Friday, March 19, 2010

My, Aren't We Athletic

Horses I Have Known: Part 12

As I look back on Toby's training, it's not a matter of individual events that I can recall with exact clarity. Instead, it's a lot of memories mixed together into patterns of our relationship together.

The first is that Toby was, and still is, even at 20 years old, one of the most athletic horses I have ever ridden. I am sure if I had pursued a career in jumpers or eventing with him, he would have been a star, except for his mental approach to the whole world. Toby was the kind of horse who needed to check things out before trying them.

He spooked.

And if he didn't fully understand something, if I pushed too hard, he bucked.

Athletically of course.

He still does today. Except that today, I know the signals he gives out and usually bail out before he bails me off. The first time I ever tried a hunter pace with him, my partner and I were hardly out of the starting box when Toby'd exuberance got the best of him and I ended up in the dirt. I was still a relatively brave fool back then, so I remounted and we managed to finish up the whole six miles with me still in the saddle, but I'm not sure I'd do it again today. The boy has a big, twisty buck in him, enough to even unseat my former trainer Chris, who has one of those "superglue" seats the world has to admire.

Sometime during the course of Toby's training, we started having some serious care problems a the barn where I was boarding. The horses were not getting enough hay and were turned out in the morning on a decidedly poor, sparse "pasture" with no hay, and I 'm fairly sure that the extra flake or so I gave them at night before I left was being taken out of the stalls after I went home.

The result was that Toby started cribbing. Knowing what I know today, I would treat the whole situation differently, beginning with a course of ulcer treatments for him and a good supply of alfalfa cubes to keep him through the night. Knowing his sensitive personality, I suspect to this day he developed ulcers, and I certainly know he wasn't getting as much roughage as he should have. It took some rather uncomfortable moments, but eventually, I managed to move both PJ and Toby to an excellent farm where the care was great, but by then the damage was done. Toby's cribbing was a confirmed habit, and despite cribbing straps and every effort of have made since--included a very belated course of ulcer medication--he still cribs today.

But the cribbing was a symptom of more than just hay deprivation. Toby is also a worrier. He is an alpha horse in the herd, and really does fret about where the other horses are. And as an alpa horse, he didn't always like to be told what to do. Unlike PJ, whose concern was always whether he was doing things right, Toby's reaction would be a temper tantrum about doing something at all if he didn't understand or simply didn't want to do it.

We toyed with some jumping and I even took some clinics with Stephen Bradley, a top US Event rider. Once Toby figured out how to get over his first fence, he proved to be really talented, but he didn't seem to have the courage to jump a fence on first sight. As long as he got a good look at an obstacle before I expected him to go over it, all was well. But at first look, he was just as likely to run out as jump. I'm pretty sure a lot of schooling would have cured him, but the refusals were even more athletic than the jumps themselves and I simply didn't want to deal with it.

All that being said, I know we entered one jumping class in a a local show and he won second place--I'd been able to school over all the fences before the competition--so he had the potential, but I wanted to focus on dressage.

Toby had mixed feelings about that. All in all, he did quite well at the lower levels, but taking him beyond was a challenge. Every step along the way seemed to offer a battle of some sort or another.

It was during this journey of coping that I met Kenny Harlow, a John Lyons trainer, and I had several really good sessions with him. Toby proved to be a quick study of Kenny's methods and we were making great progress in conquering a lot of his spooks and arguments, so when Kenny came to the area to run a three day riding clinic, I signed up immediately.

Little did I know what a revelation that would be.

Addendum: Beautiful day today. I took Chance out on a nice trail ride--he was a bit frisky but fun. I lunged Tucker afterwards. Hard to tell if his barefeet are bothering him. He looked a little "short" when he started, but he moved out better as he warmed up. Since we will still be likely to have mud/rain/muck as spring creeps in, I'll keep the shoes off, unless he starts to definitely look sore.


  1. Anonymous6:58 PM

    Our Noble is a cribber - less now, only occasionally in the dry-lots. He's a nervous worrier as well, and I suspect he may have had ulcers in the past - he's OK now and seems much calmer since he's been at our barn with all-day turnout.

    Your guy sounds quite a challenge - great that you stuck with him and learned to deal with the challenges he presented.

  2. Oooh! My horse is like a combination of Tucker & Toby; I'm really interested to read about your adventures with him. Those worriers are tough. Glad that Tucker seems to be doing alright with his barefeet so far.

  3. My Spider is a worrier, and it makes things tough. Luckily he isn't an alpha, though. Once I've got him convinced that it's alright he follows right along. An alpha worrier is a true challenge!

    I hope you're enjoying the beautiful weekend! It should be perfect for trail riding.

  4. Very interesting "horsenality" analysis. My Linda was a super alpha mare, and a big worrier. She was always looking out for the others horses, but also picking fight to assert her dominance.

    Teena on the other hand tries to pleased so hard, she is also a horse easily submitted, it makes my life so much easier! I easily convince her there is nothing to worry about!

  5. Anonymous2:05 PM

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  6. What a unique boy! I'm glad he ended up with you; it sounds like not everyone would have put up with him. (Then again, I'm fairly anti-gelding, so I have trouble liking them to begin with.)