There’s a lot of information out there online offering tips on how to begin lungeing your ex-racehorse. There’s no such thing as a one-way solution to do anything in regards to horse training. It all boils down to your experience, the horse’s level of experience and individual preference. You have to be knowledgeable and fluid when it comes to training, especially retraining. I’ve reschooled and rehabilitated ex-racehorses on a professional level for more than 20-years. Since I've been a professional jockey and grew up showing horses, I understand what lies in-between the parallels of both worlds.
On the grounds of equine emotion and mindset.
It's important to keep in mind horses are highly intuitive and sensitive. Past emotional trauma unbeknownst to you might show up during training. It can be exhibited and misinterpreted as a horse appearing to act "crazy," when in fact, it's a reaction from some traumatic past event they haven't worked out yet. That's why it's important to find out as much as you possibly can about the horse's history to aid them in overcoming issues like this.
The benefits of retraining using long-lining and double lungeing
Horses naturally carry more weight on the forehand, as opposed to the hindquarters. With racehorses, excess weight on the forehand is exacerbated with the constant force and pressures of high-intensity training. For many years, their natural way of going has been very heavy on the forehand.
The strength in the hindquarters is responsible for the propulsion of the horse and aiding in true collection. Strong deep core muscles of the horse’s neck are essential to aid in the elevation at the base of the neck and for flexion at the poll. Ex-racehorses are lacking in both.
There's no better way to develop suppleness, balance and establish a strong relationship with a horse than by utilizing groundwork techniques. The best reason to use long-lining and double lungeing is to encourage and develop engagement and strength necessary from the hindquarters to help aid the horse in collection. These techniques will also enhance and improve your experience with the horse undersaddle regardless or riding discipline.
Of course, it should go without saying these techniques have been practiced by the classical masters, so it's been proven effective for ANY horse.
Remember, you are working in a partnership to retrain both the body and mind of a highly-conscious being. Successful retraining of any horse requires a deep mutual respect, patience, and reward system to develop confidence.
My goal with all the horses I work with is to help develop a proud, strong, confident, trusting and an emotionally stable horse that respects the person handling them because they have learned trust and respect for humans on a new level. It’s about properly establishing leadership with boundary setting, not aggressive domination and submission.
The physicality and anatomical rebuilding of the ex-racehorse
The musculature system and build of racehorses are entirely different from that of a show horse and any other equestrian discipline. Most other disciplines do not require the same intense training a racehorse does.
The primary function of training the equine athlete (racehorse) is to increase aerobic capacity. The intention is to promote muscle growth, strengthen muscles fibers and to increase endurance and flexibility.
When horses are galloped, breezed or open galloped, the purpose is to increase fast twitch muscle fibers (type II). The production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is essential, as it is the energy source from which the muscles draw upon to function at high levels. In this case, it would be to fuel the horse while it’s racing.
Considering the intensity of training and racing, make sure you know the horse’s history of injuries, if possible, speak to people who have worked with and ridden the horse. This can help to determine any behavioral or obvious physical limitations. It’s important to consider where they are conformation wise and any past or present injuries when retraining a horse for the newly intended discipline.
It’s strongly recommended to have a PPE or exam performed by a reputable veterinarian on any horse before you take over their care. Getting analysis and a proper diagnosis, if necessary, from the vet is vital and should always be first on the “to-do” list when acquiring a horse.
Create a plan and training schedule for your horse
Once you know the horse’s history, it’s time to create a training plan and schedule for the horse. It’s important to establish a structure for both your benefit and the horse. Routine is something ex-racehorses are familiar with and it can be of great comfort to them to have the security of consistency since it’s something they’ve known for the entirety of their lives.
Having a plan in place is important for tracking the progress of the horse. Taking notes after every session provides a solid point of reference for areas that could use improvement or where the horse excels. In my opinion, having a plan, following a schedule and taking notes along with tracking and evaluating progress to make necessary changes is what separates the amateur horse trainer from a professional.
Prep work for long-lining and double lungeing
If you’re familiar with my work, you know I’m an advocate for stretches and massage to improve equine range of motion. I always start and end sessions with variations of stretches and massage that are suitable for a particular horse or training goal.
For starters, I like to introduce a cavesson for green horses. I use the heavier type for inexperienced horses. It offers more control for training and support for the horse. The more experienced the horse, the lighter the cavesson.
Before I work with the long-lines, I introduce the concept of forward down, in hand with the cavesson. Once the horse fully understands this, I’ll progress with more in hand work focusing on having them follow me, halt and back up. I follow this up with intervals of some light liberty work to establish a deeper level of trust, respect and leadership with the horse.
When the horse shows an understanding of all these concepts, I then introduce driving them with the long-lines. Starting with the long-lines, I keep my distance (out of striking/kicking range) from a new horse to avoid getting nailed. Remember, they can't see directly behind them.
I continue long-line training by gradually stepping to the inside so they can see me while encouraging forward motion. I gradually bring them in closer and cue them to turn and circle using my body and gentle pressure on the lines—making sure they understand boundaries.
Many horses will try to come closer to you at this point or stop. To prevent this from happening, use a whip or long stick, never to strike the horse with, but as a barrier to establishing a clear boundary and encourage forward movement.
It's best practice to desensitize the horse with the whip before ever using it. Lunge whips or sticks can be intimidating for the horse. Be sure to use adequate and gentle pressure on the lines, just as if you are riding—feel, give and take with the horses’ rhythm. Establishing a good foundation and rhythm at the walk is powerful for training the horse and building their confidence.
When required, I swap out the cavesson for the use of a bridle when more detailed movements are required or if there is a communication conflict. There is also a bridle/cavesson combination to easily switch methods.
For my horse PJ, I like to use a Pelham. It's illegal in dressage and people have opinions as the day is long about using a Pelham and/or converters-but, it works well for my horse and keeps him happy and really, that's all that matters. As you progress with your horse, you will have to experiment and see what the horse you are working with prefers. Gauge from their response to your cues whether or not you need to make adjustments.
Keep in mind you might also get many unsolicited opinions from people watching you train. If you are confident and your horse is happy and fully understanding of what s/he is being asked, that's the ONLY thing that matters.
For me personally, at this stage with PJ, using a bridle with the bit as an aid helps to avoid confusion when I ask for more specific and engaged movement from the hindquarters.
He's been ridden undersaddle with a bitless bridle too, but the level he's at right now requires a bit to help aid in engaging the hindquarters properly for collection. We have a long way to go, but that's OK.
The daily goals of training are to properly develop mobility, strength and flexibility to increase range of motion using the exercises correctly. It's important to be cognizant and attentive of the emotional needs of the horse in your care.
Find this article interesting? Learn why your horse may be experiencing muscle tension and why it's important to learn some basic techniques you can do for your horse to help release tension and alleviate discomfort.
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*A Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), Certified Equine Kinesiology Taping Therapist (CEKTT), Vet Tech does NOT diagnose illness or lameness. Massage therapy is never a substitute for veterinary care. If your equine is experiencing illness or lameness, please consult your veterinarian.
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