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 Louise Robson of Thoroughbred Dressage for her insight into working with racehorses.
Louise’s Buckinghamshire-base works exclusively retraining thoroughbreds. After initially qualifying as an Architect, Louise pursued her dream of becoming a professional rider and moved to Germany to work for triple-Olympic gold medallist, Monica Theodorescu. After Monica's retirement in 2012, Louise returned full-time to the UK and set up Thoroughbred Dressage.
So first question, why racehorses?
Why not would be my first answer…In all honesty, the reason I ended up working/riding with ex-racehorses is because they were easily accessible in terms of financially being able to find one and purchase/loan one. I love them for their hearts, passion and want to learn and ‘do.’ They are just unbelievable athletes that are brilliant fun to work with.
Most notable horse of your career?
For me, it would be my first ex-racehorse from HM The Queen, Mister Glum. He started me on this journey that I am on and the stable (Thoroughbred Dressage) exists because of him. However, in terms of ‘success’ it would have to be Quadrille, the second of HM The Queen’s horses that came to me. He has taken me to places I would never have dreamed of going before and I owe that horse more than I can ever describe and he truly is a one in a million.
Where do you source your racehorses?
By word of mouth. I am in a very privileged position where I do get approached from various owners/trainers/anyone about potential horses that need new homes. I very rarely go looking for them, the horses find me.
What do you look for when a horse first arrives?
How many shoes they have on their feet! We assess how they are physically, we don’t worry too much mentally as they change as their start to ‘let down.’ We want to know where we are starting form and how we can best aid the process of them starting their new career.
Would you give a horse a break before training started?
Depends on the horse. Some, if straight from racing need to be ‘ridden away,’ before their break, some have injuries which need to be tended to before their holiday, some don’t understand or want the down time. Ideally, yes, we give them all a break before hand, but circumstances vary.
What does a typical day for one of your racehorses look like (training & management)?
In the Summer:
6.30am Bring in from the field, have breakfast, fall asleep. Get prepared for work i.e massage rug etc, get worked (lunged, polework, schooled, hacked)
Before lunch, washed off, cool down rug/massage rug, then have another sleep/nap/finish off haynetts.
4.30pm return to the field and play with friends.
9pm late check + walk the dog
In the winter:
6-630am Breakfast, then to the field whilst stables are mucked out.
Between 8am-1pm Horses come back in to be worked and depending on time of the day will either go back out for the rest of the morning, or stay in.
1pm all horses back in
2pm carry on with the remainder of the horses to be ridden. The ones who have been ridden have massage rugs etc put on/they have a sleep.
5pm Evenings tables of bedding down, Haynets etc.
6-630pm Evening feeds.
930pm Late check.
How do you manage their diet? Their all sharp aren’t they?
Some are yes, but some aren’t. Some are internal worriers, which makes understanding them, and reading them a little bit harder, especially in the early years. With managing their diets, it can seem an absolute headache for the first few years as they’re growing and changing in their mental, muscular and postural appearance due to the pressures of galloping/fast work every day being removed. Some take a while to ‘let down’ maybe the older ones because they’re used to having breaks and then going back into work, so they’re kind of ‘waiting for the return.’ For some, they thrive on the work/routine they have been in, so take a while to work out that that part of their life has finished.
Some merciful put their hooves up and gain as much weight as possible in a very short amount of time and actually become very lazy and very laid back - it depends on the horse. For me, my horses are managed as ‘horses.’ They go to the field every single day, regardless of the weather. In the summer they’re out overnight and in the winter out during the day. They have ad lib forage and have a very fibre-based diet. If they require/need more of whatever that may be, they get it. We treat/manage all of our horses like they have ulcers. Even for the ‘bigger’ ones, we don’t restrict, but work closely with SPILLERS to formulate a plan so that they’re getting everything that they need from their feed/forage to keep a happy, and developing horse who is rideable.
What are your top tips on competition/race day for a successful performance?
Know your horse! Have you practiced; plaiting, loading, arena hires, working with other horses etc etc etc (the list goes on…) If you allow your horse time and patience the rewards will be endless and you will both enjoy the retraining process.
Read more about National Racehorse Week here.