Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Staying In My Own Lane

Retired racehorse Halo Carlos is being trained for a second career by the author. (Courtesy of Lynn Sullivan)

What type of animal can put you on an emotional roller coaster, shake your confidence and question your decisions…. then bring it all back in less than an hour? A horse. I’m here to tell you, no animal can do this better than a horse. Especially a retired Thoroughbred horse. This month has been a whirlwind of rights, wrongs, then really bad wrongs, and then back to super right.

Halo Carlos (Courtesy of Lynn Sullivan)

At my age and where I am in life right now, I still have confidence that I can teach a horse how to be a good citizen. In order to have the presence of mind to learn new things, a horse really has to be receptive to learning! Halo Carlos is like a toddler in the way that I have to make learning fun for him. He is naturally curious, so I like to challenge him with new experiences and let him figure out things on his own without pressure. At home, we do most of this on the ground. I really do try to keep him quiet and receptive from the ground, but sometimes…. well, let’s just say Halo Carlos has other ideas!

A few weeks ago, Carlos and I were in the arena working on lateral moves from the ground. I was so happy and excited that he had picked up just where we left off the day before! This felt like a very big moment for me! I guess he felt my euphoria, because from that moment everything changed. He bowed his neck and turned his head away from me. He became distracted by something so I worked to draw his attention back to me, but then he spooked, and just basically ran me over. I did not have time to get out of his way. To his credit, I feel like he was immediately sorry, as he didn’t really go anywhere after running me down!

My euphoria was quickly replaced by “How the heck did that happen?” I will be 64 years old in a couple of weeks. Being run over by a 970-pound horse is a big thing. He may be small for his breed, but I promise I felt every one of those 970 pounds! I was pretty sore for a few days and to be honest, I even wondered if I would be able to, (or even WANT to) ride him again, much less have him ready for a competition in the fall!

Since I had to take it easy a few days after this incident, I had time (not really!) to catch up on Facebook and read the posts of fellow RRP trainers. I have to admit, it’s hard not to compare where you are in your training and where others are with their horses. The motto “Stay In Your Own Lane” is so important here. Halo Carlos and I have had so many issues to work through. It has been hard not to just give up. Our vet even called to say he was worried for my safety. Two big letdowns after a short spark of euphoria.

Halo Carlos after being saddled. (Courtesy of Lynn Sullivan)

Although I know Halo Carlos still has a long way to go before I can call him a “good citizen,” I have to also point out all the good things he has done and how far he has come to this point. I have taken him on trail rides and to lessons at various places. He is really good under saddle when you consider how bad he is on and off the trailer, during tack up and mounting. When I am mounted, he is great… it’s just the stuff on the ground, from tack on to riders up, that rocks his world!

Once my weight is in the stirrups, he is like a different horse. He immediately settles down. He can act like an attention deficit child that has to constantly be reminded to stay out of his own way, but he is nice and soft…. he may spook, but all and all, he’s much more relaxed when I am riding him as opposed to leading him. There is a change in his brain when I am mounted! He is more confident, no more head slinging or rearing. I see all the positive ways he responds to me now, and how he doesn’t scowl or sulk anymore. He comes right to me, wherever he is or what he is doing.  When I remember where we started, I am so very thankful for where we are now.

I know the moment will come when he doesn’t view new things as a threat. I see him becoming more confident every day. When he is bad… yes, he is still very bad, but now there is also a lot of good happening too.

“Staying in my own lane” has kept me from stressing out over our progress. I have to remind myself that I’m doing this with Carlos to make him more adoptable, so we will just continue on in our slow steady lane. Even though our goal is to show at the Retired Racehorse Project in October, what I am teaching him now will last him his entire life. Hopefully then he will be adopted and become a trusted partner to someone who can see his potential. I do not know why he came to me with such big trust issues, that part really doesn’t matter….. but one thing is for certain: there are no shortcuts and every turn brings something new. I work hard to expose him to new and different situations so he gets the experience he needs to be settled, regardless of where I take him. Staying in my own lane keeps me focused on where we are going and the steps we need to take to get there! Although I really admire and love to cheer on others that have posted the progress in their journey, I am still incredibly proud of this little twin horse that has come so far yet still has so far to go!

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