Going Home

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Magnificent Mr. Z at Laurel Park.

Exercise riders sit on a powder keg right on the edge of going off much of the time. One of the main goals of training racehorses is to sharpen them. When a race horse is sharp, he has been brought right to the edge both mentally and physically and that is when he is ready to race. To get them there the horse is made fitter and fed far more than most horses. Racehorses are rarely turned out and even if they are, it is very limited. All of this conditioning combines to heighten the horse’s re-activeness, creating a huge ball of quaking energy.

For this reason, many if not most horses at the track do not walk home after galloping or training. The rider contains the horse as much as possible and this can mean jigging and hopping all the way home. Some horses even require a pony horse to escort them home. After all, the horse feels great, he just had a gallop, and is excited and happy. There is no malice in the horse’s behavior – at least not most of the time. There were a few times my mare went home very mad when I asked her to gallop easy because she was never happy to allow horses to pass her. This made her a very good racehorse, but a gray monster going home on those days. I want you to understand this behavior so you won’t be surprised if at some point in your training you experience this with the horse you got off the track. This isn’t something you should be worried about; your horse is not barn sour. This is a habit that simply needs to be retrained.

How do I retrain him/her? If you’ve done behavior modification, you can first begin with voice commands asking the horse to walk. You will apply more leg, not less in an effort to get the horse’s back up and rear legs under. Then he can’t jig and most horses will relax at that point. Try some transitions – but be sure they are forward, downward transitions. Riding the horse back into your lap will only irritate him/her as it does all horses. If these methods don’t work, get off and walk the horse home, doing the behavior modification halts as you go and rewarding when the horse responds correctly.

Your goal is to break this habit of jigging home and with time and consistency; you will get the results you seek. Just remember that you must be consistent for it to work. If you sometimes allow the horse to jig home and other times correct him for jigging home then the horse will never learn it is not acceptable. Moreover, it will be very unfair when you correct the horse because he has no way of knowing the behavior is wrong if he is allowed to do it sometimes. Addressing the behavior every time will net the quickest and most reliable results.

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