Assessing babies… (Or, why I love Standardbreds).

In an update to the last post, Fuzzy is going home..

He’s a sweet little horse, but he’s at the bottom of the pecking order in our paddock, has developed a SERIOUS case of separation anxiety over Lauren’s old mare (think screaming and fence walking when she is taken away, even when there are still FOUR OTHER HORSES still in the paddock with him), and a huge need for a strong confident leader under saddle. Which a nervous 11 year old rider isn’t going to be.

It’s been interesting… Lauren was slightly more in love with Fuzzy: his submissive, people pleaser nature ¬†translates in groundwork into a pony who is constantly offering what he thinks is the right answer, ears pricked, focused on you “yes ma’am what can I do for you?”. Of course it also translates into a pony with a tendency to spook under pressure and who constantly looks for leadership under saddle. all Lauren could see was a pony who desperately wanted to do the right thing, whereas I could see the potential for explosions in pressure situations. (I also had the pleasure of witnessing one such explosion, when long reining and the rope touched his flank unexpectedly. Not good.)

Chime on the other hand is a dominant (politely so) alpha mare. Which comes across in groundwork as “meh, I’m not sure I need to do this”. You need to up your game significantly to get her attention, but when you have, she is all work.

One of the first things I do with any new horse is free lunge in a round yard asking for a change of direction, in which the horse learns (pretty sharply if necessary) that changes mean turning INWARDS, NOT outwards (which turns their bum to you, which I consider rude). This session with Chime produced all sorts of evasion and a significant amount of head tossing, ears back snakey mare behaviour. She is a mare who uses her heels rather than her teeth to discipline other (cheeky baby) horses, so turning her butt is her default. Having got through that, she is very respectful, and accepts my position as mare in charge.

Anyway – all Lauren saw was a mare who didn’t really want to be with you. I had to give her very specific instructions on how to raise her own attitude in order to get respect from Chime.

I of course saw that that same confidence and ability to be the leader would mean that, under saddle, she was likely (NOT guaranteed) to be confident and relaxed, if not slightly lazy. Ideal 11 year old pony behaviour.

Lauren riding Chime

Lauren and Chime

Lauren and Chime

Good girl scratches


She has proved to be exactly that. She is calm (even when other horses decide to have a hoon in the paddock next to the arena), not stressed about being taken away from the herd, and so far very quiet under saddle. We have had 2 decent trail rides so far and although she has given a few things the hairy eyeball, the only genuine spook we have had was when the dog came crashing out of the bush (which is fair enough!). She has even been happy to lead the group for some of the time.

The other great thing about her is that her default when unsure of what she is being asked is not to run through the bridle, or panic and buck. She just STOPS. Which can pitch you forward onto her ears, but overall is preferable to the alternatives.

I don’t know if this is just their basic nature, or whether they are trained to do it when being raced (because a bolting horse in cart is even more scarey than one under saddle, and a one rein stop is not really an option in a cart) but all the Standardbreds I have started under saddle have had that “stop if unsure” thing down pat. It’s a bit of a jolt, but there is relatively little danger of ending up on the floor.

Plus of course like all the Standies I know, she is ultra polite about foot trimming, being geared up, and being groomed and washed. It just doesn’t occur to them that objecting is an option.

So, Chime stays. She will make her public debut at the end of Feb at the annual endurance riding clinic our organisation holds (a 10 mile ride). She and Mac will both be there. It’ll be fun.

The gang

2 Standies and a 400 dollar “mutt” = an endurance team!


Away we go

Heading off on a trail ride


Meanwhile, Savannah (who is embarrassingly OBESE) is on a diet and exercise program (which is Ashleigh’s job) and Joe will come back into work in mid February. Busy busy busy.

2 thoughts on “Assessing babies… (Or, why I love Standardbreds).

  1. Fwiw all the standees I’ve worked with, the exception of one or two out of forty or so had the stop response and were not bolters. It’s one thing I love about my two Arabs, although I suspect that isn’t quite as typical for the breed as it is in standees! I also love how when one gets tangled on a picket line they just wait patiently for someone to save them instead of blowing up. Unlike my two Arabs. Sigh

  2. I forgot about the “I’ll just wait here then” response. Another reason to love them. I have a baby high % Arab in the paddock and I’m seriously considering passing her to Ashleigh and just riding Standardbreds forever when Joe retires. I’d love to see another Standy have a crack at the Quilty – there have been a few in the past.

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