I stand by my premise that you can’t ride a racehorse, retired or not, without understanding racehorses. I hope I’m not alone in this, but the world of equine literature keeps letting me down. In searching the web and books for different insights on reschooling OTTBs, I keep reading the same inane words over and over: that we must convince an OTTB to forget the things that he has been taught.
What educational curriculum would ever advise such nonsense? Would you teach a child a new language by saying, “Right, I know you’ve spent years only speaking English. But what I really need is for you to speak Dutch. So we’re going to stop speaking English, and from this point forward, you only get taught things in Dutch – starting. . . now.”
I’m a bit sad to be part of the new media movement at times, because from what I’ve been seeing, the Internet is the world’s worst place to get advice. Here is an example, from one of those “Write for us for free and you’ll become famous!” Web sites:
“An off-track Thoroughbred has very limited experience. He knows only how to circle a track at full speed, so retraining such horses from racing can be difficult.”
“You should know that working with off-track Thoroughbreds can be dangerous. Because they aren’t used to human-equine interaction, they can be slower than other horses to form a bond.”
Honestly. The article also suggests using draw reins to teach your horse not to gallop, which of course ignores completely the very common practice of galloping racehorses in draw reins.
I suppose what alarms me most about this article is that this isn’t the article I was looking for! There is more out there… I was actually looking for one that explicitly stated that everything a Thoroughbred racehorse had ever learned was wrong. I read it last week and it annoyed me so much that I didn’t save it.
The point is, when you ignore your horse’s history, you do so at your own peril. How can you train your horse with no regard or knowledge of his foundation? Certainly it can’t be done safely.
Whenever I come back from a day at the track, I have a better ride.
Today was no exception. I got on Final Call expecting the worst. After all, he’s had several days off for weather/work issues, the wind was gusting ridiculously, and the footing was bad. There were lots of valid reasons to expect him to give me trouble.
But I changed up his riding routine a little bit. I think I’d been giving him a little too much of the Normal Horse warm-up. Too much circling and suppling and relaxing. He doesn’t understand that. Why are we being boring? Why don’t we have some fun?
So I did what Final Call was expecting, instead of what the books say to do. What do the books know, anyway? Watching the horses come out of the paddock and doing their jogs and gallops was still fresh in my mind. I decided to do the same thing with my retired racehorse.
Would I be telling you all this if it wasn’t right? Of course not! He was lovely. He trotted, I let him break into a gallop, we cantered around the paddock in both directions. And then, when I put my leg on and asked nicely – leg yields. Yes, really. He just needed his head on straight, poor boy. A warmblood may get his head on straight by doing some complicated half-voltes and transitions. An OTTB needs to go for a nice canter.
It’s another one of those little moments where it’s incredibly important to understand where your horse has been. There’s no reason to change the language on him suddenly. Be subtle. Learn a little bit of his language. Get out there and see some live racing! Spring is here, the weather is improving – just go!