This blog will chronicle the life and training of Heavymetal Thunder (aka Saxon), a 2009 chestnut Standardbred gelding who didn't have the makings of a racehorse and so will be retrained as a show and pleasure horse. Stay tuned, as we're sure to have lots of great adventures together!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Writing a blog creates a unique opportunity to archive, plan, dream, and share.  Especially with a green horse, it can be useful for keeping track of your progress and achievements.  I would like to use this one to track his physical growth, too.  Saxon currently stands just a shade over 15.2hh at the withers and 15.3hh at the hip with a weight of around 925 pounds on my weight tape.  This may sound low for a horse of his stature, but he's in good body condition - he just lacks body fat because he's still racing fit.  The relatively sedentary life of a show/riding horse has replaced his days of jogging five miles a day interspersed with speed work, so Saxon will certainly be putting on some more pounds as he adapts to his new life and fills out with age.  When I first saw photos of him about a month ago, his topline looked very level, so at his age, it is quite likely that he's undergoing a growth spurt.

I am fortunate that I need only walk out my front door to see my horses.  This has meant that I have been able to ride and work with him every day since his arrival.  I have gotten in the routine of feeding him first thing in the morning while I clean his stall, then tacking him up for a short riding session.  At his stage of training, these rides are quite short, usually just 20 minutes or less.  He is learning so much so quickly, that I want to keep the rides short and positive without overwhelming him with a plethora of new commands.  After my first two rides on him, I thought he had the concept of moving forward off leg pressure down.  On my next ride, things were going well until he decided that he wanted to head into the side yard near the side pasture gate.  He would freeze or get stuck in reverse and I could only seem to turn him and get a step or two in a generally forwards direction.  I kept trying and we eventually managed to work our way back into the front area, though at times I was worried that he would back himself into things without realizing it.  The next day, I enlisted Justin's help.  That one section of the yard seemed to be his main sticky area for losing forward movement, so after he'd get stuck, I'd ask him to move forwards and Justin would help by leading us at first, and then simply walking beside him.  He's generally eager to walk, so I think what I assumed was him figuring out leg cues right off the bat was partially coincidence.  Thanks to Justin's help we have weaned ourselves off of leading assist when he gets stuck to truly independent riding and he is getting better and better with each ride.  It is similar for our trot work, too.  It took a lot of clucking, kissing, and gentle but insistent squeezing at first to get a short burst of trot (along with Justin jogging next to us a few times), but now it takes much less leg and voice cues.  We are able to walk and trot in any direction, over poles and between cones without any assistance after less than a week of riding experience.

I haven't found much that rattles him.  He's very inquisitive, so he often wants to stop and look at things, but he'll usually just stand there with pricked ears and a cocked hip and no signs of nervousness.  Case in point, the neighbor's German Shepherd puppy that bounds around their yard (including around their 10 foot tall lighted inflatable holiday Scooby Doo).  Saxon likes to slow down in that corner and have a look, but he's not speeding up, scooting away, or "pointing" at it (I've come to the conclusion that STBs don't generally spook and turn tail at scary things like other horses, they tend to scoot away while "pointing" at it with their head and neck to make sure that you see it, too.  "Look, look.  See that?  It's scary and I'm not going over there.").  Saxon, on the other hand, just doesn't want to miss anything that's going on. 

I was riding him by myself yesterday, when our heat pump (on the side of the house really close to where we ride) kicked into its defrost cycle which is extra loud and rattly.  It seemed like a good opportunity to gauge his reaction to it.  The heat pump is also near that little cross-country jump that startled him the first day he was here.  I decided to ride over to it and let him check it out.  Though we'd been doing much better about moving forward off leg, he got sticky near the jump as we approached the heat pump.  Since he was backing towards the jump, my landscaping, and generally places that I didn't want a horse's rump to crash into, I opted to dismount and lead him over to the heat pump.  He wasn't 100% sure about it, but he never tried to run backwards or swing himself around - it just took extra coaxing to inch him towards it a step at a time.  We got there, and he willingly sniffed it, licked it, and let the fan blow onto his forelock and wasn't concerned when it kicked from defrost back to the heat cycle.  Have I mentioned that I love this horse?

I was about to remount and resume our ride when  a stampede of thundering hooves and loud mooing ensued as about 30 cows and calves streamed into the front pasture at the farm across the street.  This was the first time that the cows had been visible since his arrival and they decided to make quite a spectacle of it.  Saxon proved that he has some reactivity as his head shot up, and I saw the whites of his eyes for probably the first time ever.   Well, I guess this is our opportunity to get used to cattle.

