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My ex-racehorse is confused with her lifestyle?

Hi Franklin,

I love your training techniques and I'm hoping that you can help me with mine. I'm 15 and 9 months ago I bought a 6 yr old thoroughbred off the track. I've been riding for over 6 years and wanted a challenge. She's a sweet little mare but she is soooo unpredictable. I'm a very confidant rider and she has never intimidated me but little by little she is starting to. When I ride her in the indoor she is as calm as can be and very nice to ride, but the minute she is outside she can not keep her attention on anything. Walking up to the ring she rears and bucks and pushes into me. I now lead her on a lounge line for space. Sarah gets turned out almost everyday. Then when we get to the ring I lunge her both directions and she will be relaxed but out of the blue do an air above the ground. While riding her to keep her attention I do circles bearing rein to direct leg yeilds cavalettis and anything I can think of to keep her to pay attention to me. It rarely works and she will still completlely freak out. I lunge her on a regular basis and she will do awesome for a couple days and act like a pro, but then a couple days later when she's ready for me to ride her she is sooo spasy. I don't know what else to do. She's been able to throw me off about twice with lots of other close calls. I'm nervouse that she's gonna hurt me. I would appreciate any advice on how to approach this problem. I have already tried starting over from the ground and she is awesome. But the minute riding time comes around it's a different story.

Thanks for your time.


P.S. I loved your response to how horses show affection

HI Tess,

Well, like many horses primarily ridden in arenas or around a track, they get very spooky when taken anywhere else as they don't trust they are safe. As you already know, horses are creatures of habit and any change in routene or environment causes a lot of stress in the horse and anxiety, expecially a hot blooded breed like a Thoroughbred (and one off the track to boot). You could try having someone pony the horse a lot with and without you in the saddle. This would help. She has been exercised like this quite a bit at the track. She could be exercised (ridden) outside and be ponied by someone who knows how to do this. A few days of that would help settle her. Sounds like she has a lot of excess energy and pops off regularly but unexpectedly. Her arial antics and unsettledness are to be expected from a horse off the track who is only taught to be nervous and run at full speed (and only to the left). They want these horses fearful to make them run faster. I have rehabilitated more than my share of off the track horses and it takes quite a bit of time (daily) to bring them around and calm them (and sometimes they never fully settle). If you could I would say put her to trailing cattle for a few months and that will surely settle her. Her current environment, a boarding stable and riding academy I assume, is not actually a very mellow place. A cattle ranch or livestock operation is the best place to send a nervous horse for a while. I assume that is not in the offering for you. But the point is that the horse gets steady, consistent, mellow long miles outdoors. With your time agenda (school and all), you probably do not have all the time it might take to settle the mare fairly soon. You say you have taken her back to the basics and restarted her. That should have helped quite a bit if done slowly and patiently over time. If it was done in a day, it was too quick. I can ride a colt in an hour or a mustang in two or less. But for the horse to really get the message of safety, some time (a few days) should be taken.

Another thing to do is to lay the horse down on the ground. This technique is quite high level and has a real element of risk. It is not taught very much and not even many horse people have seen it done. But it is extremely effective in calming an anxious and nervous (fearful) horse. What area are you in and maybe I'll know someone near you who knows the process. It is fastenating and wonderful to watch and learn (its just not a lot of folks know it).

All I can say beyond the above is to continue to develop the trust with the mare. Do more on the ground. That is where your relationship is really forged. If you do a lot more on the ground for a month or two and she still pops off regularly, she will need even more exercise than you are able to give her. Bear in mind she was exercised at a canter and gallop around a track and that was the extent and variation of her exercise. She has baggage from her former life. It is up to you if you want to continue to deal with it. It is a wise person who knows they have bitten off more than they can chew. There are many horses that will challenge you in different ways. Some you can work with and some you will not be able to and it is good to know which is which. You have a lot of time......

Sincerely, Franklin

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