Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: Working with a Happy Horse

The author with Halo Carlos (Courtesy of Lynn Sullivan/Captivation Photogaphy)

This month’s adventures with Halo Carlos had some ups and downs for both of us, but this time I am happy to say there are way more ups than downs!

As I have stated before, we are working on smooth transitions, softness and trust – the latter being the most important, because it’s the one I have had to work hardest for. While Carlos is trusting (finally) and willing to work here at home, hauling him to new places is still fairly traumatic. In our own arena, he does really well! Now, I’m not sure if being a twin is the reason he goes through such strong separation anxiety (even if it’s with a horse he has only ever seen for two minutes) but if you just happen to walk past him with a horse, any horse…. he doesn’t only want to go with it, he makes every effort possible to ignore me and join his newfound friend and savior! He still has to learn to be quite a bit more confident and I believe that will just take more time and experience.

Halo Carlos (Courtesy of Lynn Sullivan)

We started out the month with an injury (both of us actually). I had a sore rib and Carlos had a few skinned up areas from a tussle with a pasture mate. Our plans were sidetracked a couple of weeks for healing, but Carlos was able to attend a trail ride (in the rain) where he was ridden by one of our trainers. During this outing, he really was quite unruly when separated from a horse he had just met — dangerously unruly, actually. Everyone came out of it okay though, because before the day was over, he was much better on his own than he had ever been! I have to hand it to the people that help me do this, as Carlos truly has a village helping him learn how to handle life on his own!

As a racehorse though, I’m fairly certain that he must have done most everything with a pony horse. He just did not know what to do without a horse to follow. I may never know why he is this way, but I work every single day trying to build his confidence and trust. Our work is finally paying off, as he appears much happier under saddle and he travels nicely with soft gaits and a willing attitude. He does this in my arena anyway…. but we are slowly getting there and even though there is only four more months to go, I still believe he will be a really nice Western Dressage horse!

My reasons for choosing this discipline is because I needed one that would help keep him as quiet as possible. Although I feel eventually he will make a great speed prospect or possibly even a hunter, it would not be a good idea at this time to challenge him in this way. He needs slow and steady right now, so balance, responsiveness and softness are our goals, for both on and off our farm! We hope to be ready for a schooling show in July but in the meantime we will, as always, stay in our own lane and not get discouraged!

Fortunately for Carlos (and me!) this is not my first rodeo, and I know that every horse has their own agenda. As an aftercare professional, I see many horses go through my program every year that just seem to naturally have a gift for the show ring. I personally have trained several, but one in particular comes to mind… Whirlwind Romance was so slow, we could never even get a workout fast enough to publish so he never had a race. He left the track on a Saturday, and the following weekend he ribboned in some flat classes at a local horse show!

This is not the type of horse I am dealing with now, and there are certainly several varieties in between, so comparing him to others is not only unfair to Carlos, it’s also pointless. The challenge in all of this for every trainer entered is that each horse is unique with it’s own limitations, quirks and capabilities. Halo Carlos has his own good qualities, and it’s my job to enhance those and develop others that will benefit him farther down the road. He is just four years old, so really he is not even finished maturing yet.

On our journey to the Thoroughbred Makeover, Halo Carlos and I have developed a bond and it is satisfying to see the many positive changes in him. We went from people warning me about getting hurt, to people being amazed at the difference in his attitude. We went from him trying to kick me if I approached his rear end, to him begging me to scratch his tail. We went from him trying to bite me during grooming, to him nuzzling me for pets. This progress alone is huge to me, because in the beginning, I asked myself every day what I had gotten myself into!

So, as the time draws closer to leave for Kentucky to pursue the moment of truth, I remain confident that this little horse will not disappoint! Regardless of how he does when we get there, Halo Carlos is a much better horse than when he arrived, and he will have a much better chance at a new career than his twin did. It may be hard for me when the time comes to find him his permanent home, especially after all we have been through, but I would not trade this time we have together for anything. We have both become better through the trials and tribulations we have experienced thus far, and we still have four months to go! We may have started out slow, but that’s the only way this little horse was capable of learning, and what and how he learns now will stay with him the rest of his life!

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