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good at home, Fire-breather at shows (long)

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  • good at home, Fire-breather at shows (long)

    I adore my green bean OTTB. Have had him for a year, he has been off the track for 1 1/2 years. I quickly learned that he did not know much ( did not accept bit, could not turn, ect) and within the year we have been together, he has done very well. So well, that I though we could do some local shows, 2'6". He has done schooling shows without too much drama and xcounty course ( big logs on ground, water, ect) but those are held at the barn I ride at so he is used to that location. He is great fun on Xcounty, love his stride. I have also taken him on trail rides. He insists on being in front and is a trooper. Will look and think about what to do and then happily continues.

    Completly different at away shows. Fire breathing, wild and yes, it freaks me out which is a new thing. This then causes me to get defensive since self preservation kicks in. He has been to 3 away shows with the only goal to get in the ring and see new things. He gets very rushy, spooky, and wiggly. Its like riding Gumby. Yesterday was the third show and I scratched him after the warm up since too wild and I met the ground which does not happen often. So Instructor and I take wild man to other arena. I canter him around then instructor gets on and takes him over some xrails and agrees that he is just not with it. But he was with it earlier, before we went into the real arena ( did warm ups in the schooling arena and he was going very nice) thus proof that I changed the ride when we entered the real arena and he reacted. New plan is to go back to the basics for my benefit since I am starting to get defensive and when I trailer in for lessons, I start out on school horse, she works with him then I get him back if all going well. Instructor is great, gives me moral support, points out that I am getting defensive and need to stop it. And I agree. He goes much better when I am calm but I am getting uptight at shows.

    I think there is a Green OTTB support group here and I need support! Im getting too old to meet the ground. In fact, Im not used to hitting the ground. I guess I am need of suggestions on how to keep me calm when he starts to be insane. I know TBs need a 'leader' so it does not help when I start to ride defensivly since it seems to make him more wild. What do others do in such situations?

    Also, bit suggestions? When he gets uptight, he is a head-tosser. For daily riding, I use a happy mouth mullen loose ring and not much head tossing but he is at home and relaxed for the most part. For his hunter show ( second away show) I used a full cheek happy mouth mullen. Head tossing was not bad but super rushy. So thinking he did not like the fixed feel of the full cheeck, yesterday, used my french link happy mouth loose ring ( a bit he used when I first got him) since my loose ring mullen has bit guards and did not want to fight to get those off. Lots of head tossing. If it was not for the standing martingle, he probably could have knocked the rider in the head.
    My Blog ( for me and my OTTBs)-ableequine.webbly.com

  • #2
    I feel your pain. Mine can have a bit of a personality change away from home too. He goes off my farm, which is too quiet to provide any sort of desensitization. Probably the opposite! For starters, I got him a boombox and a Spook-Less CD to listen to at home. I will report in a few months whether it helps.
    Rest in peace Claudius, we will miss you.


    • #3
      Go to places away from the farm that are not shows and are good venues for working out problems, such as a clinic, or ask your instructor if she would go with you to another barn that allows haul-ins and give you a lesson there. I've been doing this with my greenie.

      We have someone that comes to my instructor's barn once a month for a clinic, and she also goes to a couple of other barns in the area. I've been meeting up with her at other barns so that my guy can get used to going to different places, but we're working with an instructor who knows us and who I'm comfortable with, so it's like only changing one variable - the location - and keeping the rest of the ride the same.

      Have your instructor ride him at a couple of shows for you. Go along, groom for her, and watch him be calmer with her. This will show you that he CAN be good at a show and give you a picture to work towards when you ride him. It will help you ride more positively when you are at a show.

      You said he was better in warmup but that you changed the ride going into the show arena. Try to stop thinking of it is a show. Think of it as just a way to get practice riding in a different arena. Because really, your first goal is to give him a good experience and get him used to going places. All the competitive show goals, or show nerves, whatever makes you ride differently in the show ring, can come later!


