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Care Care

You have decided that you want to provide a former racehorse with a loving, caring home, but if you have not previously owned one you may find yourself in situations that you have not met with before.

Initial considerations

  • Be realistic about your ability and experience and don’t be afraid to seek advice. Our RoR Helpline is just a call or email away.
  • Generally a former racehorse is good to load, clip, stands for the farrier and has good stable manners.
  • The horse will not be accustomed to being tied up outside his stable so is likely to fidget and become anxious.
  • Racehorses are generally not accustomed to standing still when mounted because lads and lasses are generally legged up whilst the horse is walking.
  • The horse is used to being ridden but not in quite the same way as a riding horse. Some of the aids are different, indeed quite the opposite, to what he is used to and you are accustomed to applying in a given situation.
  • The horse may not be used to anyone riding with long stirrups although this is much less likely these days; it is more the placement of the lower leg if initially drawn too far back that a horse can react to.
  • Your braking system could well be limited; and when you shorten up the reins and undoubtedly, although probably unintentionally, incline yourself forward, you are actually giving cues to go faster!
  • The horse will know little about contact in terms of how we understand it for the riding horse so when you pick up the reins, the head and neck will invariably go up and out rather than low and rounded. You may also experience head tossing and snatching at the bit.
  • The horse will be used to riding out in company which means that hacking out on your own you could encounter problems in relation to insecurity. Riding in company can also present its own issues as will be associated with work ie. a training gallop.

A former racehorse may not initially understand all the aids and will physically feel more rigid because of the type of work a racehorse receives; your retraining work will build strong but supple muscles.

Where a horse is clearly more obstinate, it is important to rule out reasons which may be contributing this behaviour such as an ill-fitting saddle, inappropriate bit or a physical problem. This horse was found to have a fracture to its neck.

Management considerations

Increasing numbers of racehorses do get turned out; however it won’t be for long so all day turnout will be a new experience. 24/7 turnout will become achievable if you wish, although not in the early stages so access to stabling is essential. Remember that thoroughbreds are thin skinned so whereas previously you may not have rugged-up a horse in the stable, this may now be likely so here starts the accumulation of a new equine wardrobe!

Life for the horse in training is based on routine. Whilst used to a very active lifestyle with plenty going on in the yard, many yards still have a couple of hours complete peace and quiet in the afternoons to enable horses to rest. Your new horse may not be used to receiving the huge amounts of affection you now wish to shower him with; he may seem a bit grumpy and want you to leave him alone but don’t take this personally – just give him time to adjust. The majority of people report how wonderfully affectionate their horses are and in fact it is often this side of their nature which spurs owners on to resolving riding issues.

The thoroughbred is very sensitive and quick minded so is often more prone to exhibiting signs of stress than other breeds of horse particularly if boredom sets in. These horses can also more easily become flustered when they do not understand what is being asked of them.

Remember the day the horse leaves the training yard its life is tipped upside down so that is when any behavioural or stress-related symptoms will kick in. So do give your new horse time to adjust to its new lifestyle.


The vast majority of ex-racehorses, or any horses in work, will be stabled through the winter months. The bedding you use in the stable will play an important part in safeguarding your former racehorse’s health and well-being.

In general terms, the key factors that you should consider when choosing a good bedding apply to all horses, but it is likely that your former racehorse comes from an environment where these factors are given more serious consideration than in other less performance-related areas of the equestrian world.

In choosing the best bedding, it helps to check:

Is it free of dust?
Bedding is recognised as the principal potential source of dust and spores in the stable, which are the main cause of respiratory problems among stabled horses.

Does it provide plenty of resilience and support?
A springy, resilient bed will support your horse’s hooves more effectively, protect joints (especially hocks) against impact, and provide a comfortable cushion for your horse to lie on.

Does it keep the surface layer of the bed dry?
Moisture, and particularly urine, can harm your horse’s feet, and it will compromise the resilience and comfort of the bed.

Is it natural and uncontaminated?
The top two choices are shavings and straw. Straw can vary widely both in quality and availability. Those who use shavings tend to choose purpose-made, dust-extracted brands that offer consistent quality and reliable supply.

Is it easy to use and maintain, practical, durable and cost effective?
A bed of at least six to eight inches deep provides the best levels of support, protection, comfort and drainage.

Introducing different tack to your former racehorse

A former racehorse may not have experienced a general purpose saddle so this will feel different and be heavier.

Fresh out of training your horse will have a toned body of sheer muscle but this musculature is very different to that of a riding horse. Due to the life-style change and as re-schooling progresses the horse’s body shape is going to alter – by just how much will depend entirely on the manner of and effectiveness of your schooling work. This means that in the first few months you will need the services of a reputable saddle fitter on more than one occasion as muscle development takes place.

The thoroughbred back is very sensitive so however well-fitting your saddle, the use of a numnah is recommended. This does not mean using a thick one as this actually compromises saddle fit, but one that provides good concussion absorption. Be mindful that thoroughbreds can become niggled if they get sweaty particularly in the saddle region, so using a sheepskin numnah is not for ever horse. Racehorses are also usually used to girths with elastic in.

One of the most common difficulties is finding a suitable bit as your horse may not have a proper concept of contact and coming on to the bit – you have to teach him all that!. Don’t be alarmed if you struggle to find a bit that your horse is comfortable with and responds to as it may well take several bit changes, over a period of time, until you find the right one.

Going bitless is not always an option either especially in the early days when the horse doesn’t have a comprehension of the other aids which is important when riding without a bit. Typical bitting issues are putting the tongue over the bit or poking it out which are, in the main reactions to pressure on the tongue, so when making your bitting choices make sure you fully take into account the action of the bit.

Traditionally racehorses were ridden in single-jointed loose-ring snaffles but recently the benefits of alternatives are realised. Bits with a lozenge mouthpiece are the most commonly used outside of racing.

In summary

  • Patience is the key. You must remain calm but confident at all times whatever behaviour is thrown at you. The sharp-minded thoroughbred will soon pick up on any deficiencies you exhibit in that department.
  • Not every horse is a challenge and some adapt readily and easily whilst others just need a little more time. Unfortunately there are a few horses that never make the adjustment from racehorse to riding horse in that they always retain a degree of unpredictability – but then no horse’s behaviour can ever be 100% guaranteed can it?
  • As with any horse and any situation there are no hard and fast rules and there are always exceptions, but RoR is here to help you.
  • Once your new horse has settled into his new surroundings, the work really starts. It is a wonderful journey, albeit sometimes challenging, demanding and possibly with stressful moments – but no worse than with any other new horse. It is all well worth it in the end.