The Horse Knows Best or How To Train a Race Horse

Sluffys Gizmo and David Kaden 7-6-19 Pleasanton – Pamela Burton photo

16 July 2019, USA ~ David and Tracy Kaden love their Arabian horses. Their ranch is on the West Texas, New Mexico border and the two have competed in endurance, trained their Anglo-Arabian to be a jumper, then in 2013 took up cowboy mounted shooting, each winning their divisions. After an intro into Extreme Cowboy events they decided that it was time for them to try Arabian racing, one sport they have watched with interest. Knowing that it takes long term commitment for the sport but feeling well prepared regarding nutrition, shoeing, hauling, and saddle fit, they are ready to compete. Kaden makes the horsesport-friendly Specialized Saddle and has now produced an exercise saddle using his patented fitting system. David tells us about his first foray into race horse training.

“I decided to try Arabian racing on a do it yourself basis. My wife helped me find some horses to buy. I went out to California to pick up an older gelding with several wins that I hoped to return to stakes class racing.

While there, I noticed a rangy looking mare in the pasture, and was told she was available for a reasonable price. I sent her pedigree (Djet Set De Falgas x Gizmoson Fire by Burning Sand) 2011, to my wife to approve and we decided to take her. I have had experience fixing problem horses. In fact when Tracy and I started our horse farm, we were sent problem horses from a local track. Some bucked, some flipped over, some ran away and some didn’t respond to the rein. We needed some income, so I climbed on some rank ones, and for the most part sent them back to the track very much improved.

As soon as we developed an endurance business I quit getting on broncs. So now many years later I took a chance on a mare that I assumed I could turn around, and make her into an Arabian racehorse. Her name is Sluffys Gizmo but her barn name is “GG”.

Her background was a bit fuzzy, but she had been described as ‘difficult’ and was not represented as broke. With a great deal of effort we managed to get a halter on her and, as the owner predicted, she seemed much improved. She loaded well into the trailer, and off we went home to West Texas.

When she was first tied up at our farm, she decided to break loose, and with a great deal of determination she set about thrashing with tremendous force, swinging her head side to side until she broke the snap on the lead rope. Next, a nylon lariat rope was used to tie her to a secure cross tie, and again the fight was on. She struggled so hard she managed to pull hard enough on the lariat rope that it cut 3/8″ deep grooves into the oak cross tie.

Gradually she learned to stand tied. Now all was quiet, even when I put on the saddle, but when I asked her to move off, or to lunge, another storm developed. Much thrashing of her head accompanied her efforts to shed all restraints. Later, when I thought she was ready to mount, I found someone willing to try her (for a larger than normal price). Training and racing Arabians was going to be my retirement job and I didn’t want to risk ending it all on this one mare.

I gave this brave young rider a leg up, and for about five seconds she didn’t move. She rolled those big white edges of her eyes around to see who or what was on her. Then she broke into big leaping bucks. The rider had a good seat and when she stopped bucking he urged her forward. Next came a big rear that continued all the way back over onto her back. The rider slid off just in time to have her fall only on his leg, and not his torso. I was very glad I had not elected to be the first to ride her.

The next day saw some improvement. However the flips did not stop, but were less frequent. One day after several laps in the round pen we let her out into the arena. She seemed happy to get out of the round pen, put her ears forward and did a big trot around the outside of the arena. Soon I and another lady that rode for us were riding her in the arena. But when I put an exercise rider on to take her out to the track, things went backward – all the way back to dismounting the rider by coming over backwards.It seemed that she let me and the lady who worked for us ride her, but no one else.

Finally I encouraged one of the few track riders who was still willing to try – gallop her on the track after spending some time getting to know her first. After a week of feeding, brushing, and talking to her he got on without any hesitation and said “’come on mamma’ and off they went and soon we were galloping laps in company.

So it came as a surprise when I arrived at a real race track for an extended training stay that when I legged up a new exercise rider she again rolled her eyes back and promptly dumped him. He walked off grumbling. Knowing I could not let her get away with this return to this bad behavior, I put my saddle on and climbed on. Word got around and no one would ride her. It was evident if she was gonna learn to be a race horse I was gonna have to be her rider, at least for a while.

Now at this point I must confess that almost every time I got on her I had a knot in my stomach. She still exploded with other riders and I hoped this would not be her day to dump me. But all she would do is shake her head side to side a few times and storm off in a trot.

After riding her every day at the Retama track and even taking her successfully from the gates, my confidence improved. Soon I was riding six horses a day on the track. At home I galloped them up to 80% speed but used exercise riders to do the full-out speed work.

Now I was not only doing the works but discovering I was good at it. I improved the lead changes with consistent cues on all of my horses and I could feel their fitness improving. Finally I added blinkers to GG’s track tack.

Soon another rider agreed to ride some horses for me. By using the same routine with the blinkers and having the groom toss him up instead of me, we were successful in getting her out of the barn with someone else on her. To keep her going I alternated who rode her, and who I rode, and we went mostly in company. She learned to pass on the inside when asked to rate until the top of the stretch and pull away when asked.

In her first race the same exercise rider who had been riding her at Retama traveled to Houston and rode her in her first Out. She came from near last to 2nd in the stretch. In the next few races she consistently got up for a second and seemed to get better with each race. She broke her maiden in Colorado a few weeks ago and is showing real signs of becoming a determined race horse and up for a fight to be first to the finish line. She doesn’t give up!

It look a little over a year from purchase to first race. GG will always have a special place in my heart, and she greets me each morning with a big neigh, and gets her morning scratch. Would I do it again? Thats a tough question.”

By David Kaden 2019

Sluffys Gizmo came a fast second in the Wathba Stallions Bonus Bonanza in Pleasanton, California, on 6 July 2019 after breaking her maiden in Colorado.

~ Pamela Burton