Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Riding

Cloud's Honor Riding

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cross Tying the OTTB

Did you know that Thoroughbred racehorses are never cross tied? They are typically tied in the back of their stall while their grooms work on them.

Introduce cross tying to your new OTTB when there is little or no activity in the barn. He’s used to being tied in his stall where it’s quiet and safe. It’s best to begin cross tying in a grooming stall or stall, since they are used to being tied in the stall they are not accustomed to being tied in an area with traffic or activity around them. Introducing this new way of being tied in an aisle way will make it much harder to avoid mishaps. My advice is if you don’t have a grooming stall, set up cross ties in his stall and begin the lessons there.

At Leighton Farm, I begin by putting the horse in the grooming stall. I tie him with
one cross tie and leave the rope lead shank on.   I have an assistant hold it, standing
in front of the horse. I feed him peppermints or other treats. The goal is for the
horse to understand that this is simply a new place to be groomed and tacked up. I
slowly groom him and put the tack on. If everything goes well—and it usually does,
the second day I put both cross ties on and use an assistant to stand in front of the horse. Inevitably the horse will walk forward and his head will be flinged up at least one time. I want to prevent this
the first couple days until he is comfortable with this new type of tying.

I normally keep the lead rope on the horse for the first week or so, draping
it over his neck. After day two, I no longer need an assistant.

Once he is comfortable with cross tying, I start doing it in the aisle way. I choose a
time when things are quiet the first few times. I have had very few problems doing it
this way and usually have the horse reliably cross ties in about a week to ten days.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A racehorse is still a racehorse until....

When you bring your horse home to your farm remember that he is still a racehorse. He may be a racehorse that’s on the farm resting, but he has been bred, raised and trained up to this point to do one thing and that is to race. You now must show him that he is going to become something different. If you plan to jump your horse here are a few things to consider.

There are trainers who take horses directly from the track and begin jump training immediately. I was in a Jimmy Wofford gymnastics clinic a few years ago where there was a rider who had gotten a horse from the track only the week before. He was a steeplechase trainer/rider and planned to run the horse in steeplechase races. This works well because steeplechase and hurdle horses are racehorses that run over fences.

If you want to event, do jumpers, hunt or just recreational jump, that approach is going to give you less than desirable results. You must first teach your new horse to be a riding horse and when he understands that, introduce jumping. This is not to say that some horses come off the track that never really were racehorses. It can be because of inadequate training but most of the time they just never embraced racing. You still must give them the basics.

Each horse is ready to learn to jump at a different time. Many times I introduce walking and then trotting over poles very soon after they come to the farm. If the poles elicit any excitement for the horse, I know that we’ll be walking over poles for a while before I show them a jump. One clue that the horse is not ready is if the he becomes excited when you start to jump him. If this happens you need to back track. Also be careful that you aren’t making a “big deal” out of it. If you are tense or excited, he will sense that and mirror it. Calm, easy going introductions work best. Many people just casually pop them over logs and natural obstacles while trail riding. I often wonder if horses take to this so much easier because most of the time the riders are more relaxed too. This is a good way to start.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Racehorses and Lead Changes

The first thing you need to know is at the track we normally do not ask the horse to pick up a lead. This is a foreign concept to him. We do ask them to change leads, but not to pick up a particular lead. We usually go out to the track and start jogging and at a certain point the horse and rider relax together into the gallop. When we come to a place he is supposed to change, we ask at that time by stepping into the stirrup of the lead we want.

When you first start asking the horse to canter, to the horse you are doing exactly that—asking for the canter, not a particular lead. He is going to pick up whichever lead he picked up when he started cantering/galloping at the track. It will take him some time to realize you not only want him to canter, but you want him to pick up a particular lead.

I start with whatever lead they are resistant to picking up, usually the right. I always start on a circle, in this case to the right. I post the trot and put my weight into the right stirrup without leaning. I basically step into it, but not abruptly. Once my weight is where I want it, I sit the trot and allow my right seat bone to move forward – my right hip leading. With my weight in the right stirrup, the right seat bone is already heavier than the left. When done correctly, your right leg will be ahead of your left or in other words, you outside leg will be back. Be careful not to put your outside leg too far back because this will cause you to put your weight in your outside stirrup. Opening your outside hip moves your leg back causing your weight to go into the inside stirrup. Most of the time this causes the horse to pick up the correct lead. If he does not, I quietly ask for the trot, and continue to circle until he regains his balance and composure and I ask again.