      • #4
        Another idea...take him as many places as you can. My last OTTB came to me in July...he had just started jumping. That winter, he went to his first horse shows just to hang out. I rode him in the warm up ring, did no jumping, and sat on him by the in-gate (I know, a HUGE pony club faux pas using your horse as a bench). When he got addled, we'd go trot around the warm up ring for 5-10 minutes, then go chill by the in-gate again. He literally went to 6-7 shows within a 2 1/2 month time period without ever going into the show ring. When it was finally time to show, he was ready.
        Random horse pics http://www.flickr.com/photos/glfprncs/
        Talk to me about fitness or nutrition (I'm an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer)!
        My blog! http://personalsweatequity.blogspot.com/


        • #5
          I'd take him to every show you can and DO NOT show. Just take him. Put him in a stall. Take him out and lunge him, maybe hack him when the day is over.

          Remember, that in his track life, if he left home, he had to RUN. He's reacting the way he was taught. So you have to teach him that when he goes places now, he doesn't have to do anything.

          Don't jump him there until he settles, just do some flat work. Take him out and let him graze, etc. Just be patient. If you relax, he will to. (easier said then done, I know. Trust me)

          As for a bit, I know my OTTB mare did great in a rubber pelham. She didn't care for pressure in her mouth, and while she did "ok" in a snaffle, she was a different horse in the pelham. The poll pressure was a new concept for her, and she responded really well. Just something to think about...
          Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


          • #6
            No bit will change anything if he will not pay attention to you...and he is not paying attention to you with his mind on everything else that's going on.

            Make your flatwork at home more challenging by demanding his attention 100% of the time. give him some loose rein breaks, of course. But when you are doing an excercise or just proper flatwork (engagement, adjustability etc)? You are the director of the operation, he MUST comply.

            I just spent 4 hours watching a former Olympian hammering on that again and again and again and again when horses zoned out, spooked, spent all their time looking out of the ring, missed lead changes, distances, stopped, ran out or had rails. Same thing, rider did not have their attention and they took over calling the shots.

            Probably you need to toughen up at home and resist the urge to do the easier stuff he likes. Do extensions, collections, leg yields, haunch displacements, halt and back (correctly) any gait from any other gait. That will give you a stronger base to keep his attention on you as well as control. Break it up into short sessions with a nice trot on a loose rein as a reward...too much walk breaking makes them tense up when you pick up the reins again and add leg, keep going at the trot but let him stretch and relax.

            It may also be awhile before he is comfortable in the tight confines of the show ring and warm up ring with that PA going. Those track memories can haunt.

            When you get his attention 100% at home, then try to go to shows. Right now, it's just showing holes in your basics and his desire to ignore you.
            When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

            The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


            • #7
              The part that stood out to me in your post was when you stated he's a headtosser when he's excited. I've been in the OTTB game for a long time, and with these guys headtossing usually means get out of my mouth, haha. You may not think you are pulling, but you probably are from shear nerves. My OTTB is insanely sensitive to rein pressure. He'll take a lovey contact for dressage when I'm riding correcty, but the INSTANT I get apprehensive and clench those biceps one iota he feels it and gets worked up.

              I finally realized that I had to give up the fear and get out of his mouth completely. When I give him the rein, that horse will walk through fire for me without blinking. So at show use your legs (very important, legs come off when we are nervous) and really, truly give him the rein. OTTBs get more worked up the more contact you take in new atmospheres. Go to a quiet arena and school him around on as loose of a rein as you can. Then keep that feeling into the show arena and I think you'll be surprised. TBs are mind-readers!


              • #8
                Two questions before I lend any advice - how much schooling are you doing before going in the ring? A lot of people who think their horses are going to get hot at shows school them to death before going in the ring, and in so many cases LESS IS MORE for these horses. With our OTTB we do very little flatwork on jumping days - just enough to get her warmed up. Jump what we need to, and call it a day. The longer we try to extend her focus, the more pissy and up and down she gets. Second question - How is your saddle fit? Do you ride with different saddle pads at home? Could be that your saddle fits him differently with a fitted pad (I assume that's what you're using at the show).

                I second the suggestion that you send him to the show with your trainer in the irons a few times. Not only do you get the opportunity to see him go without the influence of your own nerves, it will also give him a chance to see that shows don't have to be a battle.

