8 Golden Rules For Helping Your Thoroughbred Get Right Off The Track

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Sometimes, you can achieve more by doing very little. There’s a lot advice around about what you can do to help ex-racehorses, or OTTBs (Off the Track Thoroughbreds). Much of it focuses on what can be done through retraining, while some of it focuses on dealing with physical issues.

In this guest post, Kerry Warren Couch responds to the recent article about physical issues in OTTBs by stating, clearly and simply, how she has helped her OTTBs over many years, mainly by initially doing very little at all.

(c) All text copyright of the author at  www.thehorsesback.com. No  reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact jane@thehorsesback.com for more information. Thank you!

 

I have ridden many OTTBs over the decades of my riding career, professionally and for sheer pleasure. I just adore them – they have so much heart, and they give  everything if the rider is willing to be extraordinarily patient, partnering with their horse and never forcing them.

I loved the Buying an Ex-Racehorse: Can You Spot the Major Physical Issues? article – it’s absolutely on target. I have a few suggestions for folks to consider when they bring their OTTBs home. These come from my personal experience – they may not apply to everyone and all cases, so do keep that in mind.

The author's new OTTB

The author’s new OTTB

Seven months ago, I purchased yet another OTTB. He came from a top trainer/track and we knew his entire medical history, including x-rays. This is NOT typical – I was very fortunate to have access and for my vet to be able to talk with the stable and their vets. Very lucky me.

Despite coming from a top trainer, my new OTTB does have some issues – he IS an ex-race horse, so this is to be expected.

He has benefited from my usual approach, which helps the horse long before we start work.

What follows is my approach to helping every OTTB that comes to live at my farm.

1. Allow the OTTB plenty of downtime

My OTTBs have always needed time to ‘defuse’ from the training barn life, so I turn them out, slowly to acclimatize – but then as they come to understand turn out, I find them pasture mates and allow turn-out at will, so they can go in their stalls or walk out to the field as they wish.

2. Give the OTTB a full check-up

I have a complete chiro assessment done before ANY work is begun – and that includes groundwork. We start working on the serious physical issues right away, but leave simple ones for a little later, so we don’t overwhelm the horse in his transition to a non-track life.

3. Use paddock time as self-help time

I am lucky that my farm has hills, so I can help my OTTBs work on symmetrical muscle building long before I begin groundwork. I purposefully keep their water in their stalls so they must walk the hills every day, from pasture to barn and back. Their attitudes really change with this time to ‘reprogram’.

OTTB SandI also have a designated ‘rolling area’ near the paddock, filled with super soft sand.  I have been amazed at how smaller, simpler issues can be naturally worked out by allowing horses to relax and roll in lovely sand.

My region has hard clay soil, so I had the sand area made, because I know that rolling on hard clay can actually cause or exacerbate injuries. It’s not that expensive and I’ve found that horses LOVE it. Do consider putting it in a well-drained area with a little bit of full sun, as warm sand is wonderful!

4. Use grooming as therapy time

I groom them every day ­– slowly and methodically.  I fully believe this has wonderful therapeutic benefits. It helps with circulation and muscle tone, and helps me partner with my horses without asking anything of them.

5. Work out an individual nutritional plan

Where feed’s concerned, I have full blood panels done and put a nutrition program together based on each horse’s needs. These vary from horse to horse.

I have been fortunate to acquire OTTBs from known training barns, so my horses typically have few deficiencies. This may NOT be the case for so many people who are purchasing OTTBs from a TB rescue operation or general sale.

By the way, I am NOT implying that rescue groups do not take care of the horses. It’s just that sometimes, the rescue folks aren’t told about the horse’s medical history, so they simply don’t know. It is not due to any lack of care or concern on their part.

Hills at the author's place

Hills at the author’s place

We some times see minor anemia, and imbalance in the micro-minerals.  Many OTTBs do have some signs and symptoms of gastric discomfort. This may reflect fore or hind gut ulcers. I don’t like to have an endoscopy performed, as the pre and post procedures often exacerbate the ulcers, if they do exist.

I actually prefer to treat this area empirically. So, if my vet and I both feel the horse is exhibiting signs consistent with ulcers, we treat them without the instrumental diagnostics.

That said, if there IS a serious issue, one certainly may wish to pursue the endoscopy.

