Bruce Lamb's Eventing Blog - May 2011

May 31, 2011 Gamble got the day off! The temperature went up to 33 degrees, but with the humidity it felt more like 42 degrees. A good day to give him a break! May 30, 2011 It was pretty warm out tonight -- 29 degrees in the shade, and the horses were going through water like there was no tomorrow. Tori and I rode outside in the outdoor dressage ring. It was still a bit deep after all the moisture we've had, but it wasn't terrible. I worked Gamble on the same things as in our last lesson with Tracy: Keeping him straight on the long side, circling when he'd bend his head to the outside, lots of transitions, lots of large (15 m. or 20 m.) circles, and eventually having him accept the bit and get his head down into a bit of a collected frame. I did 5 or 6 minutes at a sitting trot and he definitely has the bouncy trot we saw in the video -- but it really wasn't too bad to sit once you got used to it.

For a departure from the ordinary stuff, we walked through the water park a couple of times -- the first time with Joey leading, and the second time alone. He stopped a couple of times on that second walk through the water park, but a very light tap with the crop on this rear end got him moving forward again -- and he wasn't too stressed. Good to know he responds to a bit of crop that easily.

When we got back to the barn, he had a nice cool hose-down -- his second of the day, since we've found that he loves to immerse himself in mud any time he gets the chance!

May 29, 2011 Did a short hack tonight -- alone again. The twist this time was that we went a way that we had never gone: Across the bridge over the Little Ausable River, and then down a path through some grassy areas that used to have a cut trail (but no cut trail today). Going over the bridge was not a big deal -- but when we got down by the rivers edge going through a field of grass, at one point Gamble basically said "No, I'm not going any further". I had my crop with me but decided that I shouldn't get him unduly stressed, so we tried a couple of other routes to get down there. He stopped at some other points where he was nervous and, again, I didn't force the issue. The fact that he was going as far as he was within trails that were brand new to him was pretty good. It didn't help that it was quite dark out as it was nearing sunset, and we'd just had some thunderstorms go through. I met up with Tori in her truck, so we swapped modes of transportation and she rode him back uneventfully.

May 28, 2011 Just an easy ride in the arena tonight. Walk-trot transitions, walking, trotting, sitting trot -- and Gamble was accepting of the bit quite quickly. I snuck in some leg yields again as well -- he is starting to see the point. So after I had ridden for about 30 minutes, Tori hopped on and, man, did she look good on him. He is so smart -- he figures out what we want very quickly. Except for keeping close to the mounting block. Spent about five minutes again today getting him to hold still.

May 27, 2011 Had my first lesson with Tracy today. Gamble is getting better at holding still while mounting, but needs work. As soon as I walk up to the mounting block, he shifts his rear end away, so we worked on getting him to walk up beside the mounting block and stand still. He seems to be getting it. We did a lot of walk-trot and 15 m. circles to get him bending and then straight on the long side of the arena. A couple of things to remember with him:
  • Be definite when giving him an aide. There shouldn't be any guesswork on his part as to what I'm doing or what I want.
  • If he has his hindquarters angled towards the inside while going down the long side, bump him with my heel to get him to straighten out -- and if he doesn't, do a 15 m. circle (or two or three) to get him to bend and then get him to straighten again.
  • While I need to keep my outside hand on the reins as "the wall", the inside rein needs to be fluid with his movement and bending from the elbow, not the wrist. Make sure the hands are closed on the reins.
  • We need to work on his flexion in the jaw and his bend throughout the length of his body during circles -- particularly to the right.
  • He seems to respond better to something that has been taught after he has had a bit of a walk break. So after he has been taught something, give him a bit of a walk break, and then do it again: He is more likely to do it correctly after the break.
  • I need to keep a relaxed seat & leg, and encourage him to move forward.
  • Try to ensure there is no tension in my body.
After the lesson, I went on a hack through the trails by ourselves. He is super-sensible. His walk was "forward" most of the time. About 3 times he halted and wan't happy about going forward -- but after a bit of thought and light persuasion on my part, he moved on. At the halfway point, a deer popped out of the woods about 40 m. in front of us -- and he didn't even flinch. And we walked through puddles on the way back and he couldn't have cared less. I'm super happy with how things are progressing -- and we've only had him for 3 days!