                Lastly, do some lessons at home that are the same format as what you show in. School as you would before a class, jump around, go over it with trainer. If you can hammer home the feeling of the class at home, it won't feel different at a real event and make you ride differently.

                FWIW I have an ammy rider that needs a good drink about an hour before going in the show ring


                • #9
                  I agree about TB's working UP not DOWN. Light work before going in the ring is often better. I also think that having your trainer ride him is good advice. As an ammy, unless you are one very experienced near pro quality ammy, you will have some level of "show nerves" going on and sensitive TB's will respond to it. (From your description, it sounds like you might be grabbing his mouth or taking more hold than he likes.)
                  I also think taking him to shows to hang out and be a couch is a good idea. h
                  He needs to think of being there and the sights and surroundings as "just another cool place to chill out."
                  Meanwhile, at home really work on making him accept the bit and leg. Many TB's want to get quick and as such they never learn to accept the leg. (I remember hearing GM rant about this at a clinic! "She MUST accept your LAIG!!") When he gets wiggly in the ring, the rider - you or your trainer - must be able to correct him with leg pressure. If he's not used to leg, he will overreact when he feels it in the showring.
                  F O.B
                  Resident racing historian ~~~ Re-riders Clique
                  Founder of the Mighty Thoroughbred Clique


                  • Original Poster

                    Thanks to all, super advice. I think I will print this thread and review often.

                    To answer some questions: Warm up - I lunged for about 5 minutes when we first arrived since he was trying to run me over. We then just hung out for 2 hours ( I got there early for both of us to settle). Then all of a sudden, they were setting fences for my division. So tacked up, me dressed and into the schooling ring. We warmed up there for about 10 min. then it was into the real warm up ring when chaos happened.

                    My show pad is very similar to my schooling pad and the girth fits the same so no major change there

                    I appreciate the suggestions of going and just hanging out at shows. Similar to what my non-horse husband said when I came home and went straight for the ibuprofen. Hubby says he is race horse. You took him to a place and he probably thinks when he goes somewhere new, he runs. Then you take him through a gate and he thinks time to run. I think everyone is right when suggesting he needs to learn that we can go to new places and not work

                    I do hang on his face at times and I want to beat myself every time I do. He is bad in corners, gets out of balence and so we argue a bit. Then I release and he calms, comes up to the fence and about 2 strides out , he puts on the gas, I grab. I need to stop that. I think the suggestions for working more flat at home getting him to listen to my leg is right on. If I put leg pressure on he can get snotty about that. We have been working on that but so far this year, when I go to shows, my brain leaves and everything we have been working on disappears. Nerves win and it goes bad.

                    My jumper mare that I retired last year was hot so hot horse nothing new. She would get me defensive at times but I had fun at shows with her. So the freaking out a shows is something new that has taken over my head. My new guy is like riding a spring. He can jump you out of the tack and I think that is what is different from my mare. When he is calm, no spring. When he gets worked up, super spring. Then there is the 4 foot jump over the 2 ft fence when he gets silly. That can rattle me too.
                    My Blog ( for me and my OTTBs)-ableequine.webbly.com


                    • #11
                      Ok, two more things then - when he gets out of balance in the corner, react with leg instead of hand. Close your inside leg and "hold" him up. Have outside rein ready to lightly check just in case. Snotty about the leg pressure? Do tons of transitions on the lunge line. I had this exact problem with our OTTB recently. She would get VERY pissy when you use leg to ask for canter or to balance her. Now we're doing 20 mins on the line every day and it has smoothed all that out almost completely.


                      • #12
                        I'd find a local schooling pleasure show (flat classes), and plan on spending the entire day on him and taking him in as many flat classes as possible. Usually once or twice of this they settle down, and figure out how to behave at a show. After he can do that, then I'd try him back in the hunter rings with the jumps where he has to go in by himself. I'd also take him to as many different barns/places that you can, and school. Problem can be that he's fine there, but picks up on the difference at a show, which is why I'd do the pleasure show thing at first. A pleasure show that has green horses or w/t classes for green horses is ideal...but there may not be anything like that near you. The lowest key type place is a good place to start at. You can also take him to regular shows just to hang out--although if he only acts up in the ring, that may not do it.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by kbbarn View Post
                          ...I have also taken him on trail rides. He insists on being in front and is a trooper.

