The Varied Personalities Of Our Young Horses

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We currently have four young horses in training here at Phoenix Farm, and they're such different types of horses?both physically and mentally?that I've been pondering how fascinating and how much fun it is to work with them. So I thought? I'd tell you about them and my observations about working with them. I'll start with Amani, our homebred 4-year-old filly, whom I've written about before. Amani is by the Irish-bred stallion Formula One and out of a Thoroughbred mare, and it's been a learning experience watching her grow and mature. She stands about 15.3 hands and is fairly lightly built, but with good bone in her legs, three of which have high white socks. SHe's only gone through a couple of briefly ugly growth sports?sHe's pretty much always been beautiful. And she knows it. Amani was quite the princess about anything new when she was younger, and she still has a ?personal space bubble? that her quick heels won?t allow other horses to violate without invitation. So we were anxious that she?d be very difficult to start under saddle, but sHe's never been tough at all. In fact, the more I've done with her, the more her work ethic has improved and the more eager sHe's become to learn even more. I've said many times that I think she likes being a ?working girl.? The big challenge to training her, especially over fences, is that sHe's a careful horse. SHe's not particularly spooky and is certainly brave across the countryside, but she wants to know where the body beautiful is going at all times. Her carefulness is reminding us of our great horse Merlin, and my plan is to bring her along much the same way I did with Merlin?by exposing her to all kinds of different things and developing confidence in her own abilities and her trust in me and my aids. I have to be sure she understands that when I say go, especially to a jump, that she knows what to do and that she'll be fine, because I say so. One of Amani?s pasture mates is Smiles, an absolutely adorable, 6-year-old cow-bred Quarter Horse mare who stands only about 14 hands tall. She came to us just before Thanksgiving as an unstarted 5-year-old, and sHe's been one of the most trainable horses I've ever sat on. After barely two months of work, I took her to a schooling event in January and did two nice dressage tests with her. She went in the dressage ring without a single spook and went just as well as she does at home. I came out of the ring and said to Heather, ?Well, she just did every single thing she knows how to do!? I even did a mini cross-country school with her, going through the water jump, up and down a little bank, and even over a little ditch. I wasn?t too surprised how willing she was, because she seems to have been born going across the countryside and is completely at ease outside the ring. Since then Smiles has built more muscle and is going in a beautiful, round frame. And she loves to jump, so much so that her size and frame don't seem to limit her much. SHe's going to two more competitions next month, one with her owner/breeder and one with me. I did a fabulous jump school with Smiles, with her owner watching, on Monday, and I know we're going to have a lot of fun. While Smiles was actually bred to work cows, Driver is 4, and his owner bred him to be her dressage horses. He's a handsome but somewhat lightly built warmblood, standing about 16.2, and I think he was born on the bit. He came to us last June to be started under saddle, and we're glad his owner has decided to keep him here. He couldn?t have been more straightforward to start under saddle, and I honestly can't remember a difficult moment with him. He's been a joy to work with. We've even jumped him a couple of times, and he took to that right away too. Unlike the Amani and Driver but likes Smiles, Otter is no longer doing what he was bred to do. He's a Thoroughbred gelding, 5, who raced poorly fewer than half a dozen times and then stood around for some months before his current owner found him. She brought him here in February, with little muscle and no idea of how to do anything but gallop around a track. Otter is supposed to be a do-anything horse for his amateur owner, so my emphasis thus far has been to teach him that he can do other things with his body and brain. Like most ex-racehorses, he relaxes when he canters, but it's not really a long-term solution to just get on him and canter. So we do a lot of walking and trotting, with transitions and figures, and He's starting to catch on that tHere's more to life. I'm looking forward to starting him over fences in another few weeks. Trotting over poles is something he seems to enjoy. I'm afraid I'm not going to end this blog with some deep training thoughts, only with the insight that it's fascinating to work with these four youngsters, to see how each has certain strengths and challenges, likes and dislikes?and that because of that I can't just do the same thing with each of them. they're fun