30 Days to Poplar Place: overcoming distractions

It’s always such a relief to get back into the saddle after some time off. Johnny, too, I think was pretty happy to get away from his confinement. In an effort to boost his energy levels, I’ve added additional beet pulp to his daily ration. Whether it was the time off, the extra calories, or the insane ruckus coming from the tree trimmer crew across the street, he was definitely, uhm, exuberant. With all of that, I didn’t want to climb directly onto his back, so I free longed him in the arena for a few minutes. Good thing. He looked like a gangly cutting horse zipping back and forth. I tried to block out the visions of torn ligaments and strained tendons as I watched him slide to a stop, rock back on his haunches, and spin off in the other direction over and over again. Finally, when he appeared to at least have some of his wiggles released, I stood in the middle of the arena and offered my hand. Although he still seemed fairly distracted, he immediately walked right up to me and let out a big, snorty blowing breath. You know the one. The “phew! I feel much better now” snot-clearing blow they give as they let out tension.
I climbed into the saddle and could tell this was not going to be a terribly productive ride. The brisk air on his newly clipped skin combined with the commotion going on just across the street had him on edge and tense–ready to bolt if need be. Not that I could blame him. I couldn’t even hear his roaring over the tree saw, and he hadn’t been ridden in 5 days. Even so, I let my feet hang out of the stirrups as we walked around. Other than one little startle (not even enough to call it a full blown spook), he was fairly able to tune out the chaos. I focused on lots of transitions, leg-yielding, turns on the forehand and haunches, and so on to get him focused on me instead of everything else going on. When there’s a three-ring circus outside the arena, I’ve found the best option is to do the things I know he can do and get a good workout versus trying to improve on any of his weaknesses.
We had a fairly uneventful ride for about half an hour, and then Andrea wandered over and straightened my act out. With very little dressage background in my early riding, I’ve struggled with the inside leg to outside hand connection. I understand how it is supposed to work, but I find myself over using the inside rein and dropping the outside rein occasionally with Johnny. She’s been working with me on flexing my inside wrist to create flexion to the inside, but I hit a lightbulb moment today and managed to get Johnny really reaching for the bit–in fact, he was almost pulling my arms out–an absolute first for him. It wasn’t our most productive ride, but it’s often the little lightbulb moments like that that really make dramatic improvements.
We’re at less than two weeks now from Poplar Place, so I’ve added in three gallops this week. Tomorrow we’ll head out to the drop zone and stretch out his lungs.
If you’re recuperating an OTTB or have a hard keeper, here’s my feed plan that has always worked for OTTBs in heavy work:
Purina Omolene 500# (This is THE best feed for eventing OTTBs; feed according to their recommendations)
6 pounds alfalfa cubes or pellets, soaked in water (3 lbs am/3 lbs pm)
3 pounds beet pulp shreds or pellets, soaked in water
20 pounds hay (or as much as they can eat)
I also add about 1/4 cup corn oil if they will eat it. Because it’s so much, I feed the alfalfa first in the morning, then after his workout, I feed his morning grain ration and the beet pulp. You could always give the beet pulp as an afternoon snack. It’s a lot of feed, but it’s the cheapest, most efficient way to put weight on an OTTB without making them crazy. Additionally, I feed Cosequin ASU for his joints.

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