RE-TRAINING THE EX RACEHORSE - Growing a trusted partnership

Going Places - Growing a trusted partnership - How does Dixon cope with all things new

dixon headJane continues her compelling account of  Dixon's journey as an Ex racehorse - requiring time, commitment, sensitivity and patience.

The East Midlands Dressage Group organise an Adult Camp in August at Osberton for 7 days. The horses are housed in temporary stabling on the field and we stay either in our Lorries or tents. There was a variety or instruction available all and everyday, dressage, jumping, cross country and general flat work tuition.

I though this would be a good education for Dixon to test his new found awareness and control in company. On the first morning following our arrival the previous night, I tacked up and mounted intending to just show Dixon what was going on and to go for a hack in the park with a friend.

We emerged form the stable area to be greeted by all the hustle and bustle of nearly 60 horses and ponies everywhere. His heart was pounding his ears became rigid and he began to shake, it was all too much, we went backwards very fast, spun around several times went over the muck heap, backed into the hedges and generally was blown away, however I stuck with him and gently coaxed him to walk on step by step to mingle.

The second morning out he was much more settled and we took our first dressage lesson together, this being my first lesson too, although I had ridden all my life I quickly realized that I also  still  had a lot to learn. During the week we had three more dressage lessons, some flat work advice and to just have fun at the end of the week joined the water schooling lesson. Dixon was great, he loved to jump and did not worry about the river which we jumped into and out of; he was super. We had enjoyed the whole experience and I feel the week was the turning point for both of us, really bonding and cementing our trusted partnership.

cropped york_dressageThe next stage was to have dressage lesson's - a whole new discipline for me, but it was great that we were going to learn it together. I arranged some riding lessons with a very good local instructor, and insisted he taught me from scratch - even though I ridden for over 40 years mainly on racehorses - the correct seat and aids had never been an issue! The basics were harder than I thought especially riding with very long stirrup leathers and sitting up straight but I needed to get this right if I was going to give Dixon, my super little friend any chance at all.

I found this new style of riding hard to begin with, however I benefited hugely from having my lessons videoed and then watching them back several times to see the results of the instruction both when it worked and when it clearly didn't, more work from the rider was needed.

Our first competition Dressage test was in an open field in September, Dixon was quite relaxed until we were asked to enter at 'A'- he simply tightened up and refused to go in, however I did not make a fuss and eventually we walked away and composed ourselves and all was fine. To be honest I think it was me that tensed up and it was conveyed to Dixon, once we got going we were both fine.

We scored 63.35% with some encouraging comments; “An attractive horse who sometimes loses impulsion and is a little tense at times, well presented test - this horse has the potential to gain many more marks when he develops confidence and becomes more relaxed and supple to enable him to go freely forwards consistently” Absolutely correct, it could have been written for either of us!

On watching videos back on the tests I could see I was leaning forward too much with not enough contact therefore Dixon was pulling himself along from the front rather than engaging his hind legs and coming up under me. This was the main area to concentrate on now, I had  to sit deeper in the saddle and hold him firmer to make him work from behind and tighten his core muscles which in turn would strengthen his back and release his shoulder movement. Lunging with two reins helped Dixon enormously and Pilates helped me!

The Retraining of Racehorses organisation in conjunction with Baileys Horse feeds had organised a seminar and display at the Northern Racing College indoor arena in November 2008. I had registered Dixon with the RoR and we were asked if we would be the guinea pig for the display given by Karen Dixon, to demonstrate how to overcome common problems and difficulties often experienced with the racehorse.

I was slightly anxious as to what would be expected of us both as we were still very novice, however I duly agreed and off we went. Dixon was stabled during the morning whilst Alan & I attended the seminar. Talks were given by vets, farriers; Baileys feed representative and Mrs Smart who had won the ROR championship at the HOYS that year. The display was after lunch and as Dixon and I entered the huge arena with 60 people watching I wondered what we had let ourselves in for! He always squealed as we broke into canter which the crowd found very amusing
And I enjoyed showing him off!

I continued with lessons and decided to compete on a regular basis to further our training. I chose to compete in the winter dressage series from October until March at Arena UK. The first test we tried was Prelim 7 which although wasn't a disaster was very untidy and disjointed particularly in canter, I had practised these tests many times and recited them in my head continuously but still discovered that having a reader helped me relax which in turn helped Dixon as well.

We continued with intros A & B, prelim 12 and 18 scoring marks between 63% and our best attempt 67%, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and we had both learnt a lot in our own time.

My biggest regret was getting carried away with the whole thing and entering Dixon in the ROR class at Newark County Show on May 10th 2009. The occasion was all a bit much, around the Lorries with lots of people warming up, ponies being lunged, carriages and the overall buzz of a county show. I could feel him getting very tense in the collecting ring along with the 28 competitors on hot headed racehorses.
We entered the ring in a rather disorderly manner and I am sure he was going to the start of a race! He became very scratchy, spooky and tight, finally managing to spread a shoe and treading on the toe clip, we limped out of the ring for the farrier to remove the shoe and try and stop the bleeding, and I poulticed the foot and gingerly loaded him on to the lorry.

I was upset with myself for asking too much of Dixon to soon and causing this injury. My job does not allow me time to follow a summer programme, however after all we had both learnt over the year a break would benefit us both and we would begin again in August with renewed vigour.

Dixon was a different horse now, totally relaxed in the field, much happier within himself. We had both achieved our aim in learning the basics and progressing throughout; I was very pleased with him and believed we could really move forward now.

Watch out for next installment on Ex Racehorse 'Dixon' progress
RE-TRAINING THE EX RACEHORSE - The challenges, fears and results