Most of us have heard the stories. Thoroughbreds are hot headed, overly energetic, can’t stand still, and prone to taking off. Especially off the track Thoroughbreds
“they are broken, crazy, and good luck if you’re going to try and retrain one.”
I’m here to debunk this myth, and share tips and secrets to the success that I have with these powerful, athletic, agile, smart, hardworking, and versatile horses.
Who am I?
My name is Lindsey Partridge. I’m the founder of Harmony HorsemanshipTM. A training technique that is growing rapidly with certified instructors all over North America.
I have a lot of experience training horses, especially off the track Thoroughbreds. I’m mostly known for my performances at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover held at Kentucky Horse Park annually in October. It’s a competition where hundreds of recently off the track Thoroughbreds compete across 10 different disciplines.
Every year I compete, my horses always finish in the Top 5 of a discipline, and the two placings that I wasn’t in the top 5, I was in the Top 10. In 2015 I was 1st and 2nd in Trail, 3rd and 10th in Freestyle and won the overall title of “America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred.”
In 2016 I became the first trainer to win two disciplines when my horse Trivia Time won both Trail and Freestyle. You can watch the Freestyle here: https://youtu.be/jJbqYUjtr4Q . I was also 3rd in both Field Hunter and Trail, and my 14yr old junior student Franny Galvin-Hynes placed 5th in Trail.
In 2017 My horses 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Trail (with the help of student Franny), 2nd in Freestyle and 6th in Freestyle.
If you don’t know me from the makeover, you may have seen some of my horse adventures. I take my horses places to show that with a calm connection you can take them anywhere. The most famous horse adventure was when I took Here Comes Adri
(nick named Blizz) to a hotel in Kentucky. The story ended up on The Talk, ABC news, Fox News, Breakfast Television, and more.
The Unexpected Twist
Now here’s the clincher – all of these horses were bought (or given to me) without me going to see them first. Some were the ‘unwanted’ horses that nobody else bid on during auction, or given to me with the cautionary note that they were ‘highly spirited, need a lip chain, and kick’.
I didn’t go out and pick the slow and already quiet horse. In fact two of my mares (Soar and Trivia Time) were originally purchased by other people and then rejected and offered back up for sale. I am so confident in these training methods that behavior or temperament aren’t part of my pre check.
Now that you know that I’m successful with off the track Thoroughbreds, let me share some tips for how I succeed.
My Tips for Re-training an OTTB
Tip #1 – Teach them to be a Horse
A lot of Thoroughbreds retiring from racing don’t have a lot of recent experience in the language of ‘horse.’ They’ve been a conditioning athlete often kept by themselves in stalls or private turnout.
Other horses can teach manners, how to respond to rhythm and cues, how to play, manage their energy, and follow a leader.
There are some safety considerations:
- turn your horse out in a group that will accept a new member
- make sure the paddock has safe fencing with lots of space
- remove any back shoes (consider pulling all shoes so that they don’t accidentally lose one)
- allow your horse time to play and learn
Imagine a child that has been in their bedroom all day and you want to bring them right into a private lesson and expect them to focus. Can you imagine how scatter brained they would be? Your horse is likely not too different.
Now take the same child but give them an hour of free time with other kids before the lesson. The different kids will challenge them, show them different examples of behavior, and help them burn off energy. Can you see how this would make the lesson easier?
However, it’s important to be mindful of the group you turn them out in – bullies or boring buddies don’t make for great experiences.
Tip #2 – Get them in Good Health
Race horses have a lot of demands – they are elite athletes and often experience stress. It’s important to connect with your local equine health professionals and get your horse on the path to health.
My general checklist:
- Treat for ulcers using Regenereq EQ
- Put them on a probiotic such as Biotic 8, and Gastra FX for gut health
- Have a chiropractor and massage therapist do an assessment and treatment plan
- Use my Accuhorsemat to address back pain
- Remove shoes and allow their hooves to grow/toughen, using Scoot Boots if needed
- Saddle fit checked and use a saddle pad with impact protection like Thinline
- Get their teeth done by an equine dentist
- Consult my vet for vaccines, work ups, deworming, or other care.
- If they’ve done a lot of racing I also tend to put them on a joint supplement like Sinew-X.
- When buying supplements, I use quality tested products from Omega Alpha.
Tip #3 – Find a Calm Connection
‘with a calm connection you can take a horse anywhere.’
It’s where I think so many people get ahead of their horse – they jump right into training for performance and they forget to date their horse. That might sound funny, but horses are emotional animals that naturally have social relationships, which are a major part of how they function and communicate.
If we take the time to show them that we care about them, understand them, and that they can be connected to us we will have a much more willing partner. It’s the reason that I can take my horses into hotels, tv studios, have them be lesson horses, jumpers, extreme cowboy competitors and summer camp saints. Not a specific horse for a specific task but a well rounded partner that can do all of the above.
I start this by doing the calm connection exercises from the Harmony Training Continuum. One of the exercises includes Square, which is about learning to walk and move together in relaxation.
Tip #4 – Teach them to Say Yes
Neural pathways in the brain can be tricky to change. I teach my horses that it is important to say yes.
I establish a pattern of:
- I ask,
- You try,
- You get rewarded
This means I start using positive reinforcement. Rewards can be many things – treats, scratches, rest breaks, play, or something else your horse desires. The reward needs to be something the horse genuinely desires. So for example if you horse doesn’t like being scratched on the withers (even though many horses do), then you can’t use it for a reward.
Could you imagine showing up for work and instead getting your pay cheque you got pizza and beer? Now for some of you that’s not too bad, but some don’t like that. If you aren’t rewarded with what is meaningful to you, then you probably will work less hard, or try not to show up.
Ever wondered why a horse is hard to catch? Maybe try using more or different rewards during their work. There are many other things about catching horses, but I want to get you thinking about what is motivating your horse to say yes.
Tip #5 – Cross Train
Even if you love something, generally you don’t want to do it everyday. The same is true for horses. Even if something is a little outside of their comfort zone, it can be great to switch it up. Because I do so many things with my horses, they can’t really stay in a routine, which means they need to stay in a thinking conversation. If you only practice one activity or pattern it might mean your horse will get bored and put in less effort, or they may start to anticipate what is happening next so they listen to you a little less.
Even if you have no desire to jump, it can be great to send your horse over a few little jumps during ground work. It will help your horse think about their hoof placement, be more athletic, and break up the routine. Likewise you may not have an interest in trail riding, or a place to do so, but it is worth the effort to get your horse out on the trails even if you hand walk them. It will expose them to new environments and challenge them with different footing, hills, and fallen brush or logs.
I pride myself on the fact that my horses are all jack of all trades – they jump, work at liberty, do obstacles, and trail ride. I think it is good for them mentally to be exposed to different things, and even if they don’t enjoy one activity as much as another, I think it helps them keep appreciating the activity they do like best. Give yourself permission to try something new. It doesn’t have to be serious, it can just be for fun.
When I competed in Field Hunter in 2016 (placed 3rd) it was my first time ever competing in that discipline or trying fox hunting – I love it and so did my horse! I fell in love with it so much that I did it again in 2017 (placed 6th) and now it’s something I will continue to add to my annual events to participate in.
How to Get Even More
Thoroughbreds are amazing horses, and they make great partners. There is so much to learn, try, and explore.
If you want to learn more about Harmony HorsemanshipTM, calm connection or create a yes horse exercises please check out…
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