Thoroughbred Makeover Diary: One Step Backward and Two Steps Forward

Goldie Morgan Hayden Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover
Morgan Hayden with Goldie testing out the water, left, and completing a jump at the Wingreen XC field, right. (Images courtesy of Morgan Hayden)

The retraining process can be extremely tough with any new horse. It can leave you learning new valuable lessons while also leaving you with many questions that you may not be able to answer on your own.

With Goldie, retraining has been unique. I have ridden many horses in my life but never a horse as young as Goldie at just 5 years old, and who can naturally do the equivalent of a human squat in his hind end and fly backwards quicker than he is willing to go forward.

In the beginning we would trot a lot of ground poles, and Goldie loved it. As soon as we made the poles to cross rails he would start refusing. Then I tried to work him on the rope over more solid objects like small logs, since cross rails can be more difficult to read for horses. However, I received the same response — refusal with a very quick backward run.

I then decided to take a step back and go back to the basics of riding over ground poles, which then Goldie was even hesitant to go over those at this point. I really was not sure how to fix, correct, or even encourage Goldie that he is able to “jump.” I even started to get down on myself, thinking that we would never be ready for the Retired racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, and I really did not have the know how to help him learn. 

Not only were we having trouble with our riding but also with loading on the trailer and coming into the stall. Anytime I would load Goldie, he would start the same move he did when attempting to go over a jump: plant his feet and fly backward. When he would come into the stall he would violently pace back and forth hitting himself into the walls and would not eat hay or grain while he was in. It did not even help when he had one or more friends in the barn who remain calm the whole time. So, at this point I made the decision to have the first official 2023 Spring Boot Camp week at Pacific Farms Inc. with Clare and Tom Mansmann.

We spent one full week with Clare and Tom at their farm. While there, we discussed and approached every concern I thought we were having and even some that I did not fully understand.

Every concern I was having had the same root cause … Goldie was making decisions because he was so far behind the leg even while being worked on the ground, and we did not have full trust within each other. So, I learned how to drive Goldie on the ground. From the blind eye it may just appear as if I was lunging him, but from an educated eye it was obvious that I had to allow Goldie to trust himself and, more importantly, me to move in front of me on the circle instead of stopping or flying backward.

We worked each day on the ground first while adding in different terrain with the hills, adding in barrels, and several cross-country logs. Even when we hauled off the farm to Wingreen XC field, we started on the ground to gain each other’s trust first. 

Once Goldie and I were able to trust and understand each other, I was able to mount and ride while having the ability to ask Goldie a new or different question with each ride, to which he responded so positively and willingly.

We have learned to build the strongest connection through just listening to and learning from each other on the ground. By the end of the week, we were able to hack out on steep hills, pass by chickens flapping their wings in the coop, go in and out of the water jump without attempting to jump each splash, load on the trailer, and jump any jump in or out of the ring at a nice, balanced, and consistent pace.

At the end of the day, it is never fun to take steps backward in our training, but it is important that we do and get the correct type of help so we can move forward again. 

The Jockey Club supports many aftercare initiatives including the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the only accrediting body in aftercare, and Thoroughbred Incentive Program (T.I.P.), which encourages the retraining of Thoroughbreds into other disciplines upon completion of careers. View all of the initiatives supported by The Jockey Club.

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