5 Tips for starting to retrain an ex-racehorse (2024)

5 Tips for starting to retrain an ex-racehorse (1)

For those of you who don’t know me, I am Ruby from the EquiPepper blog. I love thoroughbreds and ex racehorses, for the past ten years I have ridden almost exclusively ex-racehorses and when finishing my Equine Science degree, they were the focus of my dissertation. EquiPepper started as a bit of a personal journal retraining my ex racehorse and first horse Scottie. Seven years later, I feel like I have learnt so much and believe that most of the “facts” about ex-racehorses are complete myths.

Today I wanted to share with you my top 5 tips for retraining an ex-racehorse.

1. Fibre, fibre, fibre!

When people bring their new thoroughbred home, especially those fresh out of racing, they often put them straight onto high calorie conditioning feeds. Not only do they usually have a high starch content, which can send lots of thoroughbreds a bit fizzy, but not all thoroughbreds need a conditioning feed.

My advice for anyone bringing home a new thoroughbred is to start simple and focus on high fibre, low starch. While many thoroughbreds aren’t good doers, they all benefit from a high fibre based diet. They should always have access to forage. This means good quality hay in the stable and when there isn’t much grass, hay in the field too.

Hard feed wise, keep it simple. If they are coming to you straight off the track, they may look skinny – new owners sometimes think their ex-racehorse is too thin, but in reality they are just super fit. You don’t need to give them lots of energy in their feed, in fact since they are most likely doing a lot less work with you, you might be creating problems for yourself.

A great starting point for feed is a balancer and low sugar or low starch chaff. A balancer should give them everything they need nutrition wise without extra calories. Adding a chaff bulks out the feed, encouraging them to chew their food and eat a bit slower. You can then slowly add in extra calories if they need them.

Scottie is a very good doer. Even when he is in full work he looks fantastic on a low calorie balancer and an alfalfa free chaff.

2. Keep tack simple

Lots of people assume that ex racehorses will be strong and prone to bolting, so they start with strong bits and bridles. But most of the time this just isn’t the case. Most racehorses race and train in a snaffle in a simple caverson or grackle, many don’t wear a noseband at all.

If coming straight from the trainer, they most likely won’t come with any tack. I would ask the trainer what they usually wear for training and racing and why. You can then try and replicate this at home. If they didn’t wear a noseband but you are aiming to compete, I would add a loose caverson as most competitions require you to have a noseband.

When choosing what tack to put them in, keep it simple. I would nearly always choose a double jointed snaffle, my favourite is a French link. I would pair this with a cavesson noseband. A neck strap or loose running martingale is always a good idea too, to give you a bit more security as much as anything else.

Saddles should always be fitted by a saddler. I would get one out who stocks second hand or at least adjustable saddles as your horse will change shape. Race and work saddles tend to be quite flat and lightweight. No matter what discipline you are hoping to take them into, I think it is always worth starting with a General Purpose saddle.

3. Learn about race riding

There are a few key differences in riding racehorses and your typical riding horse. Fiddling or shortening the reins on a racehorse often means it’s time to go. They will often be walked/jogged to the gallops on a long rein, sometimes with feet out of the stirrups. When they get to the gallops they pick up the reins, only loosening them again when they get to the end and it’s time to stop.

This is important to remember as when your horse gets heated up, a bit fizzy, you picking up the reins to check them is actually signalling them to go. As hard as it is, most ex racehorse owners would advise not to pick up the reins. Keep them loose only checking if you really need to. You might also find that letting them trot on for a bit and then bringing them back might work best.

4. Treat them like a youngster

Most racehorses spend a lot of time being walked in hand before and after a race. So they often have very good manners on the ground, which can make it easy to forget that a lot of what we ask them is completely new.

Whether it’s riding or handling, you should treat them as a youngster and expect that everything is new to them. Some of it won’t be, and they will pick it up straight away, but some of it will be completely alien. For example, many won’t know how to stand at a mounting block, be tied up on the yard or work in an outline.

5. Expect wonkiness

A racehorse spends the vast majority of their career going fast in a straight line. Many will have a favoured canter lead, left or right, which also influences what tracks they like to run on. This can cause them to favour one leg more and more, which in turn can lead to their body becoming wonky.

You will likely interpret lots of small issues related to wonkiness when you first start schooling your ex racehorse. Don’t let it worry you. Instead just make sure you focus on going back to basics with the scales of training. Straightness is one of the last things to perfect, so as long as you work away at everything else, it will come.

It’s not uncommon for ex racehorses to have a slightly rotated pelvis. This can make it harder for them to work on two tracks, pick up canter leads or bend evenly on both reins. But this is all fixable with correct schooling and the help of a good physio.

Scottie had a rotated pelvis when I got him. He was ever so slightly on 3 tracks and struggled to pick up his right canter lead. We struggled for ages to get the right canter lead, but I never worried about it until his pelvis leveled out. Once this happened he started to pick it up out hacking, lunging and over jumps. We were then able to build it up so he could build up the strength to do it all the time.

Following these 5 tips should put you on the right path for successfully retraining your racehorse. Please remember that if you ever have any problems to ask for help from your instructor you have riding lessons with, vet and physio. All these people will be able to help you iron out any bugs.

5 Tips for starting to retrain an ex-racehorse (2024)


5 Tips for starting to retrain an ex-racehorse? ›

A high fibre diet is key as it provides more chew time which increases saliva production and it is saliva that is the horse's own buffer to acidity in the stomach. Using high oil feeds like micronized linseed rather than those high in starch such as cereals is key if more energy is required.

