Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Racing Under Saddle

Last year, there was an under saddle race held in the fall at Yonkers in NY.  Racing under saddle (RUS) with Standardbreds has had a difficult time taking hold here in the USA, despite the success of it overseas (where it is known as monte racing).  I think this is beginning to change, as there have been numerous races already at several tracks this year: Goshen, the Meadowlands, Tioga, Vernon, Freehold, and one coming up at the Red Mile in KY.  I knew as soon as I saw the 2011 race at Yonkers that this was something I wanted to try.  

Of course, wanting to do something and actually doing it are very different things.  Only trotters are allowed in RUS races, and while Reva is a trotter, she is not going to be a racehorse again.  I feel pretty confident saying she would not stay sound, plus now that I have taught her to canter, there is no way she could trot fast enough to race without breaking.  

Hmmm....so that left me trying to find a mount.  Easier said than done!  I sent away for my license packet through the United States Trotting Association in March 2012.  I had to complete a written test and a practical test in front of a judge.  After many leads that never actually panned out, I finally found a horse in JULY!!!  While there are many wonderful horsemen here in Maine, many were extremely skeptical of the idea of riding a racehorse, many worried about how their horses might react or if the saddle would make them back sore, and let's face it, the idea of someone riding around on the horse that needs to race to pay the bills is a bit scary for most.  I was patient and had a wonderful friend Katie who worked tirelessly to help me find the right horse.  Basically I wanted a trotter that was sane.  That was my only requirement!  LOL!  My guess is that in the more populated areas of NY and NJ, where the majority of the current RUS horses/riders are, there are more Scandinavian trainers/owners who are not so unfamiliar with riding Standardbreds.  But who knows.  

Finally, FINALLY, in July I got a chance to try a mare named Snap Dancer.  She is an older mare (12 years old) and had just rejected her first foal in May.  She was out of shape and there was no promise on how she would react.  I wasn't sure what to think, but I figured I had to jump at any leads I could.  I had her owner's blessing to try her out, but he was not sure she would like it. 

Snappy was fairly standoffish and quite girthy, but she was easy enough to groom and saddle.  Thankfully my AP saddle fit her quite well.  With the help of my friend Katie, we tried her out for the first time ever in the ring at Cumberland Fairgrounds where she is stabled.  I took my time leaning over her and finally got up on her.  We walked sedately around the ring at a walk.  While she was super good, she was definitely confused about being in the ring as opposed to the track right next door.

Snappy under saddle for the second time
The next week we stayed on a long longe line again, this time with the help of my friend Shelly, but we tried trotting a few times as well.  Snappy understood my cues quickly easily and was happy to trot around and stop when I asked her to walk.

Huh.  This could work!

I rode Snappy a third week, this time with her owner present.  We went out onto a smaller 1/3 mile training track.  I rode her for a few minutes in the large grass infield before jogging her two miles.  She was super and I could not stop grinning.  We went pretty slow, but she was so good.  A week later, I jogged her again on the small track and her owner figured that while she had been good there, he was not convinced she would be as well behaved on the real half mile track.

Well, let's find out.  :-D

Of course, being the good mare she is, everything was fine.  We jogged 2.5 miles and her owner was all smiles.  We decided to try our first training mile the next time.  

Because I had no idea at the time what it really felt like to go a training mile, Snappy's owner took out his other race horse to go with me.  It was neat to be on the track with a horse being jogged in a jog cart and I am sure we looked cool!  LOL!  We did a 2.5 mile jog warm up (going the "wrong" way of the track) and then turned them to go a mile.

I wanted to try for at least 2:25, which was the time I needed to show a judge in the practical test when it was time for me to get my RUS license from the USTA.  We turned up by the quarter pole and came down by the grandstand and finish line.  I was not really nervous, just super excited.  I admit I had never gone that fast on a horse unless cantering/galloping.  The feeling of balancing over a horse trotting that fast was crazy!!  I think my brain shut off because as we came around by the finish line at the half, I pulled Snappy up!!  LMAO!  Somehow I forgot that we had to go a MILE and I only took her a half mile.  DURRRRRR........I wish I could say it is because I am blonde.  Ha ha ha!  Snappy's owner looked back in surprise, wondering what was wrong.  I immediately realized my mistake, but it was too late to continue.  Ahhhhhh!!  I felt like such an idiot for messing up my first ever try to do a training mile.  Snappy seemed very confused, but she listened and allowed me to pull her up.  She is such a good mare.

The following week was MUCH better!  I actually felt more secure and went a FULL MILE! LOL!  We only went in 2:32 on our first ever try, but it was so awesome.  Just for perspective, we were trotting at almost 25 mph!!!  I could not stop grinning!!  We trained a few times over the next few weeks, having decent times but just missing the 2:25 mark.  I felt worried that maybe we would not be able to pass the practical test to get my license.

Warming up!  These pics are from the end of August.
Training mile!  Our best time was only 2:28.
Cool down...
Enjoying a jog last weekend on a beautiful fall-like afternoon.  
Miss Crabby, pretending she doesn't like the pampering.  ;-)
Gotta love her ability to look much meaner than she really is.  LOL!
At the end of August, Snappy's owner asked me if I wanted to try racing at the Cornish Horsemen's Day on September 8.  I was already planning to be there with Dreamy to marshal, as we have done since 2006.  It did not take me long to say YES!  The neat part about the Cornish Horsemen's Day is that all the racing is open to amateurs only.  Normally there are only regular Standardbred races, but they wanted to try an RUS race since many of us had been training horses for it, hoping that Maine might follow NY and NJ.  And I was told there would be a judge there that day, who would be willing to assess my practical test.  

Stay tuned to hear how we did!!  :-)

3 comments:

  1. Very cool! Looks like a blast!

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  2. Wow. That is so awesome! I know what 25mph feels like on a horse, but not at a trot! :P I love the photo of you doing a training mile! She's FLYING! Looks like Hambletonian. :) I can't wait to hear how the race went! (and really hope to see you out hunting Saturday!)

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  3. I had no idea RUS existed! Thats so cool!

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