Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What Your Ex-Racehorse Knows--- How to Transition Him from the Racetrack to Your Barn

While looking at several retirement organizations websites, I ran across this post from CANTER Mid-Atlantic that I wanted to share. For more articles from this author visit http://www.canterusa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=37&Itemid=56. I also learned that as of August 19, 2009 CANTER Mid-Atlantic was no longer accepting thoroughbreds except from Delaware Racetrack. This decision was made in part from the lack of funding it obtains from among other resources the racing industry itself. Hopefully in the future race tracks will work with designated retirement agencies to partner for the equine athletes.

From Mid Atlantic CANTER:

by Kristie Buckley-Simon

Every Thoroughbred has been trained and handled by different people, and each possess their own very different personalities so obviously every one of them is unique, but this is a general guideline as to what your new off the track Thoroughbred has been exposed to and what is new for him now that he’s off the track and in your home.

First off, remember that even though your horse may have been exposed to something everyday of his "previous life" you’ve now brought him into a completely new environment. That does not mean that he will act like a bomb-proof childs pony just because you want to hose him off. You’ve brought him to a new home, with new people, new animals, and a new barn. And don’t forget, he’s probably got an awful lot of pent up energy. So just because he’s used to being hosed every day, that does not mean that he will stand there and let you hose him off. You might very well end up short a wash rack and gain a very upset horse.

Thoroughbreds at the track are exposed to a variety of things in their nomadic life spent at various training facilities and racetracks. Even at the tender age of three, these horses have been working for a year or more, unlike our home raised show, trail or sport horses that barely know what work is until four or five years old. You would be amazed at what these horses experience as routine and if you have an opportunity to visit the backside of the track, you will see what I mean, but here’s a list of a few things you might not be aware of.

Even at a young age, your ex-racehorse will probably have excellent, even impeccable, ground manners, especially for the farrier and the vet. They are used to being blanketed and brushed, hosed and clipped. They’ve had their legs wrapped and medicated; their feet picked and prodded. Their hair has been trimmed, shaved and thinned. They’re used to having bicycles and golf carts zipping by endlessly, tractors and other noisy, heavy, and otherwise normally terrifying equipment working nearby. They’ve been bombarded by noise from the loudspeakers and cheers from winning betters.

But, and this is a very important but, your new pal has a lot to learn. Things like hot wire (electric fence) and crossties will be new, very frightening, and possibly dangerous experiences if you’re not careful and introduce these things slowly. Experiment first to learn if your horse respects a wire and always make sure that any hot wire is clearly marked or flagged. Although used to standing quietly tied from under the chin loop of their halters, sometimes for long periods waiting for an exercise rider to appear, most ex-racehorses are totally unfamiliar with the fact that the sideways pull of crossties means to stand still. They will attempt to move forward or backward, confused by the unusual restraint and might attempt to rear or break free. Use common sense and caution in teaching your horse how to stand in crossties and never leave them standing unattended.

Other things that he might need to learn are how to deal with the feel of someone mounting, not to mention the feel of new and heavier saddles. Normally, you will find that it only takes a short adjustment period for them to accept a new saddle, however, you’ll probably have the best luck sticking with a snaffle bit for quite awhile. The jockeys are boosted into the saddle while the horse is at a walk so if he attempts to move off while being mounted, he is only demonstrating for you that he has learned his lessons well!

Dogs are not something you will find at the track so you might find that your hundred pound German Shepherd or your even your five pound poodle and your new horse are not the best of friends. In fact, if your dog seems overly inquisitive or is a herding dog that insists on moving your horses from one end of the pasture the other for fun, you might want to keep him a good distance from your horse, especially in that first adjustment period after you bring him home.

If you have small children use the same principle as with your dog, keep them at a distance and introduce them to your new Thoroughbred slowly and in a controlled environment. They are not used to small children and it’s always best to err on the safe side when dealing with children.

Some training aspects that you might find frustrating are lunging (they have never done it), leg yields (jockey’s legs are up at their necks), trotting and cantering to the right (racetrack turns are always to the left) and especially stopping (fast stops on the track at fast speeds could mean injury).

When your Thoroughbred was first trained he learned to tolerate the weight of a rider, he learned what the bit was and then he learned how to run. He didn’t learn how to balance while making the transition from trot to canter. He didn’t learn that a rider might actually have a say in what gait the horse will go. When they go out to run, either race or just a workout, basically they walk or trot to the track, and canter slowly a quarter mile until warmed up. They are then allowed to fall into a racing canter and then fall into a controlled gallop. Fall being the important word here. These are not flowing dressage transitions. Your Thoroughbred quite literally has learned to fall into a canter...and always on the left lead. When training, this will be a source of frustration. But now you can’t say you didn’t expect that.

The other source of frustration will be stopping. Previously when asked to stop your ex-racer probably did just that, only it took him a half mile or so before he did. Huntseat judges frown on that type of transition in the show ring. It will take work to train him to stop in a timely fashion, but with patience and work it can be done.

Hopefully, this will prepare you for when you bring home your new off the track Thoroughbred. At the least, I hope it cuts down on your surprises. Patience is the key and with patience and time, I promise you will find training your Thoroughbred will be a fun and rewarding experience -- for you and your ex-racer.

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