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Training a Young Thoroughbred that is Fresh Off the Track

Submitted by member: Britney

I am on the verge of purchasing a 6-year-old OTTB, who had been turned out, and is now very lightly started and accepting light contact. Bringing a horse along from this point is not something that I have done before, and I have been riding (spoiled too) a very obedient and well-trained Warmblood. I have watched Bernie’s very helpful videos, and I believe I understand not to use clashing aids, to use simple commands, have a light seat, use a mild bit, etc. What I would like to know is what is recommended in terms of time. How many days a week do you recommend riding an OTTB? For how long do you ride each session? What signs are there before you start to advance with them (i.e. to start introducing poles) and then on to jumping? How long do you wait to introduce lead changes and then flying lead changes? Are there some telltale signs that a horse is ready to move on or not?  How do you know when the horse is ready for more?

Answer by Jim Wofford

Hi Britney,

First of all, let’s deal with your over-all question; how many days a week do I recommend that you ride your OTTB?  At the beginning, I want you to ride seven days a week. Don’t ride for long, 30-45 minute is plenty. During that period, you will have to experiment with your training pattern, to find out what works best for you and your horse. By this, I mean that in a perfect world, you would walk out in the field on a long, or preferably loose rein, for 10-15 minutes before returning to your arena to start more technical work. My thinking is this: an OTTB is going to be tense and we need to relax him first before we try to teach him any new skills. I say “experiment” because you might find he is so nervous when he comes out of his stall that before riding him outside you are better off to let him jog (and canter, if he will do it quietly) in your ring. Listen to your horse, and he will tell you how you’re doing.

Later on in your education as a rider, I want you to learn the dressage training scale, but right now just remember this simple rule: “Calm, forward, straight.” If your OTTB is not calm, it will be hard to teach him a new skill correctly. Teach him to walk, trot, and canter quietly in both directions. After a while, he should take both leads quietly. If he still associates canter with gallop, teach him a walk-to-canter transition. This has a calming effect on the canter for some horses. Once he is calm, you can start to work on “forward,” by which I mean that he learns to respond to pressure from your lower legs. This should involve simple transitions from walk to trot, trot to walk, and so on. Review Bernie Traurig’s video on non-clashing your aids before you start this series of exercises. At some point introduce turns on the forehand. Study the aids and the requirements before you start so you have a clear idea of what you are about to teach your horse. Teach turn on the forehand to your horse along the wall so that you have a guide to his motion. Once he turns on the forehand quietly, move on to leg-yielding, again along the wall. You can do leg-yielding at the walk and the trot, but never the canter. (Later on, you can ask for shoulder-in at all three paces.)

Note that only after I have established basic control of my horse do I then introduce him to poles on the ground. I would put a few poles down in the arena, and lead him by hand over them first, then mount and walk over the same poles alongside an older, wiser horse. Once your OTTB decides that poles are an acceptable part of his day, you can start to walk and trot over the poles on his own. Later on, you can canter these poles, but calmness is still your primary goal. Keep in mind that if your horse is becoming more excited during the training session, there is a chance that you are asking him too much too soon, or asking him the right thing in the wrong way. Depending on your own situation, get regular professional help as an examination of your progress, and as a short-cut to progress. You don’t have to reinvent equitation: myself and others have already made the mistake you are about to make, and we will tell you how to avoid it, if only you will seek the answer.

Finally, try to finish each day’s work walking your OTTB outside on a loose rein, and think for a moment how lucky we are, to live a life filled with horses. Good luck!

For another blog post on training Thoroughbred horses see Bernie Traurig’s OTTB Flat Schooling Session

Video Recommendations:

Fundamentals of Flatwork Basic

Fundamentals of Flatwork – Part 1 – Basic
Bernie Traurig
The first of the series, this video outlines a simple, progressive method of flatwork for all jumping disciplines. It focuses on the training of a young or inexperienced horse with the aim to achieve obedience to light rein and leg aids, and assumes the rider is familiar with the proper techniques of riding and jumping. But you do not have to be a highly experienced or seasoned rider because Bernie’s strategies are clear, straight-forward, classic and timeless. The Basic level highlights his favorite exercises that can be incorporated into anyone’s training program. *(Non-clashing aids in Chapter 1B of this topic)
Running Time:  46 minutes and 25 seconds

View Video
proper leg position on your horse for transitions

Proper Leg Placement to Encourage Prompt Downward Transitions on Your Horse
Bernie Traurig
An unstable or unintentionally displaced lower leg during downward transitions can send mixed signals to a horse. Bernie Traurig likes to call these “clashing aids.” If for instance, a rider squeezes with the lower leg behind the girth (or even brushes that area on a sensitive horse) while asking with the rein aids for the horse to come back, the horse will be confused and the transition will be anything but smooth. In this video lesson, Bernie demonstrates this common mistake and shows how to achieve prompt downward transitions by avoiding what he calls the “tickle spot,” that area on a sensitive thoroughbred or warmblood horse that can cause an unwanted reaction with even the slighted touch.
Running Time:  4 minutes and 59 seconds

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denny-ottb

Could the OTTB Be the Right Horse for You?
Denny Emerson
Denny Emerson takes a look at a sampling of “off the track Thoroughbreds,” or OTTBs, that have found second careers as sport horses and have proven to be wonderful partners for their new owners. Given that there are great deal of these former race horses to be found and available at great prices, Denny examines the pros and cons when considering an off the track thoroughbred purchase.
Running Time:  10 minutes and 35 seconds

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evaluating the ottb for purchase

Evaluating The Off The Track Thoroughbred For Purchase
Bernie Traurig
Join Bernie Traurig on a shopping trip for retired racehorses in the Horse Capital of the World, Lexington, Kentucky. As a huge advocate for the Thoroughbred, Bernie supports the efforts of those who work to give former racehorses new careers. He discovered one such program that sets the gold standard for reschooling Off The Track Thoroughbreds. The Kentucky Horse Park is home to the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, where tremendous care is given to the selection and training of these wonderful equine athletes and finding them suitable new homes. Because of the unique nature of this facility, Bernie is able show us the process he uses to evaluate a horse and predict its potential as a prospect for the jumping sport. At this facility, one is able to get a broad overview of the horse’s temperament, soundness, movement and jumping talent in various ways. Bernie was able to observe the horses at rest in the stall, in hand, free jumping in the hitchcock pen as well as under saddle in the arena. People in the market for an OTTB don’t always get the opportunity try a horse so thoroughly, that is what makes the MMSC such a gem.
Running Time:  49 minutes and 56 seconds

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Jim Wofford

James C. (Jim) Wofford, 71, was born and raised on a horse farm in Milford, Kansas. He is a graduate of Culver Military Academy, and the School of Business at the University of Colorado (B.S. Bus. Admin. ’69). Wofford, a 3-time Olympian, has spent his life with horses, and is one of the best-known Eventing trainers in the world today. In 2000, Wofford was listed by the Chronicle of the Horse as one of the “50 Most Influential Horseman” of the 20th century, and in January of 2012, he was awarded the Jimmy A. Williams Trophy for Lifetime Achievement, horse sports’ highest honor. A Hall of Fame member of both the United States Eventing Association and Culver Military Academy, Wofford trains at his farm in Upperville, Va., and travels extensively, teaching and giving clinics.

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