March 17, 2017

Retraining a Racehorse: Leading lessons

In the third part of the series on ‘Ground Training’, Fred and Rowena Cook (of Equine Management and Training) discuss the issues that crop up regularly regarding the topic of leading. 

Racehorses lead – full stop. But your ex-racehorse may not do so quite in the manner in which you would like; typically many jig-jog and whilst there is nothing theoretically wrong with this, a jogging horse tends to be a horse that is on his toes, which does alarm some people. And of course, jogging is a no-no when showing in hand. Remember that whilst in training, in many situations these horses must be led with a chifney so when you come to lead with just a headcollar, you may set off at a pace a bit quicker than you would like! With a large proportion of horses being kept at livery where there are other people and most likely children, it is your responsibility to make sure you have control over your horse.


My horse barges or drags me when being led

It is taught by some that when being led, the horse should remain behind person leading; the problem with this is that if the horse should horse stop and run backwards, or try and turn tail, he is not in a position whereby he can be controlled properly. Some say you should be positioned level with the shoulder, but if a horse is a bit onward or gets spooked he can too easily get away. Others place themselves right by the head, often having a firm grip of the rope under the horse’s jaw; in this position, more often than not, you end up with a horse you virtually have to pull along as such position crowds him and blocks his forward movement.

We believe the best position is for the person to be positioned just in front of the horse’s shoulder (where the neck stops). This gives you the greatest control as if the horse tries to run past you or drop back, you can more readily prevent either. It is a stance we automatically adopt and so far, without tears.

So if you find yourself being dragged along by your horse:

  • Adopt the above leading position.
  • Exert a pressure on the rope by way of one quick tug – with an instant release.
  • If this does not produce a positive response, back him up for several steps – not a bit of a step here but positive strides. As he moves back, move back with him applying a ‘tug and release’ to the rope with each step.
  • Or if needs be, apply pressure the chest at the same time; this can be done with the flat of your hand or by way of a prod with the finger.
  • For the horse that tries to evade by throwing his head up – put your back into his chest and ‘pull’ him backwards.


My horse drops back when being led    

Never turn and look at a reluctant leader. Although an extremely popular method, we do not advocate flicking with the end of the rope, as this may result in him jumping sideways and pulling away from you – especially with a sensitive horse

  • Position yourself just behind his shoulder but step away a little more from his side than you normally would to ‘give him a space to walk into’ whilst at the same time offering your hand forward and step forward yourself. Once the horse is walking on you can adopt the correct position.
  • If one or two sharp tugs on the lead rope do not have the desired effect, don’t give a dead-pull as the horse will stand there in the ‘stubborn mule’ stance, with his head and neck outstretched but feet going nowhere. To control a horse, you must control the feet so get him off-balance so that he has to move his feet – pull his head round to the side which encourages the front feet to move in order to maintain balance.


My horse walks into me

This usually happens when a horse is busy looking elsewhere! Do one of the following to get his attention back on you:

  • Give the lead rope a few wiggles.
  • Give the lead rope a quick, sharp tug downwards and towards the chest.
  • Prod his chest with your finger.
  • With the horse that is determined to keep coming into your space, carry a small cane/carrot stick and just tap his shoulder when he gets to close.


Rearing when led

If your horse is prone to going up, use a training halter when leading – but remember to have introduced the horse to the concept of such halter first.

At any time when your horse rears up:

  • Give one very firm pull on the lead rope. The pressure from you giving a pull puts pressure on his poll, which a horse does not like, so he will move so as to release this pressure. Repeat if necessary.
  • Do not keep a steady pull on the lead rope. This will only encourage more of a negative reaction from the horse and increases the risk of him going over backwards or running backwards. Take the pressure immediately away and you put him in ‘no man’s land’.
  • Get the horse moving, as a moving horse cannot go up. So the moment the front legs come back on the ground, pull him to one side to move the shoulders or disengage the hindquarters.


Fred and Rowena Cook

In the next part of this in-depth series, Fred and Rowena look at the essentials of lunging.

Thoroughbred Training Consultants – Equine Management and Training
Inc Rehoming Racehorses – A Life After Racing
RoR Approved Racehorse Retrainers
Retraining Consultants to Greatwood Charity
UK Agents: Ardall Equine & Rider Safety System
Authors: “Re-Educating Racehorses – A Life After Racing”

To find your own ex-racehorse, please visit Source an Ex-Racehorse

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