How do I restart my ex racehorse? ›

Top retraining tips
  1. Give them time. Some ex-racehorses adapt easily to life after the track whereas others will find it more difficult. ...
  2. Focus on the basics. Have you seen how a racehorse is ridden compared to your normal happy hacker? ...
  3. Develop a regular routine. ...
  4. Be careful what you feed them. ...
  5. Get some help.

What is the best feed for ex racehorses? ›

A high fibre diet is key as it provides more chew time which increases saliva production and it is saliva that is the horse's own buffer to acidity in the stomach. Using high oil feeds like micronized linseed rather than those high in starch such as cereals is key if more energy is required.

Do ex racehorses make good horses? ›

Providing a forever home for an ex-racehorse can be a rewarding way to find an athletic, intelligent and well looked-after horse at a good price. With the right owner, a well-handled ex-racehorse can make an excellent riding companion – a win-win situation for all concerned.

How do you slow down an ex racehorse? ›

When you trot, use plenty of half-halts to slow him, and then soften your contact when he complies, even if it's just for a few strides. Never resort to just hanging on his mouth and pulling; that won't get you anything other than a fast, tense Thoroughbred.

How do you retrain a retired racehorse? ›

Don't ask your horse into an outline before you have a true forward movement in walk, trot and canter, which can be held in a decent rhythm. Encourage your horse to work “long and low” to build up the topline and back muscles. Introducing polework in lunging and ridden work is excellent for this purpose.

What to do with an ex racehorse? ›

Popular new careers include, but are by no means limited to, showing, eventing and dressage. Retrained racehorses are also excelling in disciplines you might not expect, such as polo. Ex-racehorses can begin new careers at any age.

How do you increase stamina in a racehorse? ›

5 Ways to Maximize Your Horse's Stamina
  1. Incorporate a Conditioning Program. When preparing your horse for an upcoming event, like a long-distance trail ride or a three-day event, you'll need to establish a conditioning program. ...
  2. Focus on Hill Work. ...
  3. Use Ground Poles and Gymnastics. ...
  4. Introduce Interval Training. ...
  5. Feed EQ-Royal.
Nov 23, 2019

What feeds build topline horses? ›

The most critical nutrient for improving a horse's topline is protein, and not just any protein will do. Rather, high-quality protein with the proper amino acids. Protein is made up of chains of amino acids that are the basic building blocks of muscles and other important tissues.

What is the best feed for horses to build topline? ›

5 Best Horse Feeds to Build Topline
  • Copra Meal. The high fat content in copra meal makes it a great additive for horses that easily drop in weight. ...
  • Quality Hay/Grass. As previously stated, keep it simple and stick to natural sources. ...
  • Full fat soya bean meal. ...
  • Speedibeet. ...
  • Amino acids (Lysine & Methionine)

Are ex racehorses good for beginners? ›

Retraining an ex-racehorse can be very rewarding but requires an experienced and understanding rider. Ex-racehorses have no concept of the aids given to normal riding horses and are used to their riders being out of the saddle rather than actually sitting on their backs.

Are retired race horses good for beginners? ›

As a beginner, you need a quiet, steady horse and OTTBS are born to RUN. Start out with a QH and when you have more experience try out an OTTB. There are always exceptions but as a rule Thoroughbreds are NOT for beginners. Learning to ride well is difficult enough without doing on a hot breed.

Why not to buy a Thoroughbred? ›

Cons: Thoroughbred is more horse than many riders are capable of riding. They do not plod along as a rule and are not as forgiving of rider error. They eat more than ordinary horses.

What does baking soda do to a racehorse? ›

Traditionally administered via nasogastric tube prior to a race, sodium bicarbonate milkshakes might be effective in neutralizing acid in muscle cells by raising the pH of the blood and, therefore, delaying the onset of fatigue in working muscle, which might permit the horse to go longer at peak rate of endurance or ...

Do ex racehorses make good jumpers? ›

Even if your horse has raced over hurdles or as a steeplechaser, it doesn't mean he'll take to jumping like a duck to water – in fact, I find many flat racers actually find jumping easier to begin with than ex-racers who've jumped.

What is a best turned out racehorse? ›

To win best turned out the horse does not have to be plaited. If a horse is plaited there should be an odd number of small neat plaits along the neck and a plait in the front too. If the mane is left un-plaited it should be short and lies to the right hand side of the horse.

How do you restart a horse that has not been ridden in years? ›

How to Retrain a Horse to Ride After a Long Off Period
  1. Refresh your horse's ground work basics. ...
  2. Start exercising your horse on the lunge line. ...
  3. Begin riding your horse. ...
  4. Add strengthening exercises for your horse's abdomen muscles, back and hindquarters.

What is a reset mare horse? ›

The 'RESET (Racehorse, Evaluation, Support, Education and Transition) Program' provides direct support for those horses that are sound and have good prospects but have not been successful in transitioning to a second career outside of racing.

How do you restart a horse that bucks? ›

If he is bucking, immediately do a One Rein Stop— bend his head and neck around to one side and try to get him to disengage his hindquarters. By bending his head and neck and disengaging his hindquarters, you take away his ability to buck because his hind legs are moving laterally.

Do ex racehorses make good eventers? ›

It is not unusual to see ex racehorses competing at top level Eventing with Badminton in particular having a prize for the highest placed ex racehorse. But thanks to the work done by Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) there are more and more opportunities in other disciplines such as showing, show jumping and dressage.

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