Retraining racehorses with the right aids and hacking out

In our final part of our retraining ex-racehorses series, Sue Jannaway takes us through the right aids to use on a ex-racer and how to go about hacking him out.

Retraining on the correct way of going takes time, as racehorses are not used to working in an outline

Often riders air on the edge of caution when first using leg aids on a ex-racehorse, in the fear that he overreacts and run forwards.

"Its important that he understands what you want and you shouldn’t be frightened to squeeze with your leg and ask him to move across, slow down or move forwards,” says Sue.

An ex-racehorse’s under neck sternocephalicus muscle is usually well-developed and their topline weak as they haven’t been working in an outline.

“Don’t be tempted to force them into an outline, as they will soften in time,” says Sue.

“Use either a set of bungee reins, a Market Harborough or draw reins to help them understand the way we want them to work.”

This is a gradual process and the working on balance and bend should be priority over outline

“We work most of our ex-racehorses in a simple snaffle, as they have light mouths, but some do prefer alternative bits like one of our horses called Frank, who works in a gag,” says Sue.

Could it be you?

However, more often than not it’s not the bit that causes an issue, but the riders actions.

“When a rider shortens the reins, they tip forward, which says to an ex-racehorse to move quicker, so its key to try and think how they think so you can anticipate their reaction.”

Often ex-racers run into the canter than respond to your leg aids

Racehorses have learnt to go from a standstill in the stalls to gallop, so re-educating them to steadily trot and go forward to canter takes time.

“Initially, ex-racers tend to rush the trot to strike canter like a youngster,” says Sue.

“Be patient and slow the trot down so they’re balanced, and ask for canter in the corner by giving a definite leg aid.”

Taking an ex-racehorse hacking 

When out hacking, it’s advisable not to gallop as it contradicts the retraining process.

“We tend to use walk, trot and then eventually introduce canter on grass, so that they learn it needs to be controlled,” says Sue.

“It's essential that we know what each ex-racehorse can and can't do before rehoming.”

Some ex-racehorses are happy to hack alone while others require company

Racehorses, when in training, spend a lot of time strengthening their tendons with roadwork, but this is often as a string of horses, not alone.

“Initially we’ll ride out with another horse so they’re comfortable with the route, before we would try to hack them alone,” says Sue.

“Even though most are good in traffic we always work around vehicles on the yard first, before tackling public roads.”

Road work and hacking can help ex-racers relax and should be included in their retraining.

“After a 20 minute schooling session, we like to walk them out down the road, not only to cool them off, but to help their minds switch off,” says Sue.

If you get to a point in the retraining process where you feel progress is slow or you’re starting to face challenges, don’t feel like you're on your own and seek advice.

There’re plenty of instructors, and organisations like HEROS who are prepared to offer support and tips.

Three common horse loading problems solved

There’s nothing more frustrating than a horse that won’t load. You’ve spent hours getting him ready for his journey, but he walks up to your trailer or horsebox and refuses to go in. In this situation it can be tricky to know what to do, but with a little bit of time and patience you can have your horse travelling happily. Specialist trainer, Michael Peace offers his tips and advice on how to overcome three common loading problems, so your horse loads first time, every time.

Time and patience are needed if your horse isn't keen to load

Time and patience are needed if your horse isn't keen to load

Problem: He won’t walk up the ramp

Solution: When your horse plants his feet, don’t walk to where he’s standing as this suggests to him that he’s moving you and not the other way round. Try standing where you want him to move to and wait without any pressure on the lead rope. If you try and get into a fight with him you’ll not win. By simply waiting you’re giving him time to assess the situation and realise it’s easier to stand with you.

Problem: My horse is scared of small spaces

Solution: Some horses will load quite happily, but he’s not so happy when you close the partition. This creates a smaller space for your horse, and as a flight animal, he may find this restricting. Stay calm and patient while he figures out what what you’re asking him to do is ok. Resist the temptation to pull on the rope, wait in the spot you want him to walk to and let him think for himself. Once he moves to you praise him.

Problem: He doesn’t understand where to stand in the box

Giving clear signals to your horse helps him understand what you want

Giving clear signals to your horse helps him understand what you want

Solution: Some horses can’t work out how to position themselves once they’re inside a horsebox. A good technique is to use his head like a rudder. Move his head to the opposite side you want his quarters to go, you’ll find if you do this he’ll swing his quarters round into the position you want. You need to give your horse clear signals and be precise in what you’re asking your horse to do. 

