Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Riding

Cloud's Honor Riding

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.