Cows are Legs' Achilles Heel.  She is nearly perfect in so many ways, but this is her "thing."  Though I distinctly remember her being pastured next to yearling calves when she was about 4 and I remember riding through cattle pastures at a careful distance when she was 6, sometime during the past 8 years she has decided that cows are ravenous, demonically possessed, horse-eating banshees and can't be convinced otherwise.  If there is a cow in the area, she will spot it, point, and scoot, even if it's nearly half a mile away.  Considering this, I certainly wanted to make Saxon's first encounter a positive one!

Still on foot, I led him towards the corner of the yard closest to the milling cattle.  Other than the trailer ride home, this was the first time I'd seen him get nervous.  He was prancing and dancing with his head up, and the nervous pooping started.  He whinnied at them, as if trying to respond to their mooing.  I got him close to the fence, but he didn't want to keep his feet still.  I led him back and forth along the fence until he had settled down enough to stand mostly still, and then I perched myself on the top rain and let him just watch the cows and calves.  One of the calves was headbutting the remnants of a round bale, rolling it across the pasture.   Another was trying to mount its mother, and yet another engaged in a game of tag, bucking and running with its playmate.  The remainder were milling noisily around the large metal creep feeder in their field.  Legs would have freaked as clearly this is a sure sign that they are becoming organized and weaponized!  Saxon saw the two playing calves and nickered to them.  He seemed to think that they were little horses and was wondering why they looked and talked so funny.  He was starting to settle down again, when the farmhand came rumbling into the field in a large tractor pulling the grain wagon.  Trailing behind was the farmer in his ATV.  For heaven's sake - this was quickly turning into quite the production.  So we continued to watch as the guys climbed onto the creep feeder, banged open the metal lid, and positioned the boom over it to fill it with grain, cows milling and mooing in the meantime.  Saxon seemed slightly on edge, but was content to stay near the corner where all the action was happening.  The farmers finished filling the creep feeder and drove off across the field.  I guess that was the cue to roll the credits, as the cows trailed off behind the tractor, leaving only a few cows and calves behind.  This had been a much longer workout than I had planned, but I didn't want him to equate getting nervous with getting out of work, so I got on him just long enough to reinforce the skills we'd been working on.  Though he had stood well for me to mount initially, I guess he was still a little up from the cattle stampede as he didn't want to stand still the second time.  Something to work on for later...
When I turned him out in his paddock afterwards, instead of putting his hay in the hay rack near the gate, I took it to the front corner, which offered the best view of the cattle pasture (and the road).  When I peeked out at him later in the day, he was dozing with his chin resting on the fence.  I guess he didn't want to miss a minute of his favorite new show - the Cow Show.  By the end of the day, any fear he'd had of the cows seemed to have turned to curiosity.  And the other plus was that he got plenty of desensitization to the passing cars in the process (not that he needed it - they didn't seem to bother him anyhow).

Today was farrier day and Saxon was perfect.  I held him in the aisle and rubbed his face (while he licked me) and he patiently stood as each foot was trimmed in turn.  I had his shoes pulled for winter (well, the remaining two - he'd already somehow managed to remove both left ones on his own) and will try to leave him barefoot (with regular trims) for a while, so long as his feet stay good.  They look like nice healthy feet with good hoof wall, so I'm not anticipating any problems.  Today's forecast was all day rain changing over to sleet, so we had to do our "ride" in the barn aisle.  Seems like an opportunity to work on standing still while mounting and dismounting to me.  Once he got the idea down, he was perfect.  I mounted and dismounted a couple times from the right, too.  It sure feels awkward to me, though he doesn't know the difference, and it's always a good idea to acclimate the horse to it in case you have to do so for some reason in the future.  We rode through the water noodles, and he was just as calm and willing about it as when we did it in hand.  We worked just a bit on yielding the forehand and hindquarters to leg pressure.  Have I mentioned that this horse is really smart and willing?  This was our first go at it, and he was already getting the gist of it.

No horse is perfect, for sure, but Saxon sure has a lot going for him as a riding horse and show prospect between his looks, movement, and amazing disposition.  I am thrilled at what we've done in a mere 6 days and can't wait to see what we will accomplish tomorrow!

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