With the popularity of ex-racehorses ever growing, transforming your former racehorse into the perfect riding horse can come with some challenges.
Courtesy of Golly Galoshes, the versatile equine gaiter for horses and Aloeride, the natural aloe vera supplement for horses, top eventer Victoria Bax and a leading name within this field, has shared with us her top tips and advice on a different area of horse ownership from riding through to stable management.
About Victoria Bax
Victoria Bax is an established eventer based in Essex, with many years experience producing novice and young horses for eventing. A well respected trainer, Victoria teaches from her base as well as regularly attending clinics all over the UK For further information: www.vbeventing.co.uk
Photos by Thoroughbred Sports Photography
STAND AND DELIVER
When it comes to mounting your horse, this could well prove to be an issue for a newly acquired ex-racehorse, especially for one, which has come straight out of racing. If you have ever watched the Racing, have you ever seen a jockey get on from the ground? Or given a leg up while the racehorses stands like a statue? No! That’s because it just doesn’t happen, so how can you expect your new ex-racehorse to stand still for you when it has never been taught to?! Jockeys are generally legged up onto their mount as the horses walks along so if you wish to train your horse to stand still, you will just need plenty of time, patience and a helping hand to teach the horse to understand what it is you would like them to do.
NOT A NICE VICE
Vices i.e.: cribbing, weaving, wind sucking can be quite common in racehorses as they spend an awful lot of time on their own in their stables, so it is no wonder that they make up activities so ease their boredom. However, there can be other reasons why they do what they do. Racehorses are generally fed an extremely high starch and high energy feed and less fibre/forage due their need for energy to enable them to race at top speed when required. However, this diet is not what the horse has evolved to eat. In order for the horse to stay healthy and happy they should be fed a high fibre/forage diet where they can “graze” almost for 24 hours a day, with just a small amount of hard feed to add extra nutrients/minerals/vitamins etc. Part of the reason for the 24 hours grazing is so the horse can provide saliva to help neutralise any stomach acid, which is produced by the horse. The make up of the saliva helps the stomach to prevent burning from the stomach acid and therefore giving a happy horse. However, if the horse is not fed the high amount of fibre he does not produce the saliva and therefore cannot neutralise the stomach acid therefore causes him real discomfort and almost burns his stomach lining. This is where the horse has become very clever and taught himself to crib on the stable wall or door in order to produce the saliva to neutralise the stomach acid and therefore relieve any discomfort he may have been suffering beforehand. So if your new ex-racehorse cribs, please think about why he may be doing this and not simply try to stop him damaging the wall or door of the stable by putting a “non cribbing” collar on him. After all a piece of wood can easily be replaced. Try to manage his diet as best as you can by ensuring there is a 24 hours supply of hay/haylage available to him and that he is fed a low starch diet that will all help to reduce the amount cribbing he does. Make an effort to speak to an independent feed nutritionist to find out how you can help your new ex-racehorse to feel better in himself. My team of ex-racehorses are all fed from The Pure Feed Company range because it is very low in starch and very high in fibre and we also feed Aloeride, the naturally organic aloe vera feed supplement, which can also help support, a healthy digestion system. Of course, once a horse has done something for a period of time such as cribbing, this may well become a habit as opposed to a need, much like smoking. This then proves very hard to stop doing it and even causes the horse more stress if you try to prevent him doing it. For my own team of ex-racehorses, I manage their diet as best I can and let them crib so as to not cause them any further stress. Colic is also a threat on the early days when changing your ex-racehorse’s feed, so make any alterations slowly
TYE ME UP AND LET ME LOSE!
Tying up your ex-racehorse outside of a stable may cause an issue as racehorses are generally used to having everything done in their stable, so the simple procedure of tying up your horse outside his stable whilst you muck out, may take you a bit of time and patience to master. Even farrier visits are usually completed with the racehorse inside the stable, so be aware!
It’s most likely that your ex-racehorse has not used to being turned out to grass. He probably comes from a busy yard where turnout is not considered an essential, so when you do turn your horse out he may quite simply not know what to do and will simply stand by the gate looking as though he is waiting to come in. He may not understand that he is being given the freedom to have some time to himself. You may need to start off with small amounts of turnout and gradually build it up until he is happy and walks away to graze immediately when let go.
