Cleared for Takeoff

I don’t know if any horse in the world had a better weekend than Gemma.

On Friday she had her re-check appointment to see how that little suspensory strain was doing. This was also her first time being seen by one of our vets, so we figured we’d get a little baseline idea of how she looked in general. A bit of a post purchase exam if you will. We called in the big guns for this appointment, our favorite sporthorse vet (his wife is an eventer, poor man) from his base a few hours away. He has all the equipment, good assistants, and he knows thoroughbreds and sporthorses really well, so it was worth the extra expense.

very tall vet makes her look like a pony

Overall, Gemma looked great. Her suspensory is fantastic, a “non factor” at this point he thought, which is always great to hear. Her flexions were pretty good, nothing particularly stood out. The only thing he could detect was some soreness near the coffin/pastern on one foot, and we know just by looking at her feet that they need work in the shoeing department, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. We went ahead and took films of all 4 feet so that 1) we could make sure there was nothing “bad” actually happening in there, 2) we could get a baseline of all her angles and make a plan with the vet and farrier for how best to start correcting those feet.

Her angles are… definitely not great. Like probably worse than they look from the outside. The left front is more negative than the right front, and both hinds are pretty negative as well. Definitely not a surprise – pretty typical of most horses coming off the track, and the vet and I both said “we’ve definitely seen way worse”, but we still need to get it corrected ASAP. So we talked options for her next shoeing cycle (good timing on all this, my farrier was already scheduled for tomorrow anyway) and made a plan. Basically we’ve got to start pulling that breakover back as much as possible to start correcting the angles and get her up off her heels, and maybe put a bar shoe on the fronts for a while and extend the heels a bit behind.

The good news is that there’s no real damage in there though. We also went ahead and did films of the ankles just since they have a little “jewelry”, and to make sure the angles of the feet haven’t caused any issues there. As is typical of racehorses, there’s some slight remodeling to the sesamoid, but nothing problematic or significant – no chips, no arthritis, no evidence of old fractures, etc.

We also discussed gut health – between omeprazole and sucralfate she’s basically been on some kind of ulcer meds all year, so we talked about remaining symptoms, what to do next, and tapering. We also talked about the fact that her heat cycles seem very strong and very… constant. We’ll try a month of Regumate and see if that makes a difference.

The vet liked her and didn’t see anything that would potentially prohibit a sport career, so that’s great news. He said to go ahead and start riding her – she’s good to go. My first question was “when can we put her in regular turnout”. Because as I said last week, while she had been impeccably behaved in her small paddock, I could tell she was dying to get to go out in the big field. The vet said to go for it, as long as she wouldn’t get overly excited and damage herself. Since she still had a little bit of sleepy juice in her system from all her xrays I looked at Hillary and was like “why not now?”. So we indeed marched her directly to the field.

She immediately dove nose-first into the grass like she hadn’t eaten in days. Which… she isn’t a big hay eater, so it was a constant source of frustration for me that she wasn’t getting as much roughage as I would have liked when she was restricted to the paddock. Seeing her out there in the pasture stuffing her face probably made me just as happy as it made her. To her immense credit she never once did anything stupid all day (despite it being COLD AND WINDY AF) – trotted a couple laps, did one impressive bucking festival, but otherwise she barely lifted her head from the grass the entire rest of the day. Since she’s already gotten to know Henry and Quinnie so well in the barn and sharing a fenceline with them, turning her out with them was a non-event. Gemma is bottom of the totem pole and quick to get out of the way, but not enough of a pushover for Henry to take advantage.

I figured the next morning might be the real test, with no lingering sleepy juice in her system. I fed everyone, led them out from the barn, let them go, and… again, her head went straight to the grass. After a few minutes she again trotted a slow lap, during which she spotted the neighbor’s cows on the other side of the back fence. And omg. Where some horses see those cows for the first time and absolutely lose their marbles (ahem Henry ahem Grace), Gemma stopped, looked them over, and then made a beeline straight for them.


There was one pretty brave cow that came up close to the fence a few times, but I think Gemma’s, um, enthusiasm concerned him a bit. When Gemma wasn’t close he would slowly meander up to the fence (close to where Henry was grazing) then Gemma would see him, trot over post haste, and he’d run away. Over and over, much to her chagrin. She wanted so badly to nose boop that cow and he just wouldn’t let her. Her curiosity gene was in full effect, that’s for sure. I’m starting to think she’s kind of a combo of Henry and Presto… Henry’s sensitivity, but Presto’s boldness. Although I think she’s smarter than both of them, of course, since she’s a mare.


