Retraining a former racer - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 16 Old 12-19-2015, 01:52 AM Thread Starter
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Retraining a former racer

I'm new/not new to horses. I rode for 13 years but that was 15 years ago. I never owned before.

This spring I volunteered at a thoroughbred rescue in my area and fell in love with a 5 year old gelding. He had some issues that I had to consider- he'd been on stall rest for 5 months when I first met him, he had an old slab fracture of his left knee, he was otherwise in what I would consider OK shape and he was gentle, kind and enjoyed attention.

Fast forward a bit, I adopted him in May and started working with him- ground work, basic voice commands, surcingle and long line mostly just trying to get him going in any direction. I have no prior experience with training horses on my own but I had the help of a veteran owner who trained her own horse at the time. He did great, I learned a lot but I've come up against a major roadblock that I'm not sure how to get over now and hope someone with experience with ex-racers can help.

On November 8th, we were riding in the outdoor, mostly walk/trot, doing patterns, serpentines, small exercises in flexibility. We cantered once in each direction, but going clockwise, my boy decided suddenly that we were racing. The end result was that I was tossed and broke my hand pretty badly, so have not been able to ride since. I and others have restarted ground work and we're seeing a pattern emerge that I honestly don't know how to discourage.

He listens very well until he's asked to canter for the first time. After that, all bets are off as to what will happen next. He might simply stop listening and continue to canter, he might pull the entire line out of your grip and go wheeling off across the arena, he might simply become a brat who "forgets" his cues and becomes very high strung and flighty, spooky at the least thing.

I've always been taught that what you do in one direction, you do in both, but it's impossible to get him to respond well enough to complete a decent workout in both directions and I'm truly at a loss how to teach him that I'm not looking for a headlong dash after we canter in one direction. If anyone has any suggestions of exercises to do, books to read, people to reach out to, I would be truly grateful. This guy is my best friend and a dream come true and I just want us to be moving towards a partnership we will both be happy with.

Brief info about my guy:

Name: Northern Bridge (just Bridge at the barn)
Height: sticked at 15.3 hh
Age: 5 years
Injury: confirmed fused slab fracture of left knee
Feeding: Purina Strategy (two coffee cans, twice a day due to being underweight when I adopted him)
Supplement: Biotin 100mg (morning only)
Turnout: Minimum 8 hours a day with other horses, weather permitting)
Feet: Barefoot, seeing the farrier every 6 weeks to improve hoof condition
Vices: so far not many aside from as outlined above
Oraien is offline  
post #2 of 16 Old 12-19-2015, 08:41 AM
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Aww, congrats on your new baby! I too am getting back into horses after many years off so I know how exciting that is.

As for training your OTTB, I know nothing and I haven't ridden one. But, I've seen a lot of great posts about it here in the past. Here's one: https://www.horseforum.com/horse-bree...d-yours-64313/

Happy riding!!
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post #3 of 16 Old 12-19-2015, 08:55 AM
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I am facing a similar issue with my new guy, a 15yo retired harness racer. Despite some other issues around his general behaviour of late, I've noted that his "special" training does lead to some little issues too.

He won't canter or gallop when being ridden (harness racing is a huge-gaited trot), he tends to be ancy on rides unless he's in the lead (winning), and patting him on the shoulder, to him, means "go faster", not "good job".

Been working on these things for a few months now with some more experienced trainers/owners...but it takes time.
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post #4 of 16 Old 12-19-2015, 09:23 AM
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Can you lunge him clockwise without him taking off? That's where I would start. Go back to lunging, with emphasis on going clockwise, when he can go quietly, consistently, move on to the saddle. Saddle him up, have a knowledgeable friend in the middle with the lunge line, and have them lunge you at the canter clockwise.at first, You just give the cue to canter, the person on the lunge line controls the speed. You should pay close attention to your body language during these sessions. Don't tense up, don't pull on his mouth. When he's centering nicely with you just asking for the canter, then leaving him alone, start asking for him to slow down with your body first, then the reins. Sit back on your butt bones, tell him whoa, then squeeze and release the reins. If you say whoa and squeeze the reins twice and he doesn't stop, have the person on the lunge line stop him. It will take good team work on the two humans part to get the timing correct, but he will eventually understand that whoa and a squeeze on the reins means stop. When you can stop him with just sitting back and saying whoa on the lunge consistently, you can move to off the line.

Off the line, we implement the one rein stop. Your going to want to practice this at the walk and trot before you move up to trying it at the canter. Basically, you take your inside rein, and pull the horses nose around almost to your knee, while using your inside leg to push the horses hips out, thus disengaging the hind end and stopping the forward motion. The faster you go, the more dangerous this becomes, and at the canter, you don't want to bring your horses nose all the way around, just far enough to move his front end off track.

Use the skills you taught him on the lunge, and ask him for his clockwise canter. Be careful not to tense up, or pull in his mouth. If he goes nicely for half a lap, stop him and praise him. If he bolts, use your one rein stop, then make him trot a few small circles. Bring him back to the rail, and try again. He'll eventually learn that bolting gets his head taken away and he has to work harder (the circles), so he'll want to just canter nicely for you.
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post #5 of 16 Old 12-19-2015, 01:46 PM
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Is polework to work towards gaining control out of the question with this guy?
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post #6 of 16 Old 12-19-2015, 02:37 PM
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I sort of skimmed as I am off to work in a sec, so forgive me if I've got this wrong.

He only takes off or fails to listen going in one direction, not both? What does he do at the walk/trot while going the "bad" direction? Does he ever take off or not pay attention on his "good" side? Has he always been this way, or is this something new? What does he do on the lunge line? Does he do this just for you, or your trainer as well?

