Many people are afraid to get a horse right off-the-track. They think that it takes special skills to retrain and ex-race horse to be a sport horse. What it really takes is patience and a plan. You need to slowly teach the horse about the new skills he will need to acquire to transition to his new life after the finish line. You need to be clear and consistent about what you are asking the horse to do and NEVER scare the horse. You need the horse to see you as the leader and he needs to learn to trust that you will not allow him to be hurt.
Seven Days Away From Racing
We will follow Reign Day who last raced just seven days before arriving at Bits & Bytes Farm. He was bred in Kentucky and we purchased him from his breeder to be the new Pony Club mount for a young rider named Julia. He finished last in his last race on January 31, 2010.
Day One – Pickup at the Breeder’s Farm in Lexington, KY – February 7, 2010
Most horses are picked up at the track or at the breeder’s farm. Race horses are used to being loaded into a trailer and taken to a race track. You need to remember that when your new horse loads into a trailer to begin his new life, he thinks he is just continuing on with his life as a race horse. He expects to unload at a race track! With most Thoroughbred race horses, loading onto the trailer will be easy. Make sure he has enough hay and stop and offer water on the way home. Reign Day loaded without a problem and he ate and drank all the way home from Kentucky to Georgia. Each time we would stop for gas to to switch drivers we would check him. It got so that when the side door opened, Reign Day would already have his head reaching down to say hello and offer kisses. This is the sign of a well cared for horse. Reign Day had a caring owner and trainer so he is not coming off-the-track with trust issues as many rescue horses might because they come from more difficult situations.
Reign Day was greeted by fellow Thoroughbred owners who were excited to meet the newest ex-race horse to come to Bits & Bytes Farm. Reign Day quietly backed off the trailer. He took a good look around to see where he was and then he took a big sigh. . . no race environment. Just a quiet farm with fenced pastures.
After letting him stretch we walked Reign Day into the barn and introduced him to the other Thoroughbreds in the barn. I do think we have a slight advantage over people who do not already have an ex-race horse in the barn. We feel that the other horses can communicate to the ‘new guy’ that there are no tracks here and the people will love you and take care of you. Horses seem to settle in very quickly and Reign Day went right to his feed bucket to see what was for dinner.
The first meal is a small meal about an hour after the horse settles in. We have hay and water in the stall and often the horse will roll and take a big drink. Reign Day settled into the stall like he just left it a few hours earlier. We gave him a half a scoop of sweet feed and a half a scoop of beet pulp with salt and enough water to make it soft. Don’t make any feed changes too fast or you risk colicking the horse. The salt will encourage drinking and the beet pulp is good wet fiber and calories. Go easy on the grain for the first few days. Slowly add more grain until you are at a normal feeding. We add fat from rice bran, Buckeye Ultimate Finish and ground flax seed. Fat needs to be added slowly especially if the horse has not had fat in his diet. No quick changes in feed!
Reign Day cleaned up his feed. We checked him again a few hours later and he had manured and peed and had drank a good amount of water. All good signs that he was settling in. We waited another hour or so and gave him a little more of the same feed mixture. Reign Day is underweight from racing and rather than feed big meals, we will feed him more often than the other horses. He will get an extra meal and maybe two extra meals each day until he puts on a little more weight. Never give the horse huge volumes of feed as the stomach can only hold about what would fit in a football. The rest of the feed gets pushed to the hind gut where it will ferment and cause colic. We will slowly increase the amount of feed in each meal.
Reign Day was grateful for his late night feeding and he cleaned that up in short order.