Diet is really individualized to the horse. It is not advisable to suddenly change a horse’s diet. I like to implement a tapering program. I keep the horse on whatever he was being fed at the training barn for two weeks, with a very slow changeover to whatever program we have determined for the new horse.

I typically have acquired very young OTTBs, ie, 3-4 year olds. So I know my horses are still growing and will require nutrition appropriate to a growing horse. We do feed a LOW carbohydrate feed mix and will supplement as warranted. If one feeds the proper amount as recommended by the feed company and one’s vet, the horse ought to receive the right blend of vitamins and minerals.

I do like to add flax seed meal, not the seeds. If a horse has really thin walls or poor feet, I add a hoof supplement with biotin and trace minerals. If a horse requires, we will add probiotics. If a horse is a poor drinker, I may add some soaked, drained, no-molasses-added beet pulp.

I think the main thing here is that no two horses are exactly the same.  There is NO cookie cutter approach to caring for horses. There are only general principles:

  • Fresh, clean water, daily (scrub out those water buckets),
  • Plenty of quality hay and forage at will, so the horse does not stand for hours without roughage (the average 1100 lbs horse requires approx 22 lbs of total quality forage a day, which can be a combination of pasture and hay, all hay or all pasture)
  • Get the horse out, moving at will in a pasture so the fore and hind gut can work effectively.
  • Make sure a dentist has assessed their teeth.
  • A fecal test is also a good idea, especially for OTTBs coming from a rescue or general sale.  Good training barns have a worming routine.  This may not be the case with a rescue operation or at a general sale when one doesn’t know much about the OTTB’s origin.
  • I also know the vaccination history of my newly acquired horses, but this may not always be the case for others.  I’d advise anyone to discuss this with the veterinarian.

6. Improve poor hoof balance slowly

I get the farrier in from the beginning to slowly – NOT rapidly – change those hoof angles over several months of trims.

Most OTTBs have under run heels, long toes and flat soles. A slow correction  allows longer term adaptation of the hoof structures and avoids short term soreness. It also avoids dramatic changes that affect posture

OTTBOne MUST take it very slowly.  I believe this holds true for any horse, but particularly for the OTTBs.  Their muscles, tendons and ligaments are put at risk if angle changes are made too rapidly. It leads to transitory lameness, soreness and increased risk of injury, even in the pasture.

I offer the analogy of a person wearing barn boots, day-in, day-out. Then, suddenly switching to three inch high heels and attempting to carry out the same daily chores. OUCH!

I think it is SO important to have all the professionals involved in the horse’s care/transition on the same page and are informed of each other’s interventions with the horse.  It’s really important to have the big players on the ‘team’ communicating with one another:  the chiropractor, the farrier, the vet/nutritionist, hay and feed dealer.

7. Allow time for slow and steady progress

I have also found that my OTTBs have really needed to learn how to enjoy other horses and life before I start any type of training program.

We humans seem to be in such a hurry.  It’s so helpful to let their bodies and minds defuse.

I have noted that less experienced horse owners would do well to remember that these horses are NOT, at this stage, pets. They have frequently not been cuddled or hand fed carrots, or hugged or loved. These horses were working horses. They had a job to do.

I have observed some people new to horses being so enthralled with the idea of adopting an OTTB that they immediately want to love them, pet them, stand very close to them and even throw their arms around their necks.  This is a lovely sentiment but oh, so dangerous. Ex-track horses are often more accustomed to varied stall muckers coming in, varied groomers, different hot walkers, exercise riders, jockeys, etc.

So many OTTBs are simply NOT accustomed to being fussed. They may pin their ears and toss their heads to even bite or nip at the new owner, raise a hind foot, or wring the tail as a warning. People new to horses who start with an OTTB really really need to be aware of this and put together a realistic plan to allow the horse to defuse, detox, rebuild and SLOWLY re-acclimatize to a life where his new people will show affection.

This happens over weeks or months – NOT days. Take it very slowly and give the horse his personal space and time to come to you – don’t force your eager affection on the horse too soon. It may likely backfire.

In time, with patience and understanding, you WILL have a lovely, affectionate horse. But not right away, as a general rule.

