Gaining Confidence by Dineen
My first experience with an off track thoroughbred was a 17h, 9 year old gelding. Gorgeous guy, sweet natured, and a little nervous. I started out with teaching him to lunge. Did a few weeks of walking and trotting on the line. Added side reins, to give him the feel of contact on the reins. He was going really well. I had been on him a few times just walking, teaching him to move off and stop from my seat. He was ultra sensitive to the use of leg, so that was done real slow and easy.
One night, It was getting dark, we did our usual lunging, I got on. We started our walking and he picked up a trot (more like a jig) for a couple of strides. I decided since our ground work was going so well to go with it. I started to post and the horse decided it was back to the races. We ran full gallop around the ring for a good 5 minutes, with me trying everything I knew to stop him. From pulling back (a BIG no-no) to throwing away the rein almost completely, to cranking his head to the side in a small circle.
Nothing worked, we just kept galloping around the arena. Finally, we were heading to the fence (one of my last resorts at getting him to stop or at least slow down). I had hoped that he would stop as we neared the fence, instead he ducked to the right and I started to lose my seat. I went with it. Trying to clear off before I actually hit the fence. I flew and then rolled about 10 feet. I was pretty banged up. Fell flat on my hip, everything ached. Needless to say this horse and myself parted ways. Took a couple weeks to come to this decision. My confidence was totally crushed. A few months later, after horse shopping for awhile, I came across another off track thoroughbred.
Hoping that some of the riding that I had been doing on an older much more experienced quarter horse, I could handle another OTTB. Tickers, a 4 year old, 15.3h gelding, I bought. He had/has a stifle injury and needed to be brought back from it. Again, I started with my ground work. Walk, trot, canter and most importantly STOP on the lunge line. Over the winter he was basically turned out since I did not have the facilities to ride in bad weather. I had been on him a few times in those months.. Just walking, stopping and such. When the nice weather came, I saw Tickers transform a bit, he was full of energy. Would run wildly through his paddock. Bucking, rearing, walking on his hind legs. It frightened me quite a bit.
On a few occasions after lunging, I would try to get on him. I could not get past the flashback of being runaway with....or worse. I could not throw my leg over him no matter how hard I tried. I had put him up for sale. After a few potential buyers decided not to take him, because of his stifle issues or other reasons. I decided that I could no longer sell him in fear of what would happen to him.
A few weeks ago I decided to just bite the bullet, I was going to get on this horse! With the help of a dear friend (who knew Tickers well) she came to my place and rode Tickers for me. I asked her to get off before I lost my nerve. She did. I got on. We walked around for a bit. Here was the hard part. I had to ask him to trot. Pushing the flashback of my previous horse way into the back of my head, I squeezed my legs and off we trotted. Hey, this wasn't that bad. I had to know. I only stayed on a few minutes, but I was relaxed and in turn so was he.
The next time I rode I was very anxious. It would be the first time I would be getting on him without having my friend ride him first. I had a spotter to help me get on. I held my breath (with my heart pounding in my throat) threw my leg over and off we went. Did some trotting and walked over a groundpole. Since that moment when I knew I was 'ok' I've been riding him at least every other day consistently. Each ride gives me more confidence. I've lived through a spook or two even. I've learned a lot. Not so much about riding but about Trust. I had to learn to trust my boy before we could go any further.
We put our time in on the ground and almost all of it is carrying over into the saddle. I couldn't be happier with him now. Have even thanked one of the potential buyers for NOT taking him. I would have missed one of the most special horses in my life. My advice to anyone who may have this problem with confidence is this. Take it very slow. Do your groundwork (this doesn't apply to every horse but in my experience with different off track horses you can't lose with doing it). When you first get on, have someone ride your horse for you so you can maybe 'see' what he/she will do while being ridden. When you get on, have someone walk you around if you have a person with you. Keep your sessions short, even if you are on your horse for 5 minutes, thats 5 minutes more then what you were doing before.
Relax, I 'know' this is easier said then done, but what you are feeling is what you are going to send to your
mount. You can always add to your sessions, or even shorten if you like, there is no real time frame that you must do this, or even how many times
you have to be led around on your horse. Try to end on when you feel totally comfortable, it's easier for your next ride. Don't take that next
step until you are sure you are ready. Most of all, trust your mount and he/she will trust you.