The Art of Training RacehorsesJune 30, 2021 9:30 am
Posted in Jo Bates, News, Riders
Multiple championship winning show horse producer and Absorbine brand ambassador, Jo Bates is no stranger to producing horses to top level. From her relatively small yard near Banbury, Jo has produced show horses to take Horse of the Year Show and Royal International Horse Show titles as well as several successful dressage horses.
In the last few years, Jo has proved her talent for producing ex-racehorses. The stunning grey, Grandeur, was a highly successful racehorse, notching up 10 wins all over the world and earning over half a million pounds in prizemoney. He retired from racing in 2015 and went to Jo to be produced as a show horse, culminating in taking the HOYS Racehorse to Riding Horse title in 2019 and standing second Large Hack of the year.
“He was so beautiful,” recalls Jo, “but he was probably the most difficulty horse I have ever had to produce! I needed endless patience and calmness to build our relationship. Eventually he would do anything for me and was completely on side”, explains Jo.
Jo’s current project is Minella Rebellion, AKA Reg, an ex-national hunt racehorse who was in training with Nicky Henderson. He is now owned by Katie Dashwood and Jo is producing him for Katie to ride, aiming him at ex-racehorse and riding horse classes. He is already showing an aptitude for the job, winning the BSPS Area 7 novice ROR class and standing overall ROR champion.
New horses arriving at Jo’s yard are given them an ‘MOT’. “Teeth and backs are important and I also get the vet to give them a check over as you want everything to be as comfortable as possible when you start their ridden work”, explains Jo. “I also discuss with the farrier the best shoeing programme to suit their feet. Basically, sort out any niggles so that you know they are comfortable and happy”.
Jo goes to great lengths to ensure that they settle in well. “I try to find them a stable where they are happy. Some like a quiet corner away from activity, and some like to watch what is going on. Grandy liked to have his window open, even when the weather was Baltic. It is important to keep them happy and relaxed, which also helps to keep weight on”, says Jo. They are fed ad lib hay, which Jo prefers to haylage, and she will sometimes switch between meadow or seed hay until she finds what works for them. They also get field time when the weather is nice.
Jo likes working with thoroughbreds and finds them rideable and intelligent. “I love their intelligence and enjoy finding the key to what makes them tick”, she explains. “You have to think outside the box – there are lots of ways of ways to get to the end result. Some enjoy hacking and you can do a lot with that, while some enjoy schooling. It is important to train without making it feel pressured, and find what is best for the horse. I work at forming a relationship with the horse, so that it wants to work for you.
Thoroughbreds can be quite tense and Jo uses lots of exercises to help ease tension. “Asking for leg yield or shoulder fore and working on suppling exercises releases that tension and is really good for them. But keep it short. Sometimes I work for only 10 or 15 minutes in the school and if they are really good I then go for a short hack. It is important not to overdo the schooling, so if you can achieve something in a short time, then call it a day. Sometimes it is helpful to go for a short hack first, and then do some work in the school. You can also do a lot of these exercises while out on a hack. A little bit of bribery can also work wonders and I like to give mine a polo or piece of sugar as a nice reward”.
Persistence and consistency is the key, says Jo. “You must stick at it. Sometimes things may take a little longer and you just need to be very patient and praise for a small improvements, then wait until the next day. It is important not to get drawn into an argument, but to remain calm and patient”.
“I do lots and lots of transitions, constantly moving the horse around to make them flexible until the transitions are seamless. Start by working them down and get them to stretch, then work them so their poll becomes the highest point. This works every part of the body and helps to build up their strength in the abdomen, back and neck and also teaches them to carry themselves. If they get tense, push them away from the leg to get them to relax. I always finish every session with stretching exercises”, explains Jo.
Jo emphasises the importance of not overdoing the work. “Too much schooling may make them sore. If the horse is older, they may have niggles and they don’t have the joints of a younger horse. They may already have a lot of miles on the clock, so don’t be greedy when looking for improvements; be patient”. Jo schools 2 or 3 times a week and keeps it varied. “On the other days we either lunge, hack or do pole work and they also get a day off”.
Grandy, AKA Grandeur, really struggled with the crowds in high up grandstands at outdoor venues such as Hickstead. “Perhaps it reminded him of all the razzmatazz of racing, but indoors he coped with it and learned to relax. I took him to lots of shows and just rode around quietly before he ever went in the ring”, she says.
“Don’t put your horse in a position where he may lose confidence, such as taking them to a busy show before they are ready. Make sure your first show is a good experience, somewhere quiet and sometimes I just take them along to ride around the showground. Getting out to go for lessons or doing a dressage competition is also good for their education. Keep it low key so that you come away on a positive note feeling that you have achieved something.
“Racehorses are used to their jockeys just leaping on and often do not understand about standing still. I teach mine to ‘park’ in the middle of the barn – it does not take long for them to get the hang of this. I have a crate nearby and sometimes lean over them as if they are being backed. They get groomed, ShowSheen in their tail and feet picked out and I give them sugar as a reward if they are good. Tack goes on and I do lots of getting on and off via the mounting block or off a chair in the school. I also just sit on and stand in the middle of the school while teaching [daughter] Holly – it is all good practice for standing around in a show ring!
It is clear that there are no short cuts to producing an ex-racehorse for the show ring, but some are easier than others. “You need to spend whatever time it takes. Make it a priority to ensure they are happy in their stable and give them time, and always get some help from an experienced instructor if you are having any issues”, recommends Jo.