My work with racehorses
The most commonly occurring problems with the retraining of racehorses are often overlooked. I know after my work training and riding my own racehorses that it is important to factor into the retraining the original way in which racehorses are trained.
Racehorses that run on the flat are trained in a very different way to racehorses that run over hurdles and fences. Some horses do both, however they have to possess certain abilities and attitudes to do this well.
Primarily the flat racing is all about what I call raw speed and tactical speed. Raw speed is when the horse is just running on its instinct without any particular response to the rider’s signals. Tactical speed is where the horse will run fast but will allow the rider to be involved in how fast it goes and where in a race it uses most energy.
Horses win races for one of two reasons, they either go faster or they take bigger strides. The most successful ones do both. Therefore, when retraining racehorses, it is essential to remember these factors.
Jumping in racing is getting more technical these days as people strive to work out why a particular horse will not do a particular thing well in a jump race. Getting the horse to settle into a good even rhythm for example is critical in ensuring a good clean jump, so retraining ex jumping horses is often more straight forward for eventing. However, it is interesting to note that as more and more ex racehorses go eventing there is an emerging trend for these horses to struggle with the dressage phase. This is mainly because dressage is work undertaken when the horse has a more closed or shorter frame and that is the absolute opposite of how they have spent their life in racing, particularly on the flat.
Common problems with ex racehorses
You can split the most common problems with retraining racehorses into two categories. First there is the skill set of the rider, second the trainability of the horse. Whilst racehorses can be very attractive, they can be very dangerous and it is peoples inability to cope with the racehorse when it gets excited that is the most challenging. When they are good it is no problem but when they get uppity it is essential the rider remains calm.
I remember one ex racehorse would be fine then just cat leap about the place. The last thing the rider must do is panic, the horse will express itself and then settle. It is important to remember these horses have been trained and are ready to go in the blink of an eye. This is the point at which some people fall off or panic and get lucky. One client had two legs broken by his own ex racehorse when the horse really only wanted to canter but the rider was not ready. Great care must be taken to get professional advice.
Herein lies another common problem, as there is an assumption that people who happen to be a riding instructor can deal with ex racehorses, when in fact, they cannot. My advice if seeking professional help is to stick to someone with professional experience of racehorses, and better still with actual racing qualifications, which I have. Racing qualifications are very expensive and therefore there are not that many people about who have them but be careful not to assume people who ‘coach’ but have never worked with racehorses can help you, they probably cannot.
When it all comes together there is no finer sight than a thoroughbred flowing along in good hands and performing well, they are the most challenging in terms of retraining but also the most rewarding. The many successes I have had with them prove this and number amongst my most satisfying equine achievements to date.