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Progression of training for newly started OTTB

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  • Progression of training for newly started OTTB

    I'm really excited about my young OTTB! Have most of the saddle issues solved (for him - haven't found one that works for me yet, but his back is now VERY HAPPY!) and he's fit and ready for training.

    Could LOTS of you offer your ideas about how training should progress? Example: Get working gaits established (rhythm, consistent contact, relatively straight), then start a bit of lengthening, back to working? Shoulderfore or 1st position - when for that? When do you begin collecting the trot and canter even for a few strides? This horse is just now learning to move from working trot into canter on 30 meter circles.

    Yes, I need a dressage trainer involved in all this and there will be one, but I also have to have some yardstick to guage what the trainer asks of my horse and when. There aren't a whole lot of really good trainers in this area and some will push too quick with tricks. With this youngster I want things done as well as you can with a horse (no guarantees ever with them, I know that all too well). Some of the problems my older horse had was because I had several trainers who knew "tricks" to getting them to do more than they were ready for and in the end the horse paid the price.

    Anyway, just a few lines about your general progression of trainng or your trainer's would be so appreciated!
    ~ it no longer matters what level I do, as long as I am doing it..~ with many thanks, to Elizabeth Callahan

  • #2
    THis so much depends on the horse!!!

    Establish forward-not quick. Don't think of him as an OTTB. I still do that and mine has been off the track for 7 years. Think of him as a saddle horse.

    Find a trainer you trust and trust your gut if it feels wrong (or draw reins are involved).
    A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.--G. K. Chesterton


    • #3
      You can't go wrong by following the progression in the USDF tests.
      "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


      • Original Poster

        Originally posted by Eclectic Horseman View Post
        You can't go wrong by following the progression in the USDF tests.
        I'm off on a search for them now - could also use the USEA dressage tests as reference points. Thanks - super. Just what I need!
        ~ it no longer matters what level I do, as long as I am doing it..~ with many thanks, to Elizabeth Callahan


        • #5
          See the thread at the top of this forum

          "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


          • #6
            My personal mind game with my own horse is to think of him as an "American Hotblood" instead of an OTTB.

            A couple of days ago, I found an account of a clinic with Andreas Helgstrand on what to do with a young dressage prospect at various ages and stages:


            You might find some of it helpful. With an "American Hotblood" the first priority is to keep their mind engaged. Don't repeat endlessly - work towards an improvement, however small, and then change the game.
            Publisher, http://www.endurance-101.com
            Blog: http://blog.seattlepi.com/horsebytes/


            • #7
              One little comment I'd offer - because I don't know long he's been off the track - is to be sure you give that topline time to develop. OTTBs are strong and fit, but they don't have the topline development that they need to really use their backs well. Good luck!
              Don't wrassle with a hog. You just get dirty, and the hog likes it.

              Collecting Thoroughbreds - tales of a re-rider and some TBs


              • #8
                All great advice above. I'll add that as you seek a trainer to help bring your horse along, don't look exclusively at "dressage" trainers. A wise poster observed on another thread that schooling a horse correctly is not specific to hunters, jumpers or dressage (I believe it was Bluey who made this good point). The goals are the same for all those disciplines: straightness, self-carriage, balance, obedience to aids, bit acceptance, etc. So be open-minded about trainers and look for someone reputable who has worked with thoroughbreds and who takes a patient, methodical approach.


                • #9
                  I agree w/ all above. I'd also like to add from my own experience, once undersaddle and settled. I like to work on these in this order at each gait:

                  1. STRAIGHT First
                  2. Rhythm (get correct marching beat at all gaits)
                  3. Forward w/ good tempo, listening to leg
                  4. Suppleness and acceptance to bit
                  5. Lengthening/ shortening fine tune half-halt so it becomes an aid the horse is listening for. and a little backing
                  6. Lateral (spiralling, leg yeilds)

                  Of course you will be using circles, transitions, lunging allong the whole process, but this is my progression of focus that I have used for a few OTTBs including the one I "latched onto" and still own, and it seemed to help to keep them in order in my mind as far as when to push and what to expect.

                  Have fun!
                  Last edited by Granada; Feb. 21, 2008, 11:47 PM.
                  "Bold Words was classier than all his competition. Straighter knees and a slim, elegant neck." -Nan Mooney My Racing Heart


                  • #10
                    I like Granada's list pretty well... but would just add that with a "wiggly" OTTB, you might want to get straight first... with one that is atrophied or "confirmed crooked" (if that makes any sense), you often need to work through "forward" and "rhythm" first... and then the straightness comes. Many OTTBs have several years of going crooked worked into their muscles... and it can take some time to straighten them out.