Talking to your horses daily, or singing, is good – I sing a lot to my horses so that they learn my voice and intonations.  I do this over a long period, way before I ever attempt to be affectionate with my new OTTB. And even then, I wait for my horse to show me he is ready for me to rub his ears, etc.

Grooming helps this along, too. I often sing while I groom.

8. Enjoy starting work with your OTTB

(c) retiredracehorseblog.com

(c) retiredracehorseblog.com

With all this, they are so much easier to work with – even for their rehab therapies, and physical therapy is always part of the program. They ARE off the track and there WILL be issues, almost always hips, pelvis, back and others…

I give my OTTBs six full months, and sometimes up to a year, as each horse is different.  I know that may not be reasonable for many people, but even so, at least three months would yield a big benefit.

 

I do hope others have suggestions to add in the Comments section, below. Horses are such magnificent and amazing creatures.  I have spent my lifetime, to date, with them, and I feel I have merely scratched the surface of understanding. I learn something new every single day.  They are wonderful teachers, if we simply have the heart and open mind to ‘listen’ to their voices. 

 

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Bodywork for Horses, Australia

Comments

  1. Ally Keyes says:

    I love love LOVE what you’ve written here! Bravo for being so kind, patient and thoughtful! The only thing missing which I was praying that you’d add after you addressed the issue, is…how do you treat ulcers? Aside from the drugs available from vets, do you use a natural maintenance program? Also, many years after first being diagnosed with ulcers, one of my boys has been diagnosed again. I’m utterly perplexed by this as his diet is simple with nothing processed except for Maxisoy. He’s on permanent turnout with plenty of roughage year round but is rarely ridden due to a penchant for rearing and totally losing it every time he glimpses another horse. It seems that ulcers have become epidemic in the horse world without a real identifiable cause and I’m starting to wonder if once formed, they can EVER be healed?!

    • Hi Ally I am so sorry to hear you are having repeat episodes of ulcers with your one horse! I totally agree with you that ulcers are really not fully understood from a causation standpoint. I believe the veterinary literature has identified several different contributors to ulcers, including possible genetic pre-disposition, Its wonderful that you are so in tune with the individuality of your horses that you recognized this issue in the one horse.

      I also have learned through experience that triggers for ulcers and then the treatment will vary between horses. For example, one of my OTTBs exhibited signs and symptoms of ulcers that were pretty textbook with the cause appearing to be stress when he came from the training barn to me. We treated with the front line pharmaceuticals, but added alfalfa hay and removed the grass hay. I had this particular horse on some herbs post-Rx treatment for about two or three months- and he has been totally fine ever since. Another of my horses has a sensitivity to sugar in the grass. He will exhibit signs of gastric distress that are consistent with ulcers-not colic. I have to carefully monitor our pasture grasses and limit his time in the spring and fall and when we are in a drought situation, or during the initial frost periods in late fall. These are times when our cool season grasses are exceptionally high in sugars. Of course we all know about the laminitic issues of sugars in grass but not quite so much is understood as a trigger for ulcers. Yet, I believe there is some relationship. This is anecdotal and not based on research. So, perhaps your horse has some type of less common trigger for his ulcers? Could it be the fluctuation sugar levels in your pasture grass or in the hay?
      I have taken a really great equine nutrition course online, twice now. Excellent. It is offered through Coursera.org and is taught by professors at the University of Edinborough Veterinary College, Equine Sciences. I learned SO much about how important it is to promote the proper foregut environment via nutrition choices as this not only is important for foregut digestion but vastly effects the ability of the the hindgut to also properly complete the digestive process. There is a really delicate balance between them. When there is an imbalance, and sugar can be a big contributor, the positive gastric environment is disrupted and ulcers can form even when No external stressors are present such as competitions and training. There are some great websites that offer a detailed discussion of sugars in various types of grass and when these sugars are at their peak. I am not saying this is the contributor for your horse but it is worth investigating.
      I offer one other very recent example. I am a trainer as well as a team coach. I travel to a particular show stable where my students all board. One of my student’s horses began exhibiting some irritable behavior while in lessons. This is a normally very willing, happy horse. We had a vet check completed- ulcers was the diagnosis. My student was perplexed, as you are. We began meticulously breaking down each moment of this horse’s daily routine and discovered from the barn help that the horse stalled beside my student’s horse agitates our horse during meals by kicking the wall and lunging at my student’s horse. We were not aware of this as my student works during the day and is never at the barn during meal times. I travel there so I also was not aware. We had the other horse moved and a really quiet horse put in the stall next to my student’s horse. Our horse was treated for ulcers, switched to alfalfa hay and within a few weeks was back to his normal , lovely self in lessons. My point here is that some times we have to be really good investigators to discover the source of a problem and be willing to think outside of the box.
      Another thought on your horse may be a dental issue. Not just mastication issues as is the norm to look for, but what about a mildly infected gum or tooth bed, mouth ulcers, etc? This can interfere with his chewing but also result in an imbalance in the fore gut.
      Pain can be a contributor to ulcers as well. Could there be some area of body/hoof pain somewhere on your horse that is not obvious that may be contributing to ulcer formation?
      Would it be reasonable to have a chiropractic assessment? A final thought is a noxious weed in your pasture that this horse has a particular sensitivity. You might walk your fields and see if some new weed has popped up that may be problematic. I wish you luck in your investigations and understand your frustrations.

