RETRAINING: what you need to know
Retraining a racehorse will take both time and patience but can be incredibly rewarding. Most thoroughbreds are extremely intelligent and will adapt well if matched correctly to their new pursuit. Think carefully about your requirements and ambitions before embarking on the journey. A small, buzzy horse may suit a Polo chukka but might not enjoy a dressage test. If in any doubt, always ask a second opinion from an experienced retrainer or coach. Most will be happy to offer you help and support to match you with the appropriate mount and can potentially oversee your progress. Find a professional in your area.
Many ex-racehorses have gone on to forge successful careers as hacking/leisure horses, show jumpers, eventers, show horses, polo ponies and more. Click here for inspirational success stories from Irish retrainers.
Each horse is different and will require a personalised program to help them adapt to their new career. Some thoroughbreds will benefit from a break where they can be turned away to grass for a couple of months to help them relax and put on some more condition before beginning their new career.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
· Be realistic about your ability and experience. Help is available through local instructors and the retraining advisors listed.
· A former racehorse is generally good to load, shoe, clip and will be well handled.
· Racehorses will have different experience of being tied-in, most flat yards will tie-up horses in the box but this is not a given.
· Racehorses are usually mounted on the go and with a leg up. They may not be used to mounting blocks or standing still.
· The aids for riding a thoroughbred are very different to that of a riding horse. Changing your hands will signal for them to speed up nor will they be accustomed to someone sitting in the saddle when cantering so these changes may require time for the horse to adjust.
· Racehorses are ridden out in racing saddles and with shorter irons and they may not be accustomed to the lower leg as would a riding horse. Similarly, shortening your reins will signal for a racehorse to go faster.
· A racehorse will not immediately understand the contact in the same way as a riding horse and may be likely to snatch at the bit.
· Racehorses are mostly exercised in a string or group, so riding on your own may be daunting for your ex-racehorse. Similarly, riding in company may present issues with your horse associating this with galloping. However all of these issues can be overcome with time and patience.
· The ex-racehorse may not be used to a general purpose saddle and it is important to get your saddle professionally fitted. Remember, the horse coming out of training will be a lean, well-muscled animal compared to a horse coming back from a field break.
· It may take time to find the appropriate bit for your horse. The horse in training may be used to a simple snaffle or ring bit which might not suit him out of training.
Feeding an ex-racer is paramount. They will be used to a strict routine and high energy diet and need to be ‘let-down’ gently. The breed may not be as hardy as natives and can lose condition quickly. Work closely with your nutritionist to ensure optimum weight levels.
Pay attention to feet immediately as the regular shoeing may have taken its toll and a ‘no-shoe’ period may be required. Again work closely with the farrier.