|Rubesca - my beautiful ex-racehorse|
I see the 2013 Cheltenham Festival is coming up next month, the prestigious jump racing event which includes the famous Cheltenham Gold Cup. This makes me feel nostalgic, as I used to live a mere thirty minutes away from that Prestbury venue in beautiful Gloucestershire, England.
And living next door to me lived a little ex-racing mare, who would eventually become one of the best horses I’ve ever owned and the reason why I strongly believe in the value of giving a home to an ex-racehorse.
She also became Cruz Bay’s mum.
Why an Ex-Racehorse?
If you’ve ever thought of adopting an ex-racehorse, follow the action-packed calendar of the Cheltenham Festival for an example of the life your future horse considers normal, and why it makes him such a great riding prospect when he leaves the track.
During the four days of the Festival, hundreds of super-fit equines will be stabled in unfamiliar surroundings, bombarded by constant noise and paraded in front of almost a quarter of a million people.
What better preparation can there be for a horse seeking a second career, especially as a competition animal?
Kimberly Clark of Leighton Farm in Maryland, USA, who retrains retired Thoroughbred racehorses, writes in her Retraining Manual: “Most (racehorses) have had exposure to cars, trucks and tractors. They have been around different people, and know how to be worked with and around other horses. You get a horse that’s already started and well-traveled.”
Whether you’re looking for a trail horse or a competition horse, you’ll find your ex-racehorse has ‘been there, done that’ when it comes to spooky sights and sounds.
Ms. Clark adds: “I know of no other way to purchase a horse that's had access to daily medical care, consistent training and professionals for such a low price.”
This is why ex-racehorses are such great prospects in second careers.
Why Am I So Biased?
Cruz’s mum was a chestnut mare – you know, the type we’re always told to stay away from! But her owner desperately needed a new home for her, and she was given to me for free. Little did I know at the time what an absolute gem I had acquired in that 15.3 hand Thoroughbred.
Her name was ‘Kelly.’ I felt this was uninspired, yet I believe changing a horse’s name is bad luck. So I decided to keep it as her stable name, but find something better for shows. Since she was chestnut, I looked through red wine types and found a ‘Rubesco.’ By changing the masculine o to the feminine a, voilá! she became ‘Rubesca.’
That sounded so much better when, time and time again, her name was called over the loudspeaker as the winner of innumerable dressage, showjumping and one-day eventing competitions with me during the all too short eight years I owned her.
For you see, Kelly aka Rubesca was already eighteen when she came into my life.
Why an Ex-Racehorse Worked For Me and Why It Can Work For You
I thoroughly recommend you read Kimberly Clark’s manual to get an understanding of what to expect when you adopt an ex-racehorse. Race training is so different from that of ‘regular’ riding horses, and a lot of patience is needed from you to help him adapt to his new life. But he will get there!
Here are some examples of the challenges I faced with my ex-racer.
Racehorses are mounted while walking. Kelly would march off very quickly as soon as I put my foot in the stirrup. No one had taught her, in all the fifteen years since she stopped racing, how undesirable this is in a riding horse!
She wasn’t being naughty: she’d simply been trained this way. So I calmly practiced mounting and dismounting, over and over again. Once in the saddle, I would sit quietly, then dismount and start again. That would be our whole session – with no actual riding.
Soon she realized that I was never going to ask her to move off immediately I was in the saddle, and she stood still.
(You can teach an old horse new tricksJ)
This is fairly common in racehorses and Kelly had been hanging out her tongue all her adult life.
My answer was to treat her as if she didn’t do it. I also made sure her teeth were fine, that her mouth wasn’t sore and her bit fitted properly. I was careful not to haul on her mouth, and encouraged her to seek contact.
Over time she became relaxed and the habit went away – even after all those years. If you want more information go to my article Tongue Hanging in Horses: Causes and Cures
Unless already rehabilitated, your ex-racehorse will have had no formal training under saddle. He’ll probably have learned to gallop in one direction only and find it hard to bend to the other side. He will also fall into gaits, rather than transition smoothly from one to the other.
Kelly was used only intermittently as a trail horse for fifteen years, and might as well have just come off the track when it came to flatwork. Her head swung from side to side when she trotted, and she threw it up in my face when asked to canter or come down from canter. She was as stiff as a board.
Patience was the key to retraining her. Regular work loosened her muscles and the variety in her work schedule kept her happy with her job. She was a phenomenal jumper and enjoyed soaring over fences. It was easy to incorporate flatwork, riding out on the trails and jumping into her working week.
If you keep your OTTB (Off Track Thoroughbred)’s workload fresh and interesting, his attitude to learning will remain positive. This breed is very intelligent and willing.
Reasons for Retiring a Racehorse
It’s important to realize that not all horses retire from racing because they are unsound. Source an Ex-Racehorse lists the following common reasons:
- a lack of ability
- the horse is too slow
- the horse does not enjoy racing
- a owner may have a change of direction
- financial considerations
- the death of an owner
- a syndicate may have disbanded
However, always have your horse vetted before purchase.
Kelly was wonderful on the roads and on the trails, alone or with other horses and after six months together we went on to win many showjumping and eventing competitions. One memorable weekend, at the age of 25, she won her one-day-event on Saturday and her son, Cruz Bay, won his class on the Sunday!
She also became a superb dressage horse. In spring of her 26th year, she won a huge gold cup for achieving the highest dressage test scores over three consecutive shows. I proudly display it in my tack room. Sadly that was the last time we competed before her death from heart failure a few months later.
So Go For It!
If you are a reasonably experienced and patient rider, I strongly urge you to consider adopting a Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. They come in so many different heights and areas of potential that you are sure to find one to suit you.
Racing events like the Cheltenham Festival will help you to appreciate the vast experience your horse has already accumulated in his young life. With retraining, he can turn into your equine soulmate, the way Kelly did for me.
Here are some places to look for your new horse:
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