Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard from Katie Jerram, Brian & Jackie Storey (Retrained Racehorses) and Louise Robson (Thoroughbred Dressage) about their experience with Retraining of Racehorses and in particular the challenges they face when they first come off the track and how they introduce the horse to their new role. If you haven’t yet had the chance to read our first two blogs in this RoR series you can catch up here, RoR - Part 1: Fresh out of training / RoR – Part 2: Starting work.
In the final instalment, we find out from the professionals what they do to prepare an ex-racehorse to start competing which they have all done so very successfully! So let’s crack on and hear their advice;
Our first question was, “before the horse’s first competition what would you do to prepare?”
Louise Robson – We would plait the horse up and ride in them at home and also put their travelling boots on regularly so they get used to these routines that are associated with competing. This way, they become normal and helps the horse to stay relaxed. The next step would be to travel the horse for a short distance to another arena just for training. Again, this is just to get them used to going out and staying relaxed. Once, you’ve done this and are ready to compete, chose the level you enter at carefully. The key is to feel confident at home and be a level ahead in the horse’s training than the level you compete at. Remember, you want to practise at home and not in the test as you want to try and make it a good experience for the horse. Having a few people on the ground to support and also giving yourself plenty of time will also help with this. Finally, set yourself a small goal for the day rather than lots of big goals and if you plan for the worst case scenario, anything that goes right will be an achievement!
Brian & Jackie Storey – We take them out to lots of different situations. If they are highly strung, we often take them to low key shows, ideally with an indoor school to just ride around rather than entering any classes.
Katie Jerram – Like the others, we take them out to little dressage competitions and small shows and travel them with other horses to get them used to it. Some horses can take a very long time to settle whilst others are much quicker so you have to be patient. 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.
Our next questions was, “do you find ex-racehorses can be over-excited when you travel them, do they take longer to realise they’re not going racing?”
Katie Jerram – 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!
Brian & Jackie Storey – Sometimes they can get over-excited, so to prepare, we box them up and just take them out for a hack, may be to a beach or just use an arena somewhere else before bringing them home again. Horses who’ve had bad injuries can be far more stressful as may associate travelling with a previous bad experience. We let all the horses have a haynet on the lorry which they wouldn’t have been allowed when racing as this helps take their mind off travelling. One of our horse’s Cinders was a particularly nervous traveller and is totally relaxed now so they do come around if you approach it correctly
Louise Robson – This depends on the horse, it is important to do your homework and make sure the horse is happy travelling before going to a competition. Start off with short journeys and really get to know the horse i.e. does the horse need a friend to travel with? Make sure you maintain a good routine at the show, for example, lunge the horse first to let free of any excitability before you get on.
Finally, we asked “What challenges do you find occur within the actual competition arena?”
Louise Robson – One of the biggest challenges is attentiveness as the horses usually like to look at everything so making sure they stay calm and relaxed can be very difficult. The warm up arena is the trickiest part as you cannot control other riders. The horse can be spooked if someone else comes to close and try and spin and it can be difficult to retrain the horse and get them to relax. Make sure you give your horse as much space as possible in the warm up arena and focus on your warm up not on everything else that is going on around you.
Katie Jerram – Standing in line can be a big ask for them as they aren’t used to standing still. Walking and trotting is usually ok, but sometimes cantering in the ring if others canter up behind can get them competitive and make them lock on to the bridle and get strong. Try to find space in the ring if possible although RoR classes are often huge so this can be difficult. Practise cantering around at home with other horses passing them and coming towards them.
Brian & Jackie Storey – When the horse is in an arena with others, if not prepped they can be anxious. The tannoy especially can wind them up as they associate it with the race course. If they do get wound up, you need to sit quietly and stay calm. Remember, they were used to stretching and now you are asking for something completely different so you need to have a lot of patience if you want the best results. The lap of honour and clapping can stir them up too so again, this is something to practise at home and with experience it will steadily improve.
That’s all for this RoR Series and we hope you all enjoyed hearing from Katie, Louise, Brian and Jackie. 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.