                    • #11
                      Totally agree with rileyt on the confirmed crooked v. wiggle. any you reminded me between my #1, and #2 I would add rhythm... as correct rhythm of footfalls can be tricky w/ OTTBs especially, they often have bad habits and just poor mechanical history in the rhythm and straight departments
                      "Bold Words was classier than all his competition. Straighter knees and a slim, elegant neck." -Nan Mooney My Racing Heart


                      • #12
                        One thing that tooked a lot of time with my ottb but has to be the best trick in the bag for him was to confirm the meaning of half halt and make it light, and then use it often!! It is such a basic for all dressage work, but it was a very hard concept for my boy. Once it clicks though, it is such a great tool for everything else you do, from the "real" dressage work, to just reminding him you are there when he gets a little racey and excited feeling, whether in the ring or on the trail. I used a lot of trail work to put topline muscle on my horse, and to get him stretching down and forward, that was a big step for us. The other thing that we learned the hard way is that it is important to find a trainer that not only understand how to train/ride a hot or forward thinking horse, but enjoys that type. It is important to keep things interesting and challenge the mind without overfacing, which can be a very fine balance, and to work on obedience and balance and collection but also to remember to let him go forwards, but some people are afraid to do that. It takes a lot of sensitivity and feel to find the balance, but when you do it is such an awesome feeling! Just find someone who understands and appreciates that and can help you to work with what you have on any given day, instead of someone who has a more cookie-cutter approach to training. These horses are incredible athletes, and most have such willing attitudes and really enjoy working, which makes them awesome dressage partners, however they will also throw you some curves that the average horse wouldn't!
                        Gallant Gesture "Liam" 1995 chestnut ottb gelding
                        Mr. Painter "Remy" 2006 chestnut ottb gelding
                        My Training Blog: www.dressagefundamentals.com


                        • #13
                          I edited the list to include rhythm. Really you can find this kind of checklist idea in any classical dressage book or from any dressage trainer.

                          This is the Arisotle-esque theory of it:

                          The idea is that for anything new you are asking the horse you want to meet those goals in order. ie you cannot, no way possible, master a lengthening in if your horse is not straight, rhythmical, has a good tempo, and forward w/ impulsion listening to your leg. However, for example if your horse 4 beats in the canter you might try to lengthen and/or speed up the tempo to get him to correctly three beat-- even though you are technically lengthening/ speeding up your horse's stride the focus is on acheiving the correct rhythm. Hope this helps clarify the checklist.

                          So in essence you have to conquer steps 1-5 in order to be able to do correct lateral movements, but the point is not to acheive only one before the other as rungs on a ladder, more a sliding continuem. The trick is to figure out how to meet each goal w/ each individual horse at each training juncture. And when starting a green horse, to do it without incorrectly training higher levels of movement unintentionally.

                          best trick in the bag for him was to confirm the meaning of half halt and make it light, and then use it often!!
                          So agree w/ this. Once you have a good half halt it's all down hill and so much fun! But I would caution not to force the half halt. Half halts take a lot of aids, seat, core, legs, back... and there are all sorts of different levels to a half halt. So I think before you can really confirm the half halt you have to at least establish leg and contact. Which if you work consistently might not take very long at all, maybe a month.

                          It takes patience and consistency everyday to do this kind of training correctly.

                          I know you only wanted a couple sentences, but starting a horse takes more than that... LOL... and I used my own advice today and my ride was super b/c of it, so thanks for posting the question!
                          "Bold Words was classier than all his competition. Straighter knees and a slim, elegant neck." -Nan Mooney My Racing Heart


                          • #14
                            I definitely agree with the learning of the half halt!! But I'm going to go out on a limb and disagree with some of the other advice.

                            OTTBs had another job *first*. THey are not like young dressage horses and it is wise to keep that in mind. You are retraining them, not simply putting training on them. That is a whole different ball of wax.

                            Many OTTBs need significant time off to unwind. They are tense because their previous lives entailed alot of tension and excitement. When you start retraining them, they fall back to old habits. It's natural, even for those who didn't do well on the track (they went through the same training).

                            I've been the first rider on several OTTBs after the track and a couple of OTAs (arabians). Calmness is number one, not forwardness, because many of them are tense in the back, neck and jaw so go fast, not forward. And in my opinion, without knowledge of a half-halt (which they don't yet know), you can't turn fast into forward. They've been taught to grab the bit and go (and go stiffly). Luckinly, they usually don't have a problem with forwardness later on. I'm not talking riding behind the leg, but I don't think about forward first on a newly OT OTTB. Calmness, looseness, suppleness and rhythm, especially in and out of the canter. The half-halt is your best friend but you have to teach it to them. They never learned it before. If they are calm and listening, I ask them to move forward without freight-training. How they handle this dictates the next step. Above all, they have to have *confidence* in their new job.

                            I do not suggest 'just' going up the levels by the tests (I'm sure that's not what people meant but to clarify...). You'll really need to know *why* you're doing each movement and the effect each movement is supposed to have on the horse's body (strength and balance). You need to know when to choose which movement to help stregnthen or supple your particular horse during a particular ride. This is important to all riding but imperative to OTTBs, IMO, because chosing the right exercise can make the *horse* figure his balance out on his own instead of him feeling like you're telling him what to do or using too much rein. That can make some OTTBs rather aggro, and for many, when you use alot of rein, they lean and grab, so you use more rein because they're blowing through your aids, and they get faster, etc. You're also reteaching connection and teaching seat connectin to these guys.