  2. Vanessa Hill says:

    I also use a pessoa when lunging them , just warm them up and then put it on 5 minutes on each rein is enough it really helps build top line, and encourages them to engage their hind legs more.
    I also use a equissage hand unit as well.
    And I find a low starch, alfalfa based diet helps with ulcers.

  3. Angela Thomson says:

    REALY enjoyed your advice not got an tb myself but very interested in mayb one day owning one great down 2earth advice looking 4wrd 2more thanks

    • You are welcome, Angela, and thank you for your kind comment. If you ever do consider a new horse, please do consider an Off the Track TB (OTTB) if this type of horse suits your goals in riding. Its best to take a good trainer with you in your search or someone with very educated eyes and then have the assessments completed. I love OTTBs. I currently ride/train hunters and jumpers and also was a three-day eventer for many years. I really need a horse that is a “forward thinker” and bold. OTTBs generally have these two characteristics. With patience and slow, methodical development, these traits can be really enhanced in a most positive manner in OTTBs. Just wonderful horses!

  4. Thanks for a great article. Everything you have said here is fantastic advice. Personally I don’t have a TB, but a good friend of mine runs a re-homing programme for OTTBs. Does a very good job and is very careful about home checks and making sure the right person gets the right horse, but am pretty sure he doesn’t know all these good tips! Sadly, he doesn’t either have the availability of lovely turn-out in green pastures, which is ideal. The horses have sand paddocks, so can certainly do the “roll” thing, but not run at will with other horses. Time is also a factor, so unless they have a long-term injury which needs 6 months or so to heal (which he does then given them) they do generally move on fairly quickly, but often with the advice to the new owner that the horse needs more time!

    • Thanks, Lucille, for your comments. It is wonderful that your friend is engaged in re-homing OTTBs! YOu are welcome to share my article with him and see if there is anything that he may wish to include in his discussions with new owners. I am glad to hear he has great success in placing the horses in under a year. Kudos to him!!!!

      • Thanks Kerry – I had been considering doing that – sharing your article, but wasn’t sure if it was okay to do that – so thanks for the thumbs-up on that.

        • Hi Lucille,

          Just to clarify, it’s fine to share the link for the article, or to give the article to a friend.

          Please don’t reproduce the content on a forum or other site though, as it’s copyright of this website.

          I’m sure you weren’t planning to do that, but I need to clarify it in case someone else misinterprets it. We bloggers need to protect our interests!

          Wishing you all the best 🙂

          • Goodness no, I wouldn’t do that. I do understand that and would only have passed the link on. Thanks for clarifying though – always good to double check that people understand the “do’s and don’ts”.

            • It was absolutely NOT meant personally, so thanks for not taking it that way!! I’m delighted with the response this article is getting and hope many more people read it. I think Kerry’s done an amazing job here.

              • Thanks for clarifying the “share” aspect. We all need to fully respect a Blogger’s copyrights!!!!!!!

  5. Paula Baillie says:

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading this, I have an ex racer that I have had for over 4 years now, I would say that it took him at least 2 years to accept me, I bought him just to hack, but unfortunately he does not do hacking!! And he to has issues when he sees any other horses, any work that is done is in the school, he is a lovely natured boy but his brain has been frazzled from a racing career which I am sure he did not enjoy!!!

