Tips, advice and ideas – Part 1
The best money you will spend when buying or acquiring an x-race horse is a general vetting and soundness check.
Before you begin to retrain your x-racehorse we plead with you to pause and think about your horses journey and teachings to date. Let’s take a moment to think about how utterly confusing it is for the horse, been ridden alone, been stepped up on, the difference in the tack, environment, feed, regime and how everything they’ve been thought from day one is now not always what we want in their new career.
As a foal or yearling, they are thought to walk, if they have a long stride, they are pushed to really ‘walk on’, shoulder to shoulder, forward, always forward. As a breaker, again, its all about going forward and following the lead horse. Basically, everything they know is go go go, breaks and gears are sometimes finely tuned when they know how to go forward.
Racehorses are used to their riders mounting and getting a leg up on them while they are walking (and going forward) they usually don’t take time to stand around, you can start to see how confusing this can be for a horse. So, read on with an empathetic and open mind.
First things first
I always give the x-racer at least a month off in the field, remember thoroughbreds are thin skin so they feel the cold more than your sport horse or native breeds so a rug may be necessary (see our rugging blog). It’s worth asking the previous owner or handler how often the horse is turned out, sedation may be required for the safety of the horse.
It’s great if you can bring the horse in for a little feed every day, so it gets use to you and the yard, this helps to know if the horse is a worrier when stabled too.
Best practice is to always get a vet and/or dentist to check the horse before you start any exercise, if the horse has sharp teeth this can lead to problems. Feed a low protein feed and plenty of roughage to begin with and re-evaluate the diet depending on the horses temperament and body condition at a later date.
Lunging is great for your x-racehorse, for them to find their own balance and listen to your voice, I am I BIG fan of voice commands, walk on, trot, canter, click (if getting lazy) steady (only used to slow and move down the gaits) and whoa – only used to halt! Even leading, I constantly use my voice, its incredible how responsive they can get, whoa when opening closing gate, back etc.
The only lunging aids I really use are side reins, this is a personal choice, I like to keep things simple. In my opinion I find they learn not to snatch the reigns and if side reigns aren’t fitted too tight, they generally don’t get forced behind the bit unlike other aids that apply poll pressure. Be patient and please don’t run straight away for gadgets.
Whatever makes the rider feel more comfortable will benefit the horse. I generally allow the horse to live out, I find ‘Dr Green’ the best medicine and we all want a happy, healthy and content horse!
You’ll hopefully have gotten the all clear from your vet and dentist, your horse shouldn’t be fresh after the lunging (even lunge before you ride). Ensure your saddle fits and is well padded before riding but not over padded as it can move/roll on the horse. It’s advised you’ve someone on the ground to help mount because as I said earlier this is all new. I sometimes use grass to distract them and use it as a treat when mounting. Never underestimate how reassuring it is for the horse to be praised! For the first few days I don’t ask too many questions of the horse, I get to know him/her and their way of going before I go trying to change anything for at least a week or so. The first few exercises I try are transitions. Depending on the size of your arena I will walk a lap, trot, walk, trot, so on. It can be repetitive, but it’ll be worth it!! All the time using my voice and seat, close thighs on the saddle to slow down the gaits and sitting tall and heavy with shoulders back at the same time when asking to slow down and halt. Going up the gaits tend to be easier, just loosen your thighs but not your lower leg, squeeze.
I find riding everyday in the early stages works well, even if its just for a 10min walk and some transitions. Hacking can be very good for the x-racer and if your horse is hesitant hacking or in the arena for that matter a good ‘babysitter horse’ and rider will be a life saver as long as the rider understands what you want them to do (stay in front or beside if you need a lead). Sometimes the x-racehorse may just need some moral confidence from another horse. Always praise the little accomplishments and if your horse is wary or unsure just allow the horse to have a second to suss out whatever it is wary of and a reassuring pat will work better than a smack, I find – ALWAYS.
A horse that trusts their rider is far more effective than a horse with talent alone.
Before I move on to do canter work, I make sure my transitions are good especially going down the gaits. Generally it’s a good idea to start out by cantering in a half seat (eventing seat) sometimes the x-racers can struggle to balance and end up disunited which can make you bounce around their back like a Ping-Pong ball which they won’t like! Patience is essential here, some horses only go one way around a gallop or on the walker so picking up leads can be a struggle and may take a bit of time. Try let them find their own balance too, don’t hold them together too much if you can avoid it, it can be a difficult habit to get them out of (this is why lunging is so important). Stay balanced in the saddle often leaning to the inside can encourage them to counteract by leading with the outside leg. It’s a good idea to continue lunging once a week at this stage and if the horse is struggling in canter I’ll do a lot of canter transitions and of coarse make a bit fuss of them when they get it right!
Depending on your level of riding I generally start leg yielding at this point (generally 3-4 weeks into work), in walk and into the fence / out side of arena so I turn a few feet away from the fence and once the horse is straight I push them towards the fence with my entire leg (not heel!!!). This will be natural for them and great safe way of getting them to listen to leg aids. An easy day where you go back to basics, walk/trot transitions is good for their brain too every now and then.
Outside bends and inside bends are good at this point too. Using leg and hand, asking the horse to bend for a few strides to the inside then straighten them and ask for an outside bend. This has saved my bacon at so many shows. I’ve stepped foot into a showing class, have to walk and if my horse goes hollow and behind the bit and feel like they are about to explode, I straight away leg yield and out side and inside bends just to get their brain back, it’s my go to exercise!