Training the overweight Quarter Horse

I’m approaching week two of riding Cutty, Johnny’s coworker’s 7 year old overweight Quarter Horse. The horse has been a real treat to work with, as he’s reasonably intelligent without being devious or evasive. He’s also sensible and while he doesn’t try as hard as I’d like him to, he seems to enjoy getting things right (and the lavish praise that comes with it).


He is really fat. I’m aware that Quarter Horses are rounder, wider animals than the lanky and lean Thoroughbreds I’m used to. I’m also aware that it’s not good when a horse has fat deposits on his neck. On the Henneke scale, I’d say he’s a solid 7 (fleshy): “Crease down spine; ribs have fat filling between them; tail head spongy; fat deposits along withers and neck and behind shoulders.”

Cutty’s people want simple things for him. They want him to learn to neck rein, understand moving away from leg pressure, and get fitter.

I’ve been hired to ride him 5 days per week. Here’s the weekly schedule I’ve developed for him:

Day 1: ~40 minutes flatwork (10 minute walk warm up, 5 minutes walk up and down steep hill, 6 minutes trot work, 5 minute walk break focusing on lateral work, 5 minutes trot work, 10 minutes cool down)
Day 2: ~45 minutes flatwork (10 minute walk warm up, 10 minutes walk up and down steep hill, 5 minutes trot work, 5 minute walk break focusing on lateral work, 5 minutes trot/canter transitions, 10 minutes cool down)
Day 3: ~50 minutes flatwork (10 minute walk warm up, 5 minutes walk up and down steep hill, 10 minutes trot work, 10 minute walk break focusing on lateral work, 5 minutes trot work, 10 minutes cool down)
Day 4: Off
Day 5: ~45 minute trail ride down the road and back to the barn
Day 6: ~45 minutes conditioning work (10 minute walk warm up, 5 minutes walk up and down steep hill, 5 minutes trotting, 3 minutes walking, 5 minutes trotting up and down steep hill, 3 minutes walking, 5 minutes trotting, 10 minutes cool down)
Day 7: Off

As you can see, Cutty is doing lots of walking. I like walking. It helps him become fitter without stressing his legs and feet. I can communicate more clearly with him at the walk, because I’m not busy trying to keep a regular rhythm (like at the trot) or help him not fall on his face (like at the canter/flail). I especially like walking him up and down the very steep hill in his pasture, because he really has to use his muscles on the way up and his brain on the way down.

I incorporate neck reining into every single turn at the walk; he pretty much has the concept down and only needs a gentle reminder now and then. Lateral work at this point is leg yielding from the quarter line toward the rail. He is reluctant to really move his hindquarters over much, but grudgingly does so when I give him a kick.

Cutty is feeling better already- his trot work is slightly more energetic and he appears to be less exhausted at the end of our rides.

He was very brave on our trail ride. He lives down a very quiet road in a rural place, which is ideal for getting him away from home. Cutty was excellent while I opened and closed the property gate from his back, and some of the leg yielding and neck reining came in handy. He handled a couple of cars, a person on a lawnmower, and several loose dogs with aplomb. He gave an above-ground swimming pool kind of a funny look, but without any silly behavior. What I was most pleased about was his attitude: he didn’t rush toward home or spend the ride calling to his pasture mate or the neighborhood horses. Cutty just went down the road like he’s done it a hundred times.

I’m happy with how he’s doing- I think his people will be very happy with their horse in a few weeks! 

Riding Playlist

Confession time: I have never ridden my horse while wearing a pair of headphones and listening to music.

I keep meaning to bring a pair out to the barn, but inevitably forget. Solution? I found a second pair, stuffed them in my barn tote, and am going to keep them there.

So here’s where I need some help from my fellow equestrians: What songs are you jamming to when you’re doing long trot sets or working on establishing a rhythmic canter? What helps you warm up? Cool down?

I’ve put together a tentative playlist, most of it borrowing heavily from my jogging playlist.

In case you can’t see the embedded playlist, here’s a text list:

  • “A Hard Lesson To Learn” by Shooter Jennings
  • “Jah No Partial” by Major Lazer (featuring Flux Pavilion)
  • “Celeste” by Ezra Vine
  • “F%#k You (I’m Famous)” by Shooter Jennings
  • “Oceans & Streams” by The Black Keys
  • “Tennessee Waltz” by Sam Cooke
  • “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
  • “Amidinine” by Bombino
  • “Oklahoma Hills” by Hank Thompson
  • “Core And Ride” by Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire
  • “Go To Sleep” by The Avett Brothers
  • “Heavy metal drummer” by Wilco
  • “Generals” by The Mynabirds
  • “What You Know” by T.I.
  • “Bring Em Home (Gold Jacket Remix)” by D.Veloped
  • “Money Maker” by Young Jeezy
  • “Easy” by Deer Tick
  • “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse
Most of the songs range from 90-150 beats per minute. I’m going to try the playlist out this afternoon- I’ll be sure to let you know how it works!

