Much to my delight, the Retired Racehorse Training Project's Trainer Challenge has developed quite a rabid following. It seems like every time I visit a barn, one of my friends asks if I have seen Eric's latest video (which is FANTASTIC), or Kerry's newest blog post (which is so much fun!). Links are being shared all over forums, Facebook, and through emails. We all have our favorite horses and our favorite trainers. We all beam with pride when the horses learn something new, and we all study the trainers' methods.
This week, I had the pleasure of catching up with trainer Tiffany Catledge and her two trainees, Solidify and High Level, at her barn in Middleburg, VA. Tuesday was the first time that I saw the horses since the beginning of the Challenge in January (you can read my accounts of Day One and Day Two, and my wrapup of the training progress so far). Solidify, the tall bay from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, has blossomed in Tiffany's care. He has gained weight and muscle from the training, and the farrier did a fantastic job with his newest set of shoes.
Here's Solidify at the MD Horse World Expo on January 20:
And here he is on Tuesday after a month of work:
His topline, neck, and hind end all show great improvement. How does Tiffany build this muscle? Through a carefully-planned regimen of under-saddle work, with a focus on developing strength, suppleness, and a happy, forward attitude. She is careful to keep the training regimen varied, both to keep the horse mentally stimulated and to keep the horse from feeling overfaced. Her rotation consists of one day of dressage work, one day of stretchy work, one day of poles/jumps, one hack day, a day off as needed, and some "field trips" off the farm property.
While Tiffany rode Solidify in the outdoor arena, I noted the different ways that she used to guide and reward him. He was perfectly in tune to her voice, hand, seat, and leg aids. He has quite the work ethic- as soon as they were in the arena, he had his game face on. I saw a marked improvement in the rhythm of Solidify's gaits. He was more free in his shoulder at all three gaits, and he was learning how to engage his hind end.
The Pennsylvania Horse World Expo is this weekend, and Tiffany is schooling Solidify's mind is as well as his body. Nothing spooked him during her session, and he remained very focused on Tiffany throughout the ride. This weekend, in a strange arena full of spectators, he will need to focus on Tiffany in order to do his job and maintain his confidence.
One of my favorite things about visiting Tiffany was seeing her beam with pride at the horses' progress. We discussed how much both horses improved, and some of the video highlights that she has on her trainer blog.
Not only has Tiffany worked diligently on the horses' under-saddle skills, but she has also worked on their barn manners. Both Solidify and High Level were perfect gentlemen around the barn.
Adaptability is one of the key attributes of a good trainer. Overnight, High Level had bonked the side of his muzzle, and as a result, he was tender on his cheek where the bit rests. No worries, Tiffany went into her tack room and produced a hackamore. Her confidence radiated to her horse, and High Level worked hard to learn about his new tack. I could see his mental wheels turning as he figured out that he could stretch into the contact just like he could with a bit in his mouth.
At the Maryland Horse World Expo, High Level had the misfortune of getting a sole bruise. While his hoof healed, he was out of training, and missed out on a few weeks. Tiffany had to play catch-up with him, and the game Thoroughbred that he is, he is doing his best. His latest jumping video shows his excellent attitude and style.
Both Solidify and High Level are tremendously athletic horses. In Solidify, I see the potential for collection and lift, both in dressage work and over fences- his canter is lofty and round. In High Level, I see a forward personality with good natural tempo. He was able to keep his trot rhythm as they worked on bending and changed directions. If he was confused, he did not rush or balk, he kept going as he figured it out.
Since High Level was not ridden at the Maryland Horse World Expo, this was the first time I saw his lovely, sweepy canter in person. His athleticism allows him to progress through the training steps with confidence.
Unfortunately, I don't have a conformation photo of High Level from the Expo, but I can see excellent muscle development on him. He looks strong and balanced. Like Solidify, this horse has a very bright future as an athlete.
One of the goals of the Trainer Challenge is to show owners of racehorses the progress that a horse can make with a month of quality training, and how the value as a sporthorse can increase well above the horse's claiming tag. I hope that hunter/jumper/dressage/eventing trainers take note as well, and use the work of Tiffany, Kerry, and Eric as an inspiration for their own projects.
Thank you, Tiffany, for letting me visit and watch your training sessions, and best of luck to all the horses and trainers this weekend. I know it will be a great success.
I don't envy the task that the judges of the Trainer Challenge face this upcoming weekend. Every time I watch a training video, I have a new favorite horse. Be sure to tune in on the RRTP's website this Saturday, where they will be streaming the PA Horse Expo events live. Keep track of up-to-the-minute news on their Facebook page. All of the horses participating in the Trainer Challenge are available for sale or adoption, so be sure to contact the RRTP if you are interested in taking the next step with one of these promising athletes.