Archive for category: First Ride

Riding Your Off-the-Track Thoroughbred for the First Time

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Many new buyers of off-the-track Thoroughbreds are worried about what their first ride will be like.

At Bits & Bytes Farm we have been getting Thoroughbreds off-the-track for many years now. We always take a safe yet relaxed approach to the first ride. Here are a few important things to remember . . .

This is not your horse’s first ride and it shouldn’t be be a rodeo!

Thoroughbreds are used to being ridden everyday at the race track. They walk to the track, in groups or alone. They jog and canter most days and they have days when they gallop. They do not gallop or work fast every day. At The track, the horses doing their slow work ride clockwise on the outside rail in the opposite direction as the horses on the inside rail doing the fast workouts moving counter clockwise. There are also horses in the center of the track doing medium speed workouts. The morning workouts are great training for the schooling ring at a horse show – only with better riders and more organized chaos.

Gold Commander One - First Ride

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 by the OTTB 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. Sometimes you even need a crop or spurs because they are so relaxed.

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 Thoroughbreds 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 enough to trot or canter and that will be good for the horse as long as you can relax. Sit all stiff, fall off or scare yourself or the horse, and your training will take a big step backwards. Thoroughbreds 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.

If your Thoroughbred is “up”, 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. Many ex-racers need a few chiropractic adjustments to feel good.

Who you buy your Thoroughbred from can make a huge difference. It can be the difference between success and failure with OTTB. Horses that are racing at the low end, who have not had good care or training can have a whole different set of problems than a horse from a better track or a caring trainer/owner. Make sure your OTTB has been properly cared for and handled well. If the horse is sound for racing and he is checked out thoroughly by a vet, he will most likely be very easy to ride when you get him home. A horse that is quiet and well behaved at-the-track will be even better when you get him to the farm. Horses that are unhappy 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. Check to make sure the horse is not in pain. You need to make sure he feels good if you hope to have a quiet first ride.

What should you 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?

Always take safety precautions- especially with your first ride – better be safe than sorry. Wear a protective vest like the jockey’s wear under their silks. We wear a helmet and have a ground person holding the lunge line which is attached to the horse’s bridle. Take the time to lunge the horse before getting on. See if he is moving well and take the edge off of his energy. Lunging will help you to assess the soundness of the horse before getting on.

Always be safe

AT the track the Thoroughbred 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 your horse 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 your horse stands quietly. 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.

Another good thing is to have a 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!

If the horse is standing quietly it is time for you to really get on – do it quickly and quietly. Hold the reins and mane and put your leg over his back quickly and gently put your weight on his back. Now your heart is racing. You are sitting on a Thoroughbred RACE horse!

Stay calm and breathe. Stroke your horse’s neck. Have your ground person with the lunge line lead you around in the center of the arena. Within a short amount of time you will know what to expect. 95% of the time the horse is unconcerned and ready to work – unless you are making HIM scared. Have your helper lead you around the arena until YOU are calm. Extend your circle out on the lunge line. When you feel safe and have a calm horse under you then trot. If you feel the horse is not going to explode under you and you are not making him scared, then you can come off the lunge line and enjoy riding your newly off-the-track Thoroughbred. 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. A scared horse will run. He is a prey animal and that is what they do!

You may or may not canter on the first ride. Let the horse guide you. Sometimes it will take a few rides or even longer before you will feel safe enough to ask your horse to canter. Many times you may feel safe enough to canter on your first ride.

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. Ex race horses can get back sore easily which could lead to bucking if you move to quickly with his training and make him back sore. Don’t do sitting trots or canter circles until you have built up the top line muscles with lunging and hill work.

Hill Work? Ride My Thoroughbred Outside of the Ring?

YES! Get your horse out-of-the-ring as soon as you feel you can safe. Thoroughbreds love going for walks in the woods and working up and down hills. Riding out of the ring in the woods is so different than a wide open, flat track. OTTB’s back ends are weak when they come off-the-track and the hill work is good for their minds and their bodies.

Walk and trot your horse until you feel safe enough to canter.

Hill work and walk,/trot transitions are excellent training. Teach your horse to respond from your seat with half halts before a transition. You can do this on the trails as well. Look in the direction you wish your horse to go and you will find you hardly need to apply rein. When you turn your head and shoulders, the weight in your hips signals the horse to move in the direction you are looking. You will also be applying legs in the proper manner if you are turning with your head AND shoulders. When trotting do not tip 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. Jockey’s lean forward and take hold of the reins. The Thoroughbred race horse leans into the reins and balances on the Jockey’s hands. When they cross the finish line the jockey sits up and lets go of the rein pressure. The horse slows down and starts to jog.

Think about walking and do a half halt and your horse will be walking. Off-the-track Thoroughbreds are very sensitive and learn quickly because they want to please their person. Reward your horse by lightening your hands and talking to him with your voice.

You can never go too slow with the training but you can go too fast.

Never do anything that will 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 safe horse.

Day 28 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal – First Ride

Categories: First Ride, Ground Training - Tags: , ,

Catching your horse. Since Phil comes in to eat he comes to me and I halter, lead, and release him a minimum of twice daily. When I catch Phil I have actually taught him to catch me. The last thing I want to do is walk to the end of a 5 acre pasture to catch a horse. Through ground work for respect I have taught Phil to catch me.

