Training an ex-racehorse may seem like a difficult task, but we have a few tips to help
Not standing still to mount
Racehorses are usually mounted while walking along and can become fractious if someone tries to hold them still. It is likely the person doing the holding is standing to the side of the horse and gripping the reins so the horse feels trapped.
This requires lots of practice. Start by standing the horse next to the mounting block and getting him used to pressure in the stirrup iron.
Have someone to hold him, but ask them to stand directly in front of the horse, holding a rein in each hand – a racehorse will be used to this.
Mounting problems are made worse when a rider bangs down in the saddle and gathers up the reins tightly – keep them loose – and get into the saddle quickly.
If you don't have an assistant, stand the horse in a confined or restricted space so he is facing something solid and has something solid on his off side – so he can't move forwards or sideways.
But don't try mounting on your own until you have accustomed your horse to standing by the mounting block.
Check your saddle and bridle fits and the bit isn't pinching. If the horse is fine in walk but head tosses in trot it could be the stirrup bar pinching him. Are you being heavy handed? Teeth and back should also be checked.
Contact issues are the primary cause behind head tossing as a racehorse doesn't have to learn about accepting a contact in the same way as a riding horse. They will usually be ridden with loose reins, with the reins only taken up for canter and fast work.
When we take up the reins we are met with a horse that tries to rush off, or resistance because he doesn't think he can go forwards if there is weight in the rein. He has to be taught about contact and moving into it.
Go back to a few weeks of groundwork and get the horse working in a training aid, such as a harbridge, to encourage him to lower and stretch his neck and thereby seek the contact.
If, when the rider gets back on board the head tossing resumes, positive and subtle riding from an experienced person is required. Often riders think they are riding the horse forward when they are not, or they shorten the rein too much so the horse has nothing to move forwards into or the reins are too loose and the hand/fingers are open on the rein.
Expert help is needed if the problem persists because head tossing can become a habit.
Cantering too fast in the school
Remember your horse won't have the musculature or balance to canter slowly – he needs to be taught to take more weight in his hind legs.
Spend time establishing rhythm and control in walk and trot with plenty of transitions and circles, loops and serpentines.
When you introduce canter, let the horse go at his pace and then use your seat, weight and leg aids to slow him down. Pulling on the reins will only cause him to set against you and speed up.
Don't lean forwards as this will also ask him to go faster.
Strong when cantering in the open
This is only to be expected as it's what he has been trained to do. For a rider the tendency is to incline forwards and pull back – when on a racehorse this is like putting your foot down!
Only canter in the open when you have proper control in a school and then introduce it gradually. Canter a circle in the corner of a field and slowly increase the size, and then straighten up a bit.
If you don't have an enclosed area, always start by cantering towards something solid – never out in wide-open space.
At first, remain seated in canter rather than adopting a forward seat, so you have more control. Use alf-halts to keep the horse's attention.
If you are in company, go first and ask your companion to keep their distance so your horse doesn't think he is in a race.
For a strong horse, try a different bit for this type of exercise, but go for one that affords greater control by its action, rather than a harsher one. Always use a martingale.
Favouring one leading leg
If your racehorse favours a leg it's because he isn't balanced – this will come from correct schooling.
Retraining should comprise plenty of walk and trot work, with changes of direction, transitions – both direct and within the pace.
It can be easier to achieve the right lead keeping the weight out of the saddle – in a cross-country position.
Then gradually sit down. Soon you will be able to achieve canter by inclining forward to ease the weight off the back.
It is advisable to have the horse's tack and back checked to ensure there are no problems here which are causing the problem.
THIS FEATURE FIRST APPEARED IN HORSE MAGAZINE'S JANUARY 2012 ISSUE
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