VENTURING OUT ALONE
Your new horse may not be very willing to hack out alone when you first get him, as whilst in race training they do not venture out alone. Racehorses are often seen hacking in groups up to the gallops and then hacking home in the same fashion, so going out alone may cause him stress and he may not be very willing to do this, simply because his instincts tell him that going alone is not safe to do so. Once you are able to out hacking do not be surprised if as soon as your ex-racehorse’s hooves hit grass or good going he wants to run, after all this is what he has been trained to do and thinks he is doing the right thing! Again time and patience will help to overcome all of this.
BACK TO BASICS
Remember that your new ex-racehorse may well need to be partially backed again, as although he will have had a jockey on board before he will not be used to weight being carried on his back by sitting in the saddle neither will he know why your legs are hanging down by his side! He will also not be used to a conventional saddle, which of course is very different to a racing saddle and much heavier in contrast. Your saddle will also need regularly checking and maintaining because as the horses build up and change shape the saddle must be altered to mirror the new muscle otherwise this will cause other problems including pressure sores etc.
Maintaining a contact and finding the right bit can also be an issue for some racehorses who have “no mouths” and will never have known a “contact” and do not be surprised that when you take up the reins on your new ex-racehorse that he takes that as being ‘go’!! You may well have to try a number of different bits before you find one that both the horse and rider accepts. Going bit less will probably not be viable either, as the horse will not be aware of other aids needed to do this. Jockeys generally run racehorses with little or no contact until such time as they take up the reins towards the end of the race to indicate to the horse that the “turbo power” needs to kick in and he needs to listen up as he is going to be asked something. This is where lunging and long reining your new horse can be incredibly beneficial and educational, as it introduces the horse to the concept of the bit in their mouths actually doing something. I use an EquiAmi training aid with my team to help introduce that consistent contact and to help encourage the horse to start working in the correct way, whereby muscle can be built in the correct places. We also use our TB GG Golly Galoshes both out hacking, but also for lunging as they help highlight the horse’s paces enabling us to help focus on developing his paces further (Great for lessons too!) They are specifically cut to fit the longer slimmer TB leg and are breathable and washable, making them ideal for all year use.
It is also likely that you will experience a lot of head raising and mouthing of the bit, much like you would expect with a youngster being introduced to the bit. It is important that you at consistent with the contact in order that they learn that this will be maintained at all times during the much part of their retraining.
It could be that your new horse is very likely to have some issues to which need addressing. The most common injuries for ex-racehorses are back, pelvis and leg injuries. His feet are also very likely to need attention as notoriously thoroughbreds have terrible feet which can become very long, narrow and very low at the heels. The idea of going barefoot will very likely not be a consideration for a thoroughbred because of this fact. Physically your new horse may also be very rigid throughout his body rather than supple so all he has so far been asked to do is run in a straight line as fast as he can. Therefore, help from a good physio to assist in unlocking very parts of the body in order that you can start to work them and help them become stronger is a must.
Although racehorses are used to travelling extensively, it is likely to have only been travelled in a lorry which may cause you problems on the first instances if you are looking to use a trailer, so again time and training is required!
A GREAT WORKOUT
Ex-racehorses are highly intelligent animals used to a busy lifestyle from a very early age. Thoroughbreds are very sensitive and have a quick mind, so are often more likely to show signs of anxiety and stress than other breeds of horses. They need to be tested mentally rather than doing the same thing over and over again and keeping their brain engaged and interested by varying workload is key.
Find an experienced person to help you with your retraining. Someone who has an interest and experience dealing with Racehorses straight off the track will be invaluable in your journey. I assist and train many clients who have embarked on the journey of retraining an ex-racehorse, which is very rewarding for both myself and my client but it is no easy task and certainly not for the inexperienced.
Buying and bringing on an ex-racehorse can be extremely rewarding and give you enormous fulfilment and enjoyment, but whilst they may appear to be a cheap option on the outset, remember that Thoroughbreds can be generally more expensive to keep and maintain than other breeds of horses, from feeding, to stabling, to rugging, to training, through to their general overall well being so be prepared for this.
Good luck with your horse!