Things you NEED to know before riding your new OTTB

bitofbritain-Week1

 

Things you NEED to know before riding your new OTTB

This week, the 2018 Retired Racehorse Project opened up entries. So horse people around North America are on the hunt for Thoroughbreds to re-train for this incredible competition. It is the ideal time to share with you again, this informative article from AJ Dyer who is an experienced Thoroughbred trainer and enthusiast!

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

2017’s Most Fascinating Eventer – Selena O’Hanlon | Eventing Connect   2017’s Most Fascinating Eventer – Selena O’Hanlon After being named to the 2016 Canadian Olympic Team, Selena O’Hanlon was looking forward to competing in Brazil with Foxwood High (Woody), owned by Judy and John Rumble. In a controversial move during training camp, the Canadian selectors citing soundness iss…

Friday’s Fashion – Bell boots that will keep your horse protected and stylin’ | Eventing Connect   This series features fashion “must have” items for riders and their horses. Tune in every Friday with your (or your parents’ or your significant other’s) credit card in hand,  for some excellent fashion finds. Let’s bring style to the Eventing world!  I have not personally tested all of the featu…

SeminoleWellness2017_770x170

When your horse’s balance is a little too ‘uphill’ – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   When your horse’s balance is a little too ‘uphill’ – VIDEO Break You have probably heard your coach tell you to put your horse in a more ‘uphill balance’ or tell your your horse is plodding around on its forehand. This horse definitely does not struggle with shifting its weight to in its haunches… &nbs…

How YOU can improve Eventing by voicing your opinion | Eventing Connect   How YOU can improve Eventing by voicing your opinion Have you ever attended an event and thought to yourself, “Wow, the course design here is confusing,” or “I wish the bathrooms were cleaner?” Do you wish someone was listening to your concerns? What can you do? Guess what, you’re in luck!  For every ev…

Jump 4 Joy ad-3-770x170

Lifesaving tips for competing multiple horses – WITHOUT a groom | Eventing Connect   Lifesaving tips for competing multiple horses – WITHOUT a groom The world’s top riders frequently roll into events with over six mounts but these pros all have at least one groom. Their grooms tack up their horses and they just have to ride. This makes competing so many horses possible. But if you are a …

Watching this miniature foal in action will make you smile ear-to-ear – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   Watching this miniature foal in action will make you smile ear-to-ear – VIDEO Break Foals are cute and so are miniature horses – combine these two factors and you have a total cuteness overload. This little guy’s antics will melt your heart and bring an imemediate smile to your face…     …

Five tips that will make you a successful equestrian – Sponsored by Back on Track | Eventing Connect   Great for muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Products for horses, dogs and people. Visit www.backontrackproducts.com   Five tips that will make you a successful equestrian – Sponsored by Back on Track I am 23-years-old, which I think is young in the horse world considering most Olympians are over …

Captions are in and so hilarious you may pee a little. Vote for your favourite! | Eventing Connect   Captions are in and so hilarious you may pee a little. Vote for your favourite! In 2017, we captured some remarkable images at horse trials all over North America. Last month, we asked our readers to caption the photo above for a chance to win a T-Shirt of their choice from Shop ATTITUDE. With over 100 entrie…

Role reversal: Lunging edition – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   Role reversal: Lunging edition – VIDEO Break All equestrians have spent many hours lunging horses for various purposes. But have you ever been lunged by your horse? This clever mount has reversed the roles and is helping his owner get in shape for the 2018 season…    

Accomplish your riding goals with these nine tips to prioritize your spending – Sponsored by MD Barnmaster | Eventing Connect   MD Barnmaster is the leader in custom designed barns, horse housing, professional equestrian facilities, horse stalls, modular buildings and barn accessories. Build A Better Barn. Contact MD Barnmaster today.   Accomplish your riding goals with these nine tips to prioritize your spending – Sponsored …

Tuesday’s Top 10 – Reasons most equestrians are single | Eventing Connect   WARNING: Only read if you have a sense of humour Check in every Tuesday for our Top 10 list that could feature just about anyone or anything related to Eventing. No rider, owner, coach, or nation is off limits. Remember: “Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think.”   …

Not your everyday gallop – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   Not your everyday gallop – VIDEO Break Riding a horse at high speeds isn’t easy and neither is shooting a bow and arrow. Combine these two things and you have one seriously challenging activity. This rider/archer could definitely survive a zombie apocalypse with ease…    

Eastern Hay 770x170-March

Does your horse have the letter ‘F’ in its name? Enter to win a custom Perri’s halter | Eventing Connect   Does your horse have the letter ‘F’ in its name? Enter to win a custom Perri’s halter We are thrilled to partner with Perri’s Leather and bring you a monthly contest to celebrate horse names and have some fun. Starting in March of 2017, readers like you have have been winning beautiful halters by submitti…

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.   When your mother is a legend… Can’t find staff anywhere these days, absolute rubbish turned up to hack out my babies with me today…

No equestrian can watch this without cringing – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   No equestrian can watch this without cringing – VIDEO Break Blanketing season is well underway in many parts of the world. Many paddocks are mud-free because they are buried in several feet of snow and ice. However, some unlikely equestrians are dealing with very muddy fields and filthy horses. These cheeky …

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…

Buying a new horse? Use these six tips to assess its record before you buy | Eventing Connect   Buying a new horse? Use these six tips to assess its record before you buy You are looking to buy or lease a new horse. How do you consider its competition record? Before you think about going to try a horse, you should look up its record. This will save you time and travel expenses because it will give you a…

How equestrians spend money compared to normal people | Eventing Connect   How equestrians spend money compared to normal people If you are a rider or horse owner, odds are that you are not rolling in money. But you are not impoverished either. You are probably considered ‘horse poor’. This means you spend all of your hard earned money on horses so you have none left for ‘normal’ pur…

This tiny equestrian has big talent – VIDEO Break | Eventing Connect   This tiny equestrian has big talent – VIDEO Break This little girl is a natural in the saddle. Her legs don’t even reach the end of her saddle flaps but she has no problem riding her full-size horse. Who needs a pony? Watch for this kid in the Olympics in like 20 some years…     ♥…

Fashion ALERT – Custom halters that will look perfect on your horses | Eventing Connect   This series features fashion “must have” items for riders and their horses. Tune in every Friday with your (or your parents’ or your significant other’s) credit card in hand,  for some excellent fashion finds. Let’s bring style to the Eventing world!  I have not personally tested all of the featu…

bitofbritain-Week1

Take the quiz – 13 ‘Would you rather’ questions all equestrians will struggle to answer | Eventing Connect   Take the quiz – 13 ‘Would you rather’ questions all equestrians will struggle to answer If you an equestrian, you’ve spent countless hours daydreaming about a variety of horse-related scenarios. You’ve also probably thought about a good deal of nightmare dilemmas involving horses. Horses are constantly on ever…

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…