So I have an OTTB mare. She just turned 5, came off the track in July, and I started riding in September. We went to our first show in December. She did great until the w/t/c flat class. There were over 15 people in the class and when they started cantering it was off to the races! She's always had a beautifully balanced canter and running had never been an issue. But I guess all the horses cantering around with her was just too much to bare. We didn't kill anyone and I stayed on but it surely wasn't pretty!
I've cantered her in the ring at home (we have a rather large indoor) with up to 3-4 other people and don't have the issue. So this is strictly a show with tons of other horses problem. Since I can't really replicate 15+ horses cantering around at home I'm wondering what ideas anyone has to help?
That happened with my DD's old horse - just keep going to shows and practice that situation as much as you can at home. Our old trainer would have practice hack classes for us - with as many horses as she could round up in the ring. It really helped and he got used to it but not without a few embarrassing episodes where they were excused! Green horses keep you humble
Can you get a group of 2-3 other riders together to help you work on this? Even just one might work. I've found that the best way to help an OTTB learn that they're no longer racing in an arena full of horses is to play a game of "tag" of sorts. Start at a walk on the rail, and have the other horse trot by repeatedly. Work on really having her pay attention to you, not the other horse. Incorporate lateral movements/bending/what have you. When she's doing well at that, trot along the rail and have people canter by you. Work up to cantering and allowing people to pass you at a canter. This works best with 2-3 other horses (or however many you can put together), but can be done with just one other friend. Wash, rinse, repeat.
After she's successfully tuned in to you with this exercise, the rest is just miles, IME. A warm up ring can be great for this, if not a bit alarming at first.
Similar to what Big Red said - use your friends to your advantage! Get them to ride next to you, pass you, you pass them, etc. Don't always stay evenly spaced in the arena.
Drill team maneuvers (like riding in pairs, nose to knee, shortening up and lengthening spacing between you in a column, etc) will help a lot as well, as will warm up ring miles.
In my OTTB's first show, which was a little schooling show, I talked to the judge on the way in and said that it was his first experience and we would do our best, but might need to come in to the middle and stand during the canter. It took the pressure off of him and me to perform and as a result we were more relaxed.
"Life has sent you this gift. God has sent you COTH to help you make the decision."
Mine blindly bolted in his first flat class. It was very embarrasing to say the least. I had a much better rider ride him in the next few flat classes he did and I also parked him outside of the ring to watch lots of flat classes until he got bored. He got much better but I still make sure I give him space in the flat classes.
I parked him in the center of the ring for a couple of flat classes and just let him watch everything, which seemed to help him figure it out. It took maybe three shows before he was getting nice ribbons.
I also entered him in a bunch of pleasure classes where he got used to going around at the walk and trot before adding the canter. The go as you please classes helped too -- I'd let him trot and convince him he didn't need to worry about horses passing him at the canter.
You don't, just because you are in a show, continue in an uncontrolled, runaway, ugly "canter". You find a spot to slow or stop your horse, come down to trot, come to the center, whatever you need to do. Letting your horse gallop on around and ahead of everyone will not teach it anything.
If you have friends who can help you (you don't need 15, you need two or three) by cantering around you while you, w a l k on a loose rein (to a OTTB, on the buckle means we're done. So does going to the right)
If you have enough show experience, you have enough to get to the center of the ring after the W, T, W, before the canter.
Mine was generally good but we had our moments if somebody got too close and/or run up his butt. I learned to be very very ring aware and know where everybody was and where I could get him to. He also was much much better in a rings with jumps because he thought something else was going to happen
You might also try ear plugs once and see if it's the horses coming from behind that upsets her...eventually you should be able to wear her off of it. I also suggest riding with others at your own barn and practice cantering with them near you to simulate a flat class.
I had the same problem!! She used to literally throw a temper tantrum in the ring...hopping, bucking, stomping.... talk about embarassing and being excused not just at shows but at home (asked not to ride with certain people)...
I found she actualy was extremely anxious and had a lack of magnesium in her system (my vet said it is common in thoroughbreds?) She is on a daily low dose of magnesium. It helped her be able to actually see that there was no threat with all these other horses and then we schooled with others A LOT (home & shows) She learned and now she can handle it, although a pinning of the ears might still happen. Took a total of about 6 months-ish.
I also do ear plugs in flat classes and warm up rings so that the horses coming up behind her don't seem so loud! It really helped.