First Ride.
Pre-ride checks.
 I have had 27 days to establish my relationship with Phil. The time spent on the ground will reflect how well we work together under saddle. I tacked Phil up using my roping saddle. I want as much leather under me as possible with the young horses. I did use the snaffle bridle instead of the training headstall with the distracting tassels (chose not to fight that battle). I did some ground work to see where Phil’s mental attitude was before I even attempted to mount. I was prepared to scratch my plan if Phil’s focus wasn’t on me and go back to ground work. Phil passed all “pre ride” checks. One thing I’ve noticed about horse owners is that they catch their horse, groom, tack and ride off without asking their horses “how do you feel today?’ Many “accidents” can be prevented if humans would just take the time to do a little ground work before mounting. If you have established ground work for respect with your horse, like I have with Phil, this may only be a pass to the left and right and maybe a back up from the ground. If Phil was distracted, spooky, or silly, etc. I would postpone my ride and chose to do something else constructive. Unfortunately, humans are so schedule/agenda conscious if they have made the trip to the barn, then by golly they are going to ride.

Mounting: I always use a mounting block no matter how tall the horse. Mounting blocks are the polite way to mount your horse. Now with that said you should be able to easily mount from the ground in case you are in a situation where you cannot stand on a block or tree stump. Phil stood politely as I mounted. I returned the politeness by not jabbing my toe into his side, by swinging my leg over his back gracefully and gently sitting my weight in the saddle. It is very rude to grab the saddle to pull yourself up, haul yourself onto your horse, kick him instead of lifting your leg, and plopping all of your weight into the saddle. We expect our horses to be physically fit enough to carry us, so we owe it to them to be physically able to gently mount and dismount. I purposely fiddled with the stirrups and reins. Phil stood still. Please, do not ever mount a horse that is moving. This is very unsafe. With that said, our OTTBs have to be taught to stand still for mounting. On the track the jockeys are hoisted onto a moving horse’s back; this is what our OTTBs know.

Flexion. I started by picking up one rein and asked for a soft flex. Phil, like all young horses, took this cue to move his feet. This is ok. He can turn in circles. To make the lesson correct I disengaged his hindquarters and asked him to step over until he makes an effort to give to me. As soon as Phil gives me a hint of his nose, I immediately dropped the reins. I mean I dropped them out of my hands to reward. Phil stopped turning. I continued to ask, Phil stopped turning and starting flexing without moving his feet. When he was doing this consistently I asked him to walk and flex. To reward him quicker as soon as he softened I let him change direction. An observer would accuse Phil of being drunk because we were swerving all over the arena. I was even able to pick up his foot through the feel of the rein and place it several times; this is an advanced move.

Circles. Circles, circles, circles. Since Phil is unbalanced and tends to dip his shoulder into a bend I have to really keep him between my legs. This means at all times I am supporting or directing with legs and/or hands. I make sure I am only supporting with my legs and hands and not nagging. I like to ride along the rail and turn into the rail and then turn back into the middle of the arena. Essentially I am doing figure eights along the rail. I make sure I plan, look where I am going, slightly shift my weight and support with legs/reins. I did have to modify my requests for Phil to accommodate his body build and conditioning. He cannot get under his hocks like my Quarter Horses and roll back, so I execute a little larger circle along the rail.

Test Ride: Once Phil was warmed up and fairly soft I tried out all gears. I was really surprised at how easy it was to post his trot. I didn’t have to work very hard since his trot provided the momentum. I would rate (1 being the worst and 10 the best) his canter a 10 and his hand gallop a 10+. He made an effort to turn on forehand, turn on haunches, and side pass. He even reached for the bit several times and was rewarded by a complete release.
Impulsion. Phil’s previous owner wrote Elizabeth several times about Phil’s lack of impulsion. I was even told that Phil was stubborn because he didn’t have impulsion. I want to take the time to discuss this since it is so easy to label a horse as uncooperative or stubborn. If you can’t get impulsion from your horse it is because your horse is emotionally out of control because he does not respect you. Remember, when I first met Phil I felt he was unstable. This is one of the most frustrating problems humans have with their horses. Plain and simple; Impulsion comes from respect. Respect is something you get on the ground or you don’t. You achieve impulsion by balancing your horse’s mental and physical needs. Many people will stick a band aid on a sucking chest wound and use crops, whips, or spurs to bully their horses. (NOTE: I use training spurs on some of my young prospects so I can communicate a “promise” clearly. One tap from the spur equals 100 exhausting leg kicks which only teach your horse to ignore you. I have developed a very independent leg and seat so the spur will only make contact if the ask and tell have been completely ignored). This will create dangerous habits such as rearing, bolting, ducking, bucking, as your horse will start to out think you to get away from the pressure and find a way to rid you off his back. The first time he tosses you or scares you enough to dismount you have just given him the release he was searching for and he will find his release quicker and quicker each time. Our horses are recreation for us, can we be recreation for them? As I mentioned in an earlier entry I am bored riding in circles in the arena. I try to entertain myself by trying out new things such as instead of riding along the rail going forward, I back my horse around the ring or I look at my surroundings and ask “Can I ride through, under, over, or around it”? Use your imagination.

Please feel free to ask questions!