Learning to Love the Herd

This is a tough weekend for me and I’ll do my best to keep up. There’s so much to talk about! I am now thinking very hard about leads and counter-canters thanks to GoLightly’s excellent post. Racehorses know quite a lot about both of these things – and experienced racehorses are quite adept at changing their leads in order to save themselves from fatigue or bad steps.

But in keeping with yesterday’s post (where I asked how often Final Call has probably been turned out with other horses) let’s stay on topic for thirty seconds – always difficult for me.

The truth is, he was probably quite lucky. The last time he went out with another horse was probably when he was a fall yearling – about 18 months of age.

I’ve worked for several “top trainers,” none of whom I will be naming, so no need to ask, and they all have had very different methods for starting their yearlings. The one that I preferred, turned his horses out every afternoon, and they stayed out all night. These horses were top-tier, Kentucky-bred, Fasig-Tipton purchases, and several of the ones that I started went on to become stakes winners. At least one is now a top young sire. I am sure that they were more amiable to train and more sound as two-year-olds because they were able to interact in herd settings after their morning work-outs.

Another, rather equally successful, trainer did not turn his young horses out. He did, however, put very solid dressage backgrounds on his young horses, and they were ridden longer and more thoroughly than the first trainer’s horses – which in its own way contributed to their amiability and soundness. Thus proving that there is always more than one good way to raise a horse!

Not the halter. . !

When asked about the most difficult part of retiring the gelding Funny Cide, veteran trainer Barclay Tagg remarked that you can’t just turn a horse out after he’s been at the racetrack – they haven’t lived “as horses” for years!

I also like the example that Janet Del Castillo gives in her funny little text, “Backyard Racehorse,” about a yearling that she purchased at auction, turned out in a paddock next to some other horses, which then proceeded to run through several fences in a desperate bid to escape the scary Other Horses – the poor little hothouse flower hadn’t been turned out in company in at least six months.

I believe that an essential step in introducing your retired racehorse to “normal” barn life is to achieve turn-out with other horses. I know many, many show and event horses do not get turned out with others. I understand the reasons for this. But I also believe that every possible effort should be made to give them at least one pasture friend.

In Final Call’s case, I very slowly introduced him to company over the course of a week. In the barn, I kept him in a foaling stall for the first night, with windows to look out at the broodmares. In the first morning, he was able to talk to a mare over a gossip wall while she ate breakfast (and threatened him). Then he went out in a round pen, isolated, for a day. After that, a field where he could see the mares, but was afraid of them due to the electric wire! And now, at the end of the week, out with the yearlings.

Mentally, they’re a good match. His social education would have ended as a yearling. With these kids, you can tell he doesn’t know his own size. His mannerisms are very similar to theirs. He isn’t pushy or rough with them, he just plays. And he is content to let the filly continue to be Alpha.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s experience with re-socializing OTTBs or any other socially isolated horse!



Filed under Final Call, Herd Life, Stereotypes, Training Theory

5 responses to “Learning to Love the Herd

  1. I think we need a Final Call Cam. Yummy halter! I love his expression, ayup, that’smynose.
    Totally agreed. Turn out or exercise is crucial.

    He’s so lucky he found you. He can learn about being a horse horse again:)

  2. Natalie Keller Reinert

    Awww thanks. I live by my own brand of natural horsemanship, that’s for sure! Forage, turn-out, barefoot, and a little bite mark or two never hurt anyone 🙂

  3. He looks so thrilled. (My old OTTB was the halter-grabber in that relationship. Though he never dared pulled that on mares.

    Lucky is currently getting turned out in a smaller paddock attached to his stall, where he can come and go all day. He can see the other horses in the two big pastures, but so far we haven’t tried him with them. The concern is not so much his behavior (though we’re not sure what he’d do) and how the others, either the two geldings or the lone mare, will react.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Yes the mare will probably eat him! It is great to watch Final Call submit to the yearling filly with scarcely any physical gestures that I can see. She marches up, and he moves out of the way. The amazing Alpha Mare. Probably reminds him of his mummy.

      I took the halter off. That beautiful Quillens leather! I love those halters so much! Why, I think I feel a post coming on…

  4. When I brought Gabe home he got put in a paddock next to my other two. They could visit over the fence and he seemed very, very interested in trying to play.

    I gave them 2 week separated before I put them together in the big pasture. BIG MISTAKE! My daughter’s 25-year-old appaloosa gelding is the boss and he did not like Gabe being anywhere near him or “his mare” in the same pasture. Gabe just wanted to play and be close to them, it was obvious he had no desire to challenge Chief for the top dog spot but he wasn’t quite sure how to approach! Chief was nasty and ugly to Gabe and nearly ran him through the fence a few times. So, they got to live separate again.

    It took a good 8 months living in separate paddocks and turned out in different pastures before I could turn all three out together in harmony. Gabe is perfectly content at the bottom of the totem pole and Chief has finally accepted that Gabe won’t steal his lady. All it takes is one ugly look from Chief and Gabe is running to the other side of the pasture.

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