Sometimes though, things don’t work out so well for an inexperienced rider and a Thoroughbred. I think that, in most cases, the problem lies not with the Thoroughbred, but with owner/trainers who have little understanding of the breed. I recently read of someone who bought a young Thoroughbred gelding off the track and placed him into a boarding situation where the horse was stalled for most of time and only let out for a few hours when the stalls were cleaned and weather permitted. The owner did not understand why the Thoroughbred became hard to handle both on the ground and under saddle and said: “But, he was used to being stalled for 23 hours a day as a racehorse”. What she had forgotten was that on the track when he came running out of that stall, he got taken to the track and worked hard – very hard. He likely was trotted for a little while and then galloped.
Nobody asked him to sedately walk and trot around an arena and then put him back into the stall. Obviously the amateur rider is not going to be able to gallop their ex-racer, but they can provide lots of turnout so that the Thoroughbred can replace that workout with free exercise in the field. I believe that Thoroughbreds MUST HAVE either consistent and strenuous work every day OR access to at least 8 hours of turnout per day. If you deprive your Thoroughbred of an outlet for his energy, you are asking for trouble. That energy is part of their DNA and it is what makes them into the wonderful equine partners they can be and I think it is present even in a Thoroughbred that has never been on the track. Another area where people run into trouble (and I was guilty of this one myself) is in not understanding the sensitivity of the Thoroughbred mind.
If a Thoroughbred is not doing what you ask him or her to do, it is usually because they genuinely don’t understand, there is a soundness issue or you are over doing the asking. As with any other horse you need to establish respect for you as being the absolute leader – no democracy with horses. But once you have established that, nine times out of ten your Thoroughbred will be more than happy to try to figure out what you want and do it the best way he or she can. When I first rode Lola, I would squeeze her sides the way I had been taught to ask her to trot. Lola would explode into a canter because you don’t need to squeeze to ask for the next gait up. Lola understood as soon as I shortened my reins and she picked up on my body signals that I wanted her to move out a little faster. When I squeezed, she took that to mean “Mom wants to GO!” The same with stopping or slowing down. Pulling on the reins was overkill for Lola and she had actually been taught to brace herself and go faster!
However, by asking her to slow from a trot to a walk by sitting deeply in the saddle and letting out a deep breath she readily understood, “Mom wants to slow down”. Everything you do as a rider on a Thoroughbred means something and initially, I was sending poor Lola so many signals inadvertently, that the poor mare didn’t know what the heck I wanted! So, she reverted to what had always been the right answer in the past: “GO REALLY FAST!” I didn’t learn these things by myself. I had the advantage of a really excellent trainer and this is essential for a novice and a horse coming off the race track, or indeed for a young green Thoroughbred that has never raced. The key is in understanding both the genetics and previous life of a Thoroughbred.