    • Paula: Congratulations on your horse and so lovely of you to allow him the life that seems to suit him versus forcing him to hack out when he is not comfortable doing so. You may have already used the following tactic, but in the event not, I have a suggestion for you to try unless your boy is not up to the task. Only you will know this. When I have had a particularly hot or cautious or really young TB, especially OTTBs, I will use one of my “steady-Eddy” old lads as a schoolmaster for the nervous or cautious green horse. I will ride the schoolmaster and pony the young horse along side. I start in a small, safe place and slowly walk them out into larger areas and then hacking out in our fields with finally hacking off the property. I don’t tack up at first- then add a pad and surcingle, then tack up but still just pony. I then move to putting on a soft, confident rider and begin again, using the schoolmaster horse to pony the OTTB. Often by this step, its a fast progression to hacking off property. The next step is to begin again but with the rider now in charge of the OTTB and the school master just hacking along side. Of course, the final step is to try hacking out without the school master. I have had really great success with this approach. It takes a huge amount of patience and willingness to go through all of the steps and not advance to the next step until the young horse is totally confident at each step. I have had many OTTBs who were eventually happy hacking out and some that ALWAYS required another quiet horse to hack along. There are a couple of good books out there on how to bombproof your horse. I like one that was composed by the mounted police. Very helpful and I have incorporated several of their tips in my program. THis might be helpful to you or you may determine your horse is simply not a candidate for this approach. Either way, so glad that you are really enjoying your horse and that you have developed a partnership through patience and kindness!

  6. Dianne Brown says:

    Thanks so much for your great article. I have just purchased my 3rd thoroughbred he is 8 and has raced. It is obvious that he was greatly loved and responds well to affection. He is a big boy but is slow to gain weight. I have been giving him lots of down time and he loves having the company of other horses. He is quiet to ride and I know I am going to have lots of fun with him.
    He has had a few issues with feet so was interested in what you said about corrective trimming.
    Thanks again for all the information it was very helpful.

    • You are most welcome, Dianne, and congratulations on your THIRD OTTB! That is fantastic! I wish you oodles of safe, fun times with him over many years!

  7. Great article Kerry. I have an ex racer that I purchased two years ago when he was 12yo. Things had been going along nicely until this time last year when he started to show a mysterious hind end lameness. Walk is fine but at trot under saddle, he kind of hikes and can’t track up left hind. I’m at wits end. I’ve had various different therapists out to him plus vet and still no real answer. Obviously sacro is being suggested but two friends feel it is in stifle area. Inside of left stifle is ropey in feel. Can’t afford the $$ to go down path of x-rays, MRI’s etc. and I was hoping, that with your extensive experience with these horses, that you may have an idea and be able to suggest a starting point. He raced anti-clockwise and had 68 starts. I’ve been told by trainers he retired sound but there is a 5 year gap between them and my acquiring him. He’s such a sweet boy and easy to have around, keeps weight on well and is otherwise healthy, shiny and happy :).

    • Hi LIsa
      So happy to hear you are enjoying your OTTB but sorry to learn of his recent mysterious left hind lameness. I wish I could offer you more insight but am hindered without seeing the horse and talking with the therapists and vet on their findings.

      He is 14 yr old now and did have quite a few starts on the track, plus an unknown history for five years between the training barn and your barn. He has a bit of “mileage” by this time in his life. There could be so many different varied contributors to his lameness.

      Did your vet complete a nerve block assessment? I am assuming a complete flexion test was done and that was inconclusive. The progressive nerve block may help you rule out a hoof, pastern, fetlock issue. You might consider starting a short daily journal on what you are observing with the horse. For example, does he stand quietly in his box or do you note a prolonged hoof prop on a specific hind, or does he shift from prop to prop, how quickly? Does he hold one of his hind legs at an odd angle, even a small one, when at rest?
      Is he abnormally stiff when first walked out of his box versus when he has been walking for five minutes? Is this different from his baseline? How long does it take for the stiffness to walk out? What does the stiffness look like? Is he worse going downhill vs up hill or vice versa? Does the terrain matter at all? HOw about on a wide circle vs a tighter circle- hand walking? Has your farrier noticed any difference in how the horse stands for him or her during the trim or re-set?

