Making Progress with Your OTTB

Making Progress with Your OTTB (Retired Racehorse)

OTTBs or retired racehorses are often one of the most rewarding types of horses to work with.  Yes, sometimes the ‘can’ require more effort than other horses or ponies.  However, most dedicated OTTB owners will tell you that, in their opinion, they give more of themselves as well.

OTTBs have also been previously ‘conditioned’ to think and act a certain way; they way that will help them to be successful on the track. 

The big issue many riders have with OTTBs is that they forget their horse has previously thought to work by a certain set of rules.  Their horse has different expectations that other horses where work, leisure and everything else is concerned.

When we look at it from your horses perspective, coming off of the track and entering ‘civilian life’ can seem a little daunting.    

If you, as ‘Team Leader’, are more open to seeing things from your horses perspective it will make things a lot simpler for both of you.  Understanding some of the big shifts that need to occur for your OTTB to successfully make this transition, will help you to both feel more confident on your re-schooling journey together.

Big Changes for Your OTTB Going Forward

There are a few main points and principles that I believe are the foundation for getting off on the right foot with your OTTB.  Things that, once you understand the shift that has to take place for your OTTB, will make your ‘job’ as ‘trainer’ a whole lot clearer.

  • His ‘new’ routine, settings and behaviour expectations
  • How he understand ‘contact’
  • Building trust and confidence in the rider, rather than the herd

I will dedicate a full post to each of the above in the coming weeks, which I will then come back and update the links here.  However, for now, let’s touch on each of these principles quickly .

New Routines & Expectations

Surprisingly enough, your thoroughbred knows how to be a horse!  So many OTTB owners seem to think that their horse must ‘learn to be a horse again’.  However, the truth is that your retired racehorse must rather begin adjusting to a less pampered, less high stress environment.

The adjustment from high performance athlete to relaxed pleasure horse is an important one for must OTTBs.  Realising this adjustment must take place is equally as important for most OTTB owners. 

Consistency is key to helping him make this adjustment.  You must be consistent in how you approach your horse and work with your horse.  Your mindset and thoughts while working with him must remain consistent if you are to positively impact his overall re-schooling. There is also a benefit to creating routines and rhythms when working with your horse.

Thoroughbreds are, for the most part, sensitive and intelligent horses.  They thrive when they feel that they know what to expect; and understand what is expected of them in a given situation. 

Understanding the Contact in the Conversation

Racehorses are trained to ‘take a pull’.  Meaning that when the jockey picks up the contact, the horse sees this as a signal to thrust forward into the contact.  Obviously, this is not what we want him to do in ordinary, day-to-day riding.

Learning to accept the contact is essential when re-schooling your OTTB.  He must begin to understand that the language has changed.  The conversation has changed.  Before you can even think about ‘refining’ your aids with your OTTB, you must first introduce and explain each of those aids in a way he understands.

The contact between horse and rider is an important part of the conversation.  It is the unwritten agreement that you are both committed to moving forward; together. 

Trust & Confidence in You, the Rider

The third big shift your horse must make in how he thinks about you, the rider, is with regards to wanting to be with you.  I have met so many riders who have dedicated so much time to re-schooling their OTTB, but failed to identify this and work with their horse on it.

Your retired racehorse has most likely up to this point, been conditioned to stay with the herd.  He would have trained with them on a daily basis.  He was thought to run when they ran.  To keep up and stay with the herd.  In the stables, he would have spent more time looking over the stable door to his neighbour than he would have had human interaction and contact.

Explaining and helping your OTTB understand that he now must stay with you is a big part of his success in his new career.  In the arena, on the trail and especially in competitions and days out.  It is also essential for your horses safety when being turned out to the field, riding in a group or riding alone.

Your horse must learn to remain relaxed and focused when he is separated from the other horses.  It is essential to both his training and his safety. 

Your Horses Perspective

In order for you to successfully meet your horse where he is right now in his training journey, you must be sensitive to how he sees things.  As you work with your OTTB, try to understand why he is doing what he is doing. This is especially true if you encounter any undesired behaviour.

Many horses just have not been thought to do things differently.  Don’t assume that because your horse has been off the track for a few years, he knows all of these things.  As I mentioned, many riders fail to address these three areas when re-schooling OTTBs.

Invest time and attention in reshaping your horses expectations in these three areas.  They are often the key to successfully making the transition from the racetrack to a new career. 

I will be hosting free live trainings on all of the above and more over the coming weeks and months inside of my private group.  If you are interested in learning more, please join us inside of the group HERE.

Happy Riding


Some additional links to content & resources on this topic:-






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