Occasionally I get a horse that is “committed” to one lead or the other. When this
happens I first confirm that it is not a lameness issue. Most of the time it’s a weakness issue instead. At the track he was probably allowed to go around on the lead he preferred most of the time, developing more strength to one side for cantering. In these cases I only ask for the lead they resist for several days to a week. I do not get upset when they pick up the wrong lead, I just ask for the trot and try again. Many times the horse is heavy on the inside shoulder so when I step into the stirrup on the inside I also lift my inside rein. I do not pull back, I lift.

It's best to canter only a few strides and then ask for the trot before the horse loses his balance. Gradually extend the amount of time you canter as the horse develops. As an aside, the horse will usually speed up when he loses his balance. Keep this in mind when working at the canter. He probably is not trying to run off, he’s more likely trying to remain upright.

When it comes time to work on flying changes, your racehorse already knows how to
do this. It was an important part of his job. Changing the your weight to the new
stirrup is all it will take, but again, he was doing it at the gallop with the aid of momentum.

The next time a race is on television, watch how the jockeys get the new
lead. You will never see them hike their outer leg back to get it. For the record, I do not recommend working on flying changes until the horse is physically developed
enough to be off his forehand. I want my horses to have three solid, balanced gaits
before I even approach this skill.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What You Need To Know About Riding Position on Racehorses

There are lots of terms that are not exactly accurate in equestrian sports, particularly when it comes to describing riding principles and techniques. One example of this that seems to cause a lot of confusion is “the hold” when riding racehorses. Sometimes those learning about riding racehorses mistakenly think that the rider is taking hold of the racehorse. In truth, riders do not initiate the “hold”. The horse chooses the type of hold he will take. The rider gives the horse a place to take hold by putting his or her hands down on the horse’s withers. It is true the rider decides the length of rein, but that decision is based on the type of hold the horse prefers. Once the horse takes hold, the rider can never take or shorten the reins unless he or she wishes to accelerate, Taking tells the horse to go. We can encourage the horse to soften the hold by relaxing our body.

How then do we ride the racehorse?

The answer is with our position. As with most other riding disciplines, correct riding position allows the rider to stay in the center of motion and apply the aids accurately. Just as in dressage and showjumping, the hands are not the primary means of communication with the horse. In fact, home position of the hands in racing is down on the withers of the horse. We put them down and allow the horse to “lean” on them. The main use of the hands as an aid is to tell the horse it’s time to “GO”. When I first started working with Jim Wofford he told me “Kim, the reins are accelerators”. Exactly, in racing we use them to signal to the horse it’s time to run. The horse is not trained to do this; it is a reaction to pulling on the reins.

How then do you stop or slow a racehorse? It’s actually based on the same principles of any classical riding discipline. The major difference is that exercise riders and jockeys don’t sit on the horses back.

The center of motion/gravitiy is in the same place on a moving horse at the walk, trot, canter, leg yield, jump, piaffe, gallop, buck, prop or any other movement. The differences in position for individual disciplines are to make the work easier for the horse and for the rider to stay in the center of motion whilst the horse works. In racing we don’t sit on the horse while he is working. We do sit on him while walking to the track or home, but not during the work. We stay above the horse because it allows him the freedom to gallop. If we were to sit on the horse while he galloped, no matter how fluid we are, we will encumber him.

Dressage uses the most contact with the saddle, jumping a lighter contact and racing no contact at all. However, let’s take collecting and lengthening the horse as an example. In dressage, you sit up higher and use more leg to push the horse into the bit to “collect” him. In the lengthening you use a driving seat, press lightly with both legs to signal your horse to express his energy forward over the ground in longer strides, and soften your hands a bit forward, keeping contact with the horse's mouth.

In jumping, you sit deeper, and use more leg to push the horse into the bit to compress him. To lengthen the stride the rider softens his lower back and shoulders, but still applies leg to open the stride. Watch upper level riders going to fences and you will see good examples of this.

