Beginning With The Basics: Starting My Retired Racehorse Retraining On the Ground

Since Indiana Jones arrived at the farm in late August, it seems like everyone is asking me, “So when are you going to take him for a ride?” And to be honest I haven’t exactly figured out the short answer to that question because I know we’re just not there yet.

“Oh, just throw a saddle on and just take him for a ride through the field until he tires out.” I can’t tell you how many different versions of that line I’ve heard from people at this point including my own grandmother.

The truth is they’re probably right. I probably could throw a saddle on him and just see how it goes. But from my end of things, that’s just throwing caution to the wind. And better yet, with no deadlines or competitions to force my schedule, why risk it? Why risk a terrible first off track riding experience when I can start with the basics on the ground, add the saddle, and build up to where I KNOW with almost absolute certainty that the first ride will be a success?

There isn’t a great way to summarize that to non-horse people, other than to say, “I don’t really feel like busting my a** today.”

There’s a certain level of forethought that’s developed over just a few short years of horse experience. Things like as the weather gets colder, horses are more apt to be a little playful and exuberant, meaning that the fall season would be an ideal time to start lunging your horse before a ride, especially if he hasn’t been in regular work or ridden recently. Take the snots out of them a little before they’re playing around with me on their back.

It’s a safe strategy and more importantly, it starts to build your communication and your understanding of each other.

It may seem like common sense but having the forethought to anticipate a horse’s behavior based on environmental factors is kind of the epitome of developing feel and good horse sense. Put your horse in a good position and with regular training, correction, and persistence, it will pay off.

So that’s where we’re at this week. We’re starting on the ground with no pressure or deadlines for when I need to be in the saddle. I’ll take whatever my horse gives me. This week we’re practicing leading, respecting personal space, working on our ground tying, and starting to do some bending and desensitizing exercises as well.

Outside of training in the arena I’m still reading my OTTB books only now I’m doing it while sitting in Indy’s paddock. It’s a much better view than sitting on the couch, even if it doesn’t smell quite as nice!