Tag Archives: OTTB

An OTTB’s Playlist

Last weekend we went to a show and Mulligan went from calm to nervous, from beginning hunter to race horse in under two minutes. Mulligan is an OTTB – off the track thoroughbred – whose first career was a bust and he’s on his second, thus his name. He has a wonderful attitude, is a gentleman and friend, but he sometimes has flashbacks from his past at the racetrack.

In a short time Mulligan has ceased attempts to get to the finish line ahead of everyone in the under saddle class, and he is less nervous when horses pass him. But his most persistent heart pounding reaction is the announcer and the show’s PA system. He has bravely accepted the main ring announcer, but it’s from the schooling ring, the barn calls that send him quaking in his horse shoes. Specific triggers to Mulligan’s PTSD are announcers who are men, faraway speakers like in the stable area, and multiple speaker PA systems. He hears that twenty-minute barn call and he’s sure they’re saddling up in the paddock for Race 3.

The first time Mulligan heard a handheld mic static, he was sure the electrifying sizzle was a wasp buzzing around him. In the hunter ring, Mulligan’s focus turns to the speakers in the adjacent jumper arena, with its time clock and continual announcements of faults and time penalties.

Mulligan needed to be desensitized to the sounds of the horse shows. He needed an iPod or CD with a Playlist of horse show sounds. So we created one that he now listens to constantly at home.

blog_article_playlist3Here’s what’s on his playlist:

  • Posting order, announcing an entrant, plane in background
  • Light static, microphone clicking on and off, music in background
  • Under saddle class call (“trot please,” etc.), horse snorting
  • Loud announcing calling numbers
  • Static off and on, wind blowing against a microphone
  • Crowd noise
  • Horse cantering in adjacent arena
  • Spectator chatting, more wind
  • Talking, “good boy”
  • Announcers in two different rings talking over each other
  • Announcer calling placings for under saddle class
  • Jump rail knocking down
  • Spectator chatter, coughing
  • Loud announcer calling posted order
  • Jumper announcer – “clear round and a time of…”
  • Baby crying
  • Spectators cheers – “Woo hoo” – as results are announced
  • Whinny from horse [at home, Mulligan always answers it when he hears it!]
  • Announcer in equitation class – posting, sitting, extended trot
  • Water and drag noises in arena
  • Spectators laughing
  • Audio of Secratariat’s Belmont, announcer and crowd noise
  • USHJA hunter classic announcing hunter derby Jersey Boy [subliminal imagery]
  • Bugle call before horse race
  • Horse race commentator of a small local track
  • Explosion of clapping at horse show, whistles and cheers
  • A peaceful song (to reward him for getting through it)

I expect this won’t prevent all of Mulligan’s nervousness but I do think the sounds will be more familiar to him at our next horse show.

~ kw


Taking a Mulligan – Part 2

< < Part 1 

Our second horse show, Mulligan walked flat footed into the arena for his flat class. Honestly, I could have called it a day right there. I was busting the buttons off my riding coat and I tried to act nonchalant and cool. He stood in his lineup like a statue. Mr. Canon documented the experience and played it back for us a hundred times.

Mulligan was relaxing. He cantered his cross rails in the jumping class like a hunter. When he did his first immaculate lead change in the arena, Dana from the rail was so happy that Mr. Canon trembled. Mulligan handled the flowers, the fences, and the announcer with aplomb. Mulligan appropriately won second place.

To hear our celebration and the applause, the praise and the carrots, you would have thought Mulligan just won a USHJA Hunter Derby.

A trainer would have arrived on the grounds on schooling day, stabled the horse for two days, and had him ready for us and his amateur rider by Sunday. But we would have missed Mulligan’s transition from pawing at the trailer to standing quietly, from nervous wheeling around, to eating hay and drinking water. No one would have told us when his frantic neigh for help became a nicker of hello. I would not have experienced the moment his heart pounding between my legs turned to a sigh of acceptance.

Dana and I watched Mulligan process and learn. We rode every fence right there with him (from the rail and on his back), calmed him through his nervousness, prepped him, fed him, groomed him, schooled him, posted him and showed him. Mulligan made us proud and Mr. Canon was right there with us every minute.