In racing, when preparing to breeze, we “collect” the horse as we drop down on the rail. We begin to increase the speed, keeping our body behind the vertical of the horse’s motion. He begins to compress his body, at the pole we soften our body and go into the center of the motion which allows him to lengthen his frame, covering more ground instead of taking more steps and “running”. The obvious difference is in racing the horse is on the forehand while in dressage and jumping he is not.

Let’s look at the half halt. In dressage, the rider braces the lower back and briefly stops the hips from following, at the same time adding slight rein pressure, although sensitive horses will respond simply to a deepening of the seat. When jumping, particularly in two-point position, the rider instead applies the restraining aids by sinking down slightly into their heels and bringing the shoulders more upright, adding slight rein pressure as needed. Obviously, in racing the goal is not to rebalance the horse onto his hindquarters, but it is to rebalance him. The rider puts his weight behind the vertical of the motion of the horse and tightens his body for a moment to “half halt”. This is particularly good to do if you are on a horse that is very tough. On some horses you can lift one rein within a stride as you shift your weight back. You would only lift the rein a fraction of an inch and the timing with the shifting of the rider’s weight is important.

While there are many differences between riding disciplines, there are many techniques that are based on the same basic principles, just to achieve a different goal. After all, horses are horses and they are more similar than they are different.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Foundation a Racehorse Receives

In March of this year I began to break my baby horse. He was born on Mother’s Day in 2010. This is an exciting time as we begin the journey to the races together. There are many thoughts that come to mind with regard to the foundation a young racehorse is provided and how it equates to his show or pleasure training, if he is lucky enough to have a future after his race career ends.

The basic premise when green breaking a yearling is KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. When we break the baby to saddle, we begin with several basic objectives.

Don’t scare him/her.

We don’t want to promote any sort of defensiveness toward the rider or being ridden. We wish to develop confidence in the young racehorse. Confidence is a winning quality. If we frighten the young horse we must then back up to a point in the training when he was completely confident and proceed from there.


Forward is the answer to most any question the young horse may have. Wait and Ho come later for several good reasons. Forward thinking horses are winning horses. From the time we start riding them we ask them to go forward. Forward is good, many times lack of forward means something bad is about to happen. The answer to most any problem or question the young horse may have is “Go forward”. By forward, I mean open your stride, lengthen it. I do not mean take many more strides. If the young horse sees something he doesn’t like, we tell him to go forward. He’s tired, go forward. Going in company? Forward, stay together. Even when we “Hold” them, they are to be forward.

Once the horse is confirmed forward, we begin to ask him to wait and ho. Our goal is that he wait or stop in a relaxed and forward way. In races we need them to settle and wait for the run. If we have to fight the horse to stay back or he is very tense doing it, he uses up vital energy he needs for the stretch run. Remember, when we are breaking these horses, they are so young that wait is a much more difficult concept and you are likely asking too much if you introduce it too early. Besides, most are happy to stand around unless you have frightened them. In the rare cases the young Thoroughbred is dragging the rider around, we put them with the pony and slow down the progress of the training, because they are displaying anxiety, not true forwardness.

We are training to develop a ground covering stride. Breezing – a timed work out is the preparation for racing. Going to the pole, we push them forward into the bit compressing them like a spring. When we break off (usually the pole before, we soften our shoulders, and allow the “spring” to begin to unwind. This causes the horse to cover more and more ground, not more take more steps. More steps is running and running makes a horse tired. Breezing is longer strides, that cover more ground with less effort.

Much focus is given to getting and keeping show horses in front of the leg, in dressage, show jumping and of course, eventing. Since keeping the horse consistently in front of the leg is a fundamental component of training show horses, it is obvious to me that a forward thinking horse is more likely to accept training that requires him to be in front of the leg.

Be comfortable training with other horses.

This is very important. Racehorses compete and train with other horses. We don’t break them alone. We put them in sets and in my case we start them from the very first day with the pony – a retired racehorse. Racehorses generally train in sets until they become too competitive to ride together. We are concerned with how they handle working with and around others, we don’t have any incentive to get them to work by themselves. There are always other horses in a race.

