Challenges in Retraining the OTTB

The makeover showcase is a brilliant opportunity to showcase to people what OTTB’s can do and how adaptable they are to understanding and being part of another job and undertaking a new career. Not every trainer has the luxury of having the full 10 months of retraining, and even then, 10 months to retrain a horse into a new discipline is not easy and does not come without trials and tribulations.

Each horse and rider will have their own personal challenges. Some have soundness issues, some have training issues, it all varies between each horse and rider, but also, varies as training progresses.

For myself and Ryan it has all been about the right lead canter. In the UK 70 percent of race courses are left hand runs, meaning that most racehorses right hind legs become trail legs and are therefore not as strong. From day one of longing, hacking, riding and even on occasion watching him run in the field, Ryan has always favored his left lead canter. He finds balancing on his right more difficult and therefore naturally falls onto his right shoulder, preventing his right hind leg to come through to allow right lead canter.

In May, when on the longe, Ryan started to show/offer right canter by picking up left canter and putting in a flying change. The amount of left canter steps reduced as his training has gone on, but under saddle it has still posed us many problems. I have tried everything; cantering in the field, small circles, large circles, figures of eight, serpentines, simple changes, jumping over poles, cantering off one way then changing direction.

I never want my TB’s to become stressed, or enter what I call ‘the red zone’ (where the adrenalin takes over and there is no reasoning with them). There does come a point when your OTTB has to push through a bit of a stressful moment to understand their work, but it should never get to the point where the horse in no longer willing and starts to say ‘NO.’ I have worried for many days what am I doing wrong, or more importantly, how am I not managing to explain to my OTTB what I am asking of him. He has had everything done; physio, chiropractic, teeth, saddle fit to check that he is not in pain. All of the above have been readdressed or checked and adjusted, and yet he still was reluctant to pick up right canter. At one point I was managing to get him to do a flying change from left to right, but then I asked myself, is it fair to ask an unbalanced 4 year old to be doing a flying change.

With lots of perseverance, and breaking down the transition, working on a little bit of sitting trot and making sure he was fully through the rein we managed to get right canter! It then took another four weeks to be able to do it when at a competition. In a test, we do not have the leisure that we have at home of being able to do 10, 20-meter circles to prepare and get it correct. When he first managed to achieve right canter in a test I was so ecstatic that we kind of lost a bit of control and balance and somehow ended up at the C end when we were meant to be at the A end. The judge was laughing, I was thrilled. At that moment in time the control didn’t matter, to me it was the transition, along with a hefty pat and telling Ryan he was simply amazing.

We still have quite a few moments when we do not achieve right canter, his natural balance and way of going always leaves him inclined to pick up the left lead. But the more we work on it, the better he is getting and the more confident he is becoming in doing it.

Here is to hoping that in a few weeks, everything will come together and we will manage to get right canter … oh, and do well in the other bits of the test too!

The exciting news is that Ryan’s flights were confirmed as of yesterday! On October 16th we will be in Kentucky. I am available for lessons/instruction if anyone would like one. My website is if you would like to see who and what I am about. My email is I am willing to travel as I will have a car, and it will be odd for me to be looking after only one horse!






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