Easy ways to Improve your bond

Sharing a strong bond with your horse is hugely important, without it you can’t achieve a winning partnership. Here, our expert international dressage rider and trainer Claire Lilley shares some simple ways to bond with your horse at home.

Sharing a strong bond with your horse is hugely important and will mean you work better together in every situation

Sharing a strong bond with your horse is hugely important and will mean you work better together in every situation

Give him a thorough groom
Horses bond by grooming each other, so it makes sense to do what another 'horse friend' would do. A good grooming session should last at least an hour. You can go further by using massage techniques after your grooming session.

Walk him out in-hand
In-hand work in the school is a great way to bond with your horse, and if you stand by his shoulder you can see his facial expression. Practice walk, halt, walk transitions in the school to start with and progress to leading him outside down a quiet lane. Just taking him for a walk in-hand will help you bond. Sit on a wall and pick some nice long grass to hand feed him.

Teach him turn around the forehand
Stand by his shoulder and with a schooling whip held alongside his body, tap him on his inside hind leg, on the thigh or cannon bone (whichever works the best) to ask him to step away from you. Alternatively press him with your fingers by the girth where you inside leg would be. The movement resembles shoulder-in 'around a dinner plate' with the front legs stepping around 'the plate' without crossing. The hind legs should cross over in big, sweeping steps. This is a great in-hand exercise that should get him thinking and means he’s working in close proximity with you, rather than only listening to you when you’re in the saddle.

Learn to long-rein
Long-reining is a great way to improve the bond between you and your horse and improve your schooling at the same time. Practice school movements in walk, such as circles of different sizes, serpentines, leg yield, shoulder-in and so on.

Master halting square
With your horse in-hand, try to achieve a square halt, if he leaves a leg out behind, touch the offending leg with a very long schooling whip, or use an old lunge whip with the lash chopped off (leave about 3 inches of lash attached). Try not to fiddle around too much with the halt though. If he won’t stand square with a couple of taps, then walk on and try a new halt.

Just enjoy his company
Find the time to just be with your horse, whether he’s in his field or his stable. Wrap up warm and take a picnic full of goodies you can share like apples and carrots. Sit in his stable and spend some time talking to him, stroking him and sitting with him.

More about our expert
Claire Lilley is an international dressage rider and trainer who trains horses and riders of all levels and knows just what it takes to achieve that winning partnership. See Claire's new DVD Stop! Go! Turn! for more schooling ideas. Visit www.clairelilley.com for details.

Six easy ways to tackle napping

Napping is often thought of in terms of a horse being naughty. But when he refuses to leave the yard, or goes so far and then tries to whip round and head for home, he shows another example of separation anxiety. If this sounds familiar, follow British Dressage and British Eventing Accredited Coach, Joanna Day’s tips for success:


1. Work him out

If you work your horse hard at home, then take him a short distance away, let him rest and, if possible, graze, you’ll find being near the stables will become less attractive to him, and going away from home will become more so. Repeat, gradually building up the distance.

 

2. Back to school

In the school, try riding a nappy horse with one other, then taking him away from the other horse while both are rested. Don’t let them stand together, but rest them in different corners for a short time.

 

3. Ask for help

Don’t cause yourself more problems – and risk having an accident – by trying to cope alone with napping problems. If you’re nervous and lack balance and stability, get help to give your horse confidence, which in turn will help your state of mind, and work on your own riding too.

 

4. Tough love

Don’t pat a horse to try and reassure him when he’s napping, because by doing so, you’re rewarding the behaviour. Pat him when he moves on, because that’s what you want to reward.

 

6. Leapfrog!

When you’re ready to ride out, once you’ve done in-hand work and separation exercises in the school you should be able to ride out a short distance and then gradually increase this. If you can go with another horse, try a useful technique called leapfrogging, where one horse overtakes the other and moves off and the one who is left behind is asked to accept this and stay calm. This work can progress to more challenging manoeuvres, including one horse going out of sight of the other. It can be used in-hand as well as ridden.

 

6. Be clear

Schooling for the right response will reap benefits. If your horse understands and is responsive to your aids in a schooling environment, you should have better communication away from it. 
Even if you prefer to hack, establishing communication will make hacking more enjoyable and safer.

