Fat Quarter Horse returns

Y’all remember the cute Quarter Horse I was riding over the summer, Cutty?

His owner contacted me last week to ask if I’d come back out and a put a few rides on him as well as give his youthful rider some more lessons. I am delighted to do so; Cutty is a super cute, super lazy horse whose laid back personality makes him a pretty low-stress ride. It sounds like he’s been being naughty and bucking with his rider, so I’ll be putting him back to work and giving him something to think about other than rodeo horse aspirations. 
Cutty’s owner is a super fun lady too, so I’m really excited to get to hang out with her again! Hooray for horse friends!

Playing western

Cutty’s owners have three goats. Two are tiny little female fainting goats. One is a buck; I couldn’t tell you what breed he is, but he has long, straight, smooth hair and regularly pees in his own mouth. Goats are so gross.

The goats are kept as pets for no real reason other than Cutty’s owner’s husband likes roping them and occasionally shooting them with a BB gun when they start trying to climb the fence. I was told I was free to let them out of their small pasture into the horses’ large pasture when I while I was riding. The goats seem to enjoy grazing, and it never hurts to have a horse desensitized to bleating, smelly animals who urinate in their own mouths.

When I went out to ride Cutty yesterday, I decided I’d get him used to a rope swinging around his body and head, as his owner’s son might want to rope off his some day. I don’t know the first thing about roping, but after years desensitizing horses to all kinds of weird stuff at the therapeutic riding center, I felt pretty confident I could get him used to it.

He was totally unfazed by the rope swinging all over the place and hitting him, so on a whim I decided to let the goats out, tack Cutty up western, and attempt to rope one of them. Since my chances of actually snaring one of them was extremely slim, I figured we’d have some fun chasing them around. Cutty seems bored beyond belief with arena figures and dressage work and a bored horse isn’t a happy horse!

I borrowed a western saddle belonging to his owners and climbed aboard. I had some trouble managing the reins and extra rope in the same hand, but eventually figured it out. I kept the rope swinging above Cutty’s head as we proceeded around the pasture at a walk.
Imagine, if you will, a somewhat overweight girl riding the world’s pokiest horse while wearing gray houndstooth riding breeches, tall boots, and a helmet, swinging a lariat above her head. (Hey, I would’ve worn jeans with cowboy boots had I planned this in advance.)
I think the neighbor checking his fences deliberately did so slowly so he could alternate between gaping in disbelief and snickering.
Anyway, after we warmed up and I reminded Cutty that he does, in fact, know how to neck rein, it was goat time. The goats had wandered to the far end of the pasture, so I sent Cutty trotting toward them. He pricked his ears and eagerly picked up his pace. The goats suspected nothing. Cutty started to canter. I made a feeble attempt to throw the rope at the buck, who bleated with surprise (and probably peed) and took off. The does were right behind him. Cutty was hot on their heels and sprinted after them in the direction of the horses’ run-in shed. The goats ducked in before I could attempt another throw; Cutty stopped, walked under the shed, and sniffed the buck. I steered him out, leaving the goats to eventually wander back out to the field while Cutty and I worked on turns on the forehand and leg yielding.
Once the goats had forgotten the previous attempt to catch them, I turned Cutty toward them and let the reins loose. He happily lumbered toward them at a brisk canter, ears forward. The chase was on again- the buck was already headed toward the shed, but Cutty was faster. I attempted to turn him in front of the buck to cut him off, but Cutty just kept plowing forward. The goats were safe again! 
When the goats emerged from the shed, I attempted to have Cutty cut one from the group- he was totally uninterested and only wanted to chase them again. The goats were wise to our game at this point and squeezed back into their pasture through a narrow gap in their gate. They hid there until I dismounted about 20 minutes later.
It was so fun to let Cutty make some decisions about what to do with himself! He seemed to have a blast and was definitely moving faster and with more purpose when he was running down the goats. He’s got tomorrow off to recoup, and we’ll see if he’s still excited when I put my jumping saddle back on him Friday.

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).

However.

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!