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!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!