AFTER the Track employs respectful, evidence based, individualized training methods designed to inspire each horse to be safe, work hard and have fun. Each horse is an individual with a unique history. OTTBs are trained as racehorses, and we begin by acknowledging what they already know and building on their strengths and skills. Thoroughbreds are highly intelligent and athletic horses. They tend to be very sensitive and learn quickly. Horses off the track have already developed a solid work ethic, and it’s our duty to nourish that attitude while carefully guiding them into a new way of living, working and communicating.
When they arrive at our farm, they are entering a new world where everything is foreign to them. The environment, routines, language, tack, behavioral expectations, even the food, is different! They need time to understand and adjust to their new way of life.
Our Holistic Retraining Program is the backbone of AFTER the Track and the core of our work out of which all other activities evolve. Our first priority is to do the very best we can on behalf of each horse that enters our facility. We can touch the lives of many people by offering safe, healthy, athletic, affordable, and fun equestrian partners. Through our not for profit approach, we can do this using a transparent system that is designed solely to benefit the horses and people who love them. The Holistic Retraining Program includes assessment, training and documentation.
We believe that every horse wants to work and will gladly learn what we are teaching if they are comfortable, feel safe and secure, and understand our instructions. We consider ourselves teachers, and the success of our “students” depends on the quality of our relationships and of our instruction.
The relationship we develop with each horse is paramount. Horses expect us to be their leaders. We must be confident, consistent and fair in our methods, and we must be crystal clear in explaining what we want them to do. At AFTER the Track, we utilize small step instruction that minimizes errors and promotes steady achievement on the part of each horse. We build on success. Success generates confidence, and confidence influences effort. Confident horses try hard to excel.
Horses arriving from the racetrack receive a thorough background review, assessment, holistic health care, and individualized training program, which is carefully documented and made available to the new owners. This includes:
- History (pedigree, race records, ownership, medical records),
- Individual characteristics (physical, emotional, learning style, personality)
- Individualized curriculum, timelines and outcomes
- Individualized supports (health care, hoof care, dental care, nutrition, supplements, tack fitting, etc.)
We begin by evaluating each horse for comfort, personality and learning style. We carefully observe the horse’s behavior around the barn and in the pasture. They are systematically introduced to turn out, and eventually a small herd.
We commence bodywork with the horse to establish areas of soreness and tension, and provide appropriate treatment to help alleviate discomfort.
All OTTBs receive a holistic, individualized curriculum that is based on our thorough assessment and designed to prepare them for new ventures as riding horses. The curriculum includes:
- Farm life, barn manners, safe handling, socialization
- Groundwork (lunge, round pen, long line, etc.)
- Mounted work using the classical training scale (dressage, jumping, cross country, trail riding)
- Traveling to clinics and competitions
Initial training focuses on developing responsiveness to voice and gestural instructions while on the lead line, lunge line, long lines, and/or in the round pen. The evaluation continues to assess comfort, temperament and experience.
Horses begin working under saddle when they are judged to be comfortable physically, mentally and emotionally. Their instruction may begin in the ring or on the trail depending on the individual. As they gain strength for their new work regime, we begin basic dressage training to develop balance, suppleness and connection. We utilize the training scale to guide our work with each horse. We frequently use cavaletti, cones, and other fun exercises and games during schooling sessions. Eventually, horses are introduced to gymnastics and jumping. During this time, we continue evaluating the horses to ascertain their preferred disciplines for their next career and their training will begin to focus on that discipline.
Leading, turn out, herd living, barn manners, cross ties, pasture and gate manners, people skills (e.g., personal space, greetings)
Leading, lunging, free lunging, long lining, round pen, free jumping
Grooming, massage, bathing, stretching, tack fitting
Hacking – trail etiquette, safety, terrain, traffic, obstacles, conditioning
Dressage – training scale, gaits, transitions, figures, exercises, riding tests
Jumping – cavaletti, gymnastics, courses
Cross Country – obstacles (solid fences, banks, drops, ditches, water, etc.), terrain, speed
Show ring etiquette
Traveling – trailering to and riding in new places
Competitions and Clinics – introduction to clinics, dressage shows, hunter paces, events, hunter/jumper shows
Everyone makes mistakes when learning a new skill set, and horses are no different. Preventing behavioral problems is our goal and we do this by providing effective instructional practices along with sound management techniques. Appropriate nutrition, well fitting tack, adequate turn out, and a solid wellness program prevent most problem behaviors from happening in the first place. We believe that a horse’s problem behavior most likely began for a very good reason, such as discomfort, fear, anxiety, or confusion. We also understand that behaviors that may have been acceptable at the track might not be acceptable at the farm. Analyzing what the horse is communicating through the problem behavior informs us as to what the problem is and how to adjust our training to promote success. When necessary, we enlist the services of our veterinarian and farrier to help pinpoint triggers that may contribute to the challenging behavior.
When we do have problem behaviors, we treat them as learning errors on the part of the horse. We apply fair, instructional corrections and support the horse to try again and improve. Should a horse behave in an unsafe way, we provide immediate and just feedback and move on. We continually communicate clear, consistent behavioral expectations and we find that the horses quickly respond.