For those who are unfamiliar with Off The Track Thoroughbreds, they might seem frightening, very unpredictable, dangerous or even scary. I can assure you that at one point in their life (freshly off the track for instance) they can seem like each one of these things. However, their athletic potential and significantly lower price makes them very appealing for those on a lower budget, or looking to jump, and not looking to spend mid-to upper 5 figures. Their mind has only been conditioned for onething- RUN. They have one speed. RUN. They have been trained to RUN. So, when you get on them, it's no surprise that they want to run away with you. Some don't and some are very mellow, while others just need more mind-conditioning. Some of the top competition horses in the world are OTTB's. So, I will share my personal experience and what I've learned to try to help those around here looking for a horse!
PRE TRAINING CHECK LIST:
1. You will need CONSISTANT- everyday time. The better consistency, the better your horse will turn out
2. Small, patient sessions will work the best. The slower you start, the better your horse's mind will progress. Everything you do in teaching a horse starts small with a solid foundation, and this will start conditioning your horses mind for that.
3. Patience. There should be no time constraint, time limit, or show season that you're planning to hit. That will be setting yourself up for failure and lead to stress and disappointment.
GETTING STARTED; BEFORE YOU RIDE;
1. GET A 100% CLEAN AND SOUND VET CHECK! You cannot always just take the word of a trainer on the track. Get either very recent records, or call a vet yourself. Before you start ANY work, find any potential, or current problems.
2. Give your horse ample time to get relaxed at their new situation. However long, is the right time. There is no correct amount of time. You should be able to walk your horse around the farm on a lead (without a shank) and not have him/her spook at anything. They should be in the ring occasionally, although not doing any longing or work. This is a good time to work on in hand ground work. Teach a little bit of respect and giving you space when on foot. They should respond to how you move, and when you move. Make sure that even at that small stage; you reward a lot to good behavior. Also, take this time to teach verbal cues. ‘Walk’, Trot, Canter, Whoa, Easy’ are good ones to work with. They should respond well to each one of those cues before moving on.
3. After ATLEAST 2 weeks (which is considered LIGHTNING fast for most), you can start longing if you feel your horse is ready. Start with teaching the correct way to lunge, and for the first few sessions, just work on walk. Don’t rush a quicker, more unmanageable pace. Just let them relax and gain some confidence in the smaller steps. Teach them how to walk out, and then halt so you can approach them and change direction. As the sessions become better, and your horse is showing no hesitation to listening to you, move on to a trot. Your horse might pick up a canter, or faster right away, but just talk to them and say ‘easy’ and ‘whoa’. After they slowly begin to slow their trot, allow them reward and after a couple minutes, allow them to walk and cool a little bit. Slowly increase amount of trot work. Incorperate lots of walk to trot and trot to walk transitions and make sure their concise. After trot is mastered, add the canter. It is very important to remember that you only allow your horse to canter on the correct lead. If they pick up the wrong one, bring them back to a slow, controlled trot before asking again. After canter is mastered, work a few more weeks on lunging. At this point, add some ground poles or VERY small cross rails to hop over.(I would only suggest X rails if you’re looking to jump/game/event, or if you’re experienced with working with green horses, as they can easily become unfocused or difficult to handle.) Let your horse get used to going over ground poles at a trot, walk or canter. Make sure you don’t stop until they aren’t over- jumping, rather just calmly taking them. During those few weeks, also incorporate A LOT of ground manners and exposure to trails, trailers, puddles, water, and other potentially scary things. The best time is before a workout, or during. I wouldn’t suggest at the end, because if you’re horse doesn’t take it well, then you’re ending on a bad note.
The first ride is difficult. You will want to VERY slowly and calmly WALK only. Talk to your horse. After mounting, say the words “Walk on”, while applying the slightest leg pressure. Your horse might try to go faster, but just use the vocal commands you’ve been working on. Make sure they stand absolutely still while you mount *have a friend if you need, so you don’t support a bad habit of jumping on while your horse takes off. That will only get them into jockey-mode*. Walk very slowly for a minimum of 30 minutes. Do figures, cross the diagonal, circles etc. Expose your horse to taking your feet out of the stirrups, with a friend leading you. Try those things to familiarize your horse with what it’s like to have a rider on their back. Again, do this for a few days before asking for a trot.
Trotting is, in my opinion, both the most important, and one of the hardest to master undersaddle. I ride 15 year old horses that have problems with their trot still. The key is you picking the pace, and sticking to it, until your horse cooperates. When you first use the leg aid, they might rush into a faster gait, but again, use your vocals. Master a very slow controlled trot before slowly introducing a variety of paces. If you get out of control, walk. Slow down and start again.
Canter can also be added gradually. The only thing that I would stress is that they NEVER are allowed to rush the canter. Start your very first time on a circle and only allow them to canter on the correct lead. If you struggle with that, have someone on the ground to help you. As soon as you can, start some walk to canter transitions and all kinds of walk to trot, trot to halt, canter to halt etc.
VERY IMPORTANT KEYS:
*All longing is to be done with tack on. Bridle and saddle. Make sure to tie up stirrups and reins so they don’t bother the horse
*Don’t punish a horse for being frisky on the lunge
*All of this can be done in a snaffle, or a more sever bit if needed. I do not believe that you need any type of bike-chain, razor , or any bit like that ever. If you feel you must use a bit such as the gag, think about going back to the basics a little more.
*I wouldn’t suggest any training equipment other than maybe a lunge whip (that never ever touches the horse). Side reins can be added after a few weeks (3+) of consistent trot work and introduce very gradually and ONLY ONLY during trotting.
*Always work the same amount of time in each direction so your horse is comfortable going both, as well as you. Remember, they only run one way on the track.
*If there’s ever any scary event for your horse, or something spooks them violently while trying to move up a step, move back down again and go slower up.
*Always end on a good note. Even if that means walk your horse over a ground pole and making it seem like a big deal.
*Remember, anger, impatience or any other bad emotion will not make your horse cooperate. It takes kindness patience and forgivingness, while maintaining your stern, and firm sessions.
OTHER HELPFUL LINKS
These exercises will work for ANY other horse and are very helpful. Please feel free to comment on success as well! Or ask ANY questions