Retraining Of Racehorses – Dressage

I had a super message from Equipepper about my Collectives Marks series of posts and how they had helped her, so I asked her to guest blog for me on the subject of Dressage for Ex Racehorses  …

Here’s what she has to say …

How To Approach Dressage With Ex Racehorses

Thoroughbreds and ex racehorses are becoming more popular amongst amateur and competitive riders. There are many reasons for this, the most obvious being that they are usually fairly cheap to buy compared to a well-bred warmblood. However, there is no reason why a sound ex racehorse cannot do well in other disciplines such as dressage.

Why Choose Thoroughbred Ex Racehorses?

As a breed, thoroughbreds are incredibly athletic and are often very common in the bloodlines of top sports horses. Some of them also have very good movement, which is a vital base for any dressage horse. My ex racer naturally has correct uphill paces, even after two years of National Hunt racing.  Thoroughbreds tend to be quite smart. This is both a good and a bad thing when it comes to retraining them. They tend to pick up what you want them to do quite quickly and they remember it. However, if they don’t want to do something, they can be very creative at finding a way around doing it which you might struggle to undo.


Retraining Racehorses For Dressage : Considerations

The majority of racehorses will probably have no schooling experience at all. Not only this, but a jockey’s riding style is very different to that of the average rider. Therefore dressage will be a completely new experience for them and there are lots of little things you need to consider when it comes to riding them.

Racing and exercise saddles are very different to a dressage saddle and even most GP saddles. Therefore the horse may take a while to get used to a new saddle, even if it has been fitted! It is also possible that they have never been ridden with long stirrups. So if you have long legs, be aware that this could be a new, confusing experience for some of them. Racehorses are not taught to ‘give’ to a contact. They are taught that, no contact means relax and any contact means they should lean into it and go faster. These are things you should be aware of to prevent potentially dangerous situations.

Even if the horse retired from racing completely sound, it is likely they have various physical problems which will make dressage particularly difficult until these things improve. The most obvious one is the lack of top line. They will not have the muscle to carry themselves in an outline and they will need correct work and feed to build this muscle up.

Another problem many racehorses have is a bent withers to one side and a rotated pelvis to the other. This is to do with whether the horse raced clockwise or anti-clockwise. These problems will make the horse naturally crooked and may cause problems such as struggling to pick up a certain canter lead or bend. However, with correct training and regular back and pelvis adjustments, these problems will improve and can disappear altogether.

Retraining Racehorses For Dressage : Where To Start?

The most important thing when retraining a racehorse, as with most horses, is to get them going forward and straight under saddle. Everything else will fall into place with time as long as the horse is going forward and straight with a good rhythm. The straightness is even more important to ex racehorses as many of them will be naturally more crooked than most horses.

RacehorsesBuilding top line is also very important. This should be done gradually and will be achieved by correct training and nutrition. I personally find that lunging in training aids, such as The Pessoa is a great way to build up topline. This is because it gets the horse to work long and low without them having to support a rider on their ‘weak’ backs.

My Ex Racehorse And Dressage:

I got Highland Rain towards the end of Summer 2014. He is an ex national hunt horse who had no schooling experience when I got him. I have spent the past year slowly building him up and working him in a Pessoa training aid, at least once a week to build up his topline. He also had a rotated pelvis and bent withers, and with two adjustments and lots of work building up his back and hind end, this has improved massively and seems to becoming less of a problem to him.

RacehorsesJust over a month ago we went to our first dressage test. It was the BD Intro B test at a local unaffiliated centre. I was so happy with our result. We scored 65% and placed 4th. We scored 6-7 in virtually every figure and got an 8 for our halt, which I though was amazing for our first time out! The judge’s final comments were really positive too! “Handsome horse with correct paces and a quietly ridden test.” We still have lots to work on, but we have improved so much since this test, he’s almost like a different horse! If you are not in a rush to get out competing, I would highly recommend investing your time in an ex racehorse.

The Crystal System’s articles on the collective marks really helped me understand their purpose and importance to a test and competition. The articles also explain what is required for each collective mark and tips on how to improve your marks in these areas.  A very helpful resource for both new and experienced riders!

Written by EquiPepper


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