“Some days there’s two steps forward, then it’s four steps backwards and then it’s one step forward - it’s like a cha-cha,” said Adriana King as we chatted about her spunky thoroughbred sidekick Soca Kid.
Riding since the age of four, King currently lives and works in Barbados. I first crossed path with this lovely young lady when I rode at Big C Stables; a riding school owned and operated by Di Clarke.
Remembering how good a rider she was back then, I’m not surprised to hear from Clarke (when I visited Big C stables back in June) that King is helping school (train) horses at the barn. After all, King began riding at Big C when she was six and aside from working abroad in 2007 she has remained a devoted Big C rider for the last two decades.
Moreover, seeing photos of her and Soca Kid (by High Cotton & Stage Door Honey) on Facebook I was intrigued and reached out to King to hear their story. Even if we just chatted over Facetime rather than over rum punches in Barbados!
Despite the lagging Facetime connection I had no trouble hearing how enthusiastic King was about her new man from the very moment she got wind that he was coming off the track.
“His owners actually came to me nine months ago…asking me if I wanted him. And I couldn’t take him at that point in time, but as of April 1st I tried him and I said ‘I would really like to work with him, I really like him and I would like to take him over as of July 1st.”
Congratulating King on being a new horse owner she is quick to admit that her first day of horse ownership has started off with a vet bill. “Unfortunately he had an abscess that’s gone and burst through so we just have to wait for it to drain now. It’s one of those things that’s Murphy’s Law.”
Although it’s a brand new partnership between horse and rider, King is no stranger to working with off the track thoroughbreds (OTTBs). King has worked with several of Clarke’s horses over recent years to help retrain them into new careers such as show jumping. One such thoroughbred was Bombay. “He and I really clicked well together and I was training him to do X, Y, and Z and I think I got him up to a metre ten comfortably.”
Unfortunately, in 2013 during an outride Bombay snapped a leg and had to be put down. “That hit me for six and after that I wasn’t really that interested in having another horse again.”
Even though King wasn’t really looking for another horse she continued to ride whoever was available at Big C and help out owners who couldn’t ride their own horses while they were injured. “When Sara (Clarke) broke her ankle I was riding her horse, when Jill hurt her back I was riding her horse.”
Two years after Bombay’s passing, King felt ready to invest in her own horse and decided to go the OTTB route. “I had four different options - all of which were racehorses, and as soon as I tried Soca Kid I didn’t need to try the rest. He was the first out of the four I tried and I just knew it, I just knew that he and I were going to be good.”
I know that response all too well. It’s the same response I gave my friends and family when I hopped on Mr.Tease for the first time. In King’s case, I’m curious to know what it was about Soca Kid that had her convinced from the very start.
“It was his paces - his paces and his personality. He was gelded quite late and so he is very spunky, very energetic, lots of attitude and I said ‘you know I really like that in a horse.’ It shows that they have heart and they are going to have the grit when you ask them for it.”
The lightly raced American thoroughbred was retired from racing last fall when he sustained a tendon injury. “He had bowed tendons on both front legs,” said King who is working on getting Soca Kid back into shape after his time off over the winter.
Since the beginning of April King has been schooling Soca Kid on lots of flatwork to prepare him for his second start as a show jumper. Although the former racehorse has fully recovered from his injuries King is taking his training at a slow and steady pace. Not only to ensure that the four-year-old gelding masters the basics but also has a long and successful campaign as a jumper.
“There’s always the worry, that’s why we are not pushing him too hard yet. The farm that I had him at up until yesterday (June 30) was fifteen minutes away from Big C and so it just started with me hacking him over to Big C and doing two trot circles at Big C and then slowly hacking him home.”
Three months in King slowly continues to add more work into his training program. “Now he is at the stage where I’m hacking to Big C and I’m doing roughly like a thirty to forty minute workout and then I’m hacking him home.”
Even with the progress she has seen with him in such a short period King remains cautious about his previous injury. “He is super fit right now but I’m still very careful about his tendons, I was always put him in boots and I always make sure they are properly cooled down and I do a few stretches with him.”
Bonding with her new boy on the ground and in the saddle over the last several months King happily notes the change in Soca Kid’s attitude towards her.
“He is a little mean sometimes…but from the time I’ve been working with him in April till now he’s almost a different horse. He doesn’t snap at you when you go to him when he’s feeding anymore. He’s a little nibbly. He likes to take my shirt and nibble on it when I’m grooming him and what not, but he’s definitely coming around.”
Working with OTTBs King is not surprised by the change in his mindset from his racing days to his riding pony days. “That’s just sometimes how those racehorses are…there’s no time for them to let their personality out, they are workhorses, whereas now he gets the TLC, he gets spoilt and his personality is coming a little bit more. He is calming down a lot. It’s nice to see him transitioning into a slightly more mature horse.”
Noticing a few jumping pictures in her ‘Soca Kid’ Facebook album (because all horse crazy girls have photo albums of their four-legged loves) I ask King how their training over jumps is going. “We’ve introduced jumping on a small scale. Lots of pole work, x’s (crossrails), we’ve only just started doing oxers and small oxers at that.”
Willing and very able, King has been challenging the young horse with different exercises to keep him on his toes. “We put him through a grid for the first time two weeks ago - just a little gymnastic grid and the first time he got tangled up in almost everything and all it was was x’s and it was a mess. And the second time we brought him through he did it like a pro.”
I glance back at the photo album and notice the gelding’s exaggerated jump over the cross rails and some smaller jumps. King is also quick to point out his accentuated scope over the jumps. “Right now he has this monster jump and it’s a lot of energy wasting that way, so I’m trying to teach him not to do that so much. ‘Scope - great. If you want to clear it by a couple inches fantastic but there is no need to jump three feet over everything.’”
King remains undecided about when she will show Soca Kid this year. Being a seasoned rider she knows the basics are the most important element in his current training program. “Right now with Soca Kid it’s primarily flat work. He has the jump in him. The jumping is not the issue because in a show jumping ring you’re only really in the air for let’s say 13 seconds out of a 60 second course.”
For the time being King is teaching the former racehorse to flex properly, hold himself in frame and engage his hindquarters - critical elements in retraining his muscles and developing his body to move efficiently in both the dressage and jumper ring. “It’s been a lot of transitional work because he is very strong in his hindquarters and he actually sits on them very well.”
Seeing his improvement and impressed with how balanced he feels for a young OTTB King drives home the importance of Soca Kid learning to engage his whole frame. “We are now actually teaching him to pull through his back end a bit because he goes really high with his front but then he drags through with his hind end.”
Wrapping up our chat, I can’t help but be impressed with how dedicated King is to training her new four-legged love. And, I have no doubt that when I visit Barbados in the near future I will see the two killing it in the show ring.