Friday, May 2, 2008

Yes, they do canter!

Happy Friday, everyone! I want to devote today's blog to Standardbreds.

Rarely have I encountered a breed about which more misinformation exists. They are treated by many horsepeople as this odd, exotic breed that exists for only one purpose and cannot possibly be considered for other uses once that purpose has ended. I admit that before a few years ago, I had never ridden or worked with one.

(Which begs the question...where ARE they? The harness racing industry is pumping out plenty of them. Are a greater percentage of them going to slaughter than OTTB's?)

Anyway, in recent years I have worked with a couple of them and all I can say is that I'm impressed. They seem to be typically sensible, friendly, easy to train and full of personality. They also have legs of steel which doesn't really surprise me - have you ever walked on a harness racing track? OMG. Freakin' concrete. I would never work a horse on that surface and neither would most of you. If they can stay sound for that, they aren't going to break down packing you around a soft arena or the trails.

It's true that a harness horse is going to come trained to hold to the trot or pace no matter the speed - but you will see that they easily canter when loose in the pasture. Training them to canter under saddle is no more difficult than training an OTTB that he can canter on the right lead, and not at Mach 10, and hold up his shoulder around the corners and not lay into them like a barrel horse heading for home. If you can retrain an OTTB, you can probably retrain an OTSB - and most likely with less fireworks.

Last year, a friend and I were at the infamous Woodburn Auction, south of Portland, Oregon. You know an auction has KB's and lots of dumped, low end horses at it when there are signs posted everywhere stating that you MAY NOT take photographs. She had decided that she just might rescue something, and since I was with her, it was pretty much a given that something was coming home with us! We were wandering through when pinfiring caught my eye. Now, you know, most person see pinfiring and go EEK. Not me. I see pinfiring and go YAY, IT'S BROKE.

(Hey, these kind of never know!)

The pinfiring was decorating an impressive three out of four legs of a dark bay/brown gelding. He stood with his head in the corner, totally checked out. I could not get him to turn around so I walked outside so I could get to his face, and stood out in the dark having a chat with him. He wasn't responsive but he wasn't snarly or unpleasant. He had just checked out, apparently resigned to his fate. I always think they know.

There was no owner around and the information left on him stated that he was a "spanish driving horse." Um, okay. We had a laugh over that, but we decided this was probably The One and settled down to wait. He was a lead-through so our only competition was the KB. We took him home for $230. He quietly loaded in the parking lot despite a freaked out Saddlebred mare with foal at side nearly running him over. (Yes, she was rescued too - a dump from some asshat ASB breeder in the area. People are great, I love watching a panicked mare scrambling around a concrete parking lot with an equally panicked foal at side.)

"Biff" as he was soon named, turned out to be totally sensible under saddle. He had a few ground manners issues that were quickly fixed which leads us to believe he was owned by novices who let him walk all over them. He was sound, healthy and sane. These days he is on lease to a family that trail rides him and absolutely loves him. This is a super nice horse who almost slipped through the cracks and the main reason I think this happened is his breed. It just never seems to occur to people that you can smack your western saddle on a standardbred, ride them down the trail, and odds are they'll be wonderful. Since I started this blog, I have heard from numerous people who are eventing, fox hunting and trail riding their standardbreds - and LOVE them.

So if you are looking for a new rescue, and don't want a hot personality to deal with, why not consider one of these guys? They really need a chance for a post-racing career and how scary can a horse be that will only run off with you at a trot? :-)

The Standardbred Retirement Foundation - They are kind of an unusual rescue in that they have a LOT of horses available with show experience! If you are looking for a rescue that isn't a huge project, you have to check them out. This is Jules, just one of their available horses.

Video of standardbreds at the Equine Affaire showing their various uses.

Video showing a very nice Standardbred for sale - after 90 days of training, he is jumping around at 2' and looks like a great ride! He's in SoCal for those of you shopping.

Looks like we're going to have a nice weekend here - hoping the same for all of you! Now get off the couch and go work with your horses! :-)