Off-track thoroughbreds, or OTTBs, can make lovely jumpers, eventers, or even pleasure horses with the proper retraining. Most of these horses need a few weeks to a few months of rest when they first come off the track. This rest allows their bodies to heal and their minds to relax after the stress of life on the track. And after that rest time comes one of the most exciting days for you and your OTTB: your first post-track ride.
The first post-track ride often goes more smoothly than riders assume, but since this is a young horse who has had a few months off from work, it's still important to be cautious and safe as you approach this first ride. Here are four precautions to take.
Wear Your Protective Gear
Whether you're a dedicated helmet wearer or someone who only puts one on when required at a show, this is a day to pull out that hardhat. It may mean the difference between an "ow" and a bad concussion if your first ride does not go as smoothly as planned. If you have a cross-country vest, it's not a bad idea to put it on, either. You should definitely wear a vest if you've ever had a rib injury or kidney trouble, since it will protect your midsection in case of a fall, so break out your horse riding protective clothing for this first trip.
Ride In An Enclosed Area
Even if you plan for your OTTB to eventually be a fox hunter or an eventer rather than a "ring horse," this first ride should be taken in an enclosed area -- just in case. Ideally, you should ride in an area with which the horse is familiar. If you don't have a proper, fenced-in ring, you can always take this first ride in the pasture or paddock.
Don't Go It Alone
Arrange to have a horse-savvy friend there with you for the first ride. If nothing else, they can hold the horse as you mount. (Most thoroughbreds are not trained to stand at a mounting block since the jockeys swing onto their backs as they're walking.) They may need to help you dismount, too, depending on how willing your OTTB is to stand for this.
Make It a Short One
When retraining an OTTB, it is important to take things slowly and reward successes. You really want this first ride to be a good experience so that both you and the horse look forward to the next one. So, keep the first ride short. If the horse is feeling a bit nervous or hot, just walk until he calms down. If he's calm, have a trot. Don't push him so far that you make the ride into a bad experience. You can slowly do a little more each ride as you gain trust in each other.