This post is by Katie Hill, a professional trainer who writes about horses at Reflections on Riding. Katie and I share a fondness for hot horses, and if you’d like to join the fan club, check out her tips below for a confident ride on a confident horse.
I love Thoroughbreds (and I’m guessing you do, too, or you wouldn’t be reading Natalie’s blog). I’ve been riding ex-racehorses since I was a child, when Thoroughbreds off the track were the trade up from Shetland ponies.
Today, when so many other breeds (or in the case of warmbloods, registries) have unseated Thoroughbreds from their rightful place in the stable, I have to remind people that not every Thoroughbred is hot. If you don’t want a hot horse, I tell dressage riders and hunter/jumpers alike, then just look for one that’s not. There are plenty out there.
Which will leave more hot Thoroughbreds for people like me, who really like them.
Why do I like a hot horse? Training a hot horse to be “hot off the leg” is easy. Sensitivity is built in. Expressiveness, even brilliance, often come gratis with the hot horse.
I’ll admit, though, that hot horses’ behaviors can be challenging. Rushing, rearing, bolting, studly neck-shaking, and playful bucking are only some of the shenanigans. (According to the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins the origin of the word shenanigans is likely the Irish sionnachuighim — “I play the fox” or “I play tricks” – inspired by an Irish Thoroughbred, perhaps?).
If you’ve ever ridden a hot horse, you’ve heard the phrase “I play tricks” right through your saddle, I’m sure. So what to do about the shenanigans played by your hot OTTB? Here’s my top ten list:
1. Manage the problem while you’re not in the saddle. Lots of turnout. Room to run. Preferably with others if you can manage to dispense with hind shoes. Free choice hay. No sweet feed.
2. Discover what you need to do to get your horse calm (remember “Calm, forward and straight,” the mantra of Alexis L’Hotte, Ecuyer en Chef at Saumur from 1864 to 1870). Maybe the only way you can get calm is to start work with your hot horse in trot. Or in canter. Work up (or should I say down?) gradually to what should ideally be your warmup — a 10 minute walk on a loose rein.
3. Don’t be a prison guard — let your horse look around, and express himself a bit. Be a good friend and understand that your horse is a little edgy, a little anxious or maybe even a Type A. That’s okay. Be a role model for calm focus and stay cool. You can’t take too many breaks. When you do take a break, try walking on a loose rein or just standing to let things “soak.”
4. Don’t get sucked in. When you’re with your horse, on the ground or in the saddle, the agenda is yours. (See above, though; don’t be a prison guard.) Don’t fight the misbehavior. Correct and move on. Don’t take any of it personally. Smile, laugh or sing if you can.
5. Be brave. If being on a hot horse scares you, work on it. But work on it somewhere else than on your horse’s back.
6. Voltes (or small circles) are your friends. If your horse is rushing and your half-halts meet with “la la la, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!,” ride a volte. Voltes are easier when horses are balanced, so horses end up trying to rebalance themselves and that slows them down naturally.
7. Be the kind of partner everyone wants — reliable but also fun and creative. Keep sessions with your horse interesting, employing lots of different figures, lengthenings, cavaletti, jumping, liberty work (hot horses love liberty work) and changes of venue. Transitions in and out of gaits are useful and important, but try not to live there (overdo it, or do it tactlessly, and you’ll drive your hot horse insane). If you feel up to it and there’s a place to do it, there’s nothing like a good gallop.
8. Lunging is a great tool, but not to get the energy out. That won’t work with a hot horse. Most hot horses have “no bottom,” as they say. If your hot horse is racing fit on top of it, you’ll just add fuel to the fire. But lunging is a great tool for focus and freedom (leave off the side reins) and the ritual can be calming to a hot horse.
9. Make sure your hot horse isn’t rushing away from pain. Check for ulcers, and if you suspect something’s amiss, check in with your vet. Vets with a focus on holistic medicine can rebalance a hot horse with alternative remedies ( Dr. Xie’s Jingtang Herbal’s Shen Calmer is magic). Maybe your horse has a magnesium deficiency (Performance Equine’s magnesium is getting rave reviews). Maybe one of the other calming supplements would help. They’re finding out that Omega 3 deficiency may be linked to ADHD; why not try Wellpride?
10. Finally, embrace the power. Enjoy it and see where it can take you.