This compelling account of Jane and Dixon's journey involves time, commitment, sensitivity and patience.
The challenges, fears, and results.
Jane has worked, ridden, owned and raced thoroughbreds all her life, gaining experience and learning how to deal with these majestic, honest and sensitive animals. The privilege to live and breathe horses has earned Jane total respect from the race horse's amazing character and sometimes unpredictable behaviour. Time and patience are the essential qualities in dealing with these finally tuned, highly intelligent and spirited animals; their trust and friendship is given in return, what more could you ask for?
Didactic (renamed Dixon after his breeder's surname) was a 15.3hh dark brown chunky thoroughbred who had been bred to be an early developer and ready to race as a 2 year old. He raced 12 times on the flat, both turf and all weather and once over hurdles by the time he was three years old!
His two runs back on the flat in the spring of his fourth year were his last before we found him. Although he tried hard and had been placed on many occasions his owner/breeder realised he was never going to be a superstar and the Sales ring was destiny.
My husband, Alan, had seen him in March 2008 whilst on duty Horseracing and discovered he was surplus to requirements in the yard. We arranged a visit to his yard and found him with soulful eyes, looking sad and dejected; he was a very handsome horse however I wondered if all his racing had soured him.
The Early days....
The first day I brought Dixon home, I turned him out in the paddock, so that he could acquaint himself with the sights and sounds around his new home and have a kick and a buck to celebrate his new found freedom.
I stood and watched he looked terrified, standing where I had released him for ten minutes with ears pricked and flared nostrils. I thought any minute he will snort and gallop off in a blaze of glory, but no. he began circling just in side the gateway, first one way then the other, like a caged tiger but without a boundary.
Then it dawned on me, he didn't know what to do in an open field, he had probably never experienced that since being weaned from his Mother. I caught him again and led him around the field showing him everything, I then let him go but stayed with him, he stuck to me like glue, I stayed until he had a pick of grass then left him on his own, watching from a distance I could see he was still very unsure but decided he would have to work it out in his own time. It took him a good week to be able to wander to the bottom of the field without suddenly panicking and racing back to his shelter. Although a sad sight, I also knew that time was going to be the key factor in him over coming his insecurity issues. Dixon loved being stabled and could only cope with a few hours out in the field at a time, this was fine as it kept his stress levels to a minimum, he had to believe that I was his friend and not the baddie who was trying to take him out of his comfort zone too quickly and change his life overnight. Everything had to be introduced at a pace Dixon was happy with.
Problems and Progress
Six weeks of field rest allowed him to totally relax and feel comfortable with his home, now I felt it was time to start his retraining. The first day I rode him out for a quite walk along the lane and around a small housing estate which produced our first big problem. Alan escorted us on his bike as we didn't know how he would react in traffic, all was fine for half an hour then for no apparent reason he totally lost the plot.
He became uncontrollable running backwards into garden hedges up the curbs and spinning around, he had become totally unaware I was on him, I smacked him on the neck with my hand to break the trance, which worked, however he had frightened himself and was very edgy all the way home, on arrival at our gates he kicked off again. This time I jumped off and was concerned at the amount of worry in his eyes, poor chap he simply had no confidence and was really scared of dealing with things on his own.
Dixon had always followed another horse either on the gallops or at the racecourse he hadn't really paid any attention to his surroundings or had to deal with any situation on his own before - So I decided to start from scratch and go right back to basics.
I began by leading him around the manage teaching him to stand still without barging and fidgeting and walking steadily stopping him rushing. We progressed by going for walks along the lanes and around the houses which had previously terrified him; we took our time looking and sniffing at all the scary things which included drain cover's, white lines on the road, wheelie bins and all the many other things out in the open wide world, By leading him and talking to him all the time he learnt to trust me and with me at his side for protection he slowly gained some confidence.
On alternate days I would lunge Dixon, for two main reasons, firstly to control the speed of all his transitions and gaits and secondly make him aware of my vocal instructions. The first few times he typically shot off straight into a disunited canter, running around quicker and quicker with no clue as to what I was asking.
I added another lunge line to have more control and concentrated on starting him off at walk on a small circle, as he relaxed I allowed the circle to get bigger, if he broke into trot I would bring him back to walk and tighten the circle. Progress was slow however after a week he began listening and becoming more relaxed.
The next step was to long rein him away from the comfort zone of the m?¬©nage, and although I was still with him on the ground he had to face things on his own. We walked around all over the property allowing him to look at things, I talked to him all the time practicing standing still then walking on, always in different places and he became very responsive.
I continued this practice for about 4 weeks to thoroughly sort the ground rules out and hopefully reduce some silly issues we may experience later.
On the odd occasion, I even managed to hack him out with good friend and her quiet horse for back up, this was a big step for Dixon which he thrived on. I continued with lunging with two lines to keep him balanced and long reining along the lanes to vary his work and keep him interested.
PART 2 RE-TRAINING THE EX RACEHORSE - Growing a trusted partnership
PART 3 RE-TRAINING THE EX-RACEHORSE - Insecure loony to a confident friend
More related Training the horse articles
YOUR GUIDE TO USING LUNGING TO IMPROVE YOUR HORSE
'IS YOUR HORSE TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING'
VOICE TRAINING FOR YOUR HORSE
BENEFITS OF LONG REINING