'Working With OTTB's Tips, Knowledge and Advice
OTTB's. Gotta love them. SO, because I love them so much, I'm starting a training thread. I will post numerous exercises and try to keep it updated. So, I'll start with knowledge.
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!
Advice. Here are some key points and necessities for those who are looking to go forward and buy one, or train.
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.
EXERCISES ARE TO BE POSTED BY ME IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS AS I TYPE THEM OUT ON A WORD DOCUMENT AND EDIT
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
Please note I also ALWAYS incourage a training program written out on paper to be kept in the barn, or a grooming box with you. Set small goals in the beginnning of each month and master them, checking off as you go. You can also have a trainer just take a glance at what you're thinking of as well!
Thanks for the info. We have a 5 y/o OTTB who had been off over a year now. He has been worked prior to our purchase this past Aug. Things were going so well with him and my daughter until yesterday. He spooked at something in the arena and took off running as fast as he could. My daughter was able to hold on and ride him pretty well but was unable to stop him. She lost her stirrup and after he turned the corner about the 12th time around the arena, she lost her balance and fell off. She was not seriously hurt, but her confidence has been shaken and she is now afraid he will do it again. It is very scary to see your daughter whipping around the arena on a locomotive out of control. I will be reading your posts with great interest. Thanks again.
Thank you and I hope she's able to build it back up. I can tell you that it's very scary, but I will be getting some very good exercises back up. If you'd like , you can show her this and maybe some of the exercises will help her and him build together :) Thanks!
Thank you for these! I'm on the verge of selling my 5-year old OTTB, but I won't be making a decision for a couple of months so I'll try these exercises to see if things get better.
I really rushed her training when I first got her. Now riding her makes me nervous because she's so reactive and always SO fast. Should I go back to the very beginning and just lunge her until she's quiet?
Well Just Jump it, it's really up to you... I'm posting some exercises right now!
Use this picture to help explain the exercise
So, transitions are a great way to get your horse to listen and focus in on you. I find that this exercise helps with slowing down even the fastest of TB's.
First, start this on a circle in half of the ring.(In the middle. Or a circle at B and E) Start at a walk, forward and have your horse as much on contact as possible. Next, as you pass B, (going either direction. I suggest doing in your stronger direction first for you to be most comfortable), pick up a trot. When you come to the letter E, halt. Now, do not start slowing down before... Just approach and when your shoulder becomes next to E, halt. Sit deep and bring your hands toward you. In this exercise, some horses will try to put their nose up and resist you so bring your hands down towards your hips, being careful not to use too much rein. Next, from the halt, move into a trot. Passing B, halt. Repeat this until your horse slows down and starts waiting for you. If your horse starts anticipating, mix up where you stop. Try at the letter I or L . As you get comfortable, do in both directions, and you can add the canter in. Canter right from a walk and work on those transitions. Generally, your horse will give you a better transition anyway, from a walk. And after halfway around the circle, halt. Your horse will slowly start to slow down and wait for you. When you're confident, try around the whole ring. Pick up at H, and stop at F. Then walk to M, or K and Pick up, stopping at the opposite. (No specific letters, just at least pass 2 or 3 when using the whole ring.
*A key to working with these independent OTTBS is that you don't want to use to much hand. They're naturally very sensitive to your seat and you can slow them up quite a bit using this
* This exercise might require a firm hand in the beginning. Just make sure that even if you must use a fairly strong hand that you're horse halts immediately. The more precise your horse is, the better it will work and more effective it will be! Good Luck
So, start doing this exercise on a circle on a to mix it up. Or on C. (Make the size of half of the ring so you're Passing through X. The larger circle will make the exercise better.
So,start at a trot, a working trot and you can sit, or post. -Clear your throat now- Start saying 1- 2- 3- 4 (yes outloud. It's embarrassing, but all good trainers talk out loud and nobody should ever say something rude for counting out loud). After 4, come down to a walk, and count; 1- 2- 3- 4. After four, pick up a working trot, and count again. Continue this and really focus on making your cues precise and accurate both picking up, and slowing down. You can use this for every transition( walk four, then pick up canter for four, then walk four, then trot four, then halt four then canter four etc) . Make it fun. Switch up the counting too. Try 8 seconds. Then 5. Then 7... Personalize it to your liking!
