There are no gimmicks that will turn a racehorse into a show horse. Like anything else worth doing, and doing well, it’s all about commitment, time, repetition, and above all, patience.
That’s why Tammy Hicock never promises the moon when her clients show up, all eager and bubbling with the high hopes for their brand new off-track Thoroughbred.
She settles them down right away.
Ask her what type of rider tends to be more suitable for an OTTB, and her reply often begins with the word patient. Ask what the best practices are in OTTB training, and there’s that word again — patience.
In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, the California native who teaches hunter/jumper and equitation at Talyn Riding Academy at Twisdenwood Farm in Georgetown, Mass., discusses the OTTB under saddle. And why, despite the extra effort they sometimes require, they remain, hands- and hooves-down, her all-time favorites.
Q: You have a long history riding OTTBs.
I’m a native Californian, and we bought them straight off the track at Santa Anita. We’d get them and bring them along for the show ring. That’s all I rode, growing up, and OTTBs are my passion.
Q: Much as you love them, you don’t promise overnight success.
There’s a misperception that you can go buy a horse off the track, and it’s cheap, and that anybody can go grab one and have the right horse. What I tell people is that OTTBs need professional training, period. You will love your OTTB if you get the right training.
Q: Recognizing that there is no hard-fast rule for every horse, that they’re all different, requiring less or more training, is there an average amount of time required for re-training?
When you get a Thoroughbred off the track, you have to un-train him. In a sense, it’s like reprogramming t hem. They’re highly fine-tuned animals who are very sensitive to your emotions and environment. The best way to teach them is slowly, with a lot of repetition, on a daily basis.
Q: What are some of the typical no-nos that need to be un-taught?
These horses are bred for running and speed, so you typically need to teach them to trot slower, and straight. Our legs lay down on their sides, and we use them to guide the horse. At the racetracks, (by contrast) the jockeys just stand in the stirrups and the horses start running.
They also usually need to be taught not to pull on you. They’re taught to pull you, so you have to teach them by the repetition of pulling-and-yielding, so that they eventually understand it’s not OK to pull.
Q: Besides patience, what other qualities are necessary in an equestrian who wants to ride an OTTB?
Quite hands, and a quite seat. They should also be someone who isn’t going to expect miracles.
Q: What about the Thoroughbred temperament.
A Thoroughbred will give you the world, I think, once they understand what you want and why. You have to set guidelines for their behavior, and reinforce that, because they will test you. If I go into the ring and one starts trotting sideways, I have to explain that they can’t do that, by using all the tools in my toolbox to address that behavior. Thoroughbreds are very smart.
Q: Though some Thoroughbreds may require more dedicated training than other breeds, you think it’s worth it.
Yes! They have more heart and more drive than other breeds I’ve worked with, and their work ethic is amazing. They want to work for you, and they want to do it right. If I’m riding at 70 percent and I get on a Thoroughbred, they cover me; they bring 130 percent. If I’m riding a Warmblood, a breed I think is more laid back, and I go out at 70 percent, they’ll also work at 70 percent. They’re the worker bees!