Most horses are ridden to and from the track on a loose or gentle contact rein, the reins are picked up when preparing to trot or gallop. “On the bit” means the horse is in a frame and listening to our aids, similar to the riding horse’s “on the bit”.
The major difference is at the track the horse is on the forehand.
Racehorses are encouraged to take hold of the bit.
When re-training, putting a harsh bit in their mouth to stop this is not recommended.
Racehorses trust the bit; they are not slowed by severe bits.
Many times, the use of a severe bit will result in an out of control horse.
When the bit is more than the horse requires, he will probably become resentful or frightened and is more likely to run off to get away from the bit.
Bits do not hold horses, good riding does.
It’s better to put a snaffle in and re-school the mouth.
Good riding determines the pace.
Severe bits are torture to the horse and are a psychological crutch for inept riders.
The mouth needs to be retrained, not abused. ◊ HAND POSITIONS ON THE RACEHORSE The “home position” of the exercise rider’s hands has the knuckles of each hand pressed flat into either side of the withers.
This is one of the most difficult things for the show rider to master when first learning to gallop racehorses.
Each horse pulls differently, some pull very hard and others not so much.
When the horse pulls hard, it does not mean he’s going to run off.
Tough horses run off because the rider cannot sustain the hold, not because they intended to run off that day.
Horses will pull harder when they are sharp or before they break off to breeze.
A good rider gives the racehorse a stable place to pull.
The rider lets the horse take hold of the bit; he never initiates the pulling contact.
A misconception is a horse that pulls doesn’t have a good mouth, more often than not they have a very responsive mouth.
Often the same hold is maintained throughout the training session.
This means the reins are not shortened or lengthened during the ride.
Especially tough horses, the hold never changes.
As always there are exceptions.
In races if the jockey changes his hold, it is usually in the stretch to make the horse run faster.
Keep this in mind. 32 ◊ SLOWING AND STOPPING THE RACEHORSE – Understanding how riders stop and slow racehorses is helpful in retraining them.
Many racehorses will slow and even stop by pulling on the yoke.
This is not intentionally taught to them, but is a result of being ridden with one.
Standing up in the stirrups drops the rider’s weight into the center of the horse.
This is the equivalent to applying the brakes for the horse.
Jumping riders, show and race, employ a similar technique to slow and stop their horses.
Shifting of the rider’s weight behind the vertical is the exercise rider’s use of the “seat” due to the fact so much of their riding is done in an extreme two point.
An example of this is when the rider is pulling up after a gallop.
The beginning of the slow down is well in advance of the desired place stop.
The rider’s hold is softened and the weight is shifted behind the vertical as he straightens his knees to stand up.
The rhythm of the rider’s body slows encouraging the horse to slow the rhythm of his gallop.
Both hands are kept down on the withers, although with some horses the reins may be lifted and lowered several times.
Not pulled back, lifted and lowered. ◊ STIRRUP LENGTH – Stirrup length varies according to the needs of the rider and his individual riding style.
Some exercise riders ride long and others short.
Still others and probably the best, adjust the length of the stirrup for the particular horse and the instructions of the day.
This is the same as in any other discipline.
Most people ride the shortest when they are breezing.
Two exceptions are when teaching babies to breeze and when riding them the first few times on the rail.
The tougher the horse, the shorter the stirrup length, unless the horse is known to be a bad actor.
In this case, the rider must ride longer to stay on. “The longer you ride, the longer you ride”, is the old timer’s adage.
This is true and most of the experienced riders do ride longer than the outsider would expect. 33 Jockeys do not have the same concerns exercise riders do.
The jockey’s job is not to school the horse, it’s to let him run and bother him as little as possible.
They have a lead pony to escort their horse to the starting gate so as you probably know they always ride really short.
The better riders are not supporting their weight on the horse’s mouth, no matter what the length of their stirrups.
It is easier to ride longer and avoid supporting oneself on the horse’s mouth, remaining balanced and in the center of motion. ◊ ASKING FOR WHAT YOU WANT – Thoroughbred racehorses are accustomed to being asked, not forced to do things.
The rider asks and then holds his position, leaving the horse free to do as asked.
