Our training notes often show schooling at the farm but may also
include cross country schoolings and trail rides away from the
farm. Go back through our notes to see how we train our off-the-track
Thoroughbreds and prepare them for new careers as sport horses.
Training Notes - Riding Your OTTB for the First Time
This update from our OTTB
Success Stories Web site prompted this
long over due training note.
I have to knock on wood when I tell you
this, but "Qu" has been so good to work with. Christmas gave
us all a relaxed start and we did ground work until Saturday
when I got on him for the first time. He was a little nervous
but settled in quickly. All we did was walk, halt and go over
poles and he was a champ. I love his attitude. I'm hoping to
go on a hack with him fairly soon. I'm using a Happy Mouth mullen
mouth right now but will probably try others too.
This e-mail from one of our first time buyers, reminded me that
not everyone knows what to expect from their first ride on an
off-the-track Thoroughbred. We have been getting Thoroughbreds
off-the-track for many years now and we take a
safe yet relaxed approach to the first ride. There are a few simple
things to remember . . .
This is not your horse's first ride and it won't be a rodeo!
Thoroughbreds are used to being ridden everyday.
They walk to the track, they jog and canter slowly and they gallop
on some days - but not every day. The horses doing their slow work
ride on the outside rail (clockwise) in the opposite direction
as the horses on the inside rail (counter clockwise) doing the
fast workouts. There are also horses in the center of the track
doing medium speed workouts. Just think of their morning workout
like training for the schooling ring at a horse show - only with
better riders and more organized chaos.
Horses work in both directions at the race
track - at the same time. The slow horses are ridden clockwise
and the fast horses work counter clockwise. The faster horses are
on the inside rail.
The horses at the track have riders that are confident and they
instill that confidence in the young horses. YOU need to be confident
when you get on your off-the-track Thoroughbred. I am not surprised
Success Stories of new owner's first rides.
Many people expect OTTBs to be hot or difficult to ride when, in
reality, the opposite is usually true.
Thoroughbreds are sensitive
and pick up on the emotions of the people around them. It is
important to relax and open your heart when working around your
Thoroughbred. If you are not confident enough to train your OTTB
then don't buy one. It does not take a lot of skill but it does
take patience and confidence. You can walk your horse for a year
if you are not confident to trot and that will be good for the
horse as long as you can relax at the walk. Sit all stiff, fall
off or scare yourself or the horse, and your training will take
a big step backwards. OTTBs like to have a job and they like to
be ridden. If they could not be controlled by a rider, they would
never make it through a race - they would run out of gas before
the finish line.
The race horse waits for the rider to tell him
to make the push at the end of the race to win. He is used to
a rider telling him what to do and when. He needs to learn your
cues when asking him to do something. Sending a Thoroughbred to
a trainer will cause the horse to learn how the trainer is
asking and then he will need to relearn the cues from you. The
trainer can tell you how he/she taught the horse but you will not
do it the same way. It is better to work with a trainer with you
as the rider. The Thoroughbred needs to respect you and learn what
YOU are asking him to do.
This is a photo of Lynn's Vision aka "Bubba" in his last race.
Success Stories and see more of "Bubba's"
If your Thoroughbred is hot tempered or bucking out sideways on
the lunge line, you might want to look for a pain issue and take
care of that before trying to ride him. Read the Training Note
do I know if my horse needs chiropractic care?
Choosing the right Thoroughbred at-the-track can make the difference
between success and failure with OTTB. You want to make sure he
has been properly cared for and handled well. A
horse that is currently sound and racing who passes
the vet check will most likely be very easy to ride when you get
him home. A horse is quiet and well behaved at-the-track will
be even better away from-the-track. Horses that are sour at the
track can turn 180 degrees and become the biggest pet you ever
had, but starting with a sound, happy horse will almost guarantee
a great first ride. If the horse is in pain, you need to fix that
problem first if you hope to have a quiet first ride.
What to expect for your first ride on your new OTTB.
Expect the worse and don't be surprised when you have a quiet
ride. Expect the worse? What? What will happen?