How to handle a horse that kicks

If you have a horse who kicks or strikes out at you without warning, it can be a worrying and nerve wracking experience and can damage your relationship. Make sure you and your horse are safe and sound with expert advice from Natural Horsemanship Trainer Charles Wilson.

“Kicking is a terrible habit, especially if it’s hard wired into your horse’s brain,” says Charles,

“but punishment for kicking is futile and often counter-productive, as fear is the root cause of the kicking in the first place, so punishment simply re-enforces it. Horses need to feel safe and know that there is nothing to fear and being around you is the safest place for them to be.”

If you have a horse who kicks out at you, it’s important that he learns to accept you at close range. This exercise will help:

Step 1: Get him used to your touch

Hold him loosely with a lead rope over your arm in a small area (bigger than a stable). Don’t tie him up as this could make him anxious.

Stroke him from his shoulder, using long gentle strokes and see if he relaxes under your touch. Lowering his head and breathing deeply are signs that he’s beginning to relax and accept you. For the first few sessions, don’t even attempt to go towards the hindquarters, stay up at the shoulder end and always wear a riding hat and sturdy footwear.

Stroke his head, neck, shoulders and front half of his ribs, before stroking further back towards the stifle. Remember to be patient and calm.

Step 2: Pay attention to his reactions

As you stroke him, make a mental note of any areas on his body where he tenses up, leave these areas and return to a point where he relaxes again. Return to the area that caused the tension and work around it - gradually building it up until he is fully relaxed with you being there.

Step 3: Take care around his back legs

Before you head down the hindquarters and back legs, familiarise him with being stroked with a stick over the parts where he feels least resistant. You are essentially using the stick as an extension of your arm. Then, when you feel ready, move down his back legs with your stick. It’s important to be very patient and gradual with your movements.

If he kicks out, don’t panic. Just keep soothing him with your voice and stroking him, until you can stroke a little way down the leg without him lifting it. Then stop and let him rest. Chill-out time is a must to take the pressure off.

You should find that over time you’ll be able to stroke down the hindlegs and even lift his tail a little. Be observant and monitor his body language. You should expect this process to take a few weeks.

Once he accepts the stick touching him, your hand will be the next step, but before that, allow a rope to swing around the leg, near the hock. Again, expect this work to take a few sessions and progress slowly until he’s familiar with the sensation of the rope.

Once you move on to using your hand, be sure to convey an air of confidence and calmness with slow and deliberate movements.

 

More about our expert

Charles Wilson MA, BHSAI is a Natural Horsemanship Trainer who has a wealth of experience in training horses. Training his own horses from his late twenties, Charles has successfully competed in all the major disciplines. It is this all round horsemanship skill and knowledge that gives such a deep insight into his work with both horse and rider.

How to deal with bucking

While watching your horse buck and play in the field is lovely, being on-board when he kicks up his heels is quite another matter. Bucking is a behaviour developed to stop predators getting on the horses’ backs. In domestic circumstances, however, it can be triggered by fear, pain, over-excitement, excessive energy, or high spirit and poor riding. Some horses do also seem to have particularly sensitive backs, while others will use the excuse of cold or windy weather!


Dealing with bucking:

1. Have a health check

Get in the experts to check his teeth, back and tack, so you can be sure there is nothing causing him pain. While you’re at it, invest in a lesson or two to be sure you are not inadvertently causing him any discomfort in his back or mouth by your riding.

2. Energy balance

Ask a nutritionist to assess your horse’s diet for his current workload. It can be easy to overfeed, especially if you have good intentions of riding more than you actually manage to. Good quality forage should make up the majority, if not all, of most horses’ rations.

3. Take avoiding action ­

Get to know the times when your horse is likely to buck and what the warning signs are. If his head drops and he slows, sit behind the vertical and take a firm contact to raise his head. Push your legs further forward and get your heels down, then encourage your horse to work forwards.

4. Safe circles

Riding onto a circle can help prevent bucking as your horse will need to use himself properly to balance. It also takes coordination and concentration.

5. What’s the benefit?

If you can either prevent the buck, or work through it and carry on with what you were doing, your horse will gradually realise he can’t get away with it. Be firm and confident, and he’ll realise that bucking doesn’t get him out of any work.