training an ex racehorse

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training an ex racehorse

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    10-23-2011, 09:22 PM
training an ex racehorse

Does anyone know how I would go about training an ex race horse for western/ trail riding? I have tried getting her to stop wanting to run but she doesnt respond well to my commands. She is often very jumpy and skiddish. Also I would like to know what type of headstall I should use with her?
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    10-23-2011, 09:50 PM
Teen Forum Moderator
Welcome to the forum.

It sounds to me like you need some professional help. Retraining an OTTB is no easy feat, and takes a very firm, clear rider to do so correctly.

I'd start in a round pen, or small area- though, to minimise chances of her trying to take advantage of you or run away. How are her ground manners? I find that going from the ground up is the best way to retrain. Make sure that she leads without being pushy, backs on cue, yields to pressure at the poll, the bridge of her nose, shoulder, and hindquarters, and understands the word 'Woah.' Take some time to hand walk her with the saddle and bridle on, so that she understands that she doesn't always have to run when she's tacked.

I'd also try trotting her in-hand, with a friend near just in case. Ask her for a nice, easy trot that you can easily lead her at. If she goes faster than you want, immediately stop and say 'woah.' Walk her in a circle, then try the trot again. Continue until she's content to trot at your pace for as long as you want. At this point you could also try lunging her while saddled. Teach her to 'walk, trot, canter' and 'change' in both directions. I did this for the better half of two months with our OTTB, Noah- although he was fresh off of the track at this time.

Once her ground manners are good, you could try mounting her and asking her for a walk both verbally and with a small nudge. If she immediately starts off at a trot, sit deep in the saddle, keep contact with her mouth- and make her 'woah.' Do not allow her to continue to move forewards until she is merely at a lively walk.

I spent a whole month only walking. Racehorses take a while to unwind after being on the track and their muscles need to be 'retaught' how to walk and trot. Begin your work on yeilding to the bit and flexation at this time. Ask her to turn her nose towards your boot while at a standstill, or tuck her head for you. Once she really understands that she's supposed to give to pressure rather than lean against it, and is willing to listen to you- you can start trotting. This it the time to really work on balancing her. If she had problems with wanting to run away with you still, do what you did when you were learning to walk. Stop, then start again. Let her know that if she isn't going to listen to you, she isn't allowed to go anywhere at all.

I didn't even try to canter Noah until late in his sixth month with me. I wanted him to be listening to me and me alone, responding correctly to all of my commands, and really be at ease under the saddle before I allowed him to run. Even then, I only allowed him to run for short amounts of time at a slow, even lope. He was not in any way allowed to move faster than I asked.

I really advise in getting a trainer to help you. I've started two OTTBs, and watched three started. I have two trainers overseeing what I do- and always have them to help me when I get stuck. Noah is the first OTTB that I started completely by myself, and even then I always made sure to have someone supervising me, even if they werent doing anything but watching.

As for her bridle, what was she in when she was racing? What do you have her in now? I began Noah in a jointed eggbutt snaffle. It wasn't rough on his mouth, but I still had control. He was graduated to a jointed rubber snaffle three months ago, and has been off of the track for ten months.

It really just depends on a) your experience b) your horse's mouth and c) your situation. Again, I'd consult a trainer about this.

ETS: if she's jumpy, you might just want to let her wind down for a while. How long has she been off of the track? I gave Noah a month of just pasture grazing when he came to us, then began ground work. I didn't begin riding until the beginning of his third month with me. Do ground work with her, and a lot of desentisizing. Look up the Seven Games of Horsemanship and do those with her. I really think you'll benifit.
    10-23-2011, 10:38 PM
She has been off the track for around ten years. She has spent time at a ranch and has been lead around with someone on her back quite often. I have only started working with her for 2 days now and she is showing improvement. At first I didnt have much info on her behavior so I started gaining her trust. I lead her around and she kept trying to walk out in front of me. I walked in front of her and made her keep her nose behind my back and she quickly learned that I wanted to lead her instead of the other way around. I used a bareback saddle and an Australian bitless bridle and got on her back. I began by asking her to turn her head towards my boot and all she would do is back up to fight the command. She threw her head and fought the reins. She even rared up and started bucking. I rode her till she stopped then got off her back and ensured her that everything was ok. Unbelievably she doesnt move forward when im in the saddle and ask her to. But if I let her loose gave her her head she would take off. I have thought about round pen work but havent tried yet. I havent thought about leading her at a slow trot I will try that tomorrow. She does listen to "woah" and calms down quickly. She doesnt mind me being on her back but I don't want to rush anything, I only got on her just to see where she was since I havent spent much time with her and didnt have much info on her. Should I try introducing her to other surroundings besides a pasture and round pen? Should I try using a snaffle, or even a hackamore? I have been training horses for about 12 years and do realize my limits. I really appreciate all the advice you have to offer and hope to get more feedback.
    10-24-2011, 02:08 PM
Teen Forum Moderator
She's been off of the track for ten years? Well that's definitely a different situation than I assumed this was. I'm guessing that she has had little to no prior training after being off of the track?