May 26, 2011 Tracy exercised Gamble today. Funny -- she said he's fairly stiff bending to the right. Makes sense, considering a race horse spends its entire racing career going to the left! We're working him up slowly -- he needs more muscle all around -- but she spent a good 35 minutes on walk, trot, transitions, flexing, etc. and by the end of the session he was definitely relaxing into the bit. He didn't shy at anything during the entire time, even with Mom riding Meisha around the arena at the same time. Tracy said that, to begin, when I'm working him and I need to give him some pressure on one side, don't 'hold' the leg there -- tap him with the leg to get him to bend. We're going to have a lesson tomorrow so I can come up with a series of exercises for me to do when I'm working him, and I can get the correct application of the aides as we're teaching him.

May 25, 2011 Today was Gamble's first full day at Hearthstone Farm. We put him out in one of the front paddocks with Tori's horse, Joey, and they got along fine. A few moments of sniffing each other and they were down to the business of eating grass. As other horses were added to the other paddocks, there would the the occasional run around the paddock for Gamble -- tail held high in the air -- but it always ended up the same way: Nose to the ground eating grass. Eventually, we threw Rapport in with Joey and Gamble and there was virtually no reaction from anyone. So it would appear that the "Three Musketeers" ("The Three Stooges"?) have been formed.

Later on in the afternoon, Tori and I went for a ride. I've been on strict instructions (from virtually everyone) not to move too quickly with Gamble -- as tempting as its been to try all sorts of things. But even the little things are new to him. Standing still while being mounted, walking next to another horse that he doesn't know (Tori's mount Dolly), walking near the mirrors -- everything is brand new. So we walked. And we walked. And we walked. But I did lots of different things as we walked to get him desensitized to all of the things that can happen while being ridden. I went out of my way to make noise along the walls with my crop, and by the time we were done I could get around the arena banging the edges of the arena and anything else I could reach. We did lots of walk-halt transitions -- but nothing on-the-bit. It was more just getting him to get used to how my weight shifts back during the halt, and how the pressure on the bit releases once he is at a standstill. I even snuck in some very mild leg-yielding at a walk!

But the best part of the ride was when Tori said she was bored and wanted to go outside. It was raining lightly, so we donned our oilskin coats and wandered out of the arena. (It took a bit to get out of the arena with Gamble since there were 2 poles plus a long thin puddle of water through which he had to cross -- but after Tori went across with Joey, it was no problem for Gamble.) Anyhow, we walked outside and it was like Gamble had lived there all his life. He led the way past Rapport's Water Park and the various jumps at the side of the dressage field, and he led the way through the orchard and back to barn. I was thrilled: This is a horse that is confident.

The only downside to the afternoon was that we pulled out the measuring stick to see how tall he was. He was advertised at 16.3 hands, but comparing him beside Rapport (17 hands), he looked a bit smaller than that. It looks like Gamble is just shy of 16.1 hands -- 2" shorter at the withers than advertised.

NEXT TIME: Have the vet measure him, or bring the measuring stick!

I'm not sure if the smaller stature changes our thoughts on Gamble -- he is still in the range I was looking -- but, I'm still kicking myself for not verifying the height before driving to Ohio. It may have made a difference.

Anyhow, it was a good day. And Gamble is truly a sweetheart of a horse -- so gentle. And yet, so brave. I was telling him as we were going around the trail in the orchard: "Buddy, you and I are going to have some fun times!".

