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Rehab for Ex-racehorses

I was wondering if you had any suggestions I could follow or read up on? I have a registered 7yr thoroughbred that did race. He is very soft in the mouth but minimal leg knowledge. I have managed to slow him down to walk and trot. Some say he needs to run, others say to keep him quiet. I started out in western now am in English. I personally do not cantor him as I feel I do not have that stop control. I have introduced him to a low cross rail and he seems to accept that. He does want to please and learn but he sometimes has a sideways head tossing when trotting and then sometimes has this jerk head down thing. Is he telling me something? Is there anywhere to go to find out how he was trained or why he was released from he track? Or even how he was trained? I appreciate your taking the time to read my queries.

Thanks a lot, Shirley

Hi Shirley,

Horses off the track usually have minimal basic training. They often lack even the most rudimentary ground skills and under saddle training. Their training is all about running on a left lead as fast as possible and conditioning as an athlete for speed competitions. That's it generally. So, to get this horse into more of a mode to be ridden and handled properly off the track will, understandably, take some time.

To develop some sensitivity in the horse's mouth I would get him out of the snaffle. Assuming you completely understand how to appropriately use a curb bit and that a bit is only a tool and needs to be in skilled hands to be really effective, I would go to a curb and reward the horse for collection and a lowered head by release of bit pressure. We tend to hang on to snaffle bits thinking that does not hurt our horses. Reality is that it tends to make a horse's mouth hard because most folks lean on that bit way too much. The head tossing could be indication of needed dental work. I would have the animal's mouth checked by a vet. If his mouth is pain free, check for any back pain. If he is totally pain free (consider chiropractic), it is probably a habitual response and perhaps could be corrected, over a bit of time, by a "bump" with one rein when he does it. The horse jerking his head down sounds like a way for him to loosen the reins from your hands, doesn't it? Learning to "bump" a horse with one hand/rein (as opposed to pulling on the bit with two hands), is a much more effective way to train a horse in the bridle. That is what that behavior sounds like to me. He is trying to get those hands to let his mouth alone.

His history is not as important as what you do now. I highly suggest a lot of ground schooling and make it fun and interesting and not just boring circles. You need to engage his mind even more than his body for now. You do this by slowing everything down to slo-mo and asking for one little conscious, precise step at a time and then right away rewarding the horse with an immediate break/release from the pressure of the request and a "Good Boy." That's it. You have made a request, gotten a good "try" and immediately rewarded your horse. This sets up a "winning cycle" for the animal and supports him trying to comply with other requests. Trying to comply becomes a habitual way of responding and develops trust and respect with your horse. The big reward is for you to put the animal away for the day.

Remember to always end your sessions on a GREAT note. Don't expect too much too quickly. Be patient and reward each and every little "try" at compliance by your horse. Lots of praise and rubs for a good effort is what will give you a wonderful horse. Race horses tend not to be given a lot of affection and sometimes are kept isolated and made more fearful on purpose to make them run faster. This is why you need to go in the other direction more often for now. The other direction is also moving in a clockwise direction (right lead). More attention is often needed in that specific direction. Perhaps you may notice a totally different way the horse moves when going on a right lead.

Anyway, there are a few things for you to consider. Let me know your thoughts and how it all goes.

Sincerely yours, Franklin

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