Mia: Days 1-17
Time to start recording weekly updates (whenever I remember), so here's a catch-up of Mia's first 17 days with me (it’s random) with a few notes to get us rolling:
I've made it a rule that I won't even think about starting any lunge line (aside from basic manners) or under saddle work until the 30 day mark. At the time of my writing this, Mia isn't even 60 days out from her last race and who knows how long it's been since her last recorded work at the track. This first month is all about a) treating any existing ulcers/ulcer symptoms, b) getting weight on her skinny frame, c) establishing a routine of work that isn't physically demanding, and d) beginning to fill in the holes in her "life skills" resume. Some people believe in starting a horse's second career immediately after they arrive. I think that might work well for some horses but this little baby needs some time to just be a(n obedient) pet before she starts any real "work." She also needs to have her teeth done... and I need to buy a smaller bit since all of my 5” ones will likely be way too big for her. This is what we've been working on so far:
Groundwork: The vet who did her PPE made a joke that when she went to turn Mia to the right, she sort of froze before stumbling over herself. The vet laughed and explained that it wasn't a neurological issue but rather an issue of her just not having any idea what to do when she was asked. So, step 1 has been not only teaching Mia to yield to face, shoulder, chest, and side pressure, but also teaching her how to do all of those things from both the near AND the off-side. I've been channeling my inner 4-H'er and we've been going on walks around the property with my changing sides and are working on navigating a variety of obstacles in the same manner. I immediately stopped using a stud chain and have instead been working her in the Professionals Choice Clinician rope halter since the lead is soft and long and it doesn't have that horrific, painful snap under the chin and it puts pressure in all the right places on her tiny face. She's been very responsive to this work and her busy brain is kept occupied by my ever-changing position at her side. We've also been doing a lot of "drunk walking." Drunk walking is when I constantly change trajectory and pace while we do some of our in-hand work. Mia is highly distracted almost all the time (she is 3!) so by acting like a drunkard stumbling home from the bar, she's forced to be on alert for what changes I'm making and not on what's going on around her.
^ Bess demonstrating proper cross-tie behavior while Mia professes her love for her older sister.
Round Pen Work: I'm not going to publicly share any of the video I take during these sessions because, well, there are a lot of haters out there in the world and I'm not here for the negativity :) I've been working with Mia freely so we have good rapport and communication established before I hook a lunge line onto her. The main focuses have been on turning toward me when I release pressure and not away from me. Why the focus on toward and not away? There are a lot of reasons circulating on the interwebs but my reasons are twofold. First, I never, ever want her to think it's OK to show me her butt when I ask her to do something. I really like the shape and size of my teeth and skull. Second, having a horse turn to the outside (aka away) when they're on the lunge line is really scary because they can so easily create a wreck. So I decided to nip that habit in the bud right away. Fortunately for me, this kid is a genius and she picked up on this skill very quickly. Our new focus is on staying attentive to my body while she's working and on reducing the amount of time she spends hunting for faeries.
Resume Building: I ordered a breakaway halter but since it hasn't arrived yet, I've been slowly working with Mia on being comfortable in the cross-ties. She seems to straight-tie just fine (which isn't surprising since she's an OTTB), but she gets a bit wiggly in the cross-tie's free space. The first week, I simply groomed her free in that space and worked with her on standing still (even when her sensitive thoroughbred skin was being, gasp!, brushed). The second week, I started clipping the side opposite from the side I was grooming her on into one side of the cross-ties and held the lead rope on the side I was grooming her on. As she's grown more and more comfortable, she's started relaxing in that space and, dare I say it?, is starting to enjoy being groomed. She's definitely still acting "ulcery" and *hates hates hates* having her stomach groomed but she's getting better as the meds work their magic. I've also been treating the weird fungus she came with and she's decided that I'm not actually trying to murder her with the globby paste I apply almost daily. In addition, I've now rinsed her tail (which smelled like pee) and combed it out with show sheen. Guys, this TB has a TAIL and I will cry actual tears if she ever pulls it out. In addition, with the help of the wonderful (and fancy!) pony Dilly and his Mom. Mia got to go on her first "trail ride" this week. I walked her in-hand and Dilly and his Mom followed us under saddle. Aside from a one-buck explosion because Cinder went barreling off into the wilderness after a squirrel, and a spook at Dilly walking on noisy leaves behind her, it was a very uneventful outing. I feel pretty lucky to have a baby with a brain that's so curious without being explosive.