Something you need to know when you are retraining a retired racehorse is that they are used to training around lots of other horses. This becomes an advantage after you properly introduce the horse to training in a much more confined area. Racehorses train on large wide tracks together. Many arenas are not as long as a racetrack is wide. It is not uncommon for 20 or 30 other horses to be on the track at the same time. However, due to the speeds we work, the space we give to each other is much bigger. It may be confusing that the ottb is not happy when you ride him alone, but seems spooky or shy when ridden in an arena with other horses, particularly if they are coming at him. We do travel opposite directions at the track, but the horse is accustomed to a wider berth. The “fix” for this behavior is usually quite easy and I can say this because I correct it quite a lot. You need to tell the horse to “go forward”. He’s asking you what to do, and you must tell him. He doesn’t have to remain uncomfortable about training in such a small area with other horses – unless you are.

I will likely have more insight into the training racehorses receive and how it relates to show and pleasure riding as Mr. Z develops. He just made his first trip to the track to train. He was a super star! Z loaded on the trailer, shipped to Laurel Park. Found company and made his first gallop around the track. Normal for a 2 year old racehorse, sophisticated for a 2 year old horse.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Totally Thoroughbred Show - How much it meant

Thoroughbred Placement Resources, Inc. had the privilege of taking part in a history making event on Saturday, July 14, 2012. We are one of the recipients of the funds raised at the Totally Thoroughbred Show created and hosted by Maryland Racing , more specifically by Georgeanne Hale, Maryland Racing Secretary and Stacie Clark of Adena Springs retirement program for Frank Stronach's horses.

The funds will help to support the momentous task of rehoming retired Maryland Thoroughbred racehorses, but, more importantly, the event itself has confronted and disproved many of the stereotypical perceptions the public has about Thoroughbreds, especially ex-racehorses.

Yes, while at the track, being conditioned to win races, Thoroughbreds are on their toes and highly reactive. Aren't they supposed to be? That's the point. However, when welcomed into the show or pleasure community, they are a pleasure to be around and work nonstop to give their new roles everything they've got.

The Totally Thoroughbred Show drew hundreds of people with hundreds of horses. No one anticipated that this show would draw so many competitors, and because of its unexpected size, there were some glitches in the organization, and often the wait times were long. I make this point not to point out flaws in the show—it was a tremendous success and all the volunteers gave their all—no, I make this point because of the overall peaceful atmosphere that prevailed throughout the day. People leisurely strolled about the infield on their horses or stood, talking and enjoying the day while their horses “hung-out” together, resting and swatting flies. There was a sense of pride in being there on their beloved Thoroughbreds. It was a victory just to be at this place at this time--you had to have a Thoroughbred to do it.

This was the opportunity for Maryland Horsemen to see the value in providing a dignified retirement for their horses. Maryland racing has received more positive publicity from this one day than it has in the last ten years and it was a gift from our retired Thoroughbreds. Curious race trainers, breeders and owners attended to see if any of their past racehorses would be at the show. This was a reunion of sorts and at the same time an opportunity for the show and race world to stand as one for their horses.

As I looked down the track, trailers lined both sides. Horses stood quietly in their trailers or tied to the outside--one even stood under an awning, no drama there. The lead line classes were really special: small, adorable children sitting happily and proudly on a “crazy Thoroughbred” as they were being led before the judges—not a hoof out of place even by ex-racers, walking on the infield of a race track.

The hack classes were amazing. There were so many horses in the ring at one time that it was mind boggling. I don't know how the judges kept track, let alone selected a winner. They did it ,though, and my hat is off to them. These packed classes were still more evidence that our wonderful retired athletes are far from crazy…still not a hoof out of place…by any of them.

Did these horses know the world would be watching? That the “nay-sayers” would be carefully seeking the evidence to back up the premise that these horses are crazy, ding dongs. Was each horse minding his behavior knowing the welfare of the herd was at stake? Doubtful, albeit a nice theory. In reality, these horses are happy to be in the company of others horses, and they love to work. They love to be admired. They love their humans.

The Totally Thoroughbred Show went a long way to highlight the Thoroughbred, the horses themselves accurately represented who they are. So, the next time someone comments that Thoroughbreds are crazy, difficult, or too hard to work with, invite this person to the next Totally Thoroughbred Show—I’m going to!

The Thoroughbreds there said it better than I ever could have and those individuals who worked so hard to put on this show, gave the horses a voice they never had before.

Thank you for that!!