Retraining Racehorses - Part 3

In our final part of looking at the retraining of racehorses Victoria Bax goes through some important things to consider when you begin to go hacking as well as how to cope with some inevitable vices.

Control out hacking

Going out hacking along could be a big issue for your ex racehorse as they would have often gone out in groups to the gallops. Taking him out alone could make him stressed, which won’t be pleasant for either of you.  

Before hacking out, you obviously need to make sure you have control over you horse in the school and feel confident in going out onto the roads or more open spaces. It is a good idea to ask a friend who has a safe, sensible horse to accompany you. This will help give your ex-racer confidence when you first start going out.

Once your horse is hacking happily in company, ask for your friend to slow down their pace until your horse is ahead. This way you can begin to teach him to go in front, or behind.

When you are ready to hack out alone depends on many factors, but your horse should be striding out confidently and not backing of from you. He must also be able to cope with the traffic that you meet and you must feel confident that you can cope with any problems that might arise.

Don’t forget to be very aware when riding off-road. As soon as his hooves hit grass, he may want to run – after all, this is what he’s been trained to do. Sit quietly and talk reassuringly to him. If he does want to go, don’t panic.

Remember that ex-racers react to rein pressure, so pulling on them to slow him down, could cause him to go faster. Instead, use a series of half halts, by squeezing the rein and then releasing. Remember to remain calm and quiet.

Ex-racers are most comfortable in canter as it is what they have done a lot of. If it’s safe to do so, pop into a controlled canter. He will probably then calm down and be happy to walk sensibly again.

How to cope with behavioral problems

You may find your racehorse will come with some stable vices, in particular cribbing, weaving and wind-sucking can be common in racehorses, as they spend a lot of time in their stable.

They can also occur because racehorses are generally on a diet of high starch and high energy feed, and lower levels of forage, to provide the power for them to race at top speed. Obviously this is not going to be the diet your horse needs for your activities and it is also not a diet the horse has evolved to ear. In order to stay healthy and happy, he needs a high fibre/forage diet, with a small amount of hard feed – or a balancer – if necessary.

Not enough forage and too much starch can result in stomach ulcers forming, which are commonly seen in racehorses. Ulcers can also cause horses to crib, to relieve discomfort in the stomach. If you are worried your horse could have ulcers, speak to your vet.

Once a horse has done something such as cribbing or weaving for a long period of time, it can become an ingrained habit, which is difficult to stop, by trying to force them to stop you can end up causing more anxiety.

Remember to make any changes to a horse’s diet gradually, to avoid him suffering from colic. Aim to give your ex race horse a constant supply of forage, whether that’s grass or hay/haylage, and remove any starch from his diet. It is also useful to consult an equine nutritionist for advice.

Happy mind equals a happy horse

Thoroughbreds are sensitive and have a quick mind, and are often more likely to show signs of anxiety and stress than other breeds.

They need to be tested mentally, rather than doing the same thing over and over again, and keeping their brain engaged and interested by varying workload is key.

It can pay dividends to work with a trainer with experience of ex-racers, who can help you come up with a successful schooling programme for your horse.  This way you can ensure you and your horse are getting the best out of any work and also improving along the way.

I hope some of these tips and considerations will be helpful for those embarking on this journey. Re-training racehorses can be hugely rewarding but it is something that should be done by an experienced rider and team. It is not recommended for a novice rider. Remember to be patient and calm at all times and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.