                            That said, lateral work will be your friend. Personally, I think shoulder-fore and then correct shoulder-in is the key to the universe. Leg yeild is good, too, but I don't drill it and I don't ask for too much sideways until they horse learns cadence. It's really easy for horses, esp. OTTBs, to run sideways. Again, inspire confidence as you teach new things and be very forgiving of mistakes in the first 6-8 months. Not "letting him get away with things" but forgiving of mistakes.

                            Lastly, they can get really tight in the poll and jaw. Suppleness and letting the neck "fall forward" to the bit is a feeling to achieve. Once they're relaxed they can go forward without tension in the back.

                            So I'm not suggesting coddle your OTTB, but I am suggesting not to treat him like your average warmblood who never went through the track. Track training leaves an imprint that can take a long time to overcome. But that's no different from taking a trained warmblood and asking him to excel in reining. It would be hard to teach a horse confirmed in walk pirouettes to pivot on the inside leg because they'll think they're doing the wrong thing and that can be stressful for horses who like to please.

                            Good luck! OTTBs are worth the time and energy investment!
                            Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


                            • #15
                              I just wanted to clarify again... and this will be my last time. When I said straight, I hope you know I don't only mean straight as in a straight line but also on circles, through transitions, stops and gos.

                              Also, I hope you didn't get the impression that I think you should not do half-halts. I think you should use any and all aids that get the message through to accomplish the goals of straight, rhythm, tempo, and suppleness. So this means you will be using a form of half halt.

                              For example, to get the horse to relax and go straight in a good rhythm, you may counter bend, over bend, etc. but this doesn't mean your focussing on suppleness, you are focussing on getting your horse proficient at moving straight.

                              And to get your horse to slow down you will be doing a crude form of half halts, but this doesn't mean you are CONFIRMING/Training the half halt, it means that you are focussing on your tempo.

                              And if you reward positive/ correct responses to half halts bending etc. then it will only help you when you get to the point where you are really focussing on perfecting those aspects.

                              Also, I would use the lunge w/ longish side reins about 3 days/week to help rebalance muscle.

                              Every horse is different, even OTTBs. Often they are very tense. As for the forward, I have had ones that started very lazy, and some started hot. They should all have at least 3 mo off before going back to work.

                              OK. I'll leave it to everyone else. I just didn't want anyone to misinterpret the checklist focussing idea.
                              "Bold Words was classier than all his competition. Straighter knees and a slim, elegant neck." -Nan Mooney My Racing Heart


                              • #16
                                American Hotbloods

                                I like that.

                                Although in Mid-February, American PITA fits mine.

                                I second relaxation (from an above poster), BUT I've noticed that there are two ways a TB can interpret relaxation. One is what we all want, true relaxation, acceptance of the leg/seat, and quietness in jaw (a lot like to grind). This makes for a willingness to work. What I caution against, is the OTTB (or Ex Polo Ponies apply to) that is 'faking' relaxation. For these guys/gals it almost seems like they are using the 'relaxation' as a new coping mechanism. I've had some learn to go on a loopey rein, act relaxed, strech downward and forward --- but the problem was I achieved this by getting softer and softer in my aids (probably somewhat removing leg, I've seen some even take on such a light seat that seat was deleted to). So, the lesson taught has been, if you relax, I dissapear. Great for the neurotic TB that wants an out. Unfortunately, when it came time to come back with 'aids' and say, ask for a LY, we had a major meltdown. The problem could probably be termed behind the leg --- not truly through or on the aids, but I emphasis this here because -- In my experience --- These guys have a very subtle way of eeking behind the leg, more so than the typical WB or QH. So hard to notice because they are still free and forward sometimes. So, as a rider, I've now had to make my early training Mantra Relaxed & Forward, Relax & Forward. For some riders, forward may be the default - but for me, its so easy (especially when they are being 'silly' to use the 'melt' feeling to relax and accidently takes my leg away.... So.... here are my mistakes offered to learn from!

                                Oh, and I've always had luck teaching SI /Shoulder Fore before lengthenings. Connect diagonal pair of aids, and then they can learn to bend straighten, bend straighten, and eventually come out of SI to Lenghten or Medium. Other than the super star, I've not seen many OTTBs with ready to lengthen after confirmed Training level for 1st One. They'd rather get flustered and rush --- so --- my boys do lots of lateral (LY or SI, mix it up) to forward lateral to forward. They often give you a lenghtening as a 'surprise' one day, and then just reward them to no end.

                                Remember courage is not the absence of fear; it is doing what you need to do in spite of your fear. -Sue Foley.


                                • #17
                                  Another great thread that is near and dear to my heart! I have had my ottb for six months now, and I love, love, love him. BUT, he is a challenge. I just changed trainers, and think that was wise (so far). Truly not every trainer is fit for ottbs. He has made a lot of growth in the past month, as compared to the past four.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by 2boys View Post
                                    He has made a lot of growth in the past month, as compared to the past four.

                                    Ditto that. When they come along, they really start to come along.
                                    Don't wrassle with a hog. You just get dirty, and the hog likes it.

                                    Collecting Thoroughbreds - tales of a re-rider and some TBs