      I empathize with you as these types of lameness are tough to tease out. It could be soft tissue or a subluxation of a joint, a slightly pinched nerve somewhere, arthritis, bursitis, bone spur, bruised heels, lingering internal hoof abscess… so many different possibilities.

      If this were my horse, I would start with a detailed journal using daily observations over different times of the day and varied activities as I suggest above. I would interview my farrier on any of his or her observations. Then, I would call my vet back out to ask his or her opinion of completing a nerve block ( this is very temporary and only used for clinical assessment) so we could rule out the hoof, pastern, fetlock. If that is ruled out, I would ask for a very thorough chiropractic assessment. I fully understand that budgets are an issue and one can easily drop a King’s Randsom in diagnostic testing. Few people have unlimited pocketbooks so my suggestion is to be very thorough, a good, detailed investigator and devise a “rule-out” strategy to help guide the next step. If a whole-body Chiro assessment is negative for acute findings, I would ask my vet on his or her opinion to xray the hocks as the next step. I would take this approach as I assume by now, some time has passed and if it were a simple soft tissue injury, time would have allowed at least some healing.

      These situations are so frustrating and can take awhile to tease out. You can really help the process though, by being an astute observer and keep the journal. Consider devising a systematic, logically devised “rule-out” approach so you won’t waste precious diagnostic dollars. I like this better than throwing the “kitchen sink” of diagnostic tests at a horse, all at once.
      GOOD LUCK!!!!!

  8. Janice M Scott says:

    I am now on my fourth personal OTTB, however working as VP of a rescue I have had a hand in working with many. I am so glad you mentioned the downtime especially for the young ones, I think that giving them time to be a horse while working on the physical stuff (feet, teeth nutrition etc)is the most important aspect of the retraining. Life at the track (where I learned as a girl 40 years ago , incognito as a boy LOL) is fast paced and unforgiving, though there are many truly great horseman there among the grooms, hot walkers, muckers, and exercise riders,there is also many who are not. There is a high turnover and transients with little real care for horses and this has gotten worse over the years. So the new OTTB even from a barn with a good owner ,trainer, and regular jockey may not have been handled gently or affectionately as mentioned above and will need time to adjust to being the object of affection this is easier after a couple months of being just a horse with turn out, and pasture mates (THAT GET ALONG fairly well). Also don’t forget few have been taught ground manners, and can be nippy, and pushy, and to many treats given by hand only encourage this, so take that slow too, use as a reward and they love it just as much if its put in there feed bucket sometime instead of always hand fed.One last thing I have done since I read about it years ago, and I recommend it if at all possible, is to spend a day or at least a half with your horse from sun up to sun down, observe him (take notes) as he interacts with his environment, pasture mates and other people that maybe around or have contact with him (as in the boarded horse) note if he lies down in his stall, rolls in new dust or a favorite muddy or grassy spot, does he play, etc etc etc in 12-24 hours you will learn a lot about him or her, that will help later.

