Monday, January 26, 2015

Interview: Event/OTTB Trainer Laurie Canty

 Today I have an interview with Laurie Canty, an eventing trainer in Southern California with a passion for OTTBs. She also trains Sarah and Hemie, so I met her through them at a horse trial just before I started riding and again last April.  Laurie is really knowledgeable about horses–read this great interview.

How did you get started in eventing?
 When it was time for me to go to college, I had a choice of going to college or going to Ireland to a riding school and getting my teaching certificate. Their called the British Horsemaster's Assistant Instructorship. I chose to go to Ireland to get my teaching certificate when I was out of high school, so I had just turned 18. I went to a school in Ireland. That is where I learned about eventing. I went to a couple of events while I was there with my Irish friends, and I fell in love with it. I got my teaching certificate six months later, returned home, and wanting to be able to do eventing. My first job that I got was with eventing trainer Cory Walkey. She owned one of the first la large barns in Southern California that taught eventing. It happened sort of by chance. I had never heard of eventing before going to Ireland, and that's how I fell in love with it.
Laurie's first event horse. She had since he was born and evented to Preliminary.

What caused you to become interested in OTTBs?
  When I was growing up, at about age six or seven, my father had a racing stable in Chino, California. He bred and raised racehorses. At the time, in the '40s and '50s, he raced Mexico. My father took me to the racetrack whenever he had a horse running. I was his partner in crime, so to speak. I got my first off-the-track racehorse when I was about 15 or 16. It was one of my father's horses, who couldn't run, that he brought back to me in order to ride. I can only say, he's lucky I didn't die. I was young, and had never ridden anything off the racetrack--I didn't have a clue. That was when I first got interested. My father was my very first connection to off-the-track racehorses, so before I even reached 17, I had another one that he got that had only raced a few times, and my next one he got for me from auction as a three year old for $500, and after that I went to Ireland. I had three off-the-track racehorses, and my father had the racehorse barn, so that's how became interested in OTTBs.

 What do like most about OTTBs?
 It's heart, mostly, and I think knowledge that the two foundation sires for the Thoroughbred were three Arabians. I have great respect for what Arabians can do, particularly the ones that are in the Thoroughbred. They have great heart and endurance, with ability to withstand high temperatures when you're riding. Warmbloods cannot handle heat as well as Thoroughbreds. I'd say I love their hearts, their stamina, and their desire to work with you.

What are some challenges training and competing OTTBs?
  The first year is the biggest challenge, because the first thing they ever did in their life was learn to be a racehorse. I've seen too many people be annoyed with what the thought was the right thing to do. They take hold of the bit and try to train then in ways that are confusing to the horse, rather than letting them maybe have six months in the pasture for on the trail, or something that allows the horse understand it has a new job. Especially for eventing, you never want to take that competitive spirit away.
 Could you tell me about your favorite OTTB you have ridden?
  My favorite was probably Attitude Approved. He was just incredibly intelligent and really a first class horse. He did go on later with Jil Walton to be a Four Star horse at Rolex Kentucky under the name Truly Triton.
Attitude Approved at a Novice at Pebble Beach.

 Could you tell me about an OTTB you are currently training?
 One of the horses we got from the HBO show called Luck. He's unusually because he does not have to wear shoes--he has very strong feet. He also did many miles of racing and has a completely sound body. He's one of the lovely horse's that you can get from the track that can be very useful for a long time.He has the natural ability to want to jump, and like a lot racehorses or Thoroughbreds, he finds the flatwork a little frustrating. That's only because they tendency to be horses that want to have a job. They want to working at all times, and sometimes dressage can just be dull, and they become off balance. tHis is what happens to the horse I'm training. Fortunately, we're able to put work into and he's become much better. I can also say that this horse is a perfect example that less is more. When something is hard, he doesn't want to pay attention. Because of this, we have rot take more time with than the average horse.

 I have a Thoroughbred I can probably get to Training Level in six months. Unfortunately he has a racing injury, so I can't do that, but he has the mentality to do it. With horses, you have to make sure the journey is just as much fun as the destination, and as we all know, with horse's there's no such thing as destination.
 Laurie has eventing at Pebble Beach Preliminary.

What do you look for in an OTTB event prospect?
 I look for a horse that has walk with a lot of overstep. There are a lot of lovely horses without a lot of overstep, but that is something I personally look for. As far as conformation goes, I like a shorter back. I'm not terribly picky about the trots that the event people sometimes die for that look like a warmblood trot. I would prefer to have an excellent canter because that's how we jump. The trot can either be average or a 7, because a 7 you can turn into an 8 with training. You can never fix a bad canter. I like a horse that is uphill, of course. That does not mean I would not take a horse that isn't uphill because sometimes with an excellent hind end and a short back, a horse that doesn't have a neck sticking up out of it's shoulders is still easy to get balanced. Of course I want a horse with an intelligent eye. I don't like a horse that stall walks or has some kind of a nervous disorder.

 They need to not be hot right off the bat. I don't mind a little bit of excitement, but you are going to exert them under a lot stress. I don't like a horse with some sort of stress issues, like herd bound problems. I like a horse that when I get on and canter it, it doesn't have a problem in canter. That usually happens if you get the conformation you want. It should have a very balanced canter and you don't have to teach it to go slow.
Shaula, mare Laurie rescued and evented to Preliminary, and later jumpers.
In this picture, they are at Foxfield Jumping Derby in 1982.

What advice do you have for a young rider who aspires to compete in the upper levels of eventing?
Try to find a job when you are a working student. You have to really careful of people taking advantage of you if you do that. The working student situation is something people are less likely to want to do these days. They may want more than knowledge. They don't understand that knowledge is power and that if you work at this barn and have that understanding, then the trainer will do everything they can to teach you. Find a trainer that's passionate. The most important thing is that you are learning, no matter how unfair it is. Be a sponge. Never question, keep your lips sealed, and listen.

 Anything else? 
 The sooner you can start reading books, especially on safety–there's a lot of Pony Club books–the better. Make yourself knowledgeable. Safety is most important, because I've seen people who should know better but don't.


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