                          ...I know TBs need a 'leader' so it does not help when I start to ride defensivly since it seems to make him more wild.
                          Soooo...according to your second post, he was reasonably quiet by himself and the wheels sort of came off when you went into the regular schooling ring. When he got into a crowd?

                          See the connection beween "insisting" on leading and getting fried in a crowd when he can't? He cannot turn that on and off. Because he cannot understand why it's OK for him to call the shots and lead sometimes and you don't care while you get defensive other times and try to stop him.

                          Also, if you feel defensive? You are reacting to his decisions, not making the decisions and having him follow through.

                          You are right on the leader part, he needs a consistent leader or he will take that over. By getting tougher with him at home, I do not mean hit him or bit up or anything. I mean consistently be the leader. All the time, every time, even on a trail ride. He does as YOU wish, you don't accept something else just because you fear he will start something.

                          When horses get consistent leadership? When it is always made easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing? You don't HAVE to get that tough-but you have to be consistent 100% of the time. It can't be OK some places but not others.

                          That is why horses in professsional quality training programs (even when conducted by an ammy) progress so much faster. They are consistent all the time and horse knows he follows.

                          I think that's the base of what is going on with this one, he follows your direction when he finds it easy and convenient to do so. If it gets harder to comply? He takes over.

                          Actually more common then any real training procedural issues with most of these inconsistent types.
                          When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                          The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                          • Original Poster

                            update! Lesson yesterday and I started out on schooling mare ( have to admit, did miss the go, go of my guy) but I got to work on keeping my legs consistent, staying off her mouth. Instructor rode my TB and I got to watch. Learned that he does go quite nicely when rider consistent. She had me get on him and I was consistent with my legs, light with my hands and he was great. He settled into the job, went around the corners with light contact but with my inside leg there to support, no fight, no drama, lovely jumps and calm between fences.

                            Next step is hanging out at an upcoming jumper show but no showing. We will hang out, ride in schooling arena doing what we did this last lesson.
                            My Blog ( for me and my OTTBs)-ableequine.webbly.com


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by FindersKeepers View Post
                              I'd take him to every show you can and DO NOT show. Just take him. Put him in a stall. Take him out and lunge him, maybe hack him when the day is over.

                              Remember, that in his track life, if he left home, he had to RUN. He's reacting the way he was taught. So you have to teach him that when he goes places now, he doesn't have to do anything.

                              Don't jump him there until he settles, just do some flat work. Take him out and let him graze, etc. Just be patient. If you relax, he will to. (easier said then done, I know. Trust me)

                              As for a bit, I know my OTTB mare did great in a rubber pelham. She didn't care for pressure in her mouth, and while she did "ok" in a snaffle, she was a different horse in the pelham. The poll pressure was a new concept for her, and she responded really well. Just something to think about...
                              Totally agree with this post. I had a simliar issue with my OTTB and I found getting to the show early, letting her chill out, eat some grass- look around was helpful. She was QUITE a different horse at shows than she was at home and I really FEEL for the original poster!! It can scare the daylights out of us older folks!

                              As for the bit, I had mine in every possible bit and found the pelham to be the charm. Althought, I hacked in a happy mouth because of the routing and head tossing.


                              • #16
                                You might want to take trainer or other qualified rider along to get on him first in that schooling ring. We ALL get nervous when "in public", show or not. Nobody rides the same way unless they have been to about a thousand shows or are used to people watching them ride all the time.

                                It is real easy to get rattled at something you wouldn't think twice about at home. So don't even let that get started. Once he is confident, you can get aboard with your own confidence intact then you will be well on your way.

                                A year is not a huge amount of time either, be patient.

                                Oh, remember if you want to show and jump safely around a course? He HAS to learn to accept the aids. ALL of them, including the rein aid. You cannot always depend on staying out of their mouths when just about anything can and will go wrong during a show course-even at 2'6", leaving a stride out in front of an oxer can result in you eating it or him flipping, or both. You cannot just say please and hope for the best, they need to do it.
                                When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                                The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.