> how we train our thoroughbreds
I grew up competing at horse shows and combined training events.
I have ridden in hunter/jumper shows, at fox hunts, played polo and
ridden dressage. My pleasure today is working with these young horses
and teaching them the basics of dressage and jumping.
Lise Matte schools Snowdance Kid over poles
on the ground.
Training OTTBs is extremely easy if you find ones with that have
been handled well and have good attitudes. Most Thoroughbreds love
to work. They love and demand attention. The more you give them,
the more they want. We have never had a mean or dangerous horse at
The secret to buying the right Thoroughbred is: know
who you are buying from. We buy from trainers and owners
that we have relationships with. They tell us the history of
the horse and what kind of temperament he has. The sellers know from
working with us in the past (and from reading our Success
that we make sure their horse will have a good home. The owners/trainers
want to help their horses make make a smooth transition to a new
career. They have spent many long hours, months
or even years with this horse. They know the horse's personality
and work ethic better than anyone else. They are honest with
us because they know we will be a great outlet for them to move horses
to when they need a stall. Most trainers do not like to send horses
to auctions but sometimes it can't be helped. The trainers would
much rather put their horse on our Prospect
or have us buy it. They know we will buy more horses from them, if
they properly represent their horses. We have many years of relationships
with trainers, owners, vet and workers at tracks all over
the country. We research the history of any horse we buy.
Before we begin training our new off-the-track Thoroughbreds we
make sure they are healthy and not hurting. Many horses are sore
from racing. They get slammed in the starting gate (especially the
larger ones), they twist and turn on the end of a lead line as they
are being taken to the track and they buck and twist on the hot walking
machines. They need chiropractic adjustments to realign their pole
and pelvis. Horses
coming directly from racing will be sore. But in most cases it can
be easily resolved with chiropractic, good shoeing and some rest.
You can get them feeling better, faster, by getting them chiropractically
adjusted. We have a chiropractor who
visits our farm several times a month. We have daily stretching
exercises we do with the horses that the chiropractor taught us.
Dr. Lance Cleveland watches to see the exercises are being done correctly.
Thoroughbreds still racing are used to smaller, lighter saddles
than we use. Their riders are lighter and smaller than the average
pleasure rider. Ignorant buyers of OTTBs
wonder why a horse acts up when they throw a heavy saddle and rider
on the horse and crank him into a frame and do sitting trots on his
sore back!!! They need time to heal and they need to learn to work
off your seat. Our horses will come down to a walk from a canter
with just a few half halts and light rein pressure. We ride all of
them in simple snaffles, full cheek snaffles, French link or happy
mouths snaffles - even fox hunting!
You need to understand the Thoroughbred's
past training experiences. . .
The horse is in the starting
gate and the jockey takes hold. They break from the gate and the
horse leans into the bit and allows the the jockey to control him.
Horses that do not allow the jockey to control them, do not last
as race horses. They would burn themselves out before the race
is over. So, contrary to popular belief, the horse is not trying
to run away, he is listening to the rider. They have been TAUGHT
to take contact and wait for the signal to really move out.
the jockey crosses the finish line, he/she loosens or drops the
reins and sits up. Kind of like our half halt. Every Thoroughbred
we have had at our farm responds to the rider's seat position. The
biggest problem we have had, is, hunter/jumper riders leaning
too far forward and grabbing the horse as he goes into a canter.
This is the "GO" signal. Dressage riders seem to have a better understanding
of their seat and hands and we have had no problems with
horses getting quick with them. Never give an OTTB something to lean
into. Keep your hands soft and alternate closing hands.
The Thoroughbreds respond to your
posting as well. The faster you post, the faster they trot. Just
slow down your posting and the horse will match your speed -- right
off-the-track! Now bending to the right . . . takes a little more
Brew This aka Brewster fox hunting with Barry.
My husband, Barry Zuber, and I start the horses in the arena doing
basic dressage exercises. They learn to bend and relax and to be light
in your hands. They learn walk, trot and canter and how to transition
between the gaits. Many of these horses know nothing but racing and
need to learn how to be mounted from the ground --instead of having
the rider flung onto their backs as they are jigging to the track.
They need to learn to balance themselves on uneven ground and how
to cross water -- this is the difficult one!
Horses right off-the-track are usually weak behind. They pull
with their shoulders so they do not have the proper muscles in the
rear for what we want them to do. Young horses often clip their heels
because of this. The muscles get built doing slow hill work and lunging
in the arena.
Grayboo shows that even a horse right off-the-track
has what it takes to be an event horse. -- photo by Marie van Roekel.
Next we start working the horses in the woods, on and off trails
and over natural obstacles. In the beginning, just stepping over a
simple little log can be a terrifying task. Soon they are enjoying
the trails and woods of Bits & Bytes Farm.
This is a view of the coop from the "Captain
As they gain confidence they begin gymnastic work in the arena.
The Thoroughbreds learn first to step over ground rails and then
to canter over them. They jump combinations of cross rails and move
on to vertical fences and coops-starting at the trot and working
up to the canter. We then take them to other trails, hunter paces,
fox hunts and cross country schooling courses.
Two Thumbs Up was a former Stakes race horse.
Now he is happy to dress up for Halloween and run an obstacle course.
Some of our horses have been fox hunted or have been taken to clinics,
cross-country schooling, poker rides, hunter paces, horse shows
and events. Our Dobermans, Wizard,Zulu and Sydney, do fox hound
training by running up behind them, rustling leaves and jumping out
from behind bushes. The cats practice running up trees in the dark
shadows outside the arena just to keep the horses alert.
We have been living in the middle of a construction zone while two
schools are being built around us. One is literally 50 feet off
the property line and just 60 feet from our main arena. The horses
are not bothered by bulldozers, dump trucks, flapping plastic, men
on roofs and falling debris. These horses are not spooky or silly.
They have good mouths and are ridden in a snaffle bit -- even fox
Big Money and Brewster enjoy a day of fox hunting.
We have taken the time to know these horses. We know what type of
riding they enjoy and can share that with you. We ask that you honestly
represent your knowledge and experience with us so that we can
put together a good match of horse and rider.
Our horses are not finished horses but are well on their way to
a new career. They are not for beginners unless they are working
closely with a trainer. Do you have the talent and patience and
desire to help bring out their fullest potential? Call us if you
do. Can we find the "perfect match" for you?
Visit our Training Notes from
Elizabeth for more training tips.