One of the biggest challenges riders face with OTTB retraining is the introduction to jumping. Fresh off the track ex-racehorses are unlikely to have seen jumps before and even those that have may still need careful retraining.
Ride iQ has partnered with Aubrey Graham for our “Thoroughbred Fundamentals” series as part of our collaboration with the Retired Racehorse Project. This series targets early OTTB training sessions, including introducing your ex-racer to their first jumps.
Check out this series on the Ride iQ app, or read on for some of our top tips.
Start with a Good Warmup
Before you even think about jumping, it’s essential that your OTTB is supple, warm and listening to your aids. Not only will this make the introduction to jumps easier, a horse that is sufficiently warm is less likely to get injured - so you shouldn’t need to worry if they tackle their first jump a little exuberantly!
For a great warm up, check out Jon Holling’s 20-minute "Transitions" warmup on the Ride iQ app or Leslie Law’s warmup lesson called "Responsive to Leg Aids."
The aim of any warmup is to have your horse relaxed, supple, and listening to you. Only then should you begin jumping.
Master Adjusting the Canter
Fresh off the track thoroughbreds are notoriously unadjustable! They have one speed and often lack the balance and strength to hold themselves in a shorter, more compact canter.
To successfully tackle a course of show jumps, it’s important that you are able to lengthen and shorten your OTTB’s canter.
But how do you teach a rangy thoroughbred to close or open up their canter while staying balanced?
Check out the “Trot and Canter Lengthening” lesson on the Ride iQ app. This short lesson by Doug Payne uses a 20m circle to help your horse collect and lengthen.
Remember to only do as much as your horse can manage based on their current strength and training. If your horse is unable to maintain a shorter canter, practice half halts in each gait until you can shorten the canter for just a couple of strides.
It may be that your horse doesn’t have the strength behind to sufficiently shorten or lengthen. If your horse is finding it too difficult, work on building strength with hills and lateral work.
Introduce a Single Pole First
Introduce your OTTB to jumping by starting with just a single pole on the ground. Walk over it and allow the horse to figure out the question while supporting them with your seat and leg. Move into trot and eventually canter.
If your OTTB gets anxious or rushes over the poles, consider doing a downwards transition afterwards. If your horse raises his head and ignores your aids on approach or landing, you may need to revisit your flatwork. Try circling in a rhythmical, supple trot before re-presenting.
Next, Trot Over Jumps
Once your horse is comfortable cantering over a pole on the ground, you can begin to introduce trot jumps. Aubrey Graham’s “Intro to Jumping” lesson introduces this step in more detail. She trots over a small crossrail with a ground rail 9' in front of it and allows the horse to canter away. After a few strides of canter, transition back to trot and repeat.
Once your horse is comfortable with trot jumps, you can string a couple of fences together and introduce jumping from the canter. If your horse begins to rush, come back to trot between the jumps.
Use Gymnastics Exercises
With green horses and OTTBs, it’s important to allow them to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Micro-managing your horse can lead them to rely on the rider too heavily to make decisions for them.
Aubrey recommends a set of three bounces in a line with 9' between them, followed by a one-stride (18') to a small jump, followed by a 2-stride (32' - 35') to another small jump.
Set all the jumps as rails on the ground to start with. Walk, then trot through the grid. If your horse is doing well with the exercise, canter through the grid. Then, raise the final fence to a small crossrail.
Eventually, you should be able to raise all the fences and allow your horse to canter down the grid.
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Learn more about Ride iQ’s partnership with the Retired Racehorse Project.