His coat shining, his ears forward, Duncan moved in balance with his owner and rider Lauren Cheeseman.
It took about a year to arrive at this point, and Cheeseman was so proud of their accomplishments that she had photos taken that would always remind her of how wonderful it felt to be riding her trusty ex-racehorse on a perfect Canadian day.
In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Cheeseman talks about her accomplishments with her ex-racehorse, who ran under the name El Gran Papa, as she looks eagerly toward a future of showing.
Q: Lauren, you recently had a wonderful series of photographs taken of you and Duncan doing some flat work. Why are these shots so important?
These photos are so important because they truly show how hard work and patience can truly pay off.
At this time last year Duncan was easily 200 lbs lighter, with no muscle and very dull eyes. He wasn’t doing well and he definitely wasn’t happy where we were stabling him.
It was around this time in 2011 that my vet, Dr. Lori Dykeman, suggested I move him to the stable where she keeps her ponies so that she could help monitor him while I was away on a six-week training course with the Canadian Forces.
Under her generous and passionate care, Duncan regained 125 pounds and returned to his cheeky, active ways.
In late December, I moved him to a new stable where I could be closer to home and to my coach and we began working him back into dressage training.
These photos remind me just how far we have come in just a year’s time.
He’s stronger, more balanced and more willing than ever before. I am so proud of where we are right now and can’t wait to see how he’ll stand against the horses at our upcoming silver rated dressage show at the end of the month.
Q: Please explain any new techniques you are using to get him to balance himself off his front end. Are you still using the outside rein as a “non-negotiable” tool? Please explain how that works.
The outside rein technique was great for getting us back into the swing of things.
I kept focused and used this aid until I could feel that Duncan was both willing and strong enough to carry himself.
While using my outside hand to get him supple, and supporting through my leg, I asked for a half-halt through my body when necessary; Duncan learned quickly this way to pick himself up, and remain balanced.
We also worked a lot on shoulder-in and leg-yielding exercises to help him relax his body and become more flexible. These maneuvers worked wonders!
The outside rein is still a non-negotiable tool, as your horse should never lean on you for support. Let’s face it, he’s 1,300 pounds and I’m only 150 pounds. He shouldn’t lean on me!
A constant contact on the outside rein, while keeping him supple, really helps him remain balanced and relaxed through his body.
Q: In some of your photos, he looks like a high-end show horse. How did you achieve this? What went into getting him so shiny and built up?
In my mind Duncan is a high-end show horse! But, in reality, as much as I’d love for us to be there, I realize he’s an older man.
Duncan gets a lot of TLC, both from myself and from other riders at the barn.
We use a coat conditioner on him during his grooming, and he also receives supplements added to his feed. They include a cup of ground flax seeds, a tablespoon of whey protein powder (to help with his muscle re-growth) and the usual glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM mixture.
I swear by flax seed, it does wonders for his skin and coat! I also believe that he is really happy right now, which will definitely contribute to his overall health. When we’re happy we shine bright— right?
Q: What are your future plans for Duncan?
Duncan and I will be showing at the Canadian National Exhibition this year from August 6-9th.
This is a “Gold Rated” jumper show and we’re both very excited to be back into the jumper scene.
Duncan loves his jumping, and though I’m not as brave as he is sometimes, I found that jumping is what truly makes him happy.
We still train in dressage though, which brings so much to his jumping.
He’s more balanced and more attentive to my aids whereas in his earlier jumper years (2008/2009) he would see a fence and vow to show it the meaning of speed and strength. My coach once said he was not “for the faint of heart.”
Now, however, I’m able to be in control, and remain in control.
Jumping him is fun now, not intimidating, and is actually allowing me to become more confident in my own riding ability. We even jumped a set of cross-country stairs the other day!
Duncan will also be showing in dressage at First Level next weekend (July 29th) with my coach Daisy. This will be his first debut at First Level on the Silver Circuit. He was successful last year in Training Level with me on the Silver Circuit, but I’m excited to see how he manages against some “higher-classed” horses. I think he’ll blow them away!
This winter I expect to show him in some smaller, schooling-level dressage events and maybe a couple jumper ones here and there. He’ll be 16 years young next year so I plan on taking things one step at a time and letting him tell me what he’s ready for and how far we can go.