I still can’t believe how easy my first ride on Monarch was. I had read lots of other folks’ Thoroughbred Success Stories on the Bits & Bytes Farm Web site, as well as the article “Riding your OTTB for the first time.” I took special note of the line that said, “This is not your horse’s first ride, and it won’t be a rodeo,” but I think I still expected it to be at least a bit challenging. After all, the last time I was on a horse was more than two years ago, so I’m not exactly an expert rider these days!
Plus – and I almost hate to add this, because in retrospect it seems so silly – Monarch’s racing history gave me some reason to doubt my first ride would be a smooth one. After all, he had raced twice in his short career, and he’d lost his jockey BOTH TIMES! Now, from what I have heard (and even seen for myself, in his one race video), it wasn’t really his fault either time. The first time, in his very first race ever, as soon as he left the gate, his jockey reached around to whip him on the left side, and Monarch made a quick right turn and – splat! One jockey down.
In his second race, it was the lights that caused the problem. He had never raced at night, and he was obviously confused by the lights (not to mention all those other horses he was running with!). This time out, he did finish the race, but right at the finish line he saw the lights and did a thing they call a “stop and prop” in horse-racing circles: He stopped short and planted his feet. Then he took a quick leap to the left, and of course the jockey succumbed to the laws of physics: A body in motion remains in motion. (Without his horse, but in motion.)
A side note: This particular race video has become quite a favourite of the Bits & Bytes Farm crowd. Not that we have no sympathy for Monarch’s poor jockey – it’s just that the video makes it SO CLEAR that Monarch was not ready to be a race horse. From the second he leaves the gate, he’s confused. He moves left, and almost hits a horse. So he moves right, and lo! There’s a horse there, too! So then you can almost see the wheels turn in his Thoroughbred head, and he seems to say, “You other horses just go on ahead. I’ll catch up with you later.” At that very early point in the race, Monarch hangs back and just gallops along behind the rest of the pack. He was so obviously not ready to be a race horse!
Elizabeth’s Note: Be sure to watch the end of the video! Watch a head on view at: www.calracing.com/replays.php You will need to register – its free! Sign in and go to Race Replays and choose the race by the horse’s name: Monarch’s Reign. There are two views of the race – regular view and head on. Be sure to see Monarch’s Reign’s last race from the head on view to see how he looks like a pin ball.
But I digress . . .
Anyway, I can’t say that I didn’t have the experiences of those two jockeys weighing on my mind when we took Monarch up to the arena for our first ride. As I said, I don’t have much recent experience as a horsewoman, and I have zero experience with OTTB’s, And he’d already managed to lose two riders who had a lot more experience than I do.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that I was terrified of the big, gray beast that I was about to ride. In the few days I’d had him, I had found him to be gentle and sweet, and I was looking forward to getting on him for the first time. But I was glad to have the B&B Support Team (Elizabeth and Barry) totally involved in the process, ensuring that my first ride was safe and successful.
We loose-longed Monarch in the arena first, to let him work off some excess energy. It had been cold since his arrival in Georgia, and since he has no winter coat, we’d had to limit his time outdoors. So Elizabeth suggested we loose-lunge him to get him acclimated to the arena, and to let him relax and stretch before we rode him. As usual, we had to chase him around the arena, which I think is just so funny, because I would expect a 3-year old race horse to be all wound up when he gets out in the open – but not my 3-year old Thoroughbred! He mostly stands around and waits to be chased. I think he thinks of us as his personal trainers!
After loose-longing him for a bit, we brought him back down to the barn and groomed and tacked him. This was his first time in cross-ties, and he was really good with them. Elizabeth gave me all the safety rules and procedures to follow in case Monarch bolted out of the cross-ties, but once we hooked him up you’d have thought he did this every day, he was just so nice and quiet. I was really proud of him, and his behavior in the cross-ties increased my confidence as well.
So back up to the arena we went, with Monarch all saddled up and me in my helmet and half-chaps. Elizabeth rode him first. This is her usual procedure with first rides – and it’s one of the many, many reasons I’m glad I board at B&B Farm. They have a well-defined, well-executed procedure for first rides, and it allows both horse owner and horse to be totally comfortable and at ease throughout the process. As Elizabeth explained to me, the process is centered around safety – for both horse and rider – and I guess that’s why they say your first ride will not be a rodeo.
As Elizabeth rode Monarch around the arena, she gave me a near-constant running commentary on him, telling me how smooth he was, and how well-behaved he was being. At one point, she dropped the reins, raised both arms high, and said, “THIS is a horse that lost two jockeys?” We all had a good laugh – it’s so obvious that Monarch was just not cut out to be a race horse.
By the time it was finally my turn to ride, I have to say that all fear of being “Jockey Number 3” had dissipated, and I was totally looking forward to taking the next step along the road to turning Monarch into a pleasure horse. I stepped up to the very top of the mounting block, put my foot in the stirrup, and swung my leg over his back. We adjusted the stirrups (and Monarch stood very quietly while we did so), and we were off! But not exactly off to the races – my boy was a perfect gentleman while I rode him, at first using a lunge line (again, that B&B Support Team at work!) with Elizabeth as the anchor, and then finally, completely, on my own.
There is no way to describe the feeling of riding your own horse. Your very own horse. There is just nothing like it. I get a thrill any time I ride ANY horse, but there was something very, very special about this first ride on Monarch. You can tell from the pictures Elizabeth took how happy I was – I am smiling ear to ear in every photo! And Monarch? I like to think this was, for him, a special moment, too, a moment when he really started his new life. It must have been at least a bit confusing for him, a horse who’d only been ridden for a few minutes a day, at a gallop, on a track before he came to B&B Farm. Now here he was, out in an arena, being ridden at a walk and a trot (yes, I trotted him, too!) by people who didn’t want him to go faster! He was nice and relaxed for me, even dropping his head very nicely while we moved around the arena. His only faux pas was that he kept trying to canter when I only wanted him to trot, so that sometimes he’d be cantering in back and trotting in front. But he was so well-behaved, and I had such a good time looking out at the world from between his ears, that I hardly noticed his little slip-ups. He has a lot to learn, and so do I, but we’ll take it slow and learn together.
So now Monarch and I have had our very first ride together, and it was definitely NOT a rodeo. I look forward to many, many more rides with him in the future, as we mature together as a team. I am so glad I bought this horse, and I’m also so glad I keep him at Bits & Bytes Farm, where we both get such wonderful care!
Be sure to read Monarch’s Reign’s Spotlight Story.