12.08.2017 – The OTTB – Part One

I’ve just had the first part of my Level One Horse Management Slips signed off and I am rather excited about it all. 🙂

I remember when I first wanted to do the Equestrian Australia Coaching Courses  it was back in 2003; such a long time ago. My dream was to own my own Equestrian Centre and teach people to ride.

My goals have now grown and evolved to where I also want to be able to prove that the OTTB is just as good a horse as any other breed in Dressage. The OTTB generally gets a bad name because of their spooky and unpredictable nature. But are they really that spooky or is it a self fulfilling prophecy?

For example; I wanted to trade in my Ford Ranger for a Pajero and someone said to me; “Don’t do that, Ranger’s are a heaps better car and have better pulling power”.

Suddenly, I am more in love with my car and when I pull the float I think to myself “Yes, this car is awesome at pulling the horses.” 🙂 Is this actually true? or am I just confirming an idea I put in my head? I’m not saying OTTB’s are not spooky, not at all, I am saying they do get a bit of a hard wrap at times considering that every weekend all over Australia someone takes home a pretty neat ribbon, trophy or prize money on one of these types of horses. I think they are incredible and I can’t say enough about them.

OTTB’s are everywhere! The Racing Industry is alive and well and you only have to look at how many races are on all over the world everyday to see the abundance of horses giving it a go. Not many of them make it to be a Superstar (same as people I guess) and so once they are done you have a horse anywhere from a few years old to approximately 7 years old that suddenly are not wanted and put up for sale.

And along comes us, the hopefuls for a free or at the very least “cheap” horse. I’ve put together a list of what I think you need and have to have before taking on this task.

I do not believe it is difficult to train an OTTB, but it does take experience and confidence. If you do not know how to ride and you suddenly are given an OTTB (like I was by my parents at 18), you can be in for a whole world of injuries and frustration.

If you are a beginner; unless you have a trainer/coach that will be mentoring you or a family with a horse background in OTTB’s I would strongly advise against owning one as your first horse.  In the next few posts I will do a list of what I think is key to training our ex-racehorse.

Understanding Racing:

I think this is so important. The old adage of “you don’t know where you are going until you know where you have been” rings true here.  Your OTTB has come from a completely different world and quite possibly, even if you like racing, you will have no idea of what it has been like for him/her.

Horses are all different, with differing personalities, emotional needs, physical wants and psychological set-ups; just like us. I believe they also have different coping levels to each other and what some horses can handle, others can not.

I found it beneficial to go down to the track and watch the horses work. Go and have a look at the stables, find a trainer to do some work experience with so you can see what a Day in the life of your OTTB is like. This taught me a great deal about them. It didn’t look fun to me. It felt claustrophobic and very controlled. But they do love to run, I honestly believe that part they enjoy.

Despite being claustrophobic and a bit boring when they weren’t at a race, it was methodical and routine based and that is what OTTB’s like and thrive on. They love routine because they are used to it. So when you get an OTTB have a routine, especially when you are tacking up; they know what is coming next that way and they can predict the future; this leads to a calm mind.

The first thing I do with an OTTB is to give him a rest, a spell. Give him some time and space. Anywhere from a month to six months; it’s up to him/her and you. Let them graze in a field, hang out with other horses and scratch each other. Roll in the dust and lay in the sun. Let them feel freedom. I really do believe, and this is for people too, that “Only those denied freedom can understand it’s value”.  If you do this, the rewards will be great.

I also found that sticking to a routine is an asset. Feed and rug at the same times each day. Keep a routine and always be the same happy confident person each time you show up.

When racehorses are being ridden they are taught to lean against the contact, to lean into pressure, to run-run and run some more. Very different to what you want if you want a supple horse that responds to your aids. If you pull on your ex-racehorse it will have an opposite effect of what you are after. They will simply pull back.

I don’t know about you, but I have never won a tug-of-war with a horse yet!


He/she may want to put their head in the air like a Giraffe and for a while that is okay. I allow them that freedom as long as they are not trying to get away from me.

I just concentrate on the German Training Scale.

I work on Rhythm and Relaxation. Without these you have nothing!

Racehorses are not taught Relaxation and Rhythm, life is just to jump out of a barrier, run and be whipped if you are not running enough.  I think if you can understand racing you will be able to understand just what your horses needs are to be able to become a pleasure horse.

Next topic will be patience.

Happy Riding & Keep Smiling

Mel x


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