We always take safety precautions on our first ride. Better safe
than sorry. We wear a protective vest like the jockey's wear under
their silks. We wear a helmet and we have a ground person holding
the lunge line attached to the horse's bridle. Lunge the horse
before getting on to see how he is feeling and to take the edge
off of him.
Lunging will help you to assess the horse
before getting on.
Better safe than sorry
Your horse is used to a rider getting a leg up - sometimes from
within the stall and sometimes while walking to the track. Use
a mounting block if you are not agile enough to take a leg up.
Kick the mounting block, stomp on it and throw it around in front
of the horse before getting on. Make sure he is not scared of the
mounting block. If the horse will not stand when you climb up on
the block, get down and back him up while carrying the mounting
block. Try again when he is willing to stand quietly. If he does
not stand, repeat the process until he does. You may have to do
this each time you mount for several days but eventually he will
learn that is it easier to just stand and let you get on. Make
sure to stay towards the center of the arena away from the fence
in case you have problems.
Have a ground person with the lunge line attached
to your horse's bridle as your safety line.
Have your ground person with the lunge line attached to your horse's
bridle as your safety line. Stand on the mounting
block and lean on the saddle. Put your foot in the stirrup and
add weight but don't get on. If he stands quietly you can proceed
to get on. If he moves, repeat the above steps until he stands
quietly for you to mount.
Ready, Set, Mount!
When you are ready to really get on, do
it quickly and quietly. Hold the reins and some mane and put
your leg over his back quickly and quietly put your weight on his
back - gently. Now your heart is racing. You are sitting on a RACE
Make sure to stay towards the center of
the arena away from the fence when mounting.
Calm down and breathe. Reach down and stroke
your horse's neck. Have your ground person with the lunge line
lead you around in the center of the arena. Within 30 seconds you
will know what to expect. 95% of the time the horse is totally
relaxed - unless you are making HIM scared. Let yourself be led
around the arena until YOU are calm, then extend your circle out
on the lunge line. If you feel safe and have a calm horse under
you then trot when you are ready. If you feel the horse is not
explosive under you and you are not making him scared, then you
can come off the lunge line and enjoy riding your new OTTB. If
the horse seems too up, get off and lunge him some more. If you
are nervous, do not get on. You will scare the horse with your
fears and tense body.
Be safe and have a ground person holding a lunge line on your first
Sometimes I will canter on the first ride and sometimes it will
take a few rides or even longer before I ask a horse to canter.
Many times you may feel safe enough to canter on your first ride.
You need to remember that your horse is not used to cantering
on tight circles or having a rider sitting on his back. Jockeys
are usually up in the irons with little or no weight on the horse's
back. OTTBs can get back sore easily which could lead
to bucking if you move to quickly with his training. Do not do
sitting trots or canter circles until you have built up the top
line muscles with lunging and hill work.
Hill Work? Ride My OTTB Outside of the Ring?
YES! Get your horse out-of-the-ring as soon as you feel you can
safely control him. Thoroughbreds seem to love going for walks
in the woods and up and down hills. It is so different than a wide
open, flat track. Their back ends are weak when they come off-the-track
and the hill work is good for their minds and their bodies.
This ex-race horse learned to cross creeks on his first trail ride
away from the farm.
Do lots of hill work and walk, trot transitions. Teach your horse
to respond from your seat with half halts before a transition.
Look in the direction you wish him to move and you will find you
hardly need to apply rein. When trotting be sure to not lean forward
or post too fast. Your horse will automatically match your tempo.
If you wish him to slow down, slow down your posting and bring
your shoulders and chest back. Breathe. Your horse will slow down.
Walk and trot your horse until you feel
safe enough to canter.
Think about walking and do a half halt and he will be walking.
Off-the-track Thoroughbreds are very sensitive and learn quickly
because they want to please their person. Be sure to reward him
by lightening your hands and telling him he is good with your voice.
Remember this always . . . You can never
go too slow with the training but you can go too fast. Never
scare your horse or yourself. Develop a partnership
unequaled by any other breeds by taking it slow and steady. Be
confident and your horse will be too. A confident horse is a
Read more Training Notes