Stable Preparing Horses for Second Careers … Before Retirement

by | 05.17.2013 | 4:22pm

Mosaic Racing Stable, a small racing syndicate based in New York, has taken a somewhat unconventional approach to preparing Thoroughbreds for careers after the racetrack: they've begun using cross-training with their runners to make sport horse training methods seem less foreign to them upon retirement.

The horses take the winters off from racing, and after several weeks of turn-out, spend time learning to lengthen and shorten their strides, bending in both directions, work over cavalettis, and do some light jumping at a local hunter-jumper farm. They also learn basic concepts that can sometimes be a struggle for OTTBs, such as working on a loose rein, and feeling a rider's legs lower on their sides.

Mosaic founding partner Monica Driver sees the approach not only as an investment in the horses' future, but a good way to mentally freshen them after a long period on the racetrack. Not only that, “It makes it a lot easier to retrain them and make them into something else and sell them,” said trainer Suzy Haslup, who works with Driver's horses.

Driver isn't the first to come up with the ideaof cross-trainig racehorses: Seattle Slew learned basic dressage work to help him balance on the track. Allen Jerkens regularly had horses turned out, ridden in the afternoon, and ridden bareback. Michael Matz, former Olympic show jumper, is fond of using cavaletti “to get their attention” and give his trainees a mental challenge.

Read more at The Chronicle of the Horse

  • Allan Buck

    Fantastic. If more TB owners and trainers would make such efforts the TB would find more homes and once again become America’s horse

  • giftoffaith

    That is truly awesome. A great concept for our equine athletes, someone is finally using their head and concerning themselves with the future of their horses. Who knows, maybe they will even run better. Big thumbs up!

  • It works for human athletes. Some Track and Field stars do weights and some footballers even take Pilates.. Why not give our horses the same opportunities? I remember Matz using cavaletti and it is great for balance and coordination. Hopefully the practice will catch on. It might make transition times faster and more amenable for our OTTBs.

  • anne russek

    Its a great idea….TB’s thrive on variety in the their training schedules. It would also be great if more farms that broke Tb’;s for racing would do more flat work , bending and leg yielding…not to mention hill work and cross country juants…..

  • nu-fan

    See? I knew it. Here’s just one more bit of good news, with the racing industry stepping up to take care of the futures of these equine athletes. Bet there are even more great ideas that will provide a better future for these horses when people actually give these ideas a good shot. Love it when I see positive attitudes at work!

  • It’s fantastic that this group has made this process a routine, including the regular break from racing. The alternative training helps racehorses so much in so many ways including getting out of the gate fast, switching leads at the right times, and using the hind end muscles more. In the old days many exercise riders were permanent employees on salary and worked on bending, balancing and other basics during breaking on the farm and in morning training at the track. I don’t see much of that going on anymore, everybody is in too much of a rush. I hope Mosaic is starting a trend.

  • Clearly a great idea. Kudos to Monica Driver for seeing outside the box. I would not be surprised if horses trained this way improve on the track as well.

  • Larry Ensor

    After going back to the “farm” side of things we sent our first crop of yearlings away to be broken. I have been riding off and on my entire life so I am very comfortable on just about any horse. When our horses came back they knew how to turn left but that was about all. Ever since I have personally broken/started and trained our horses until they leave for the track. I start and train our horses knowing that their racing days will only represent a short part of their life span. When their racing days are over it is not the end of their career but rather the beginning. Our 2 year olds are taught ground manners, cross tying, standing to be vacuumed, tacked, washed, etc. All of which can be done by one person. They can be mounted from a block or a wall. They know voice and leg commands. They go out in simple bits with lots of flat work, figure eights, poles, etc. before we start teaching them how to race. This is done in our ring next to a mare’s paddock. Of course the mares always come up to the fence line to see what’s going on. A bit distracting for the youngsters, a bit more work for the rider but they soon focus on their job. All horses run but they have to be taught how to race. They are exercised on good but uneven turf. Sometimes hard, sometimes soft. I believe this gives them balance and agility. All of our 2 years olds are schooled on trails cut through our woods. All of our 2 year olds are “popped” over logs. They are worked on a long gentle incline. Does all this make them a better race horse? Not necessarily but it does make for a better horse to work with. All of the horses we have bred and broke except one have more then paid their way. The one that didn’t is an exceptional jumper. None have come up with tendon issues.
    Horses that we get in for R&R and leg-up are a PIA. As are the ones we used break that were raised by others. Unfortunately people don’t want to pay for the extra time it takes. Which is disappointing considering what we charge is still a lot less then what they are willing to pay at the race track. Where the trainer spends a fraction of “one on one” time.
    I am not saying that the mainstream “breaking factories” are doing it wrong. They get the job done and they get the publicity. I would like to think that we are far from the only ones that do it this way but we are the minority. When their racing days are over we re-school for show, eventing, fox hunting, or some are just suited for pleasure hacking.

    • I loved reading your post Larry. That is my belief and close to the way I train my horses. All of what you do is excellent and I truly believe uneven ground is a huge advantage in the training and conditioning of a horse. When I have taken a horse right off the track and ridden it on a trail, they are so conditioned to having perfect ground – and not giving thought to what it might be like – that they stub their toes on small tree roots. They really are not aware of where they put their feet. The horses that I raise outside in a natural environment, with hills, trees, rocks, etc. Are extremely sure footed. They are aware that they must think about their feet. Works for older horses too of course. You might not feel strongly that all you do make better racehorses, but I do. A physically and mentally well-developed horse who understands what he is doing – and supposed to do – is a far safer horse to ride, and one who can focus on his or her job with more confidence.