Consistancy is key. We all know that we aren't perfect riders, so work on getting your cues into a regular pattern and consistant. Stick withit, and be precise. If you say you're going to stop at A, don't settle for 3 feet past A. Don't start counting to four, then change to 8 cause it's too hard and you just don't feel like working at it. I've seen it been done and done this using two. It's not suggested for OTTB's right away but can be done. Please enjoy!
Stretching Physically, Not Mentally
So, this exercise is bonding, stretching etc. Kind of a less demanding one after the last two... So, a good rider lets their horse stretch out on a long rein before a ride, and in a ring, this part is commonly rushed, because I admit, it's BORING. And, naturally, you're excited for what's to come. Now, make sure before you do this, that you're in a closed in ring, field etc, so your horse does'nt runaway with you...
So, here are the exercises while your horse is on a loose rein
1. Shoulder/Arm Circles: Holding the reins in one hand, do arm circles with the other. Try to really stretch your shoulder, bring your arm back and around. Swap rein hands, and repeat with other arm.
2. Leg Pull Ups: Remove your feet, or just one foot from the stirrup. Now bend your knee so that your ankle comes up towards your butt. Drop your arm straight down and hold firmly onto your ankle. Pull up until you feel the stretch. Repeat with other leg.
3. B-A-C-K: Slowly lean far back until your head touches your horses hind quarters, stay for a second, then come back up to an upright position. (Or go as far as you feel comfortable). Repeat four or five times.
4. Toe Touches: Put your right hand straight up in the air above your shoulder. Now , FIRMLY KEEPING YOUR FANNY PLANTED IN THE SADDLE, reach straight down and touch your right toe. Hold three seconds and bring back straight up in the air. Now, go down and touch your left toe.Bring back up. That's one rep. Do 5 more. Then , switch hands.
5. Reaches: Keeping your fanny firmly in the saddle, reach forward with one, or both hands, to touch your horse's ears. Hold for a few seconds then switch hands if needed, or just repeat a few times.
Keep your butt firmly in the saddle. If at some pointyou feel unbalanced, you're doing it wrong.
SO, I'M GETTING A NEW HORSE TOMORROW! WILL BE POSTING TUTORIALS ON ALL OF THE EXERCISES TO HELP YOU! So excited! Will keep you posted.
Groundwork, groundwork, groundwork...not just with OTTBs but any and every horse is fundamental.
When you think about it, a TB has not been taught to use the "thinking" side of his brain...which is why he is SO quick to react, as well as run...it's not so much that the running itself has been so trained into him, it's just that he has not been taught how to use the thinking side of his brain, so the most "logical" thing for him to do in any situation, in his mind, is to run away.
This is why ground work is so crucial to a horse like that. He needs to learn respect, as well as how to think through things rather than react to them. I tend to like working with reactive type horses, and it's amazing how quickly you can transform a "looky, snorty, run-away" type horse with just consistent and firm groundwork; and doing exercises that make him use his body right from the start...get him to yield his hips and shoulders, make him move fowards, backwards, left and right...ie...make him THINK-vs-reacting. And when he is snorty and just plain goofy over something dorky like maybe a bag on a fence, just get his feet to move...the quicker you can "shift" the mind from the object back to yourself, the quicker he is going to learn to start thinking through situations. And don't shift from "I want you to look at it" to "I want you to move your feet'...just move his feet...making a horse look at something he is already 'scared of' only gives him leverage for the spook, and he can easily pull you over, or run you over. Get his mind OFF the object and back on you; eventually you will have gone past the object several times, and he will just be focused on you, even though you know he's seeing the object as well. I think too often people find it easy to "pamper" a horse who is so scared...that doesn't help the horse, and normally only tells the horse that you are insecure as well...you have to prove that you are a leader worth following, especially with a horse who is very reactive.
I would not even consider getting on a reactive horse (OTTB, or other) until he could do everything I asked from the ground without hesitation, both with and without distractions. I would have done a TON of desensitization to various objects and the horse has to have a firm grasp on lateral flexion, as that is going to be my emergency 'brake'. Especially with a TB, you don't want to try to stop him by simply pulling back...as he will likely run right through it. However, if you can get him to bend his head and neck you will be able to get him to slow down and eventually stop...like I said, horse HAS to know how to bend with little pressure from the rein before I will get on.
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