Things you need to know before riding a fresh off the track Thoroughbred

 

Things you need to know before riding a fresh off the track Thoroughbred

Each year, lots of racing thoroughbreds find their way into new homes and new careers. There are two schools of thought when a horse steps off the racetrack: turn ’em out, or get on with riding

Prior to my experience in the Thoroughbred industry, I was a member of the “turn ’em out” crowd. I figured it would be best for the horse to “detox” and enjoy a month or more of turnout, relaxing and just being a horse. I assumed all the horse knew was running, and I wanted to put some distance (time) between that association before I stepped aboard and taught him his new job. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, and it works well for many horses

Changed perspective
However, my perspective changed when I became neck-deep in the Thoroughbred world. As part of my job, I handled racehorses (not retired, not “ex”) at the farm, who would eventually go back to the track. Maybe they were there for rehab after an injury, or for a short layover period. Nonetheless, as resident rider it was my job to get (or keep) them fit enough to go back to training

As such, I found myself on some moderately expensive, well-bred young animals who needed exercise. I had no training track at the farm– I had an outdoor arena with jumps, a big unfenced field, paddocks, and cow pastures. In other words, what you would have at any sport horse facility. After a few minutes in an enclosed area (to make sure they weren’t totally crazy) I often took them straight out to the field for a hack. We did trots and canters, building up to slow gallops in the field. Sometimes I rode in an exercise saddle, but I also used my everyday jump saddle too. They didn’t really seem to notice a difference

Track-trained horses are not lunatics and they know the basics
By and large, these track-trained horses were not monsters at all. They knew how to walk, trot, and canter, and how to change leads. They were controllable in open spaces, in a snaffle, perhaps with a martingale. They hacked out, often on the buckle. I didn’t expect them to perform dressage maneuvers– of course they weren’t taught to leg-yield, or shoulder-in, or any of that. But they knew how to go forward, accept the bridle, and steer from your weight. Half-halts were somewhat sketchy, but when I needed brakes I had them. I occasionally walked or trotted them over poles on the ground, and opened gates to hack out in the cow fields

What it taught me was that these horses are not so radically “different” after all. A horse can come off the track, have a few days off, and I can be riding him out in the fields immediately. They aren’t all lunatic runaways, and they don’t expect to gallop everywhere, all the time. They adjust to farm life pretty quickly, but they are used to having a job to do and many of them enjoy that

OTTBs thrive on work
That experience, combined with breaking babies for the track and understanding how they are started, has led me to scrap the general notion of “turn them out and leave them alone.” While I’m a big believer in daily turnout, most OTTBs thrive on work, so I don’t put off that first ride off the track. Coming right out of training, they may be a little body sore, but I like to take advantage of their fitness and work ethic. Putting them out to pasture can lose a lot of that condition, and some of them miss the attention work brings… or they may learn to like retired life just a bit too much!

When the horse gets to my farm, I give him a couple days to adjust. New place, new feed, new activity, and new friends. I turn them out first in a small paddock so they don’t run themselves silly. Once the newness wears off– it could be an hour, a day, or a week– I turn them out into a bigger paddock with a quiet buddy. When the horse seems relaxed in his new environment, usually after a couple days, we go for our first ride

 

 

First ride is for me to learn
My goal for the first ride: to learn about the horse. I’m not out to teach him or “train” him anything. I want to find out what he knows, and how he goes. I start in an enclosed area for safety, with someone available to hold him when I get on if needed. If he seems especially “up” I might lunge him first (though know that lunging skills are very hit-or-miss with OTTBs). Is he nervous or relaxed when I get on? If he wants to trot right away, I let him. Forcing them to walk too long in the beginning can instigate a fight– something I’d rather avoid at this point

I try to keep a soft contact, just enough to encourage the horse to maintain a rhythm and not get too quick (most of them will anyway, don’t worry about fixing it today). I’ll trot a few big circles each direction, noting how the horse feels: wiggly, or stiff? Worse to the right, or to the left? Falling in on the shoulder, or bulging out? I might instinctively try to correct this with my leg, but again I’m not expecting much response…if the horse tries to listen to my lateral leg pressure, so much the better

Canter will need some work
The first canter can be awkward. You may or may not get the proper lead, and he will likely be very unbalanced on a circle so try to stay on a straight line or gentle curve. He’ll probably run into the transition, falling into canter from a fast trot. If he doesn’t get it within 4-5 strides, slow down, rebalance, circle and ask again. Change up how you ask: stronger outside leg back, or more inside leg, or push with your inside seat a little, or maybe just stay in two-point position and kiss to him. The idea is to get him cantering, and praise him for doing so. Your goal is to evaluate the gait, not fix it today