Anyone that has had any experience bringing along a young horse, riding any horse for that matter, accomplishing any endeavor of worthiness, knows that it is rarely an uphill progression. There are pitfalls, disappointments, setbacks. Handsome (he’s Mulligan at the shows but Handsome at home) had pulled a shoe and bruised his sole so he got some time off the next weeks. We soaked him in Epsom salts, poulticed, cold hosed, massaged his muscles, pine-tarred his soft feet and let him mow the edge of the arena. When we started him back, Handsome received his first lunge lesson.

A training barn’s groom would have done all that. Would he have told me how Handsome loves the attention? I would have missed how Handsome stoically stood for poulticing, blog_article_mulligan2_smilesand the dexterity with which he pulls carrots out of my back pocket while I painted his hooves.
It is a joy to be Handsome’s teacher, his part-time nurse and his friend. Hearing his whinny lifts my spirits. Handsome is getting more confident at the same time he is building mine.

Once Handsome/Mulligan is healed, and if the stars collide, schedules coincide and we feel he is ready, he will be added to the show calendar amidst the other horses’ schedules. Our adrenalin will get us through our regular work days, evening rides and a tireless summer. We trust our program but remain flexible for the unexpected. Plan B is right around the corner with C waiting in the wings. Mulligans don’t care about plans.

In a world where two country “dumb asses” win the Kentucky Derby, I bet they would say that the deepest rewards come not despite their background but because of it. The “wins” are embedded in the process. Few horses become champions but taking a mulligan can bring out the champion in all of us.

~ kw

< < Part 1 

Taking a Mulligan – Part 1

“Take a mulligan,” instructed my golf teacher after I topped a drive off the tee. Immersing myself in golf lessons seemed like the right distraction after the passing of my 23-year old thoroughbred. And once I turned 50, I was reluctant to go the green horse route again.

But golf wasn’t horses.

Enter Handsome, an appropriately named gray OTTB gelding owned by Dana whom I met through a horse ad online. She had allowed him months of rest after his racing, starting him in his hunter career slowly, with light hacks and cross rails at a schooling show or two.
Through Dana’s generosity, now I ride Handsome as often as possible. Handsome lives on Dana’s ranch along with two other horses that Dana shows, and several more retired horses and ponies, dogs and cats.

We do not have the deep pockets to show the A circuit, the cash flow to pay trainers, the time-off-work to stable all week at horse shows, the extra twenties lying around to tip grooms. We do have our years of expert advice from good trainers, and our own experiences of horse care, training, vetting, shoeing (Dana shoes her own), hauling, braiding, schooling and showing.

At the shows we are known as an “Independent.” Be kind to us Independents, we were up at 4 a.m. While I am not an advocate of riding trainer-less, it just works for us right now. A bevy of good hunter-jumper instructors reside in our area, available to assist at a moment’s notice. Because we are Independents, we appreciate even more the many hats trainers wear.

Our days are marathons. Both of us work full time, have family commitments and juggle our schedules to accommodate the horses.

But the rewards run deep and the lessons are profound.

I soon discovered that Handsome has a forgiving attitude when his amateur (that’s me) misses a distance or makes a mistake. Maybe it has to do with the carrots I bring him, the scratches behind the ears and the conversations we have while grooming. After a few months of trotting over grids and cantering simple lines, Handsome and I were ready for our first horse show together.

Handsome’s second career as a hunter compelled us to come up with the show name Mulligan.

To help us assess our progress, Mr. Canon travels with us to horse shows. blog_article_mulligan1_canonHe is there for every round including the flat classes. He communicates our mistakes so they are obvious and he never dwells on the negative. Only sometimes does Mr. Canon lose his focus, but the big picture is always there. He is accurate, handy, and affordable. We observe our performances against the professional hunter rides that we watch carefully with Mr. Canon at our side.

Mr. Canon mirrors our mistakes and we have instant replays when we need reminders.

So at our first local show together, Handsome now Mulligan asked questions all day long. Why are horses everywhere? Why are horses tied to trailers? Why are we riding then resting, then riding then resting? Why are we not going the same direction? Why is that horse jumping in the arena next door when we are just standing? Why are we lined up but those three horses are leaving, can’t we leave too?

We answered his questions patiently, through continual exposure and quiet rides, words of praise, lots of petting and boatloads of carrots. Mulligan settled down in his cross rails class, jumping every fence the first time. He had a flashback from the race track when he heard the announcer on the loudspeaker but he came through the experience no worse for wear.

Dana and I were exhausted.

~ kw

Part 2 >>