On Sunday I decided it was time to officially start her sporthorse training. Hillary’s gone for a couple weeks to Ocala so it seems like the perfect opportunity to start doing some ground work and getting Gemma ready so that by the time Hillary gets back I can start hacking with her and Henry. Ever since Gemma got here I’ve been bringing her in to the barn during the day a few times a week to start figuring out the crossties/grooming routine/behavior expectations. She’s a very quick study and picked all that up pretty quickly, so I figured I’d go ahead and tack her up, then take her out to the ring to lunge her.

she looks SO GOOD under tack!

The great thing about OTTB’s is that they come knowing all kinds of things, having seen and done so much on the racetrack. But I also never like to just assume that any horse knows how to do anything, or will automatically understand things the way I ask them. So, I wanted to use this time to get an idea of what she already knows, what she doesn’t, and go over all the basics just to make sure we’re on the same page. I also needed to get some tack fitted to her.

I groomed her, picked her feet, put her boots on, and then decided to start with Henry’s regular tack. My jump saddle is a bit wide for her at the moment, but otherwise not terrible. I thought for sure that his girth would be huge on her, but surprisingly it wasn’t. Bigger than it fits on him of course, but not too big. I think she’s deeper in the barrel than she seems, despite her smaller stature. I also grabbed his breastplate, which fit her just fine too. She’s smaller and thinner than he is, but her shoulder is bigger and longer. If anything I needed the straps to be a little longer between her shoulder and the girth. For her bridle I rummaged through my collection of spare parts (I have an embarrassing number of plain cast-off browbands) and grabbed Presto’s cob size bridle from when he showed in-hand as a 2yo, a pair of never used horse size cheekpieces (I have no idea what they’re even from), and took the spiked browband off of Presto’s brown bridle since he’s not using it at the moment. I pretty much always start the babies in a Nathe bit as a baseline, so that went on the bridle as well.

It’s a frankenbridle, but it works for now. Honestly I thought she’d be solidly cob size but she’s kind of in between. The length of her head and width of her crown is more horse size, but her little nose is cob size and a cob size browband would be better I think. I also think she needs her own tiara… I like the spikes on her, but maybe blue ones? Or maybe some small navy crystals? I’m still undecided. Her rich chestnut color does look REALLY good in blue though.

Once we got in the ring I did a quick little desensitization with the lunge line all over her body, then asked her to walk out on a circle around me. She definitely doesn’t know voice commands aside from clucking, but she’s got a good work ethic and paid attention well, trying to figure out what I wanted. Naturally she lunges better to the left than the right… not a surprise. After she walked and trotted both ways I ran the stirrups down, snapping and flapping them a bit until I got no reaction, then I lunged her with the stirrups down. She was super good about it, so after she w/t both ways I let her be done with that. This was a fact-finding mission more than a real working session and I had already gleaned a lot. On our way out of the arena I introduced her to the mounting block, with me standing on it above her, stomping on it with my feet, leaning over and flapping the stirrup on the opposite side, etc. If she wanted to move off I let her circle around, then come back and stand next to it again. Rinse and repeat, and she got better each time. She was confused by it but not worried about it, so that’s a good first step. She’ll get it pretty quickly I think.

We’ll play a little more in-depth with the ground work this week, do more desensitizing, work on those voice commands, and get more mounting block education. And of course get those shoeing changes started. Here’s to the beginning of what will hopefully be a great adventure!

8 thoughts on “Cleared for Takeoff

  1. Awesome news for Gemma! She looks great and sounds like a very special horse!
    My mare started having some very frequent and very hard heat cycles a couple of months after I purchased her (of course!), as in rubbing raw patches on her hips, body slamming her stall, threatening to take down fences etc… After ultrasounds, a failed attempt with Regumate, she’s now on a daily dose of MareMagic (or the same raspberry leaves that I buy I bulk) and that keeps it in check 95% the time. She gets a couple of loading doses of Quiessence for those extra hard ones and she’s back to normal within 24hrs… Hope that can help Gemma!


  2. She looks so pretty under tack! 🤩🤩 my new mare is the same – she fits in a cob bridle except she needs a horse browband 🙄… and my current bridles only come in jughead size lol.

    I’m so happy for you that she healed well and is well on her way to being a sport horse!


  3. Aww yay so exciting!! Good girl Gemmy ❤ She is so adorable, I can't wait to read more about your OTTB journey! Definitely going to learn some things here.


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