Oct 15 / kimberlygodwinclark@gmail.com Some Thoughts on Transitioning “Good” Racehorses

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blessed Soul recently retired from racing at the age of 7 with earnings of $108,710 in 13 starts, averaging $8,362 per start.  That’s a good racehorse.

Transitioning from racing to a new career can be more difficult for the good racehorses because they have an independent and strong sense of self.  They are encouraged and allowed to be dominant with humans as long as they aren’t dangerous.  Aggressiveness is viewed as a positive quality.

Then, suddenly, one day the humans begin to ask them to submit to their desires.  Have impeccable manners and be considerate at all times.  As racehorses we don’t wish to dominate them.

When I first began working to transition horses from racing to show/pleasure I found this kind of work suffocating.  I had been an exercise rider for 30 years and now I felt like I was micro managing the horse.  “Gees, do you ever leave them alone?”  I know how Blessed Soul must feel.  In the long run, once she realizes her only job is to do as the human asks, her life becomes much easier.  Most horses begin to relax and enjoy life like never before.  The transition period is the hardest because the horse who has always known she was a racehorse, now questions – “Who am I?”

The good news is good racehorses are great and proven athletes, or they couldn’t have accomplished what they did.

I know a little bit about second careers.  I was a pretty good exercise rider for about 25 years.  When I began to work with the show horses I had to go back to being a beginner.  I had to start over – at the age of 45!  That’s not the greatest feeling when just a little while ago you were great at your craft.  Now you are a green bean.  Sure you know some of the stuff, but you are also stuck in your ways and need to “rewire” a lot of the reactions and muscle memory that served you so well during your racing career.

It’s worth it though.  When the thought crosses my mind of how much better a show rider I would be right now if I had pursued that 35 years ago rather than becoming an exercise rider, I remind myself that every one of those countless horses I galloped taught me something I use every day.  Maybe I wouldn’t be as good as I am right now if I had pursued only showing.

We’ll never know because I did what I did.  I believe that much of what the seasoned racehorse knows is incredibly useful to the show trainer, just as the skills I developed are incredibly useful, once transformed to translated for show/pleasure purposes.  You just have to train the horse you have – the individual, rather than training the horse you want him to be or worse, the last horse you worked with.

See him for who he is and begin there – you might be surprised what will happen if you give him a chance to “rewire” his muscle memory and problem solving skills as you put new “tools” in his “tool bag”.