This is Part Three of a series of blogs I am writing on OTTB’s and tips for training them. Please refer to Part One and Part Two if you have not read them as yet.
Part Three is the topic that possibly takes the longest to have, but once you have it you just keep going up and up; Riding Skills and Confidence as a Rider.
You have to have strong riding skills to take on an OTTB, end of story. Ok, so on occasion yes, you can get lucky. There are those dreamy ‘cool as a cucumber’ OTTBs that just win stuff and are awesome to take for a run, that rarely buck and accept their new life as if they were born into it, they never spook are never nervous (these quite often are what I call unicorns that drop cupcakes behind them when they go to the bathroom).
Chances are though if you take on an OTTB and your confidence and riding skills aren’t up to scratch, you are going to wind up hurt. OTTB’s not only require training, they require re-training. I always say that ‘it is harder to take something back then to give it in the first place’ and the same rings true with horses. Once a horse is allowed to have bad manners and you want to position yourself as the leader there will be tantrums and moments of rebellion.
There may also be downright battles and you have to have the seat, riding skills and confidence to be able to win those battles without resorting to any form of violence or fear driven tactics. Violence and fear based training is negative and has no part in the retraining of an OTTB. I am also a big believer that violence causes violence causes violence etc. It is a lose:lose situation with a horse.
I appreciate that this can be difficult to not be reactive to your environment, as we humans do react rather than reply most of the time 😦 You have to be confident in your decisions and retraining and when you are training your new furry friend. When you make a decision you have to have the skills to back it up. Horses respect confidence and consistency in their training. If you are scared of them then they cannot put you in the Leader position. This is built in and it is the same for us humans so we should be able to understand their point of view.
I mean really, would you trust someone if you were on a sinking ship and they were like “Oh I am scared, we are going to die. I think the exit is this way but I’m not sure, let’s go left.. No let’s go right, oh I don’t know, what do you think we should do?” and then they cry and break down…
I would run the other way and not follow this person. I would follow someone strong. Someone who has my back. Someone who could lead me to safety. Safety to horses is everything. It trumps food, shelter and water on their scale of importance. So be a place of safety and reassurance first and foremost.
Riding skills are also not about the ability to be able to stay on when a horse bucks. (even though if you can do that; that is awesome!) Riding skills are knowing how to train the OTTB from the mind to the hooves and having the ability to problem solve and adapt with a seconds notice and not loose your cool.
Riding skills are also about being able to ensure the safety of you and your horse.
You have to ensure:
- That you have a safe area to work on the ground skills, a round yard is perfect, but if not then start by leading your horse, teaching him/her how to trailer load, stand still, ‘park’ and come to you when called.
- You need to have the skills to know that you must seek expert advice before attempting to ride your OTTB. You should have a Dentist, Chiropractor and Farrier see your OTTB before you attempt to mount or do any hard work with them. If you need to save money for these visits, use the time to build on the skills in Point 1 of this list in the meantime.
- When you move on to teaching your OTTB to lunge you have to be patient. He/she may not have been on the lunge before. You need to have the patience, confidence and skills to teach them the sound of your voice. Your OTTB should be able to Walk, Trot & Canter on the lunge without pulling and trying to get away from you. They should respond to your voice commands and come to a halt when asked. These commands can later be used when you have your OTTB under saddle.
- You need to have the Riding Skills and confidence to be able to know how to fit tack correctly and supply your OTTB with the tack that suits them perfectly. Ill-fitting tack can cause your horse to be in pain and pain can cause your horse to buck to relieve that pain.
- Finally you have to have the Riding Skills to know where to start training and when they have had enough for one session. It is important not to over-load your new OTTB mentally. They are used to being trained in the morning on the track, so try to stick to that if you can. It doesn’t have to be 3am, but earlier is best.
They learn as children learn; in small positive sessions. I used to ride Moo for 10 or 15 minutes only when I first started. Slowly over time I built this up, 5 minutes at a time.
I also used to lunge him before I rode him, because he used to buck on the lunge at the start of training. Slowly over time I decreased the lunging so now I do not need to lunge at all if I do not want to. I saddle him up and mount straight away. A horse being “cold back” can be a state of mind. Lunging is not necessary to get them in the mood to be ridden or to get the energy out of them. Communicate with them and get them into a head space that works.
Riding skills is also about having an independent seat and knowing how to apply the leg aids to train them. This can take years. I am still searching for my perfect seat, but year after year it gets better.
If you are in the correct riding position and your horse bucks or spooks you will not fall off. You will be able to ride this and stay with them. Also if they resist a part of training and use spooking, bolting or bucking as an evasion you can get them back under control quickly and safely.
Riding skills is about knowing how to apply the leg aids and teach your OTTB how to accept your legs, remember they are used to a jockey that has his/her legs all the way up on their back. When you first put your long stirrup legs on them, they may get a shock.
Teach your new OTTB to leg yield, to pirouette, to turn with your body and seat, to halt with your body and seat, to accept a light contact, to respond to pressure, to accept the training aids and techniques you set out. Most importantly have the riding skills and the confidence that ensures your OTTB will try. I always reward when my horses try for me. They may not get it right, we may fail, but if something gives it a go; for you, how can you be disappointed in them?
Skills and confidence are also about short term and long term goals, how to set them and how to achieve them. I personally always try to win the long term battle, not the short term ones. I’m not a short-term person. I do not know how to be like that.
I always have goals in the future and white-boards in the house with charts. I love to make lists and map progress. If you are not a chart/white-board/goal-setting type of person maybe you should be. Did I mention white-boards are awesome 🙂
Increasing your knowledge, riding skills and confidence is so important if you want to own and retrain an OTTB. If you do not have the money for a mentor/coach to guide you then get on the Web, Youtube, chat forums etc. There is a wealth of knowledge to be found if you search in Google. It got me half of my skills I reckon.
Happy Riding & Keep Smiling
p.s. Any questions please comment or email me. I’m more than happy to help 🙂