A week has passed since this handsome boy joined us at George’s Ranch for training – and already we are utterly in love with him.
Pegasus is a doe-eyed, eight-year-old, thoroughbred racehorse who retired from the track eight months ago. Keen to have him as a riding horse, his new owner brought him to the Ranch for temporary stabling. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that not only would Pegasus need to learn a different skill set in order to turn this man’s dream into a reality, but that his owner would also need a few lessons because he had never even sat on a horse before! Thankfully though, he came to the right place. So, while Karen will develop a training programme for Pegasus’ owner, I will concentrate on turning this sweet, nervous young thoroughbred into the steady, capable riding horse that I’m pretty sure he has the potential to be.
The first thing we noticed about Pegasus was an old injury to a tendon in his front legs. This is not unusual for horses that have had a racing career and it was clear this was an old injury. The second thing we noticed was that Pegasus was a crib-biter. As cruel as it sounds, many yards won’t take horses that have stable vices such as crib-biting and wind-sucking because other horses can copy patterns of behaviour, and in some cases these vices can have serious implications for the horse’s health. Sadly, crib-biting (whereby a horse holds onto a fence or railing with its teeth while sucking in air) is all too common in racing circles, which is an extremely high-pressured and stressful environment for any horse, let alone hot-headed thoroughbreds who, as a breed, are quick to panic. However, here at George’s Ranch we believe every horse deserves a chance in life and so rather than turn a horse away, we do our very best to help. Thankfully, in Pegasus’ case, after a few days in a more relaxed environment, with his own space, his own food and the calm attention and affection of staff and visitors, the crib-biting has ceased and though he still has a tendency to weave at meal times, this is also decreasing in frequency and intensity, which is a brilliantly positive sign. My hopes were then further raised for this horse following his first lunging session.
Having spent a few days being hand-walked around the arena, Pegasus seemed ready for his next test. It is rare for racehorses to have been lunged and many find it a confusing and uncomfortable experience at first. However, it is a discipline that, if done correctly, can greatly enhance a rider’s connection to a horse as well as help with issues of thoroughness and suppleness. Lunging is also an invaluable method to get the fizz out of a fresh horse that has been out of work for a few days. But a horse needs to be taught what to do – it won’t naturally walk around you in a perfect circle because you tell it to. To my delight, and huge relief, Pegasus proved to be no trouble at all. Whereas some thoroughbreds will panic and run when confronted with something challenging that they don’t understand, and therefore perceive as a threat, Pegasus thought about what was being asked of him. A couple of times he moved to leap forward only to stop at the gentle pressure of the bit and the side reins. He then processed this information in a relatively calm manner. Considering he is a racehorse it was reassuring to see that speed wasn’t his default setting in response to something new. Another good sign was that I was able to lunge him on both the left and right sides.
While lunging Pegasus allowed me to briefly assess his training potential, it also gave me the opportunity to check his soundness. Again, it was a relief to see that the old injury to his tendon causes him no problem at all and there were no other signs of lameness, which can sometimes be an issue when horses are let go from racing yards.
Over the course of the next week or so, Pegasus will continue to be lunged to ensure that his first well-mannered and respectful response wasn’t solely down to being nervous of a new situation or shy of it. All being well, we will then progress to a saddle and rider. Clearly, there is a long way to go for this former racehorse, but get the basics right from the start and there is some very real scope for many wonderful years ahead both for this horse and his owner.