How is the canter? You should probably stay off his back in two-point, for his understanding and comfort. It will probably be faster than you like, but resist the urge to tense up and pull against him. Stay relaxed, keep your hands low, and see if he relaxes. (It will still feel fast to you, but to HIM, it will be slow…go with what he knows.) Is he well-balanced, or leaning on his forehand? How badly does he fall in with his shoulder? Does he listen (at all) to a half-halt? Take and give with your reins to slow down, and use circles to spiral to the trot if necessary. If he feels quite unbalanced, trot sooner rather than later

Give him a pat, a brief walk break, and then try to canter the other way. You’ll find one lead is probably much harder than the other. Many OTTBs are more supple to the left, and stiffer to the right, thus finding the left lead easier. However, others are taught to break (from the gate) on the right lead always, and so find picking up the left lead difficult. It depends on the horse, so don’t go into it with any concrete expectations. If you can’t get the proper lead after three tries (make sure you aren’t leaning with your body!), don’t fuss about it. Maybe I’ll let him canter on the wrong lead, and see if he’ll switch through the turn. If not, just quietly come to the trot and worry about it some other day

If the horse feels confident and good-minded, I like to challenge him with a few simple, but new things. I’ll ask him to walk over poles, open a gate, or go for a short hack down the road. It’s no big deal if he balks at first or gets confused– what I’m observing is how does he handle this new task? How does his mind function? Does he need time to figure things out, is he easily frustrated, or does he get it right away? Does he want to work with me to solve it, or is he more independent? Or does he say “Screw you” and forget it? You never want to push a horse too hard in these early rides and you should always end on a good note

Understand your horse and tailor the training program
Once you have an idea of how your new horse thinks and feels, you can tailor your training program to suit him best. After that initial evaluation, I usually back off and work on the basics of rhythm, relaxation, and tempo at the walk and trot. When the fundamentals are in place, the horse can progress at his own pace and will learn to enjoy his new career

Scroll for more top stories on Eventing Connect

Eventing Connect Classifieds are here – Post your ad FREE for 60 days | Eventing Connect   Eventing Connect Classifieds are here – Post your ad FREE for 60 days Eventing Connect is pleased to offer a Classified section to provide you with another platform to sell your horses, tack, services, property or whatever you may have for sale. Hundreds of thousands of readers visit us each month and we w…

Last Week TODAY | Eventing Connect   Last Week TODAY Catch up on interesting tidbits that you might have missed last week. We work hard to catch all the good stuff so you don’t have to.   Awesome prize! Man do they give the best prizes out at the BLMS or what?! #booedup A post shared by Lainey Ashker (@laineyea) on Oct 15, 2017 at…

bitofbritain-Week1

This dog is NOT a horse lover – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   This dog is NOT a horse lover – VIDEO Break You’ve probably heard the saying that a dog is a man’s best friend. But you probably have never put much thought into what your dog thinks about your horse. This little dog is not a fan of horses and isn’t shy about making that well known…     …

Eventing absolutely slaying it again on Instagram this weekend | Eventing Connect   Eventing absolutely slaying it again on Instagram this weekend Instagram connects the world through photos and eventers love to share their lives on this social media platform. We have found Eventing pics from every continent in the world on Instagram. This is your chance to check out the entire world of event…

SeminoleWellness2017_770x170

Canada’s Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High win the most prestigious three-star in North America – The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International | Eventing Connect   Connect with all the Fair Hill International action: [Results] [Website]   Canada’s Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High win the most prestigious three-star in North America – The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International The show jumping phase proved influential for CCI3* competitors Sunday at The 2017 D…

Monday’s SCOOP from Eastern Hay | Eventing Connect   Sunday’s SCOOP from Eastern Hay Today’s SCOOP sponsor: Eastern Hay is the premier source of hay bales in Eastern USA.   Event results in North America this weekend: United States: Fair Hill International CCI***/** (MD)  [Results] Hitching Post Farm Horse Trials (VT) [Results] Fleur de Leap…

Jump 4 Joy ad-3-770x170

Rider Connect from Bit of Britain: Alexandra Tett | Eventing Connect    Rider Connect sponsor: Bit of Britain has been a trusted source for quality horse tack and equestrian clothing since 1987. Rider Connect from Bit of Britain: Alexandra Tett Today’s featured rider is Alex Tett, a young rider from Area VI who is working her way up the levels. If you would like to be f…

Why can’t the average horse cope with a crowded warm-up? – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   Why can’t the average horse cope with a crowded warm-up? – VIDEO Break We have all been stuck in a crowded warm-up arena on a horse that ends up having a complete meltdown. This is always slightly terrifying and mega frustrating. Why can’t our horses just enjoy the company of other horses? Apparently, some h…