    • This is great stuff, Janice and I totally agree!!!! Well stated. Allow me to add a few comments of support from my personal experience. About five years ago, I brought an OTTB to my farm- super nice, very high dollar lad. As Janice mentions, though, the high dollar price does not dictate that the horse had consistently kind compassionate care from year to year by handlers. They are in this as a business. Not all handlers are rough- some are VERY compassionate and love horses but this is not consistent. When this particular OTTB came to my farm, I literally could not carry a pitch fork into his stall to pick out while he was in the stall. The first day, this darling, high dollar horse literally flew to the farthest wall when he saw the pitchfork. This also translated to a broom handle or any long handled instrument. Of course, I immediately translated his response and changed my habits to make this a very slow, patient process where I gave the horse time to trust me before I picked out his stall or carried anything with a long handle near him. Now, I can pick out under him while he sleeps. Success story. Each horse is different. You really need to “read” his or her communication. They WILL tell you if you are willing to listen. Adapt your program to meet their needs. It will work in the end. I also agree with Janice, I never hand feed. I always put treats in a bucket. However, most private hobby horse owners do enjoy feeding from hand. I prefer not, but this is often the case. Another case I had- a gorgeous OTTB some years ago- I simply could not groom this horse in the proper progression of grooming tools, curry to brisk brush, to body brush to finishing brush. to soft rag. After lots of trial and error, it finally dawned on me it wasn’t the actual sensation of the grooming tools on his skin; it was the psychological stress the horse built up as he had massive memory for “what was coming next”- a workout on the track that he couldn’t handle. Took me a while to figure this out- but when I did (light bulb moment), I changed the entire grooming routine and I never had another problem. Seriously, not another issue. The horse was “talking” to me the entire time- it just took me a while to “hear” him. Horses are the best teachers, aren’t they? So honest.
      I also agree with Janice about the time spent simply observing your horse. I was SO fortunate to have an amazing trainer from the UK spend some time with me in my youth. He told me so many decades ago, “be your horse”. I could go on for paragraphs conveying how I didn’t understand this at first. He was not a man of many words. I would work with the TBs and he would say, “you haven’t learned to be this horse yet- start again”. Gosh, it took me many, many nights of lying in bed wondering what the heck this meant. I wasn’t getting anywhere and I was really frustrated. He would only tell me, “you must be your horse- figure it out”. One day, I did exactly what Janice is talking about, I was so frustrated, I just spent the entire day, quietly observing the horse to which I was assigned. WOW!!! Light bulb!!!! I watched all the barn staff work around this horse, I watched the horse interact with others, by herself ( it was a mare)— I was amazed at how much I learned. From that day, decades ago, thanks to my very generous and wise mentor, I have an inkling of what it means to “be your horse”. Do this- and you will NEVER go wrong. I am so thankful that Janice has expressed this. It is vitally important. She must have had a wise mentor, as I did, who generously led her along a better path. Now Janice is leading others along a better path- Thanks, Janice! Yes, “be your horse”- wise, indeed.

  9. I just finished my reply to Janice and as I wrote my response, it reminded me that we, horsemen, truly stand on the shoulders of all the amazingly wonderful horses as teachers and former, wise horsemen who have been so willing to share their knowledge with us so we may pass it to the next generation of horsemen. We owe them all a debt of gratitude which can be paid by passing along our knowledge to others. I had a student just this morning in a lesson, exclaim how “brilliant” I am and how amazing a trainer I am. I do very much appreciate her comments, but I fully acknowledge and confess I am not brilliant- I had amazing teachers- horses and human. I am STILL learning-

  10. Mikayla catherman says:

    Hi Kerry, loved your comments. I have been slowly working with my 7 year old mare ottb. But over and over again we are finding problems and we can’t seem to find the right problem to solve. Every year around her last heat cycle she just goes crazy after it and she is no longer safely rideable. We’ve had vet after bet in to check her reproductive system because she stays in heat during the winter and butt bumping violently against her stall. Have u ever seen this with your ottb mares? We just no longer no what to do and we just want to make her life comfortable. Any suggestions or advice from anyone would be greatly appreciated!

  11. Wanted to let people know that there is a dressage trainer website scienceofmotion.com that talked about exercises to cure and fix alot of problems with with the back pelvis and feet. Plus he uses alot of thoroughbred horses. There is also another trainer although bashes thoroughbred that has a training dvvvd as well address behavior plus medical issues. Website horse problems.com.au

  12. Four of your points include the word time. Ideally, a year off is required, 18 months better, two years best. Not left in a paddock and ignored, but checked on, fed, patted, spoken to, given treats, and having health problems remedied. (hoof, back, teeth etc)

    Why so long? Well, if the average horse lives to 25, give or take 5 years, then 4 to 7 year olds are still juveniles. Already that horse has had a very hard life. Most do not survive that regime mentally or physically. For example, two year olds are raced, and three year olds race over derby distances. It is not the fastest which wins, but the horse which is toughest. Genetically, most horses cannot endure such demands. The racer has to be mentally de-tuned, and then allowed to physically recover.

    If, for example, we resume training a thoroughbred at 7 or 8 or 9 years of age, we should still have many years left of useful horse. Old time horse men who used horses for farming, or delivery work, or transportation, or cavalry, would not start with a horse until it was six!
    They resisted the temptation to get on earlier, because they knew a horse that was started at 6 would have 14 years of value in it, whereas any horse which was started earlier, had its working life shortened proportionately, Evidence of this is in the rarety of seeing two year old racehorses still racing at five.

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