CHANGING REIN: FROM RACEHORSE TO RECREATIONAL RIDE
8 TIPS FOR TRANSITIONING AN OTTB INTO THEIR SECOND CAREER
BY: KAYLA GERTENBACH (KAYLA GERTENBACH EQUESTRIAN)
Getting a horse off the race track can be both exhilarating and overwhelming and promises a crash course in training, riding, patience and perseverance (plus the occasional gravity checks and sense of humour testing).
Much like you or I changing jobs, there will always be a transition period no matter how skilled or experienced you may be. The company culture will be different, the leadership style will vary and the roles and responsibilities assigned to you may require up-skilling or additional training. Off-The-Track-Thoroughbreds (OTTB) are specialists in the industry in which they’ve been born and bred, so transitioning into a secondary career in show jumping, dressage or other recreational sports will require ‘induction’ (letting down) and re-training.
PHOTO CREDIT: HILIARY O'LEARY
There are a number of things I’ve learnt about OTTB’s as they transition into their second careers. Any horse of any breed is obviously unique in its build, personality and temperament so the thoughts below may be a gross generalisation, but those who have, or do own Thoroughbreds can more than likely attest to many of the below.
1. They’ve been bred and raised to race and many may never lose that desire to win. Their occasionally fiery temperament may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a team-mate who is equally committed and often equally competitive – you will not find a more willing partner. It may take time to retrain, but invest in the partnership as opposed to performance and the results will come… progressively and consistently.
2. Thoroughbreds are sensitive horses who are eager to please and commit without question once emotionally invested in the partnership. Whilst still in racing, they’re ridden and trained by many, but once they’ve retired from the track – and where my initiative focuses much attention – it’s important to build a trusting, consistent relationship between the horse and rider. Often, what may be a perceived increase in bravery over time is more about trusting the partnership, even if they’re a little unsure.
3. There will be lots to teach them, but I promise you will learn so much too... about them and about yourself. They’ll need help with balance and straightness, rhythm and relaxation. You’ll learn patience, humility, pleasure and perseverance. Together you’ll learn trust, confidence and an unspoken agreement on what is important and what to let go of.
4. Positive reinforcement is far more effective than punishment will ever be for changing behaviour. Thoroughbreds are incredibly smart horses who are eager to please. Don’t confuse misunderstanding with defiance. Treat them as your equal, not as your project. Praise them often.
5. Make every training session educational and enjoyable. Often the most productive session are those without a set agenda. When the going gets tough, go back to basics. Place emphasis on long term goals and not short term gains. Don’t break their hearts – help them to understand instead of forcing them into submission.
6. Don’t get caught in the comparison trap. By comparing yourself or your progress to others, you’ll simply steal your own enjoyment and pleasure. It won’t change where you’re at and will inevitably lead to frustration – yours and your horses’. Rather focus on improving your skills and building your relationship with your horse as no amount of effort and input will ever be wasted.
7. Whilst there may be lots to retrain, there is also a lot they already know compared to other horses at a similar age. They’ve been broken in, are accustomed to being groomed, washed and handled. They often load and truck easily, are used to being led by hand. Majority have good stable manners and are pleasant to work with on the ground.
8. The retraining process will be a never-ending one. For both of you. Retraining an OTTB isn’t something for the faint of heart and it isn’t something that happens overnight, but if you’re willing to be patient and work from the ground up you’ll experience more satisfaction than anything you’ve ever done before.
If you’re considering investing in a Thoroughbred off the track, Kayla Gertenbach Equestrian has launched the KGE Second Career Initiative which seeks to select and school OTTB’s in their suited disciplines to produce them correctly and give them the best chance at a forever home and a life after racing.
No matter your level, budget or ambition, the KGE Second Career Initiative will help you to find the perfect OTTB partner.
Kayla Gertenbach Equestrian
081 888 8933
Visit the KGE Second Career Initiative on Facebook