Q: My new OTTB is incredibly strong and runs at every opportunity. How do I find the brakes?!
A: Racehorses are trained to run into a contact. Therefore, a major part of retraining them is teaching them how to soften over their backs, necks, and poll and come into a softer outline, where they engage their hindquarter and lift their stomachs.
Using your body weight and leg aids to get ex-racehorses to move through their ribcage, alter their paces within the pace, or move up and down through lots of transitions between paces, is an excellent way to start. Lots of direction changes are also helpful, as most OTTB are initially stiff to turn, and changes of direction will soften their bodies, remove the brace and make it easier to engage their hind end, whilst also, as an added bonus, keeping their concentration.
Putting pressure through the reins when they are becoming tense, distracted or stressed is the worst thing you can do! The only way to keep them calm and listening is to ‘change the subject’ by getting them to focus on something else or something they find easier. Taking hold of the reins will literally create more speed and more tension!
Over time, as you progress in the re-schooling process, you will see improvements, and the contact will no longer be something to pull against. However, in these early days, rely on your weight and leg aids, and avoid the hands wherever possible! If your horse runs, simply ask for some changes in bend and direction, try and effect transitions through your seat and focus on remaining calm yourself. If you must use the reins, make sure you give and take, not maintain any kind of consistent pressure.