Luke the Gift Horse - Retraining the OTTB
by Kelly Brainerd
I received the big four year old Thoroughbred gelding in May of 2013. As a two year old he was sent to race training only to discover his body hadn’t completed the necessary growing and wasn’t cleared for the job. His breeder had a special bond with him so instead of selling him she brought him home to live with her fifteen broodmares. He was known as 'the gelding'. He hadn’t had any hands on training in the two years of being on her farm. He’d never been saddle broke and barely walked on a lead. He arrived with a chain over his nose, a common handling procedure with the Thoroughbreds.
I would like to introduce my horse, the cool man 'Luke'. He came without a name. One conversation with a total stranger the day before about needing a horse is how Luke came to me. I knew nothing about the horse that arrived the next day only what I relayed before and his mother was named 'Hell, Fire & Brimstone', no sire was mentioned and I didn’t ask. I actually didn’t ask anything. My mother asked, "What color is he? “
"I don’t know," I replied.
" How big is he? “ she inquired.
I don’t know," is all I could muster up.
it did sound a bit crazy once she brought it up. Apparently I needed a horse really badly. I had spent one night in the pasture on the ground huddled up in four huge horse blankets with my mare Lucy, both of us with broken hearts as we were just ripped away from a herd of six with a ten year history together the day before. While I could control the hurt, Lucy could not. I watched my beautiful big red mare try to run off a broken heart and I wasn’t enough to comfort her. It took eight hours to make the decision and then talk myself into putting the word out, “I needed another horse." My father said, “You need another horse like you need a hole in your head”.
Luke's owner and I were casually talking and the conversation turned to my need for a horse. She said, “You need a horse? I have one for you." Just like that. She said it was a thank-you for the work I had done for her. The next day Luke arrived, ironically enough on the very same trailer the previous herd was hauled away on.
After a little handling outside the pasture I presented Luke to Lucy. All kinds of fun and interesting things happened in the next few hours. The most important things were Lucy put her broken heart aside for a few hours and played with Luke, and Luke got his name. He glided around with Lucy like the coolest man. He looks to be crazy but in all reality he’s so cool and gets cooler every day.
When Luke arrived I took the lead from the handler and was now in charge of my new horse. The minute the chain rattled he took thirty bolting steps backward. This was not good. He had been handled with a shank his whole life and from what I could see it didn’t bring any benefit to the situation. He had learned to avoid the chain by bolting backwards, it was a serious problem. I had my own lead in my hand and quickly snapped it on and took off the chain. I hadn’t handled a horse with a chain over their nose in many years and didn’t see any reason for this.
He also has a serious vice of biting. I learned he was fed carrots 24/7 so that explained the “shakedown” every time I entered the pasture. This was a huge animal with no manners. Our beginning time was spent free in the pasture getting to know one another and establishing some boundaries. Along with terrible manners I could see he was also a kind soul. He behaves like a very immature teenager. It was apparent to me that every time he bit he was slapped in the face. When I raised my hand near his face he shyed throwing his head far into the air and tried to bolt. These two obstacles were the first things I had to work on.
The avoidance of bolting and his biting habits have been challenging. While the bolting is completely over and the instruction of proper leading is in place I still haven’t been able to teach him nipping isn’t correct. While the bruises become less they obviously aren’t acceptable. We continue to work with that and as I write this in August 2014, his head is down and shying is a distant memory, the nipping hasn’t completely ceased, he does have his moments but with careful correct training as well as diligent work we’ve come a long way.
Stay tuned for more on Luke the gift horse. We’ve been in training with a local trainer Dan McCarthy for three months learning all we can to establish a great foundation for a bright future together. He is fast becoming an all around great pal. I mean horse.