I am really wondering if it's not pain related to be honest with you. Could be from the fracture, could be from another previous injury - or he could simply need a chiro adjustment. I'd get vet out if it were me, especially knowing he has a previous injury.
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post #7 of 16 Old 12-19-2015, 03:29 PM
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When asked to canter clockwise, does he give a couple of strides before going into a gallop or does he go into a gallop immediately? Do you ask for the canter going into the corner, or on the straight?

If you can ask for the canter going into the corner and only allow 2 strides before dropping down into the trot, then repeat at each corner, getting him to only expect a couple of strides before gearing down, you may be able to gradually lengthen the number of canter strides before a down transition. If this works and gets comfortable, begin asking farther back from the corner so you will be turning into the corner, one additional stride at a time, over time, until you can ask on the straight.

If he is always expecting you are going to ask him to transition down after a very few strides, you may be able to keep him at a canter eventually. This may take months or even a year.
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post #8 of 16 Old 12-19-2015, 04:24 PM
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So sorry about your hand!!
Your horse needs to understand a solid Whoa, so that you can stop the racetrack in him. He should be taught this as a verbal whoa first, so that anytime you ask, he will immediately halt. Being as you are retraining him, this should be the one thing you work on for the next 3 months. You might as well Also teach him to drop his head down and towards you to be haltered. A good week of asking for this, and then solid reinforcement will really help your OTTB. At the track they do NOT tie them, just have human holders, so that needs to also be fixed.
I have owned two OTTB's, and the one that was sound, 8yo, "Prime Time", couldn't get past being lunged fast for 15 minutes and hard, else he would run and buck. He also had a bad back. I had gotten him for my DH, 6'5" tall, because he was 16'2hh, but the extra weight hurt him. Sometimes, we would be in the middle of a battle weekend, and the horse would lay down, because his back was hurting.
It is possible that your horse is racing away because he is in pain and the only thing he knows to do is run. A leg injury is serious and may not have healed OR may not ever heal right.
DON'T get me started on the TB racing industry, and how they treat horses like toilet paper and then sell them for the sports riders!!!
I hope and pray that he is just not fully healed yet.
Good luck. I want you to know that I wish you the best, even though I don't recommend getting OTTB's, because, again, the industry uses them up.
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A Jack and Three Queens, the latest book by James C. Dedman, Amazon.com
Hope that you fall in love with "Trot", like I did! https://www.horseforum.com/general-of...queens-617793/
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post #9 of 16 Old 12-20-2015, 09:55 PM Thread Starter
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First, thank you everyone for your suggestions, kind words and information- I really really appreciate it and it made me smile to check and get so much back from my admittedly disjointed explanation of the issue!

To correct something I inadvertently hinted at, this problem seems to happen in both directions only when cantering. I was out at the barn yesterday and lunging him and when I would play out the lunge to ask him to do a working trot or canter, his listening fell apart anyhow, so we went back to VERY basic, w/t transitions with about the length of a standard lead line between he and I. He listened beautifully when he realized we weren't going to c- but the minute it enters his head that we'll canter either direction, he becomes.... frantic? Rushed? I don't know how to describe it. He just stops listening, he loses focus, he rushes, everything becomes fast, faster, fastest-

Specifically, thank you AnalisaParalyzer for your thorough explanation of a method to work him through this. It made so much sense to me when I read it- I suppose that's the problem with being inexperience; It makes sense, but I wouldn't have put that together myself. I DO, as it happens, have an awesome horsewoman as one of my very closest friends and she is willing to do whatever we need to get my boy back to where we want him.

Also thank you to Corporal- I appreciate the well-wishes a lot and thoroughly understand why you feel that way about OTTBs. When I adopted him, we weren't sure he'd even be rideable and to be honest, I was ok with that. He was my buddy and I couldn't stand to see him go to someone else. He will actually put his head down and into his halter when presented with it (I'm short and he might actually still be growing) because we have worked on that in the barn quite a lot. He refuses to be trailered but will go into his stall like a true gentleman if you just give him slack and lift the lead a bit. He's friendly, inquisitive, likes to be paid attention to and doesn't have any stall vices. I would have even said, before November, that we were working very well towards solid responses to voice cues but all that's backslid considerably since I fell.

For the first four months I worked with him, he had no problems at all being cross-tied, standing for grooming and bathing, fussing and everything else. Since we've moved to the new barn, however, he's put on considerable weight (he was pretty underweight when I moved him) and because he's started to feel really good and healthy with regular farrier visits, getting his teeth floated and upgraded feed schedule, I'm starting to really see who he is as an individual, and he's sassy and a bit nervous at times, like he gets stuck in his own head too much.

Thankfully, I have x-rays that prove his knee is fused solid and he's never come up lame, hot or otherwise on the knee in question, so I don't THINK it's pain. If the problem persists with consistent training in the next couple weeks, I'll have the vet do more x-rays and give him a thorough workup to see if they can find something, but I think this is training rather than physical injury (or hope so!).

Sorry to be so wordy. This is my first horse (turned 31 this year) and first riding experience in a very long time and I'm equal parts floating on cloud 9 over it all and completely stumped!
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post #10 of 16 Old 12-20-2015, 11:02 PM
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Maybe I missed it, but when did you start him under saddle? How long have you been asking for canter work? Is he good for your trainer and on the lunge?

You sound like you're fairly "on the ball" about him, but I would get a professional saddle fitter out, and a chiro. Sounds like he vet checks fine, so I'd go with the other two and be 100% certain this is not a pain issue regardless of if it's related to the previous injury or not - but sounds like you've been given green light from the vet regarding the injury.
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