to a show was when I rode him around during a big group xc lesson while in Aiken). He stepped off the trailer, looked around, took it all in, and then just went and did his thing. He won. He was very, very green (the videos are SO funny and cute!), but he was very, very quiet about the whole thing. Not that he wasn't a little up, but he handled the excitement well and was fine. He's been like that ever since. It's just his personality. He is an OTTB.

              I have ridden plenty of other young/green horses, OTTB and not, TB and not, though, who felt like they could potentially blow their brains out or blow mine out at their first few outings. Exposure, like dw said, was the key to getting them settled. They went out a bunch to all sorts of things and eventually learned that life as they knew it was NOT going to end because they were someplace new. I also have the confidence in my ability to ride them and handle them confidently, which adds to their confidence.

              My preferred method of young/green horses learning about going places and doing things is to take them on a few field trips, preferably with some more seasoned stablemates, so they can take in all the sights, sounds, and energy of the competition environment. Sometimes they get ridden, sometimes they don't. I didn't get to do that really with Vernon, but it didn't seem to matter with him. The horses I HAVE gotten to do it with, though, have really seemed to benefit. I remember just hacking my old horse around the various warm ups at Morven Park when he was a "baby" (I got him as an unbroke 7 yr. old! ). We watched Bruce Davidson warm up for dressage, watched show jumping, listened to poles clatter to the ground, walked past the trade stand, listened to the loud speaker. He took it all in, and when he got to his first show a couple of months later, he acted like a pro. In his short life as an event horse, he was always totally mellow about the whole going places/doing things game (ok...not 100% true, but his shenanigans later on were caused by whatever it was that was ultimate reason for his retirement). My pal, the BFG (a WB), got the same kind of upbringing. He can be silly (but that's his nature, no matter where he is), but you can count on him to be cool headed about life away from home. Exposure is the key.


              • #8
                A very small schooling show is part of homework

                Originally posted by Equibrit View Post
                It is typical for any horse who has not had the correct training, and unwitting owners can get hurt..
                Do you think they are born knowing how to handle a show situation ?

                DO YOUR HOMEWORK, or get a trainer who knows how to do it.
                Going to a local "very small schooling show" is part of the process of getting a green horse used to shows/HTs.

                To the OP - since you know your horse gets fizzy w/ the excitement of a show environment...I'd say go to more schooling shows and if he was that bad at the first one, you can decide to just hack around the grounds, warm up, etc.....versus competing. That way the pressure is off, and you are just giving him exposure to that environment.

                Do you ever trailer out for other things like clinics, lessons, or fun stuff like fox hunting, hunter paces/team chases, trail riding, camping or XC? The more 'outings' the better

                Local, unrecognized, schooling HTs or CTs are your friend! That's all I ever do (haven't done a recognized HT yet, and we may never do one. I love the schooling ones just fine
                Equine & Pet Portrait Artist
                **Morgans Do It All**


                • #9
                  My OTTB was fantastic at her first show this summer, but in general she is a pretty chill girl.

                  When I first got her, she's get stressed and uptight when I first mounted. I very quickly implemented that the first 10 minutes of each ride would be spent doing a long stretchy walk. She caught on within a week or so and realized that each and every time I mounted we were doing a marching, stretching, walk. Probably would have totally thrown her for a loop if I had ever gotten on and went straight to trot work! But, having a routine was important for her. At our first show, I did the exact same routine that I do at home and it worked great for her. She was a little looky, and I did make sure to do my warmup at a good distance from the rest of the crowd so she could relax.
                  Cascadia- OTTB mare. 04/04-05/10
                  If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever


                  • #10
                    Load up in the trailer and go places to hack, have lessons, stand around.... The point is to go. My OTTB mare thought that getting in the trailer meant she was going to a race. It took a LONG time but we trailered out for lessons, trail rides, hunter paces etc and she eventually learned that going somewhere was no big deal. Just do LOTS of traveling to low stress situations.

                    My current horse is not an OTTB but she's a 4-yr old beginning her eventing career. As a 2 and 3 year old, she got packed on trailers to go "hang out" at shows. Once she was under saddle, she went to shows and clinics just to hack around. She did two schooling shows before her first recognized event and we never had to deal with "travel" stress.
                    The rebel in the grey shirt


                    • #11
                      slp- me too. The first show I took my OTTB to he was a complete nutcase on the ground. He freaked out tied to the trailer, dug giant holes, and pulled back so hard he stretched his halter out and it doesn't fit him anymore. Twirled in circles around me and bucked in place. It took 3 of us to get him groomed, saddled, and bridled. The minute I got on and we started walking forward everything was fine. As long as he was moving he was all business, it didn't matter which gait. We warmed up in the outdoor, the indoor, and walked around the grounds. He put in a fabulous Intro test and got a 64% from a tough judge. I think some of them just need to move!


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by enjoytheride View Post
                        You may have found that he was better in the ring jumping then in the warmup itself.
                        This is a great point... my horse is a very experienced eventer and the jumping warm-up still gets him upset. It can be like a circus in there. If possible, finding a quiet place to do flatwork and trying to time the warm-up jumps during a lull (difficult I know) can help in keeping your horse's stress levels low. Other than that, as everyone else said, exposure exposure exposure in a relaxed context.
                        The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears. ~ Arabian Proverb


                        • #13
                          Set yourself up for success.

                          I like to trailer to the showgrounds for the local schooling show and ride and school there one afternoon in the week before the show.

                          Get there hours early, and walk them around like a dog on a leash. go into the ring during lunch break if you can, walk around the warm up if there's room.

                          Lunge if that works for you.

                          Stay away from others if that works for you.

                          If all of this is not possible (not enough room), then I would pick a different schooling show to go to, one that has room.

                          I wouldn't do Intro- I'd wait to show until the canter is solid for Training, and that way your control is further along.

                          These are young, impressionable guys, and it's so easy to quickly make them an old pro at shows, but even easier to make them worried nuts.


                          • #14
                            It depends on the horse. Sometimes OTTBs are better as they are used to tractors, other horses, etc. But I think some think it is race time again. My current guy (coming 5 winner on the track) is exactly the same at shows as at home. The one I had before, not so much. He was the one that I had the "comfort zone" exercise of trotting/figure 8 on a 12-15 meter circle for and would do that whenever he seemed to be losing it. He also went to several shows as an "observer" before attempting to compete. On those occasions, I registered him as a non-compete horse and got a bridle tag, so I could take him in the warm-up and work him. The one I had before that was a pony horse and not competitive on the track. He was super calm in general, but would buck only in stadium warm-up, always perfect on course, so I never worried about it. Each is different. If you have never brought along an OTTB, you might want to get some help to figure out how to acclimate yours. They do get over it for the most part, but I know some very upper level horses that are still edgy at every show.
                            OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!