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Ex-racehorse still on the track in its mind

Hi Franklin

I've found your site tonight and have spent a couple of very happy hours reading through the questions and answers. I'm sure I've learnt loads.

However, I haven't been able to find my question. I have an ex-racer. He's 9 and I got him just before his 3rd birthday so he wasn't in racing for long. I'm not a very experienced rider and he was the first horse I owned. However, I've read loads and learned lots. I think we have a good relationship and we love each other to bits.

My problem is, and has been, since I first had him is that he gets extremely difficult to handle if we come across other riders when we're out hacking (which is all I do with him as I just want a quiet life). He's fine if they're going in the opposite direction but if they're ahead and going in the same direction he becomes too excited and just wants to run and join them. It makes absolutely no difference if we're on our own or out with his field companion. I have tried turning him in circles or leg yielding but 1) this isn't very safe on a road with traffic around and 2) it seems to get him more wound up. So I end up getting off but he's not any better it's just I know that I feel safer on the ground. He is used to me getting off in the middle of a ride as I have a bad hip so I always get off him at least once while we're out to give my hip a rest.

He's not a spooky horse but can sometimes get a little excited (I think that's just his character (and spring grass definitely has an effect) but he usually calms down and I can usually distract him and don't have to resort to getting off.

This behavior really restricts when and where I ride and a solution would be so appreciated. He's a super chap in all other ways and a real gentleman. Many thanks!

Really hoping you can help - I've spent the last 7 years looking for a solution.

Thanks, Sally

Hi Sally,

Old habits become our way of life. It is the same for horses. Your horse is so habituated to acting how he does when other horses are moving about around him, when you are riding him (and maybe even if you were not on his back) that it will be a challenge to modify this behavior. Seems you have tried the first few things I would suggest (leg yields, circles, etc.). Our early conditioning in life (brought about by our family life/parents, etc.) deeply affects us throughout our entire lives. We may never get beyond what was laid on us as negative input by parents who loved us, but had their own problems they never worked through. Again, your horse's life is still dictated by what its life was early on and it affected it deeply.

A few additional things to try; 1) 'pony' (lead) your horse from another horse (calm horse) around the trails for a while and begin to go out only briefly at first (5-10 minutes). Go out for a few minutes and come back. Gradually extend the time out. 2) When you do go out, initially go out for a few minutes and then come back. Gradually (over weeks or a few month even) extend the time out. A good reward would be for you to come home soon if your horse stays calm. Looking for ways to reward behavior you want is a good way to approach this. A great reward is the removal of all pressure (in this case, go home). No guarantees your horse will not jig all the way home. That would be unfortunate. A principle would be to find out any way to have the horse be calm and then reward that calm. Even getting on and, if the horse stands quietly, get right off. Repeat this a lot, gradually extending the time on the horse's back.

Going way back to the beginning of basic training under saddle might be a good idea here. Totally reintroduce a saddle and ride like it is the first few rides. This means they are brief, without any pressure to do much and then dismount and put the boy away. In fact, now that I have said this, it seems that it would be a really good thing for you to try. Figure on taking a month or more for this process. You are reprogramming the animal's mind about being ridden. If this was a human, regressing the human and re-parenting them would be a viable therapy. You would sort be be doing the same thing for your horse.

Additionally, it would be great practice for you and you would learn a whole lot of new information about your horse and deepen your bond tremendously. I would also suggest ground driving the horse (double long lines). Play with the horse on the ground a lot and deepen your bond with him through this process as your bond of trust is formed first and foremost on the ground. Develop more trust and a personal connection. You have nothing to lose here by trying this and a lot to gain. If you begin to see small increments of progress, you'll know you are on the right track for sure. Keep me posted.

Again my sincerest apologies for your email being misplaced. I look forward to you providing updates on your progress.

Sincerest regards, Franklin

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