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. 

6 ways to Improve your bond with your horse

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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now.

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.