Since the release of my book, Horses from Courses, last year, I have found myself much more involved in the retraining of people than ever before in conjunction with retraining of ex-racehorses. This is where the future of the OTTB (Off the track Thoroughbred) rests, in the hands of those willing to put the effort into assuring there is somewhere to go and something to do at the end of the horses’ racing careers.
On my recent trip to the UK, I was able to take part in an exchange of ideas with some of the longest serving and best known Thoroughbred retraining and rehoming programs in the world.
I visited the Godolphin Retraining Centre at Newmarket England, where I toured the facility and gave a somewhat impromptu demonstration of my Horses from Courses/TRT (Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust) training system.
Godolphin, from my experience, is the most responsible Thoroughbred racing and breeding organisation in the world. They do everything they can to ensure their horses are well looked after from birth to death.
The Godolphin Retraining Centre has 12 horses in work at any one time with a small paid staff, as do we at TRT, and like us, numerous invaluable volunteers.
Godolphin has knowledgeable and committed staff, as do all rehoming programs. Whilst there, I did some work with the staff and a couple of horses, introducing them to my simple systematic approach to retraining and as I always explain, I have invented nothing. All I have done is take a very effective and relevant training technique and put it into an order which by virtue of its simplistic step by step nature, makes retraining horses off the track simple, effective and efficient. You don’t take the next step until you have solidified the previous step.
Godolphin fund the program at Newmarket and horses are virtually given away at the end of their training. Only a very well funded organisation, with a serious conscience, can and will do what Godolphin do for their horses.
Next stop was Lambourn, two hours drive south where I met with Di Arbothnot the CEO of ROR (Retraining of Racehorses). This organisation is committed to the cause with a strong focus on developing the perception in the less accepting UK market that Thoroughbreds can do well in the general equestrian world. ROR is privately funded through sponsorship and donations and they run competitions specifically for Thoroughbreds as well as training clinics for those interested in rehoming. Di introduced me to Grace Muir at the HEROS (Homing Ex-Racehorses Organisation Scheme) organisation. HEROS retrain ex-racehorses and find them new homes. The horses from HEROS go out on a lease arrangement and are followed up throughout their lives after racing.
At Lambourn, I gave a full demonstration to the ROR and HEROS staff and it was very well received. The educated horse people of these organisations saw immediately the simplicity of my system and recognised its value for the retraining community.
I have been invited back to do some training with their staff and run a clinic and demonstration for the general public. The horse I worked at Lambourn had been diagnosed with kissing spine. This seems to be the most recent catch phrase amongst the equine community in the UK. Put simply, horses who don’t carry themselves correctly, engaging their core and lifting up toward the carried weight, finish up with hollowed backs which in time can lead to the process of the spine compacting, thus causing discomfort and pain. I am, as was Grace at HEROS, a strong believer that correct riding and training can eliminate the oinset of kissing spine and go very far to rectifying the problem should it already exist. Had I not been told about the horse’s diagnosis, I would never have guessed, as when asked to hold himself correctly, there were no symptoms.
My final equine engagement was with the IHWT (Irish Horse Welfare Trust) at balcultry stables in Swords, just north of Dublin City. As with England, Ireland has a perception issue with the idea of using Thoroughbreds for purposes other than racing. Their rich equine heritage, spanning back thousands of years, has seen the development of horses for every purpose. The niches filled by Thoroughbreds in Australia are well serviced by several different types of purpose-bred animals. Along with developing an accepting OTTB market, IHWT recognise the need for training and support of those who are interested in taking a horse off the track.
I presented a demonstration/clinic to a committed and focused audience. Working with one horse who had already had some work after racing, who exhibited the familiar traits of those we receive at the TRT, had already been started by those well-meaning, but maybe not quite as qualified as required, owners/riders. I often describe these horses as a handful of tangled fishing line; it can be difficult to unravel the tangles already created. The horse was very nice, as were his new owners and with commitment to what I showed on the day, they should finish with a good result.
The second horse was straight out of racing and presented a great opportunity to show the effectiveness of my training system. He was a dream and flowed along through the process without incident. It’s often embarrassing how simple the system can be and it was good that everyone knew I had never seen the horse before the clinic. They may have otherwise questioned whether I had spent several sessions with the horse tuning him to my methods.
Overall the tour was a great experience, I met very well meaning horse people I hope to work with in the future. I was made aware of the variations of circumstances facing the Thoroughbred rehoming communities in different countries. And I came away confident that my ‘Horses from Courses’ retraining system holds up very well on the international stage. It made me very proud of my staff and volunteers at the TRT. Thanks to all of you for your ongoing efforts.