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Learning to trust the OTTB...Bluey? Anyone?

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  • Learning to trust the OTTB...Bluey? Anyone?

    So I purchased "Chipper" in August. He had close to a year of let down. Nice, sweet, mellow (read Lazy) gelding that I adore. Working with a trainer. Riding western because I'm a little *safer* in a western saddle at this point.

    So how does one get over that fear of transitioning into the canter? He is a big moving horse and tends to leap into the canter. We work on suppling and giving to the bit every ride. He transitions nicely in the round pen with side reins. Any positive ideas would be appreciated. Thanks much

  • #2
    I don't ride western but have been on a few OTTBs, and enjoyed all kinds of leaps into the canter. The best thing I can tell you is that the answer is always "GO FORWARD" If the transition is sudden, unbalanced, etc - the best way to deal with it is to push forward with it. Don't grip on the reins or try to slow it down right away - the horse has to learn to canter properly/relaxedly with a rider and use different muscles than he did at the track. So it's going to feel all kinds of whacky at times. But going forward helps put you in the feeling of control over the gait, and keeps the horse listening to you, and *usually* (not always) helps you find a more comfortable gait (if you work on this, they will start taking longer, slower, forward strides, instead of just feeling like they are bouncing/running along with itty bitty steps).

    Working on a nice, slow, western canter can come later.

    Additionally, mentally, for you, treating stuff like this as "totally no big deal!" and having a smile can do a LOT to get the result you want. Reacting by tensing, worrying, grabbing the reins, etc - that stuff will tend to make the horse worry too.

    Just my .02, though I'm sure there are different ways to skin the cat.
    "smile a lot can let us ride happy,it is good thing"

    My CANTER blog.


    • #3
      Can you get your trainer to canter him first, so you can watch? For a horse like this (with a fearful owner) I like to go slow. Start your ride by walking around on a loose rein, then start riding some easy school figures. Add trot when you are ready, but break it up with plenty of transitions. Keep in mind that if he is behind your leg, you will loose your power steering and breaks, so fight the urge to take your legs off, even if he seems fresh. My favorite way of getting timid riders to canter is this: Head down the long side of the arena. Start a circle - say, just past the middle of the arena - but start heading back to the rail, when you get to the midline, or so (making a tear drop). Ideally you should get to the rail,going a new direction, just before the corner of the short end. Keep him forward, and ask for a bit of leg yield, with your inside leg. When you get to the corner, ask for the canter with your outside leg, and plan on doing a circle. If he doesn't canter, continue with your circle, and repeat the above exercise. If he leaps into the canter, go a few strides, and bring him back down to the trot. You may have to repeat this a ot, and sometimes I add ground poles to help slow them down, but eventually he will get it! It may help to keep your seat light, even in a half seat, since some OTTB's get hyped up, if ridden with a deep seat.
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      • #4
        So is it that you don't trust the horse, or is it that you just feel unsettled transitioning to the canter period? You mentioned a round pen.. does that mean that the transition is upsetting to you in other areas?

        I agree with caffeinated - forward is your friend and your horse just needs to get used to learning to balance on his own with a rider (and without side reins). To me this is a regular sounding issue, but I'm really familiar with TBs in general and specifically OTTBs. I bet a few things are at work here... first, if this is your first OTTB, a lot of folks get psyched out by the "stigma" OTTBs are saddled with. It can be a bit intimidating thinking "I'm on an ex race horse and they are supposed to be cray-zee!". Investigate how much of this is playing a role. Second, are you more familiar with broke horses and or less-big-moving horses? The average TB is a much bigger mover than, say, the average QH. I am super familiar with the breed and even still, I had to get used to my enormous TB. Experienced riders get up on him and take a few laps just to get over the "holy crap, there is a lot of movement up here!" sensation. That can be unsettling. Again, caffeinated said it well... just see it as a temporary state, because that's all it is. Pony has to get used to the new muscles and balance, and you need to get used to the new sensation. Working with a trainer is a good idea... just don't box your lovely little OTTB into another package and watch that your (presumably western oriented) trainer doesn't either. TBs are so sensitive and smart and will try their hearts out, but they do think differently than other breeds, and require a different perspective sometimes. Good luck!
        Final Furlong Racehorse Retirement


        • #5
          I had this problem with my young mare. She has a big stride and a lot of leap in the canter, but isn't really balanced enough to do a 20 m circle. I use a grab strap (stirrup leather buckled around her neck--may not work with a Western saddle), keep the reins fairly loose, and start with just a few strides at the canter at first. Sometimes I'll do the transition into canter in two-point and then sit once I've got it. Watching someone else canter her actually made me more afraid. What it took was (1) realizing that I could handle her canter (which took lots of work at the sitting trot) and (2) realizing that she wasn't trying to rush or jump up in the air on purpose but that she is just big and unbalanced.
          I also worked on getting and getting comfortable with a really big trot so the canter didn't feel all that different.


          • Original Poster

            All great advice and much appreciated. I do trust that this horse won't intentionally kill me, that's a plus! He has a much bigger stride then I am used to and the other OTTB I owned came to me exceptionally well trained, big difference. It's an interesting journey and I'm enjoying it. Just overcoming the fear factor. My trainer doesn't want to box him into a slow moving western horse. She has a multi disciplined background and encourages me to let him go forward. Maybe a shot of tequila before a lesson...hmmm...


            • #7
              Get your trainer to longe you, so you acquire a really independent seat, riding without reins and stirrups and doing exercises on the longe line.

              That and riding outside on all kinds of terrain will get your skills and balance up to any kind of horse.

              As far as the horse leaping into the canter, that takes training with many transitions to even out.

              Coming from a western background, your trainer should be more than familiar with how to address that in a horse, any horse, as smooth transitions from any gait is very important in the western disciplines that are more technical, like reining and such.

              Don't despair, it will come for both of you, your own balance and the horse's both.

              I remember when I first started as an assistant instructor I had one OTTB that was very bad, took several weeks to get that horse to come back to hand and not be all strung out.
              I so wanted the main trainer to get on and get the horse performing well, as he would have, but he said no, I had to learn to get there on my own.
              It was so easy once we both could do smooth transitions without hurrying into them and it was a skill that stayed with me for all horses afterwards.

              Keep working at this, but don't work too much or too long and keep experimenting, don't keep doing the same time and again if it is not working, said someone that spent too long on repetitive circles, before learning that changes is what does it, not trying to find balance first on it's own.

              Cavaletti, broom polo, hills, with good lessons on the longe line for both of you to keep any bad habits in check, that will get you there.

              Now, your horse may always have lofty gaits, compared with western horse's way of going, but if you like your horse, that is what he is.
              I know some very strung out OTTBs years ago that, once on cattle, learned to use themselves so well, they didn't even look like a TB any more when working, until they stood there or moved out.


              • Original Poster

                Thanks Bluey!


                • #9
                  Sometimes it's easier to get the canter over a ground rail or a tiny x-rail. You trot up to it and the canter just comes as you land.

                  For my current OTTB, he stayed much calmer making the transition that way.

                  I like to stay in a two point or three-point position as I find that with an OTTB they are not used to having their rider really sit on their backs.

                  Second the idea of using a neck strap.

                  ETA - also teach your horse a verbal slow down cue. I use a trilling sound. I start with that right away as it acts almost as a half-halt or as a calming cue.

                  If your horse isn't balanced, it's fine to canter for a few strides on a straight line or to keep any circles VERY large.
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