Our next featured pair for the Stories from off the Track is Wiz, from AlchemyEventing. Although he never raced, he is from racing bloodlines so I decided to feature him. Here's their story!
Between undergrad and law school, I worked for a year for a lawyer who had a small farm and breeding operation. She specialized in rehabbing off-the-track-thoroughbreds, repurposing them as riding horses or infusing their bloodlines into her homebred stock. I spent the majority of my year working with her learning about barn management, injury care, breeding, and most importantly, how to properly introduce a young horse to his new career. (I really hate the word “break” as it denotes some kind of violence- the way I was taught to “break” green horses never ended in violence. Everything we did was very methodical and slow- first teaching them all the basic commands on the lunge, then introducing a surcingle, then a weighted surcingle, and then a pessoa system to help them learn to give to bit pressure before ever placing a human on their back. By the time a human did lean on them, they already had six months to a year of ground work under their belts- and none of them protested at all when someone finally did climb up into the tack. So, in my opinion, “break” is a very deceiving and ill-considered word!)
During this year, there were several two year-old horses that I worked with consistently. One of them was Wizard. He was definitely the smallest and most awkward baby on the farm. He was beat up by the herd and had to be brought in to stall care because of it. He also had this annoying habit of laying down on you when you tried to pick his feet, and stopping in the middle of the gate and REFUSING to move when you were trying to take him in or out of a field. Once up at the barn, he discovered he could pull himself under the electric tape wires (which were usually turned off), run around the farm, and then put himself back into his field! He also broke out of his stall a few times and managed to destroy everything in the barn aisle… In all honestly, he really quite frustrated me. But the more I worked with him, the more I started to see the potential in him. He had a puppy-dog personality, always seeking attention and positive praise, and was incredibly smart. Sometimes too smart…
|The blogger at AlchemyEventing riding Wiz for the first time|
At that time, I began the process of introducing him to work under saddle, and we slowly started to make progress. We went to a few small schooling shows that fall and I planned to debut him at his first event in April of 2013. One thing I love about him is that when he gets to a show, he eats up the atmosphere. Even though we didn’t have a great dressage score, and had a stop in both stadium and cross-country, he tried so hard to please me that first event, and handled it so well, that we moved up to Novice at our next event just two months later. And again, he was such a star that only an unfortunate rail kept us from third place after a solid dressage test and clear cross-county run.
But I knew at that time that something was off. He had been incredibly skinny during the spring of 2013, despite my best efforts to put weight on him. However, everyone just thought it was because he was a young, growing thoroughbred, and felt he would fatten up in the summer. And while he did fatten up some, I still kept alert as he continued to show signs of discomfort in his back (which we thought was a saddle fit problem), lost his general exuberance, had extensive rain rot and poor coat condition, and did not gain the normal summer weight I remembered him having at his previous home.
In late July, he noticed him starting to take the slightest off-step in his back right hind and I had him tested for EPM, as my trainer’s advance horse had just tested positive for it with similar symptoms. Unfortunately, the test came back 95% positive. However, I was fortunate that my vet would let me try a new drug called Orogin. Because it’s still undergoing testing and not yet FDA approved, the drug only cost $150, versus the $1000 or more that the other treatments cost. It was also only a 10 day treatment, versus the other treatments which can be anywhere from three months to a year. And luckily, it worked—and fantastically! Within five days, he had started to regain his weight, became increasingly shinier, eased his back pain, and regained his step. But with all of that good health came a whole new set of problems—gone was my super well-behaved baby thoroughbred. Here now was my just-turned five year-old thoroughbred who had an opinion about everything and was not afraid to express it!
While I am glad we discovered the issue and found a way to cure it, once his health returned so did his piss and vinegar and I really had to learn to start riding! Wizard is a very opinionated horse, and is not afraid to express his distaste or exuberance for something. If we’re drilling a dressage move he’s not such a fan of, he’ll start finding things to “spook” at or give out a few bucks. If he’s feeling extra good, he’ll fling himself over the fences, jumping them like they are four foot instead of three, and giving a joyful buck after. (I’m not such a fan of that habit of his…). He is always getting into everything, picking up whatever he can fit into his mouth. He has successfully unseated me in front of both big-name clinicians we’ve ridden with so far—the first time because he couldn’t contain his excitement over some ponies in the arena (aka, mythical creatures that he had never seen before and had NO idea what they were) and the second time because he is not a fan of picking up the canter correctly (it’s hard work!).
But despite his idiosyncrasies, he is truly an amazing horse. He will give you 110% every time when it counts. When he steps off a trailer at an event, his entire attitude changes. He loves to perform and show-off, and has saved my butt on multiple occasions in the show ring. He is also incredibly intelligent, and while sometimes this can make him a difficult horse to ride, it can also be useful when trying to learn a new, difficult maneuver or introducing him to new jump questions. His dressage is constantly improving, and while it’s definitely not his favorite, he’ll put his mind to it and aims to please, always picking up new things incredibly quickly. And his jumping ability is incredible- he can just spring over anything with such ease. I am so thankful to him for the confidence he’s instilled in me—before Wizard, I was terrified to jump even two feet. Now, I regularly jump 3’3” without blinking an eye, and have jumped him 3’6”. And cross-country? It’s a blast. I’ve never ridden a horse that looks for the next jump as much as Wizard does. As soon as he sees it, he “locks on” and you can feel his whole body change—his ears pricked forward as he attacks the fence.
As far as the future, I am taking it slow. I have now owned him for two years, and he will be six in July. We’ve completed one Beginner Novice event and four Novice events. I am already so grateful for how much he has taught me, and all of the confidence he’s instilled in me—but I know it’s only the beginning for him. I really feel as his dressage continues to improve and I learn how to give him the ride he needs in stadium and cross-county, his talent will shine and he will be a very successful eventer. I do hope to do prelim with him eventually, which I think he is very capable of doing. But who knows… perhaps we’ll even make it to Rolex one day. If he has the scope for it, I definitely think he has the brains and the heart for it. But really, it’s up to him. I’m just along for the ride!
Thanks for participating! Do you want your OTTB to be featured? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.