Retraining an OTTB can be incredibly rewarding, but any rider who has taken on an ex-racer will tell you that it’s not always smooth sailing!
Last year Ride iQ joined forces with the Retired Racehorse Project, a non-profit that helps re-home OTTBs and get them started in their new careers. Together, we’ve put together a series of lessons taught by OTTB specialist and event rider Aubrey Graham. Our ‘Thoroughbred Fundamentals’ series targets those early training sessions, so you can be confident that you and your ex-racer are getting off to a good start.
Considering taking on an OTTB? Here are 5 key things to remember.
1. Mounting may be your first hurdle
Most racehorses aren’t used to being mounted in the traditional way. Instead, jockeys are usually given a leg-up, and the horse is allowed to move away once the jockey’s leg is over.
Even a horse that is used to the mounting block can be fidgety the first few times in a new home. For your first ride, it’s best to enlist the help of a friend and a pocketful of treats.
Don’t rush the mounting process. During your first few rides, your goal should always be relaxation. Don’t get on your horse until he is standing at the mounting block, relaxed.
For complete guidance on training your horse to be a gem at the mounting block, try ‘Intro to Mounting’ in the OTTB retraining series.
2. Expect aids to differ
One of the things you might notice during your first few rides is that your OTTB has a very limited understanding of traditional leg, seat, and rein aids.
An OTTB is far more likely to lean on your hands and speed up as a response to rein pressure, as opposed to yielding and slowing down like we might expect.
Using groundwork, voice aids, and simple, clear requests, you can help your OTTB develop an understanding of what you're asking for when you apply rein pressure.
For a handy groundwork exercise to practice before your first ride, check out the first lesson in our series, “Groundwork with Shoulder & Neck Aids”.
3. Your OTTB may lack muscle
Racehorses are elite athletes, and like human runners, they are unlikely to have much excess fat. If your horse has had time off between the track and rehoming, he may have lost some strength and condition.
It can be worth working with a vet and bodyworker to develop a strength and conditioning program with the long-term aim of improving topline. A mixture of lunging, polework, hillwork, and cavalettis can help to build topline in your OTTB. You should also ensure they are receiving enough forage.
4. It's okay to ask for help
Turning a racehorse into a riding horse is a journey, and it is likely you’ll need to seek the help of a professional.
Enlisting a trainer who specializes in OTTB retraining can be invaluable. For extra support, the Ride iQ equestrian app has audio lessons to guide you throughout the training process. Whether you’re teaching your OTTB to jump or just starting with the basics, there are lessons for you. With Ride iQ, you’ll have the guidance and experience of a top coach each time you put your foot in the stirrup.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling. This doesn’t mean you have failed - we could all benefit from some guidance now and then!
If you’re finding it especially challenging, have a browse of the “Sports Psychology and Meditation” section of the Ride iQ app.
5. Celebrate the small successes
Progress is rarely linear when it comes to retraining an OTTB. To help you stay motivated, remember to give both you and your horse credit for the small wins, whether that’s going for a hack, finding enough balance to trot a circle, or maintaining an even rhythm around the arena.
Try not to get disheartened if you take a few steps back. While retaining an OTTB is incredibly rewarding, it is a lot of hard work! Take retraining at your horse’s pace, taking it back a step or two if your horse becomes confused or agitated.
Sound tough? It is! But with time, patience and consistency, you can transform your ex-racehorse into a well-rounded riding horse and look back on your accomplishments with pride.
Want a full on-demand lesson for your next schooling session?
Try Ride iQ, and get free unlimited access to all of our lessons, videos, and podcasts for 14 days (available on both iPhone and Android).
Eventing, like all equestrian sports, thrives on community. Behind the scenes of every success story, there are many people who contributed. From beginner riders to celebrated professionals, we all share the desire to support the sport.
Let’s face it: accessibility can be a huge issue when it comes to riding. Due to time constraints, geography, or funds (or even a combination of all three!) it is almost impossible to have in-person instruction every time you are on a horse.