MD Barnmaster-Ad 1-770x170

Two Canadians in top four after cross-country in CCI3* at Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International | Eventing Connect   Connect with all the Fair Hill International action: [Results] [Times][Omnibus] [Website]   Two Canadians in top four after cross-country in CCI3* at Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Spectators and competitors enjoyed a thrilling day of cross country at The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three…

Get a jump start on No-stirrup November and make yourself a more solid rider | Eventing Connect   Get a jump start on No-stirrup November and make yourself a more solid rider It’s almost that time of year again! We can thank the language nerds out there for exploiting the power of alliteration to create powerful slogans. No-stirrup November can be thirty days of hell for every rider. Here are some tips t…

Stable cats living the dream and getting InstaFamous: Part 24 | Eventing Connect   Stable cats living the dream and getting InstaFamous: Part 24 Eventers are always showing their dogs love via posting adorable pictures of them at events on social media. But what about the not-so-hard-working stable cats who spend their weekends lounging about the barn? Show your stable cat some love and give…

Which superstar grey horse would you want? – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   Which superstar grey horse would you want? – VIDEO Break There is nothing that makes a rider’s heart go pitter-patter like watching a super talented horse free jumping. Everyone has slightly different things that they look for in a young prospect. These horses are undoubtedly talented but which one is your…

offbeatsafaris-4-770x170

Six things you should NEVER say to an eventer | Eventing Connect   Six things you should NEVER say to an eventer Eventers are a very fun and relaxed group of people. Outside of the horse world, there is a bit of a stereotype that equestrians are rather pretentious but this couldn’t be less true of eventers. Eventers are as down to earth as people can be. But there are a few…

Friday’s Five – Ways to actually have fun during the off-season | Eventing Connect   Friday’s Five – Ways to actually have fun during the off-season Eventing season has come to a close for the year, in most areas of the world. You have spent all year tirelessly looking after your horse(s) and now it is time to look after yourself. With no events to attend on the weekends, you have a bit of…

Eastern Hay 770x170-March

Watch silly horse footage to instantly improve your mood – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   Watch silly horse footage to instantly improve your mood – VIDEO Break Horses can be highly entertaining creatures. They are the furthest thing from predictable and this makes for plenty of funny moments. Check out these hilarious horses in action to make your day a little brighter…     …

Tamie Smith captures the early CCI2* lead at the 2017 Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event | Eventing Connect   Connect with all the Fair Hill International action: [Omnibus] [Website] [Times] [Results]    Tamie Smith captures the early CCI2* lead at the 2017 Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event International competitors took to the dressage arena Thursday at the 2017 Dutta Corp. Fair Hill…

Delving into the minds of four-star riders: Ryan Wood (AUS) – Sponsored by FLAIR® Equine Nasal Strips | Eventing Connect   FLAIR® Equine Nasal Strips are drug-free, self-adhesive Strips that are clinically proven to help horses breathe easier during training and competition. To find out how to better protect your horse visit flairstrips.com   Delving into the minds of four-star riders: Ryan Wood (AUS) – Sponsored by FLAI…

Does your horse have the letter ‘E’ in its name? Enter to win a custom Perri’s halter | Eventing Connect   Does your horse have the letter ‘E’ in its name? Enter to win a custom Perri’s halter We are thrilled to partner with Perri’s Leather and bring you the latest monthly contest to celebrate horse names and have some fun. For the past few months, readers like you have have been winning beautiful halters by…

When your trainer speaks a little too soon – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   When your trainer speaks a little too soon – VIDEO Break Sometimes coaches open their mouths and say something a little prematurely. This particular coach thought her student had just pulled off a great save and then things went downhill rapidly. Perhaps her trainer jinxed her!     Wh…

Over 100 horses set to compete at the 2017 Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event | Eventing Connect   Connect with all the Fair Hill International action: [Omnibus] [Website] [Times] [Results]    Over 100 horses set to compete at the 2017 Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event Competitors dressed to impress this afternoon at the first horse inspection for the 2017 Dutta Corp. Fair …

Grow Eventing – Holly Jacks-Smithers kicks it off in Ontario with a practical approach | Eventing Connect   Grow Eventing – Holly Jacks-Smithers kicks it off in Ontario with a practical approach Eventing is dying in Ontario. This year, Eventers have witnessed a disturbing drop in entries and as a result, many of the favourite and traditionally biggest shows, including Glen Oro and Grandview dropped from two-day to o…

Eventing wear with ATTITUDE. | Eventing Connect   Eventing wear with ATTITUDE. You love Eventing and this line of fun clothing is for you to make some noise about our sport. Other sports have tons of swag that allow their athletes to be walking billboards, giving plenty of airtime to the general public. With this collection of Eventing wear, you can share you…