Ex-racehorses continue to gain in popularity, and there are countless success stories of these horses going on to have successful careers as competition horses, lesson horses, and even trail horses. But retraining an ex-racehorse can be a challenge. Here are six tips to help you out.
Give Him a Rest
If you're bringing home a horse straight off of the track, consider giving him a few months to just relax and be a horse. This time off can help to calm ex-racehorses, allowing them to settle into their new lives and better preparing them mentally for the training that's ahead.
Start From the Beginning
While ex-racehorses have technically been taught to be ridden, they're not taught in the same ways that you would train a typical riding horse. Ex-racehorses are trained to run, to lean into the bridle, and to go as fast as possible. When retraining an ex-racehorse, you really need to start his under saddle training from scratch. Act as if he knows very little about how to be ridden and you'll be on the right path.
Don't Pull Back
One of the major issues that riders run into when training ex-racehorses is the fact that, to a racehorse, pulling back on the reins means go. Racehorses are trained to lean into the bridle and let their jockeys help balance them, so when you pull back to ask an ex-racehorse to stop or slow down, he thinks that you're asking him to go faster. You'll need to invest some time in training the horse to stop leaning against bit pressure.
Depending on the discipline that you ride, you may have been taught to lean forward or get into 2-point at the canter. To an ex-racehorse, this is a signal to go faster and may get you quite the ride. As you're training your ex-racehorse, avoid getting into a 2-point or leaning forward, particularly at the canter, until the horse is well-trained.
Some ex-racehorses may be nervous during their initial training. It's important that you stay calm and confident in order to reassure the horse. The calmer you remain and the less of an event you make of a spook, the faster the horse can build his confidence in you and relax.
Build Muscle and Strength
Ex-racehorses typically don't have the balance or the correct muscles to travel on the smaller circles that we use when riding in a ring. Your horse may be able to walk and trot around the ring fine, but the canter requires special balance, especially when navigating ring corners. Don't ask too much of your horse too soon. Instead, give him the time to develop his strength and balance so that he can do the movements that you're asking of him.
Retraining an ex-racehorse can be a rewarding activity, but be sure to get help from a professional trainer if you need it.