May 24, 2011 Well, its been a while since my last post. As you will recall from my last April post, Rapportsky is kaputsky for jumping and so I've been looking for my next Eventer. My ideal horse was 16.1 to 17 hands, gelding and, ideally, has a natural bounce to his trot. A thoroughbred or warmblood cross. 4 or 5 years old -- 6 if he has some Eventing experience. Brave. We ended up buying an off-the-track thoroughbred named, appropriately, "Gamble" (registered name of Bounding Bug), from Ohio.

I've learned a fair bit from this process. The first thing is that there are tons of horses out there. The second is that its really hard to find the perfect horse -- but Gamble is worth the gamble, if you'll pardon the pun.

My dressage coach, Tracy Roberts, first found him on-line and she loved the look of him. I looked at lots of other horses on-line, but many didn't have photos, let alone video, and were either too expensive for what you got, or didn't have the sort of "dressage" trot for which I was looking. Gamble looked perfect -- advertised as 16.3 hh and as an off-the-track thoroughbred, I knew he'd have speed. The big question is how well he'll jump (I don't think it will be a huge problem) and how well he'd do dressage. We saw the video of Gamble and felt he'd be a really good choice -- and the price was right. The only downside was that he was a 6 hour drive away, so we couldn't just pop over and see him.

We had a vet check done and it came up as clean as one could expect -- with one exception. There were minor bumps and scrapes on him, from his field-mate, but he had "minor sickle hocks" -- a conformation issue where the hocks slope in a bit. Rapport is pigeon-toed and has worked out well, so I wasn't concerned with a minor "sickle hock" issue. In hindsight, I should have asked for some video or photos of his rear end so I could have a look.

Tori, Tracy and I drove to Ohio to have a look at him. The first thing I noticed was the sickle hocks. It didn't appear "minor" but I wasn't sure how much it would affect performance. That is one great thing about Eventing -- the conformation or prettiness of the horse shouldn't matter -- it is all about performance.

I popped up on him -- and I'm not sure if the owner, Nicole, thought I was crazy or not. She had lunged him for just a few minutes, but he really hasn't been ridden in a while. But I walked around the arena with him, and eventually did a bit of trot and a bit of canter. But what I really wanted to do was gallop! So I took a bit of a gallop in the arena just to see how it would go. Well, it is tough to gauge just based on 40 metres of gallop, but my sense is that he has lots of get-up-and-go for our purposes. His trot was as in the video -- a bit bouncy, which is what we were looking for -- and which is very difficult to find. His walk was also excellent -- overstepping (i.e. the rear hoof steps into the track of the front hoof) with no effort whatsoever. So it looked like the performance part of things was going to be okay. But what about those sickle hocks?!

Tori popped on him next and did some walk and trot. I asked her to walk a few steps and halt Gamble so I could see how square he was. With every halt, he put either the left or the right rear leg out at an angle -- so he wasn't halting square. But the front legs seemed okay as far as stopping squarely is concerned, so we just need to teach him how to stand squarely, which I've been able to do with Rapport.

Tracy rode him next. Tracy did walk-trot with him as well. And after a few minutes, I said to her, "Well, what do you think, Coach? Has he won the lottery?" -- which is the term we use to to say, "Is he coming to Hearthstone?", because all animals are treated so well here.

The answer was "yes". She said afterwards that he is smart. She tried a few things with him just at the walk and she figured that if she just had 10 minutes with him, he'd be "on-the-bit".

So, he isn't perfect. The sickle-hock thing makes me a bit nervous about how far we'll be able to take him. But none of our horses have been perfect -- and Gamble's advantages -- the bouncy trot, the speed, the intelligence -- make up for his disadvantages: the potential performance and lameness issues that could be associated with sickle hocks, and his lack of experience at dressage and jumping (none in both cases). We loaded him on the trailer, drove to the veterinarian's office to pick up his Coggins test and form VS 17-145, drove to the USDA office outside of Columbus Ohio to get the forms approved, and then drove home. By 11 pm, we were watching Gamble wander around the arena admiring himself in the mirrors, while Jenny, Karen, Tori, Tracy, my mother and I sipped Champagne to welcome him to Hearthstone!

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