      • Roisin

        How I wish this was the way for all. Unfortunately, it is not even close to your excellent program and commitment.

        • Wouldn’t it be wonderful. I think if racing was a truly clean sport more real horse people would participate. I have met a lot of people who would love to be in horse racing, but they just don’t want to be part of what they perceive (and what is) a dirty business. Also, there is a huge misperception that racing is for the rich. I explain that trainer fees make it expensive. If they got their trainers license and trained on their farms, racing is much less expensive than horse shows.

      • Larry Ensor

        Maureen, thanks very much. Not to belittle the profession but it’s not rocket science. When my “sidewalk” friends visit and we are walking around the fields or woods they find it had to keep up and the odd one has twisted their ankle. The just don’t have the build in muscle memory. The same with “sidewalk” horses as you pointed out. Working with a few right now.
        I do feel very strongly that this sort of pre-training makes them a better horse. I also believe it gives them a much better chance of reaching their full potential as a racehorse. How good IMO is god given and not made. Just like people not all horses have or will have a good mind and or constitution for the trials and tribulations they will encounter before getting in the gate. A lot of horses just like people get mentally “whacked out” along the way or were never given a chance to fully mature in mind or body. As I am sure you know the biggest obstacle for a horse to get its picture taken, be it on the track or the show ring is not necessarily their lack of ability but lack of sound mind. Some are born with out one and some are just screwed up along the way.
        A horse of moderate ability with a good mind will have its picture taken far more then bullet working morning glories.

        • I agree completely. Any horse can only run as fast as nature made him. However conditioning can help him maintain his speed longer. And if you have two horses equally fast, the horse most likely to win is the one with more confidence, focus, and who is more physically adaptable. Aside from pure speed, all the other qualities are part of training and conditioning. A faster horse can also be beaten by a better trained and conditioned horse with a better mind, even if that horse has less actual speed.

          The exception would be a horse who just was never sane or is seriously lacking in intelligence.

      • Convene

        This is just one more of the perks of winter layups! They don’t just have to be hang out in stall and paddock. They can be a fun vacation that piques the horses’ interest and keeps them in trim even while they’re resting from their “main” jobs.

    • nu-fan

      I “second” Maureen’s comment. Your posts are always informative and constructive. And, your horses are fortunate to have you take the care that you give to them. Not all owners, trainers, or breeders do to that extent and, some, far below that effort, it any at all.

      • Larry Ensor

        Thanks for your very kind response. I am not gifted with the ability of writing concisely so my comments tend to be a bit long winded. Most things “horse” are more complicated then what they appear to be. I have found there are very few absolutes when it comes to working with horses. Some things work better then others. To each their own.
        I did not mean to come off as someone who has reinvented the wheel. What I do has been taken/borrowed from others I have known and or read about. And “tweaked” based on my intuition from a life time of being around and or working with them.
        In the end this is a business for most people. I don’t begrudge those that look and treat it as such. In business the “bottom line” has to be paid attention to. Getting from point A to point B the quickest and most economical way. For most owners and or breeders that are not hands on or do not have a lot of interaction all they see are bills, lots of them. Long before the horse gets in the starting gate. A lot of hope and dreaming. Every foal born is a potential Derby horse. They don’t even begin to think about what will become of that foal if it doesn’t make the grade let alone if it can’t out run a fat man. If their dream turns into a financial nightmare they just want it off the books. “Just give it away” I have often been told. A heck of a lot easier said then done. But it would be if they had paid and given the time before and after racing. The lord got it wrong, horses live too long and dogs not long enough.
        As I have said in a number of my posts the industry was/is very, very slow with understanding the power and scope of social media and the negative consequences of not setting the record straight. The industry puts little to no money into self promotion and showing that the vast majority of people involved are everyday folks that give and give up a lot in the best interest of their horses. A lot of self sacrifice and hard work. Most of us are not looking for a pat on the back and know full well we will never be recognized for our labor of love. But we would like to feel our life’s work is respected by the general public. The fact of the matter is the majority of people that work with horses make a living at best. A lot of people would say it’s not much of living at that. The general public thinks that everyone that owns horses are rich and are just indulging their whims at the expense of the horse. Can’t blame them, they call it the sport of kings and the majority of people they see in the media are rich.

        • Very well said.

        • nu-fan

          Thank you for your reply. I have a tendency to use more words than many but find that short “tweets” do not fully explain or clarify a message. As disheartening as it is, at times, to see many horses misused, abused, and neglected, I sense that, slowly, things are beginning to turn around and some attempt to create better futures for these horses. Of course, perhaps, this is done at much too slow a pace.

    • Otis

      That’s they way ours are done, too!

  • Convene

    Our stable used to do this as a routine thing too. I taught basic dressare to many a racehorse on winter layup and they always enjoyed the change of pace. Many of them went on long, fun trail rides too and when they returned to the tracks they went with happy attitudes and a whole new set of skills.

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