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! 

Riding all the ponies

Yesterday I accompanied my friend Holly to her weekly riding lesson with our mutual friend, Richal. Richal’s a dressage queen with an acerbic sense of humor and a legion of minions. It’s always funny to see a group of small children struggling to rake the barn aisles or fill water buckets. Plus, Richal wanted me to ride one of the many OTTBs she’s acquired in recent months. I couldn’t resist.

Unfortunately, the horse I was slated to ride, Ben, had pulled two shoes. So I was offered Freddie, a little 5 year old bay mare who’s been off the track for two months.

Freddie (Jockey Club name Expect Freedom) was a total doll- easy to ride, eager to learn, and only tried to snatch the bit in her teeth and run off once. I’m always impressed with how well even recently off the track TBs handle things- at one point, there were 4 other horses zipping around the arena, a section of electric fencing flapping in the wind, and 3 dogs underfoot. Freddie was unfazed. 

I’ve also been recruited to ride another lazy, out-of-shape Quarter Horse. Meet Cutty!

Cutty belongs to one of Johnny’s coworkers. Said coworker has a teenage son who’s been working on a ranch for the last couple of summers and wants to start riding more at home. Johnny was asked if I’d be interested in getting the horse fit and teaching him to neck rein. I talked with the coworker’s wife, who’s the most experienced equestrian of the family, and explained that while I am no western trainer, I could definitely get Cutty fit, probably teach him to neck rein, and desensitize him to just about anything. That sounded fine to her, so I’m hired! I’ll be riding him 5 times a week for about a month. 
Cutty is a 7 year old Quarter Horse gelding from Germany of all places. His former owners moved to the States a couple of years ago and brought their horses with them. Johnny’s coworker has had the horse for about 4 months and Cutty’s mostly been hanging out with the family’s retired 24 year old Appendix gelding. And eating. That horse loves to eat. 
He’s very willing to learn and eager to please; he seems reasonably intelligent and is already starting to get the hang of neck reining and leg yielding. He is very out of shape, though, and gets winded easily. So we’re doing lots and lots of walking. (Which, of course, is a great gait to work on neck reining and leg yielding!)
I haven’t neglected my two beasties, though. Gina’s fat leg got hosed yesterday, and I rode Moe. Moe felt slow and cranky- not tired, but straight up cranky. That’s very unusual for him, so I just walked him in the pasture on a loose rein for half an hour and called it a day. Here’s hoping fat leg disappears and Moe’s in a better mood this weekend!

My new Quarter Horse friends

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered a boarder at the barn I’d never met before. She greeted me with, “Hey, aren’t you the trainer?” I looked around to make sure she was talking to me and said something full of professional confidence: “Um…I teach riding lessons to one girl?” 

Apparently, she was undeterred by my confusion; she told me she was a nurse and didn’t have much time to ride her three Quarter Horses she boards at the barn. The barn manager had told her I was a horse trainer (should I get some business cards for that?) and recommended she talk to me about legging up her horses. 
And that’s how I ended up with three western pleasure horses to exercise.
Cutter
Dolly
Chip

Meet Cutter, Dolly, and Chip! All three are registered American Quarter Horses; Chip and Dolly are half-siblings by the same sire. Chip and Dolly are of Zips Chocolate Chip breeding and have won several titles on the AQHA circuit. (I’d provide more detail if I could, but I have very little knowledge of how the breed circuit works.) Cutter is somewhat less accomplished, but is just as smooth moving and well trained as the other two.

Their owner simply wants me to get them in shape and keep them there, and remind them of their manners. All three are very easygoing and very slow. Like, I thought I’d ridden some jogs and some lopes on horses at the therapeutic center; I was wrong. I’m certain that Gina walks faster than Chip jogs. 
It’s a nice change to ride something different than what I’m used to, and of course, it’s nice to have more ponies to work on!