For example, the horse is given an aid and the rider’s hands stay down and the body relaxes with the motion.
Most exercise riders and jockeys are very good at leaving horses alone.
One difference in riding the racehorse worth mentioning is the way an exercise rider or jockey rewards the horse for responding to a request.
In show and pleasure horses it is customary to soften when the horse obeys.
This is the way the horse is rewarded.
In racing the reward is more that the rider stays the same.
I am not going to say we do not soften or that we keep asking the horse to do something.
This is a difficult thing to explain, but basically if we ask the horse to pick the pace up, we do it by relaxing our hold and our body, The horse then picks up the bit as he picks up the pace and we stay the same, giving him a stable place to take hold.
Many times when the horse enters training for another discipline, aids are overemphasized and he becomes annoyed or upset at what he perceives as nagging.
In racing, a little aid goes a very long way.
Most exercise riders have an evolved degree of subtlety which is a necessity on a high performance horse.
This subtlety allows a jockey to ride the horse with his irons so short, because it takes so little to get him to respond.
Some of the perceived “craziness” of off track Thoroughbreds comes from the fact that their new riders do not realize how little they have to do to get a response from these wonderful athletes.
In time the horse learns to accept the stronger aids or better yet the rider learns to be more accurate and subtle with his aids.
The more fit the horse, the more responsive and touchy he is.
This is one reason you may want to let the horse down before your retraining begins. 34 ◊ THE STARTING GATE – Thoroughbred horses begin the race from the starting gate.
In order to learn do this, they must be educated on how to break from the gate.
Each track employs a group of men and women who help handle the horses at the gate.
The person who starts each race is the Starter, all other handlers are Assistant Starters.
They are present at the gate during the race.
They load and stay on the head of each horse until the starter presses the button opening the front doors of the starting gate.
The object is to have a clean and fair start to the race.
The goal of each assistant starter is to have each horse standing squarely and focused on breaking as the gate opens.
These people are committed to the safety of the horses, the jockeys in the afternoon and the exercise riders in the morning. A horse must have a gate card in order to race.
The Starter must okay a horse for breaking from the gate in order to get this card.
When an exercise rider approaches the gate in the morning, he is met by a group of experienced individuals whose purpose is to facilitate the education of the horse at the gate.
Schooling in the gate occurs at different points of the horse’s training depending on the trainer’s judgment.
Many riders prefer that it begin before the horse is too fit.
The starting gate can be a very intimidating place. 35 Every Thoroughbred racehorse is ridden into this small area and taught to stand and wait to break from the gate.
Racehorses are not crazy, if they were, flat races could not start this way.
When you purchase a horse off the track, you are getting a horse capable of incredible obedience during stressful times, such as the start of a race. ◊ Training on the Track – Each trainer has his own beliefs and training schedule, but I will attempt to outline just what racehorses do when they go to the track.
Please understand there are many varied ways to get a horse race ready, but there are some basic instructions that I got regularly as an exercise rider.
Most tracks are a mile or a 1 1/16 miles, although there are some that are 5/8 and a few that are 1 1/8.
Belmont Park in Elmont, NY is the longest track in America at 1 1/2 miles.
A typical instruction for a baby (new to the track, usually two years old, but not always), is to walk to the track, usually with another baby or a pony and go straight off once around.
Straight off is the right way, or counter clockwise direction of the track.
You might jog off an eighth of a mile or so before picking up the gallop.
Eventually, you back them up, (jog the wrong way), for a quarter to a half mile, turn in and stand and then gallop around once.
Many people jog back to the wire and pull up at the 5/8 or 1/2 mile pole.
It’s never good to pull up before the wire.
Older horses gallop anywhere from a mile to a mile and a half per day on average.
A normal gallop is probably 400 mpm.
Remember, every trainer has his own ideas.
Some like to see them hobby horse and others like to see them gallop along.
Some trainers prefer their horses jog every day except on breeze and race days.
This sharpens the horse to stellar proportions and it’s usually miserable to ride them, but many times they do really well.
These horses are usually older and have raced, so fitness is not the issue.
This type of training will freshen many horses. 36
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