Henry is not what you would call a naturally talented galloper. That beautiful, fluid, effortless gait that thoroughbreds have been bred for, selectively, for centuries… he does not have it. He’s naturally a bit high-highed, and the faster he goes, the more it looks like a wild flinging of legs that’s mostly just going in circles instead of forward. Bless him, because in his mind he is SO FAST.
He also doesn’t have much desire to gallop. It’s not at all surprising that he never made it past the training track to a real race. Not long after I got him I managed to track down his breeder to see if she remembered him… her words were “Oh yeah, that portly little bay colt. The only damn thing he ever ran to was the feed bucket.”. Yep, she was definitely thinking of the right colt. Henry is generally a quiet horse, but when he does have some excess energy to expel, he tends to get stuck going up and down instead of forward. He may have taken after his stakes-winning sire in mannerisms, but definitely not in gallop.
This hasn’t been a problem in his eventing career, since we’re at the lower levels. When we moved up to Training we both kind of had to learn how to hustle a bit… 470mpm is fast enough to require some conscious effort on my part. I’ve learned to be very aware of the path I take and the ground I cover, not taking any more steps than I absolutely have to. We land and we turn, or we land and immediately go forward again… no dawdling or taking a scenic route.
Thus far he’s had no problem making the time at Training, except for Texas Rose where we took a long route option. Prelim speed would definitely be a lot harder for him though. His stride is shorter and relatively bouncy… not the long, efficient, ground covering gallop that you’d look for in an upper level horse. Luckily we have no upper level aspirations, so it’s not a problem.
One of the unexpected side effects from our foxhunting adventure is a marked improvement in Henry’s gallop. We spent most of the beginning of that day hustling our butts off to stay in the middle of the pack. Henry would go just as fast as needed to in order to keep up with the other horses, but he never really settled into a nice smooth open gallop. Finally on one of the longer stretches, about an hour and half into the hunt, Trainer’s horse went blowing past Henry like he was standing still (um yes, her horse was actually a real racehorse) and another little mare came up quickly beside him. I don’t know exactly what triggered it in that moment, but Henry decided to dig in.
His stride suddenly felt like it doubled in length, and it seemed like his belly got lower to the ground. He decided he was done getting passed, and he started moving those little legs like he’s never done before. He finally found a real gallop.
At the end of all of our conditioning rides I usually let him have a short little gallop stretch if the ground isn’t too hard. Before that foxhunting day, he would definitely speed up and go for a little breeze, but it was still mostly just a lot of leg flinging. Since that foxhunting day, every time I let him out he lengthens his stride and those little legs start flying like a quarter horse in an all out sprint. Something finally clicked in Henry, whether it was simply the desire to go faster or just figuring out how to do so. He’s still not FAST, but he’s definitely faster, and his gallop is a lot more fluid.
At almost 11 years old, guess he’s a wee bit late for his racing career, but I’m interested to see if I feel any difference next time we come out of the start box.