Most people think racehorses are difficult and nervous. Back when I rode in the Washington DC area, my barn friends didn’t like the ex-racehorses. They thought all off-track horses were crazy, hyper or pushy. There was little sympathy or understanding of the racehorse’s context, where it came from, what it was used to doing.
Probably the most important thing to remember about racehorses is that they are professional athletes at the track. Racehorses have an intense workout and training schedule – they are usually thin, extremely fit, tautly alert and ready to race.
At the racetrack, the horses are kept in stables (called shedrows) all the time – except when they are being exercised, cooled down or racing. When they are out of the stalls, the racehorses know what is expected of them – the exercise riders want a good workout, the jockeys urge them to race and to win.
So the racehorses dance and jog with anticipation, fighting the bit – because that is what they are praised for doing, as a prelude to a burst of speed, a pushing of their muscles in a hard workout or fast race.
Like all professional athletes, racehorses need a special, super-octane diet to fuel their powerful physical performance. So their feed is full of protein and energy nutrients, like “power bars” for people.
Remember Lance Armstrong during his last Tour de France? He was lean, muscled and very intense. Can you imagine trying to get him to take a nice slow walk with you then? He would have seemed hyper, driven, unable to relax and slow down.
A racehorse fresh from the track, full of high-energy feed, muscle and eagerness to race is a 1000-pound version of Lance Armstrong on his 7th Tour competition.
The racehorses just need time and a bridge from their old career to their new one. That’s where LOPE comes in – we provide the transition, the time they so desperately need, to go from the racetrack to the riding trail.
At our ranch, we change their feed (to Nutrena SafeChoice) and turn them out in pastures with a herd, giving them some time to just be horses again. Only then do we restart the racehorses back under saddle, teaching them to do basic things all over again.
Only this time not at full speed.