Race Horse to Riding HorseApril 26, 2020 3:31 pm
Posted in Jo Bates, News
Multiple HOYS champion, producer of top show and dressage horses and ambassador for Absorbine®, Jo Bates gives us an insight into re-training an ex-racing horse for the show ring.
Jo rode the stunning Grandeur to be crowned HOYS SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse Champion in 2019. Grandeur won an impressive 10 times on the flat during his racing career, earning over £500,000 in prize money.
What is the appeal of having an ex-racehorse and re-training it?
There are some beautiful thoroughbred racehorses and it’s great to see them do other jobs. They are intelligent and seem to enjoy the training, so it’s a rewarding process for them and for me. It is hard work, but it is incredibly satisfying.
Where do you start when re-training a racehorse?
The first thing I do is a complete MOT including teeth check, being re-shod because they will have had plates on, and I make sure they are not sore anywhere or have any aches and pains.
As they have been ridden before you don’t have to get them used to the weight of a rider, but you do have to get them to accept rein contact in a different way. I lunge them, and I might drive them a little bit and spend time teaching them to engage their hind quarters and become lighter in front. We start off slowly and try to explain it in a way they can easily understand. Some learn quicker than others in the same way any animal would. If they are older, they can be more set in their ways and may be stiffer in their joints, which is going to influence how you change their muscle structure. The younger ones have more malleable brains and are generally more accepting of change.
Is it difficult for them to adapt to a different yard environment?
It can be but it is the same as everything you do with racehorses, everything must be gradual, and you learn what makes them tick. In our yard it took us 5 stables to find which one Grandeur (Grandy) liked. He didn’t like being on one side of the barn because the windows had to be closed when it was windy. On the other side there was a particular stable he immediately settled in to because the window was open, and he could hang his head out – that was his relaxation.
We spend a lot of time adjusting their environment to make sure they are happy. For example, if they don’t eat their hay we put the hay net right by the door so if they hang their head over the door they have the net there so they can eat the hay while they are looking out. Little details like that are so important to their welfare, but that is the same for any of the horses regardless of its breed or background.
How long does it take to re-train a racehorse for showing?
It took me just under 2 years to re-train Grandy, he was a complex character but once you got through to him and he trusted you he would walk through fire for you! Racehorses have spirit but that spirit has to work with you not against you.
Do you do lots of hacking and what is the benefit?
I do a lot of hacking and usually on my own. Hacking helps them understand that it isn’t an exciting ride up to the gallops and is supposed to be relaxing. To begin with Grandy was nervous, in a strange place and didn’t know what was going.
I interspersed hacking with schooling and gradually increased the distance we went out each time until he really enjoyed it.
The first time we loose schooled Grandy (we do quite a lot of this for their relaxation) it was very exciting! He galloped round and we thought he was never going to stop. But it didn’t take long for him to learn that loose schooling was enjoyable, and he could play.
People say that racehorses can be quite hot, how do you keep this in check and not be fidgety in a line up?
Hours and hours of patience, taking them to shows and riding them round. Racehorses think they should be on the move all the time. I used to take Grandy to shows with others on the lorry and ride him round and stand there for hours – everywhere I went he came along. I used ear plugs so it wasn’t quite so noisy and that made a big difference. You can’t get stressed; you have to stay calm otherwise the horse feeds off your energy. It took time but Grandy was exceptionally beautiful and I knew he was worth it.
Grandy hated big crowds and at HOYS last year, accepting the prize, I had to switch my mind off and not feed from his anxiety. He trusted me to look after him and this helped him relax.
To racehorses’ big crowds equal hype and flight and here you are, asking them to be calm and collected. It is all about learning their characters, getting inside their brains and having lots of patience!