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OTTB Training Question

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  • OTTB Training Question

    A friend and I recently took a lovely OTTB off the track. Trainer shipped him to us right after his last race, at 9 years old! He is sane, sound and quite beautiful. He's enjoying time off in a wonderful pasture and has settled in nicely, good ground manners, love to play with the other geldings, healthy.

    When his trainer offered to give him to us, he said "when he doesn't want to race, he digs his toes in the ground and refuses to move." Trainer said that little habit was his clue that it was time to retire him.

    So, we've gotten on him just to walk and trot before he goes for training soon. Sure enough, after a turn or two, when he felt that he was done, our boy dug his toes in the ground and would NOT, I mean would NOT move. Would. not. budge. one. inch.

    I didn't want to use stick (I did give him a smack on the but with a crop which did nothing) or spurs, so I circled him tightly and then asked him to move forward. On the second try it worked, we trotted, until he did it again. Circled again tightly and moved him on until I decided when to stop, and we ended there with praise.

    I know he is testing his new people to see how serious we are. What is a good training technique for this behavior? I've experienced the opposite (would not STOP), but never this!
    "I am still under the impression there is nothing alive quite so beautiful
    as a thoroughbred horse."


  • #2
    Too funny. I'm dealing with one of those now. He also raced until he was older and his form of evasion is to not move.

    Here's what's worked for me. Your mileage may vary.

    - I tried riding him in a bitless bridle (I use a side pull). It's so different from racing that it seems to work better. I'm still having trouble with him accepting a bit but he's much more forward without one.
    - Teach him to move his feet sideways. You may need to start from the ground. Once you've "unblocked" him, ask him to move in any direction.
    - Be patient. Sometimes just waiting them out is an effective strategy.
    - Try ponying him off another horse. This has helped a lot once we introduced this horse to trails as he would only go so far and then stop. Race horses are so used to being ponied that he never gave it a second thought once he got that tug. We actually just attach a lead rope to the bridle and use it when necessary. Otherwise, the rider just holds it along with the reins.

    Good luck! Your horse needs to understand that he has a new job and that you aren't planning to race him any more.
    Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
    EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


    • #3
      You already answered your question. The tight circle. Not tidy, not showy, but quite effective.
      Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

      Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


      • #4
        Ha, yeah not all that unusual but most people would think they are the opposite. Most of our ottb's are lazy! I normally address this using ground work- lunging with equipment on them and teaching them to engage the body. They must move their feet at all times and respect me when I say go forward.

        Once I establish that on the ground than I just work on hacking them out to let them go forward. They learn work isn't hard or stressful and they typically transition fine when they come back to the ring to work.

        If that doesn't work that I follow another horse in the ring or I have to break out the stick and establish that when I say forward it means right now and they better get moving.


        • #5
          And as a side just get his back checked....


          • #6
            If you have the opportunity, trail riding with another horse would probably do wonders for his attitude also.


            • #7
              You don't mention how much down time this horse has had: that may be very relevant to his answer to your question - if he's body sore & moving (especially with a rider on his back) HURTS, then he's just trying to protect himself.

              Also consider if you want this horse to move because he must move or because he wants to move i.e. if you always reward forward, most horses will choose forward ...
              OTOH after 7 years of racing, he may need several months to "just be a horse".

              If he vet checks out OK, I agree with those suggesting following another horse, relaxed hacking out, a gallop on the beach, etc; then in a couple months, re-introduce ring work.

              (note there's an awful lot you can teach wherever you may be riding)


              • #8
                I was thinking the same as JBRP -- I'd check back/body for soreness and check teeth too.

                Never hurts to check it all. Well, I guess, other than your pocketbook

                Good luck with him! Fwiw, my OTTB that raced until he was 10 does this too -- and he'd been checked five ways from Sunday. He got over it eventually, mostly because I never, ever let him go back to the barn after doing it. It is very frustrating and can feel like they are going to go up next. We got through it eventually, and trail riding with another horse was a big help.
                I have Higher Standards ...do you? Find us on FB!
                Higher Standards Custom Leather Care -- Handcrafted Saddle Soap


                • Original Poster

                  I love the idea of having him follow another horse on trails. Great idea. And that horse could become a "pony" if needed.

                  He has been let down 3 months now. I just have a feeling that he will do this no matter how much time off. I definitely made sure we ended on my terms before him going back to the barn yesterday.

                  One question about lungeing: what if he "stops" while on the lunge line and refuses to move?
                  "I am still under the impression there is nothing alive quite so beautiful
                  as a thoroughbred horse."

                  -JOHN GALSWORTHY


                  • #10
                    What is interesting about what you posted is that you said he was doing it at the track too which could very well mean something is bugging him or he is just a smart old bugger Honestly, these older guys are pretty darn smart.

                    My horse came off the track at age 8. He had 8 months of turnout and then came to me for retraining and he was a serious grumpy old man in the ring. The whole not going forward coupled with ears pinned back and just overall I'm NOT doing this. I did a lot of lunging because it was obvious to me that part of what was going on was that he was being asked to use all new muscles after a long time of going one way. His body hurt him and he really didn't understand the aids for going forward. Forward had to be taught to him. This was a horse that made close to $200k on the track and I could barely get him to canter.

                    Long story short but my guy was pretty sore up high and the only way to make him go forward was to go trail riding. It took several months for his body to get strong enough that he wanted to go foward in the ring. Your gut may say well they hurt and you stop working them but often the only way to get them past it is to work them. I don't mind giving them some bute and helping them past this stage of OMG new muscles..I am going to die..ouch. Chiropractic can help too.

                    I also had to teach him that forward meant forward. Yes, he would stop and plant his feet on the lunge line but he learned that the voice, a cluck and a whip meant move right now not when you feel like it. It is essential that this gets established. Then when I was on him I would repeat with the leg, cluck and then a sharp smack. You would think they know the whip but they don't always.

                    A high majority of our ottb's are really balky about going past the gate in the ring. They can plant their feet like 2yrs. If necessary I will employ a groundsperson with a lunge whip to help me deal with this issue if they really get stuck. You can turn some in a circle and wait them out but not all of them are easy. I had one who would stop and when I tried going forward he would either spin or go backwards. He got the person following him with the lunge whip so when I said forward he went forward or the person on the ground sent him forward.

                    If they get super duper stuck and I don't have a grounds person than I get off and lunge to get their feet moving and then get back on. Rinse and repeat and hope it doesn't take them too long to figure it out.

                    You can also pony him on another horse in the ring. Get creative