Setting Your OTTB Up for Success Off the Track

Setting Your OTTB Up for Success Off the Track

Setting Your OTTB Up for Success Off the Track

Setting Your OTTB up for Success off the Track

What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-

  • Starting from the beginning
  • Relaxation is worth taking the time to nurture
  • Sometimes it is better to ‘allow’
  • Developing your leg and seat aids

Are you part of a special group of riders, which includes me, from around the world who have taken on the responsibility of helping a OTTB, a retired racehorse, get started on their new career?

This episode is focused a brief overview of how I suggest you can get started with them on this exciting journey.  It is worth noting that all horses are different, and being a sensitive soul, your OTTB may take more or less time than others to make the transition to ‘riding horse’.  Give him the time.  It will be well worth the investment in the end. 

Starting from the Beginning

Before we go any further, it is important to recognise that some OTTBs need more ‘down time’ than others in order to make a successful transition. 

I feel it is your job as the rider, person in charge, to assess each horse on where they are and make decision based on this.  Some horses do better with a few months of just ‘being a horse’.  Others, enjoy work and can easily cope with coming straight from the track and starting their new career.

The horses welfare should always lead your decision here.  Do what is best for each unique OTTB you meet.  A cookie cutter approach will rarely work in this situation!

Finally, before you start working with your horse I strongly suggest a visit from all the relative professionals.  A farrier who can help you work towards some longer term goals with your horses feet might be essential.  A dentist.  A chiropractor.  A vet…  Many people have the horses bloods done, but again, you know you and your situation best.

Relaxation is Worth Nurturing

When we ride, we tend to look at relaxation as being a physical aspect of our riding and our horses way of going.  However, relaxation is often more about what is going on mental and emotionally.  This is especially true when it comes to your OTTB.

Use groundwork to begin increasing the relaxation in your horses mental state.  Start with short intervals and build up slowly; only doing what your horse enjoys. 

When in the saddle, try to use you horses natural instincts to help promote relaxation throughout the ride.  OTTBs are used to working with other horses.  Having another, calm schoolmaster, in the arena with your horse while you work him will help him to feel more secure. 

Relaxation is very much built on trust and confidence.  Until you have built this with your OTTB, allow another horse to help you first.

Confidence and It’s Direct Impact on Relaxation

This ‘head chatter’ can also have a direct impact on your confidence and your horses confidence.  I want you to think about something you do, which you are good at.  You have a level of confidence about it, which leads to a physical ‘ease’.  The task itself might not be easy, however you are almost flowing with it.

The fact remains that very often the confidence issue can often be introduced by the rider.  Perhaps you are thinking about yesterdays ride.  Or maybe you are thinking about what ‘could’ go wrong.  Every time you get into the saddle, it is a whole new ride.  A clean slate.  Keep your focus on that fact and allow it to help you build confidence.

Sometimes it is Better to ‘Allow’

During your initial rides with your OTTB, the first three months or so, relaxation might be difficult to sustain.  You may find that your horse can become anxious or stressed when new ‘ideas’ are introduced.  Alternatively, your horse might just enjoy being ridden and excitement causes a little too much excess tension!

Often ‘allowing’ your horse on a little can be a perfect remedy to this. 

Keep in mind that this is done in a safe area, where you are confident of the outcome.  If so, allowing him on a little can help to relieve pressure from him.

It also allows you, the rider, to ‘disengage’ with ‘controlling the situation.  You cannot control everything; all you can do is control yourself and hope to influence the horse. 

As you both learn to understand each other more, you will find that overall relaxation increases.  Your OTTB will be reassured in other ways, and you will feel less of a need to control everything!

Developing Your Leg and Seat Aids

This understanding comes from better communication; meaning clearer aids.  Many riders when they first get on their OTTB focus too much on their seat aids, and too little on establishing their leg aids.

Your OTTB needs to learn what your legs are.  He needs to learn that they are not to be feared or run away from.  The program in his head needs to be reset. 

Again, this cannot be achieved without relaxation being present.  Perhaps taking a walk with your horse out of the arena will help your horse relax, while you introduce your leg aids.

Using Your Voice Aid to Help You Both

I already mentioned ground work, and one the reasons groundwork can be so powerful when it comes to your riding, is through your voice.

Talk to your horse.  He probably won’t know what you are saying, but rather, he will pay attention to how you are saying it.  Your Tone.

When your horse becomes used to your voice, working with him on the ground, it makes the transition to using all your aids in the saddle a much easier one.  ‘Woah’ and ‘Walk On’ now have a new aid to back them up.

The plus side of this is that because you are talking, you are breathing.  Meaning that you are getting all important oxygen to your muscles, keeping them supple and soft.

Breathing releases tension in the rider, which has a mirroring effect in the horse. 

What You Are Saying is For You

Like I said, he won’t really understand what you are saying, but how you are saying it.  What you are saying is for you.

Talk out what you want to happen.  Tell yourself, out loud, the story of how this ride will go.  It will help not only focus you, but also keep you relaxed. 

Over time, this added aid will help your OTTB to build trust and confidence in you as a rider.  It will help the transition over to this new ‘Balance of aids’ you are now asking him to communicate through.  And, it will help him trust you more each and every day.

OTTBs require consistent dedication.  They require compassion.  But most of all, they require someone who is committed to helping them transition to their new career.

Happy Riding


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