It’s National Racehorse Week - a nationwide annual celebration of the racehorse and a chance to see first-hand the love, care and attention that goes into looking after them.
In September 2022, in an experience like no other, over 140 events across the country, including training yards, studs and retraining centres, will open their doors to the public to show what life as a racehorse is really like.
We thought we too would celebrate the racehorse and have spoken to Katie Jerram for her insight into working with racehorses.
Katie, who is based in Essex, is one of the UK’s most successful showing competitors, producing ridden horses across all categories. Katie has retrained possibly the most famous RoR in the Showing World, HM The Queen’s Barber Shop.
So first question, why racehorses?
Thoroughbreds are talented, versatile and intelligent. Racehorses have a busy life even before they reach the trainer’s yard as yearlings or in the case of National Hunt horses, three-year-olds.
Most notable racehorse of your career?
Barber Shop, owned by HM The Queen. He won just about every accolade going including 2017’s Supreme of the Show at Royal Windsor Horse Show. During his racing career, Barber Shop who was trained by Nicky Henderson, won almost £150,000! Just over a year after leaving racing he won the RoR Championships at Royal International Show in 2013.
Where do you source your racehorses?
Ideally we buy directly from trainers known to us. It helps as we know something about how that racehorse trainer treats his horses, and then can gain a lot more insight into each individual horse which ultimately helps inform our approach to retraining them.
What do you look for when taking on an ex-racehorse?
I would look for horses with good confirmation, good movement and seemingly good manners to work with!
Would you give a horse a break before training started?
If they have come to us straight off the track they will be super fit so they need time to let the brain and body come down. To help them unwind, we turn them out in the field as ideally, we want a ‘blank canvas’ to work with to start to rebuild the new process of life correctly.
What does a typical day for one of your racehorses look like (training exercises)?
It really depends what stage the horse is at with it’s retraining.
For those just starting out we will do lots of slow work, teaching them the basics slowly, everything is different for them such as the saddle and leg position. Lunging, long reining, long low work and hacking are ideal. When hacking, start to introduce them to working in an outline and also trot up hills to build topline. Once they are hacking happily, you can start to add in school work, but no circles with you on them until they are doing it on the lunge happily and accepting the contact nicely out hacking. We don’t apply force or push them, we just take small steps until they are happy to accept it and allow us to ask a bit more of them. Everything needs to be done sensitively as they are usually not used to pressure from a rider’s seat so they need to be ridden lightly.
As they get further into their education, I would do a lot more transition work out hacking in straight lines and think about my body pressure/posture as they would have been used to jockeys sitting light for years. As racehorses are already established in their existing work, they are not looking for so much guidance and think they understand so they are much harder to retrain compared to a breaker. It’s about retraining the horse’s brain towards going under seat rather than asking too much, too soon by force as it blows their mind.
Routine is important for Thoroughbreds as the horse will have learnt to have routine already, so get them into a routine quickly as an undisciplined routine is not good for a racehorse.
How do you manage their diet? They’re all sharp aren’t they?
A change of diet is very difficult for a horse to cope with, even just being turned out is a massive change! Therefore, we would want to know the feed they were on previously and wean them off slowly as they are likely to drop off weight quickly if you just stop altogether.
Ulcers are renowned throughout racing so we would get the horse checked out by a vet and a nutritionist. We would also check that their worming programmes are up to scratch and check internally that the horse is ok after their 6 months off, so that we can start building up new muscle tone correctly.
The feet are also an important consideration as everything can fall apart if you make drastic changes to the diet. The key is to do everything gradually and focus on slow release energy feeds rather than high energy. Focus on the feed rather than adding too many extra supplements to provide what the horse needs – however, a gut balancer is the exception.
What are your top tips on competition/race day for a successful performance?
We never go to a first show with any expectations, we just introduce them to the environment and introduce ring experience when they are ready for it.
Some get more excitable than others, each is an individual. For those that do get excited, you need to make it as relaxing as possible, however there are some that will always get excited! Time, practise and getting ‘relaxing days’ out under your belt are the best ‘healers’ for stressful previous experience they may have had. As racehorses aren’t used to being allowed to eat when travelling to the races, even this change will help relax them and make them realise it’s a different environment!
Thank you so much Katie for sharing your expertise and insight into showing ex-racehorses. Taking on an ex-racehorse certainly has its challenges and you need the right knowledge and experience to do this safely and successfully. However, if it’s done right, you’ll have yourself a wonderfully elegant and versatile horse and will have given them life off the track which will be a truly rewarding experience for the both of you.