Regardless of your discipline, for those of us who compete on our horses, you’re bound to have experienced them having an ‘off’ day. Most of the time it’s just a blip, that can be explained by things such as abnormal weather conditions, spooky arenas or a recent change of routine and can be put down to ‘experience’. However, any ongoing ‘loss of form’ should be given more consideration to firstly ensure there are no implications for your horse’s health and wellbeing and secondly to help you get back in the ribbons asap.
Racing is probably the pinnacle of scrutiny of a horse’s form with every detail checked to optimise performance. So on this subject, we caught up with racehorse trainer Ruth Carr, who specialises in buying older flat racehorses from other yards, who have had problems and lost their form, or just fallen out of love with racing for a variety of reason – and find out how she goes about getting them back to their best…
Ruth has been training racehorses since 2008 and has trained over 315 winners and had over 700 horses placed. Ruth was born into a family heavily involved in horses and on her 16th birthday took part in her first race ride in an Amateur Riders Race at Redcar. Although she finished last, that did not deter her and she went on to have a successful career riding 28 winners on the Flat, 8 over Hurdles and about 20 wins Point to Point!
Ruth prefers to buy horses from the Autumn Horses In Training Sales as this allows her to give them the winter off before beginning training them as well as providing time to treat any veterinary problems they may have, geld any colts she buys, or deal with any other problems.
The one factor that Ruth thinks is most important for her in revitalising a jaded horse, is to start getting it used to being turned out as soon as possible, so that it can be ‘roughed off’, and spend the winter out in a field with a large ‘gang’ (as Ruth calls them) getting hairy and muddy and simply ‘being a horse’ again!
Many of the horses Ruth buys are from large yards and will not have been turned out in a group since they were yearlings, they have mostly been kept rugged up, stabled and pampered for a big part of their life, so this allows them to forget all about being a racehorse and simply be a horse.
For the horses that Ruth buys who have minor niggles, such as low grade lameness, filled joints etc., after being seen by her vet, she normally lets time and turnout be the healer, as she said most problems fix themselves with the few months rest before re-starting training. Any more serious problems will be treated and then the horse still turned out to recover fully.
Once they are brought back into work (and after Ruth and her staff have bathed and clipped 40 hairy and muddy thoroughbreds!), they begin training but most will only be ridden every other day, alternated with lungeing. All horses get turned out every day whilst in training as well, which helps to keep them relaxed and happy while in work.
One particularly difficult horse Ruth has worked with recently, was Magical Effect, who was bought in 2015, gelded and turned out. He began training again, but was incredibly nervous, and Ruth learned that even on racing days he had to be turned out before going racing to keep him calm, even if it meant getting up at 4.30am to do so! The only time he has run disappointingly was when Ruth had to leave for the races so early he couldn’t be turned out first. Since he joined Ruth, he has won or been placed in 12 out of his 15 races!
The best tip Ruth has for anyone buying an ex-racehorse is to simply let them be a normal horse, turn them out and let them get muddy, socialise with other horses and don’t think they have to be pampered just because they have been in the past!
Although Ruth’s experience is with racehorses, it also has a lot of relevance for any horse who has had a loss of form regardless of the discipline. Ruth’s approach put emphasis on both the horse’s physical health as well as mental state in order to get them back enjoying their jobs and improving your chance of success – and to us it makes a lot of sense!