Having re-schooled (to varying levels) a few ex-racehorses now I thought it might be an idea if I wrote a few blog posts detailing some of the issues that I have come across during the process of recycling an ex-racer. This is by no means a ‘how to guide to re-schooling ex-racers’ it’s just a catalogue of my thoughts and discoveries which I hope might be able to help other people who are in the process of, or thinking about taking on an ex-racer to re-train.
So I will start at the beginning….choosing your horse. For me there is always one main factor which influences my decision, and that’s PRICE. Buying something straight out of racing is a gamble so set a limit that you are prepared to gamble with and stick to it, I have a rule of thumb that I won’t pay over 1k. Then I tend to scour the adverts for potential horses to view, I look through free ads papers, and online classifieds where horses are cheaper and less ‘glamorous’, and I try to keep it local so that I’m not travelling miles to see a 3 legged donkey, because no matter how many questions you ask over the phone when you arrive in person you often find that some sellers have a very creative approach to the truth!
One such ‘interesting’ incident happened when I went to go and look at a little bay gelding prior to getting Dustry. I asked all about him, what he had done, what he was doing now, any vices? lameness? skin issues? teeth? wind? eyesight? back? feet? temperament? all seemed ok etc and he was ticking all the boxes so off we went to try him. I say ‘we’ because when going to see an unknown quantity it’s always sensible to take someone with you (and a neckstrap and body protector for good measure) just in case! We arrived and he was stabled but un-tacked, not ideal as I would prefer to see them caught up and brought in from the field, but hey ho. The owner began to tack him up and he was very ‘bitey’ when being girthed up, so mental note made of that. The little horse was getting quite lit up during the tacking up process and I was getting the impression that maybe he hadn’t been hacking (or even out of his box!) quite as regularly as I had been told…
Legged up I sat as quiet and light as possible in the saddle as he felt like an unexploded bomb, still I needed to see if he would settle so out onto the quiet little road that ran along side his field to walk quietly down it (that was my plan anyway!) The owner walked along side us for a bit and then after 100yrds I said it was ok we would be fine, I wasn’t sure if we would be but I needed to see what he would do. Sure enough a few yards further down the road the little horse started to play up, he started napping fairly adamantly, I just sat there quietly, trying to sooth him with my voice, trying to remain reassuring but keep him pointed in the direction I wanted us to go, but he had a ‘routine’ to carry out and he was only half way through.
The napping escalated and started to turn into spinning, rearing, and running backwards. All of this I wasn’t too worried about (although it’s not my favourite thing) except for the fact that he seemed to be running backwards with no sense of self preservation into a massive dyke that ran down the side of the road! Having decided by this point he probably wasn’t the horse for me I managed to bail out on to my feet just as he slid backwards into the dyke! He looked a little baffled, scrabbled back out and I handed him back to the owner with a polite ‘no thank you’.
As we walked back to his field a friendly elderly neighbour leaned over the hedge from tending his allotment and shouted with glee to the owner ‘he’s done it to another one then? tee hee hee!’ It really is buyer beware out there, and cheap horses are always cheap for a reason. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t find a good cheap horse though, so my advice would be just take care and be fussy.
I am very fortunate to have local connections with race yards and a friend who often sells on horses coming out of racing, and I trust his judgement. Word of mouth about a good yard to source horses from or recommendation by a friend about a horse is often a better way of limiting the potential you are going to end up looking at a nutter. I have never bought a horse from the sales, for me the opportunity to trial them is too limited (plus going to the sales is not for the feint hearted, it isn’t pleasant). I did buy Soap from a lady who had bought him from the sales a week previously so I am guessing she probably picked him up for something like £500 and a week later I bought him from her for her marked up price of £1000.
When I went to see Soap I was able to see her ride him first in all three paces in a big open field, and then I got on and did the same on both reins. He was poor, but he looked bright eyed and interested, and was obedient to ride. He moved straight, he had the frame of a nice horse once conditioned, and having felt him all over he seemed in good ‘structural’ condition. Checked his passport for his history, breeding, f&t dates and that plus one person’s account of him over the past 7 days was pretty much all I had to go on. Deal done.
When I bought Dustry I didn’t even sit on him he was fresh out of racing as a 3 yr old, and still a colt. I watched him lunged and I liked his action a lot, he was much prettier than my usual type and in all honesty I was only looking at him as a project to sell on, not to keep (Oooops!) I agreed to have him on the condition he would be gelded before I picked him up.
When he arrived on our yard he was very poor, his feet were unkempt, he had blood stains all down his legs from his castration and all in all he was a sorry little creature, but I felt he had potential, and that’s what I had gambled on, with £675 of my hard earned pennies.
As a rule of thumb for all the ex-racers I’ve bought they have all enjoyed a period of ‘let down’ before I begin any proper work with them. Soap had a few months out in the field to chill out, and Dustry had the whole winter 2009/2010 turned out 24/7 to just forget about his previous life, grow into a 4yr old, and let his body recuperate from racing and castration. I think this is a key part of the re-training process and I would urge anyone buying a horse straight out of racing to just give them what time you can initially to do very little for a bit, I think they need time to unravel a little before starting their new career.