My horse Lukas, an ex-racer and former rescue, and I are at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California. We’ve been invited to join the “Thoroughbred Village” along with several non-profits to promote the breed. In case you’re not familiar with racehorses, they tend to be rather high-strung, to say the least. Having been bred over centuries for speed, they have a strong flight instinct, as you’d imagine. Lukas was no different when I bought him; in fact, his sensitive nature is what appealed to me from the outset. As you’ll see, this complex and observant quality is what has made him the most unusual horse on the planet.
Lukas, after three unsuccessful races as a two-year-old, left the track with injuries. He subsequently changed homes several times, ending up emaciated and neglected in a yard. Following his rescue and rehabilitation, I bought him from a jumping stable where he wasn’t fitting in. As a nine-year-old set in his ways, he would prove to be an immense challenge even though I’ve spent over a quarter of a century training horses. Initially, his spooky nature would have to be dealt with – just hand-walking Lukas a short distance was problematic.
A desensitization program – gradually increasing the stimulation along with positive reinforcement for successful encounters was practiced repeatedly and calmly. This led to an acceptance of and then a cheerful curiosity about his environment. Our sessions expanded to exploring more new and unfamiliar territory – from advanced liberty (free) movements, we progressed to discrimination tasks. I could always count on Lukas to eagerly attempt and try to absorb the lessons. His willingness to please and desire to succeed seemed boundless.
This characteristic ability would soon become his trademark world-wide as his understanding of advanced concepts grew. In addition to his large liberty repertoire, Lukas learned to identify letters, numbers, and shapes, discriminate colors, and comprehend same/different, proportion, object permanence, spatial relationships and absentness. During this time, Lukas also became known for being an ambassador of hope for animals in need of second chances.
And so it was that we arrived at the Equine Affaire to change people’s perception about the trainability of Thoroughbreds. During the next four days, we had the opportunity to share Lukas’ story with many visitors. More than once, we heard “That can’t be a Thoroughbred, he’s too calm.” Even the event coordinator admitted that he was the best behaved equine participant, “We are all amazed at his poise.” His demonstration in front of a noisy crowd went without a hitch, and Lukas has since gone on to change many more opinions about this special breed.