Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thewifedoesntknow: Training Blog, Week 3

Part 4 in a weekly series of training blogs about Thewifedoesntknow, a Thoroughbred mare made famous by a viral Monmouth Park YouTube video and who is now in training to be a show hunter with New Jersey-based trainer Carole Davison.

When I walked into the barn at San Sue Acres in Howell, NJ, I was greeted by the familiar, friendly face of Thewifedoesntknow. After just three weeks of training, she had the appearance of a seasoned pro. While she was tacked up, she nonchalantly stood on the cross ties, with one hind foot cocked, as if she had lived at the barn all her life. Ally-Gator then went through a series of elaborate yawns and kept her ears perked toward me with casual curiosity.

My favorite part of trainer Carole Davison's tackup routine is just before bridling: after removing the halter, Carole gently cradles the mare's face, lightly massaging her delicate cheeks. With each training session, Ally is learning that this is a time to relax and to prepare for work.

When I looked at Carole's latest training notes, I saw a really nice balance between patience and ambition. She introduced Ally to new things when the mare showed her that she was ready.

On June 27, Ally was so balanced and confident that Carole took her over a little cross rail. The first time in, she was a little green in her approach, wiggling a little to the left and the right.  The second time, she was straighter, but tapped the rail with her feet on the way over.  The next time, she went straighter, and she jumped up bringing her body off the ground, rounding her back without lifting her shoulders or hips.  The final time, she relaxed and took the crossrail very quietly, her thick tail flipping up with her hind end, and she cantered softly away from the jump.

On July 4, they embarked on their first trail ride at the local reservoir, accompanied by Liz, Carole's daughter, and Suzie, Carole's Thoroughbred jumper mare. The mares took turns leading and encountered the many new sights and sounds, from dogs to bicycles to joggers.

For each of these exciting landmark rides, Carole puts in twice as many confidence-building rides. There are days when the mare needs consistent work, schooling with the leg and rein aids, and these rides make her light, forward, and ready for the next steps.

While Carole warmed Ally up for our photo session last Friday, I could already see positive changes in her demeanor since the last time I saw them work. She was more confident in her new job, and that confidence translated into a more relaxed, supple topline and a more steady rhythm in her gaits.
 Ally began her trot work eagerly and a little rushed. Rather than relying on rein aids alone, Carole slowed the tempo of her posting and the mare responded by relaxing into her trot. Like Tiffany Catledge's training sessions during the Retired Racehorse Training Project Trainer's Challenge, Carole worked diligently to ask her mare to loosen her topline and encouraged the mare to work long and low.
I saw glimmers of Ally learning to telescope her neck and engage her hind end.
 In addition to working on contact, Carole also introduced Ally to work on a loose rein. It was a good way to monitor the mare's self carriage and it encouraged her to learn how to travel with different amounts of rein contact.
 Sometimes, Ally rushed a little with her new-found freedom, and sometimes, she stretched into the bit, chewing thoughtfully.
Ally stepped into a nice canter from a trot, properly picking up both leads with the guidance of her trainer. She looked a little more balanced to the right.

 Carole cooled the mare out at a relaxed trot, working on some big circles and stretch work, and then they walked to finish up the ride.

 Farrier Craig Farrell shod Ally last Friday. With the first shoeing, he already began to bring her toes back and work on her heels. They took off her hind shoes; it looks like she will be able to stay barefoot behind for now. Carole said that she stocked up just a little bit in her hind legs, which is not uncommon for horses who are off the track and have had hind shoes for a while.
 Ally continues to gain weight and muscle. She was in very good condition when she retired from racing, with excellent muscle tone and good weight, but now the work will begin to build her topline and hind end. I can already see a little more rounding in the muscling in her hind end.

Please stay tuned each Wednesday for more updates and interviews from the connections of this promising mare.

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