Fatty Lumpkin

Moe has always lived up to one OTTB stereotype: being a hard keeper. He was always difficult to keep weight on, especially in the winter months. In college, at the ripe old age of 12, Moe was eating senior feed, beet pulp, a weight gainer supplement, corn oil, and a variety of other things in an attempt to keep him fat and happy. He was also being ridden very regularly and somewhat strenuously. (Long trail rides, jump schools, racing through soybean fields with friends.) Moe was always the skinny horse in the barn; I posted my feed chart on the front of his stall and made sure I was always around at dinnertime, because people accused me of starving him. He was never dangerously thin- he just wasn’t as fat as the Quarter Horses that made up the majority of the other boarders. My friends and I joked that he was the Anorexic Thoroughbred.

Fast forward six or so years, and Moe has turned into a regular Chubasaurus Rex. The horse that caused me such worry and consternation is subsisting on good quality pasture and a handful of sweet feed twice a day.
He’s fatter now. For real.

Moe’s gone from Anorexic Thoroughbred to Inexplicably Overweight Thoroughbred. I don’t know if it’s all the donuts he ate while living at my dad’s farm, or a slowing metabolism as he ages, or what. 

My goal is take him to the hunter pace in November, so I climbed aboard last weekend and headed to the arena to do some work. I rode for about 25 minutes. We had a 10 minute walk warm up, then started trot sets. Two minutes of trotting, five minutes of walking. Rinse. Repeat. Moe was sweating and breathing heavily by the end of our ride, but his cheerful attitude was still intact. I cooled him out, rinsed him off, and turned him out. 
Work’s picking up again (our riders return next week), but I’m hoping to get out to ride Moe 3-4 times per week to get him back in shape. We’ll continue with the trot sets and progress to the canter when we’re ready. 
It’s nice to be back.

Moe Is Not A Morning Person

Like a truly dedicated professional, I wrenched myself from my cozy bed at 5:15 AM, slithered into my breeches, and headed out the door at 5:25 AM. I reached the barn by 6 AM, just when the sun was rising. I thoroughly confused poor old Minnie, who started frantically nickering in expectation of breakfast. My most favorite little chestnut Thoroughbred greeted me at the gate, surprised to see me so early. I think he was expecting an early breakfast. Instead, he was rudely caught, brushed, saddled, and unjustly taken out for a hack in the newly-mowed hay field.

My normally fearless, cheerful horse was very cranky. He chewed at his bit and danced sideways in frustration, spooking at the manure pile, singing birds, bushes, and who knows what else. Instead of spending the beautifully cool morning doing gallop sets, Moe and I spent it doing ten meter circles and the tiniest of serpentines. At a walk. For half an hour. In a giant hay field.

This is not why I got up at dark o’clock.

Two Point Challenge

Thanks to SprinklerBandit and her challenge to the horse bloggers of the world, I took the time to clock myself in two-point today. 

Four minutes. That’s all I could last. Yikes! I absolutely know my college coach would be deeply disappointed in me. I’m also fairly sure that all of my instructors from my Pony Club years would be disappointed, too. I’m not terribly disappointed in myself; I took nearly two years off (I don’t count polo- it was riding, for sure, but it wasn’t at all concerned with how I looked/how well I rode), and have focused on dressage with Gina for the last year or so. Sure, there’s been some attempts at jumping and plenty of galloping, but no training-for-an-event happening.
Gina was a total beast today. She trotted and cantered around like it wasn’t even a thing; she felt alert, confident, and happy. I think we’re going to have a great time at the hunter pace next Saturday.
In less stellar news, baby Cal is lame. His abscess returned, so he’s been poulticed, wrapped, and living in a stall/dry lot since last week. The vet was out yesterday to check him out; I haven’t talked to Kyla, so I don’t know what baby Cal’s status is. Fingers crossed he’ll be able to make it to the hunter pace; otherwise, Kyla’s on our friend Will’s Quarter Horse mare, Misty. While Misty is incredibly cute and very pleasant, she is not, um, on Cal’s speed/endurance level. 
In absolutely fantastic news, Levi and I are officially making the trip to pick up Moe NEXT WEEK! While I’m sort of bummed I won’t have time to visit with any friends (we are driving down, sleeping, and driving back), I am over the moon that my sweet boy and I will be reunited!! Yay!