First and foremost you need to understand your racehorse’s background. If you have some idea about their individual history, so much the better, however a basic understanding of how a racehorse is trained and cared for can prove invaluable for helping to sort out any future issues. We hope the notes that follow will be useful.
Retraining needs to be taken a step at a time. Basically, you are wiping the slate clean and starting again. Try to get inside your horse’s head and think how he might understand a situation. But don’t try to humanism them, they are horses and think like horses. For instance, when you come to a grass strip he is likely to expect to canter or gallop up it as that’s what he’s been conditioned to do in training, but you need to retrain that behaviour. Once he understands the new requirements you can build on it to introduce trot and canter. Remember that racehorses are generally used to going out in strings, which may lead to insecurity if asked to take the lead or hack out alone. This is not normal though and many are fine to hack out alone.
When it comes to schooling, you are working towards getting them to go in a different way altogether. Most of this will be very new to them, although many trainers do work on the flat and with poles as well to help with fitness development. Simple things like wearing a GP saddle and going in an outline for periods of time will be new. Some horses, especially those trained in yards specialising in flat racing, may not be used to experiencing your leg on them. However, thoroughbreds are intelligent and versatile and are generally quick to learn.
Please remember that retraining an ex-racehorse can be over stated – a racehorse that doesn’t race is simply a horse. Some plus points include that, from a young age, they are ridden, transported, handled intensively, had their feet done, been clipped and been to public events (racecourses) etc. and generally are very well traveled. All this in itself means you have a huge head start even with a young horse.