When it comes to buying and retraining ex-racehorses, top eventer Victoria Bax is rapidly becoming recognised as an expert in this field, as she transforms thoroughbreds from the track into model event horses. Courtesy of Golly Galoshes, the versatile equine gaiter and Aloeride, the natural organic aloe vera supplement, Victoria gives her top tips for success beyond the winning post….
THE PERFECT PURCHASE
You have several options open to you as to where you buy your ex-racer: privately, direct from the trainer and racing yards or sales and auctions. Whatever your level of experience, you are best advised to take someone with you when looking to buy and looking at bloodlines is also important. As an example, in our opinion if you only want to do pure dressage try to stay away from horses that were bred for flat racing, not always the case, but when looking at racehorses transitioned into dressage the most successful ones have come from specific National Hunt bloodlines.
If you do decide to buy from the Bloodstock auctions you get two types of Thoroughbred, the one that adapts quickly and the one that you need to just turn away and let it unwind its brain for a bit (normally 3-6 months, again something many people do not realise). With Salto we have been very fortunate that he settled in from day 1 and has adapted to his new surrounding and new career in a chilled out relaxed manner, which in some way comes back to knowing what bloodline will give you what, there are certain bloodlines that are fizzy by nature and they are the ones you would turn away for a while.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT?
Many people think that buying an Ex-racehorse is a cheap option and whilst they might be cheap to purchase, but it’s important to recognise that they are far from cheap to run and maintain! NOTHING to do with ex-racehorse comes cheap! They are generally not good doers, so will need adlib forage/fibre and high calorie feed to maintain good condition. Many that come straight from racing yards will need attention given to their feet, as TB’s are notorious for having very flat feet. Saddle fitting can be difficult as TB’s are generally very high withered with a serious lack of muscle either side of the withers which causes the problems until they start to work and build up condition. The continued changes in their body can be helped by regular visits from a physio to assist with tight and sore muscles.
What people also fail to realise is that yes you have paid only £400 but the average cost to successfully re-train a racehorse is around £3000 once you take into account the, physio it will need on its back, as you will school it in a different way and start to use muscle that it never knew existed, the change in tack as it starts to change shape from the new muscle development, lessons, teeth, etc
THE EARLY DAYS
Take their development slowly due to the change in muscle’s and environment. I use a lot of lunging and long reigning initially to encourage the build up of muscles along the back and when riding use poles and grids to aid balance and control. One of the things people do not realise when getting a thoroughbred from the auctions is that taking up the reins to them indicates an upward change of pace is required, so you have to start un-ravelling what they have previously been taught and getting them used to aids that are alien to them. As they progress in their training I take them to local dressage competitions and then do some clear round jumping, along with some jumping at home. If all goes well here, I will progress to playing on a cross-country course. Remember the first few experiences need to be fun, not serious, so that they enjoy what you are asking them to do in their new career. First impressions count! Another thing people forget after schooling at home is that a Thoroughbred will probably get excited on it’s first few outings and ‘light up’ with the tannoy and seeing lots of other horses etc., as it will think that it is going off to the races.
HOME SWEET HOME
Consideration should also be given to where the ex-racehorse will be stabled. If you are considering a livery yard, you need to find one where staff are both experienced and competent to avoid any future problems. An ex-racehorse bought straight from the sales or a racing yard is likely to be racing fit and still being fed on a racing diet of very high energy, so is highly likely to be very highly strung and care should be taken at these early stages. They will be also be used to routine so try to set a routine of your own and stick to it. Ex-racehorse will not be used to going out in a field as they generally spend 23hrs of the day stabled, so as silly as it may seem, they may not know what to do if you put them in the field and may just stand by the gate. Racehorses are generally handled and led using a Chiffiney to aid control so they may be strong when handled from the ground. Racehorses are generally sharp to handle as they are used to very busy environments.
Racehorses are used to having many things done whilst in their stables so tying an ex-racehorse up may be an issue to start with, but as with everything to do with retraining Ex-racehorse time and patience is paramount. They may be used to cold shoeing as opposed to hot shoeing and may be better to be done in the stable. Ensure they have ad-lib forage to feed on to help prevent the build up of stomach acid in their stomachs, as they will have been used to a very high energy and high starch feed which is not what nature designed horses to eat so a build up of stomach acid is very easy to come about which can cause considerable pain for the horse. It can also be a consideration to have them scoped for stomach ulcers if other signs are visible. Feed a low starch diet to prevent the horse “fizzing up”, but a high calorie diet is essential to aid condition. We feed Aloeride because amongst it’s wide reaching benefits including improved coat and skin condition, it also helps improve hoof quality and supports a healthy digestive and immune system – key factors as the season progresses. Fortunately all mine are quite tough little things, but also watch out for dirt and sand getting up underneath the boots and causing irritations when schooling and hacking. Wearing Golly Galoshes gaiters also help to prevent this happening and possibly leading to further issues in the long run.
I believe that a good ex-racehorse is worth his or her weight in Gold, which is why I ONLY event ex-racers and I personally adore working and bringing these special intelligent animals on, however its important to think long and hard about whether you are able to take on an ex-racehorse in terms of time, patience and experience. It’s not for every rider and being honest about your capability is not an admission of weakness! If you do decide that an ex-racehorse is for you – good luck in your search and hopefully by following my advice, your relationship will grow and develop into a strong and trusting partnership
Looking For Help And Assistance?
The Retraining Of Racehorses helpline is a great starting place for advice and help: www.ror.org.uk Telephone 01780 740773
Aloeride: www.aloeride.com 01858 464 550
Golly Galoshes: www.gollygaloshes.com
Photography: Thoroughbred Sports Photography