First off I would advise in changing your tack. Using a bareback pad is going to feel a lot like wearing a racing saddle to her. This may be the reason that she is acting so hot. I would tack her up with a nice, deep seated western saddle. Riding a hot horse and attempting to train her in a bareback pad spells trouble to me. As for the Australian Bitless bridle, I have no experience with it and will not tell you yay or nay as far as it goes. I do know that it is a crossover bridle, though, and that some horses don't like the full head pressure. If I were you, I'd put her in a simple jointed snaffle. Whether it is steel, copper, or rubber is up to you and the horse.

When turning her head towards your boot, what exactly are you doing? I personally begin with gently 'wiggling' my reins on the side that I want her head to turn, and I loosen my opposite rein. If she gives to the pressure at all, (even a bit of a head bump in the right direction) reward her by releasing and praising her. Gradually ask her to turn more and more. It may take a few days to get her reaching all the way back to your boot, but once you've mastered it, it is not only a good concentration, flexation, and warmup techique, it can help you stop her if she were to run away with you.

I highly recommend the round pen work, before anything else. Do everything in the correct order, giving her atleast a week of the same thing before trying to teach her something else. Otherwise, you'll overwhelm her and she will become dangerous.

How often are you able to work with her? When retraining Noah, Shaniah, and Zeebee (all 9-16 year old OTTBs with no formal training) I would work them for 30-45 minutes, four to five times per week. You really can't do any less than that and expect them to improve. OTTBs are not weekend horses.
    10-24-2011, 04:04 PM
I have an OTTB too, and I found that everything progressed smoothly the slower I went. There were no time restrictions. I walked him for a steady month before even bothering with a trot, and we went out often with a group of experienced horses and people who wouldn't put up a fuss if my gelding did something silly - which he rarely did.

Take it slow would be my suggestion, and treat her like she knows nothing. Would you start a two year old whose never been saddled this way? Also as far as the spookyness goes, I would recommend groundwork. "sack her out" ... flap around scary things near her while she's confined to an easy to work in space (always keeping yourself at a safe distance and only work closer to her when she's comfortable with you out there)

As far as equiptment goes when you do get on her, I like a sturdy Western Saddle - but Australian should work too. Also, I prefer a good bridle with a bit that has the ability to offer a more enforced stop if need be.
I use this one on my horse after trying a couple different types and had the best success with it:
    10-24-2011, 07:28 PM
My OTTB has a very sensitive mouth and is prone to rearing I would defo put nothing stronger than a snaffle in any ex racer I think they are more likely to panic than stop especially anything with alot of leverage!!! I think above comments reflect my findings they progress so well if they feel relaxed and its in thier own time :) I think treat them like a youngster is good advice too I just hacked and hacked and hacked my mare after racing then entered the schooling several months in and short spaced out schooling works better for her. Also they are completely the wrong shape for most other work so I've gently been progressing with building a topline slowly on Bramley. They are such rewarding horses to work with :) ill put a couple of pics up if you would like? :) x
    10-24-2011, 07:34 PM
Circles circles circles! Cut the grain if you do give her some...You need to take big direction changes when she adds speed you don't want. Then when you have her calm you will need to take her in circles over cavalettis to get her to pick up the canter and on the correct lead...Have fun it is really fun!
    10-24-2011, 08:10 PM
I would like to see your pics :) im a picture-addict lol. And I agree to do whatever works best. I tried the D-ring and didn't like it. I also tried a sliding gag bit on recommendation from someone I knew and threw it in the garbage shortly after. If done right, a leverage-style can be just as light as an o-ring with far less movement from the riders hands. And you don't lose any softness. I now trust my gelding in just his halter for riding, and can switch back to a D-ring for my lame attempts at English riding lol.
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    10-25-2011, 12:51 AM
I have been simply walking her with the bitless bridle. Allowing her time to get used to it. I have made up my mind that I will not put a bit in her mouth although I have always used a bit in every horse I have ever owned. We started a small amount of longeing today and well it didnt go so well. It was obvious that she had no idea what I was asking her to do. She has changed a lot even in a few days. She does not out run me when I lead her anymore and she listens greatly to "woah" I have no problem getting her to stop. I will try to stop using the bareback saddle. The person I am training her for wants to keep things as natural as possible. My mare shows complete respect and trust in me and is not showing any signs of aggression or fear for anything I try to do. Longeing her is the main problem I am facing right now.
brackenbramley likes this.
    10-25-2011, 12:53 AM
I am working with her 5 to 6 days a week. I mainly try to spend about 2 hours with her each day not working her the whole time just building a relationship

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