Retraining a racehorse – Week one.

As I mentioned on my social media platforms, when taking on Azzerti I decided to create a series of blogs about the retraining process, so here is the first one!

For many the retraining process seems to be shrouded by mystery and whilst I will never claim to be an expert, I thought I’d life some of that mystery and try to break down the process into a series of blogs that will be interesting for those with horses and engaging for those without too.

To do this I’m going to do ‘diary’ style posts, talking through what I’m doing with Azzerti and why. Highlighting key products that I use and any differences that I find along the way between him and Grumeti. After all, this blog was set up in his name, so we can’t leave him out.

Day One – The start of a week of change.

When Azzerti stepped off the horsebox on Tuesday afternoon, it was the first time that I had met him. With Grumeti I was able to see him race at Kempton and go to Alan King’s yard to have a little ride on him before bringing him home. So this was completely uncharted territory for me and a whole new world for Azzerti.

With this came a certain level of nerves for me, taking on a new horse is a big commitment and without knowing a horse, you don’t always know how they’re going to be. Well, poor Azzerti was a bag of nerves too, I can only assume he had expected to get on the lorry and go racing, instead he ends up on a farm, on top of a hill in Derbyshire.

The first few weeks for these horses comes with a lot of change and adjustment. A new environment, new owner and new horses is just the beginning. So for day one, I settled him into his stable and left him to it. I figure fussing over them doesn’t do anyone any good and turning them out when they’re worked up can lead to trouble.

Outside of their environment, one of the first changes to be made is to a horses diet, typically in racing the horses are fed on high energy feeds, concentrates or easy to feed pelleted feed. My horses are generally fed straights, thinks such as grass chop, alfalfa chop, oats, barley and linseed. Whilst this isn’t the most time efficient way of feeding, I like that I know exactly what the horses are getting, no added fillers or poor quality ingredients. After all, the top athletes of the world would be eating clean and if you want to treat your horses like athletes, shouldn’t they have the same?

Well, my plan to switch Azzerti onto my way of feeding was quickly foiled, when he turned his nose up at his feed and went on hunger strike. Thanks mate. Cue me calling every feed store in my local area to find the Redmills feed he was fed whilst in training, Thankfully not a high energy feed!

Instantly I’m seeing differences here, Grumeti was the complete opposite on day one of arriving from Barbury. He could not have cared less, he was so laid back he was horizontal and he instantly began his attempts of eating everything in sight.

Day Two – Getting to know you.

I won’t lie, I had grand ambitions for day two! I was going to put my nerves aside and get on board. But annoyingly, the world had other plans for me! Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes wrong, or just takes longer than it should? Because that was my day. Technical issues at work, meaning my short shift became a long one, farrier turning up an hour late, getting lost on my way to pick up my new rowing machine… Just annoying little things that added up to my day running way behind schedule and meaning the only time I had to ride was in the pitch black with high winds. I think I’ll give that a miss!

So Azzerti’s second day with me was really chilled, he had his shoes taken off, had a play in the paddock and finally settled and started eating.

So, why take his shoes off? I know many people love taking their horses barefoot, it’s certainly a more natural way of keeping a horse and saves money too. It’s not a route I’ll take, but when horses first come from the race yards, taking their shoes off is something I like to do for a few weeks. This is for a few reasons, one being that at many race yards the horses don’t get loads of turnout, with me they have big fields to run and play in, which at the best of times can lead to pulled shoes, never mind in the wet conditions we’re currently having.
Another reason is that it can make them more cautious. For the first time they hack out with me, having them a bit cautious can help preserve them and me. If they’re feet are a bit sensitive to hard ground and stones, then in theory, they’re less likely to leap around and act a fool. Well, in theory anyway!

Day Three – Getting on with it.

Many people say that when a horse finishes racing, you should give it some time off work and let spend time in the field, fully let them down for 3-12 months. This line of thinking certainly has it’s benefits, giving them time off helps the racing muscle to not be so prominent and it can help their minds switch from that workman like attitude.
For me however, I haven’t found this to always suit the horses. Grumeti had 3 weeks off when he came to me and in that time was a nightmare, couldn’t be caught, would rear up and find any way he could to cause mischief. I also found with Maximum Vision that he was a lot happier when he was working and had his brain engaged. With this in mind, today was Azzerti’s day to get on with it and my day to put my nerves aside.
Tacked up and in the menage for 7:30am, a quick leg up, a few bounces of excitement from Azzerti and we were away. With Azzerti getting to know his new environment, his new tack and his new rider.
When thoroughbreds have raced for a while, they can be quite ‘wooden’, they’ve spent most of their lives going fast, in straight lines, pulling themselves along with their chest and shoulder. This is completely different to how an all round riding horse should go. Which is why, for Azzerti’s first session in the school, I tried to keep it low pressure. Just walking, trotting and lots of changes or directions, circles and transitions through walk-trot-halt.

My first impressions of him were that he is very willing and tries very hard to do what is expected of him. Which is all you can really hope for with a horse, that they’re on your team and want to do right for you. So despite the fact that getting him to turn and bend was like steering a barge, I cannot fault his attitude and I got off feeling really positive.

The rest of week one.

So the rest of week one has been much like the first few days, lots of food, lots of hay, time out in the paddocks and low pressure rides, just asking him to do something different everyday. So we did trotting poles which really made him relax and use his body nicely, we had our first canter together and we had a little cool down hack down the lane.
Each day he’s been a pleasure to have around and he finished up the week with an equine sports massage. Hopefully when lockdown is over I can get a massage too!

#FitFebruary!

I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to do something for #FitFebruary, now, I’m a little bit late to the party with this, but having Azzerti has made me realise how much fitness I’ve lost over the last 3-4 months and seeing other people getting active has given me a kick up the backside to get going, get active and get strong again.

The mission is to get myself feeling ready for competitions in the spring, with the use of a rowing machine, kettle bells, riding and walking. So get ready for some inevitably cringe inducing progress photos and updates about how I’m dying from being a sweaty mess!

I’ll also be trialing some products from Pilot Equine. They’re a small company that are making products for both horse and rider and encouraging riders to better themselves for their horses. Which is essentially what I’m trying to do through #FitFebruary. You can find out more about their products here!

Well, there’s my little round up about Azzerti and I and how things are going, I’ll be posting another blog later in the week which is a bit of a Q&A using the questions that lots of you have sent me through social media, feel free to keep the questions coming!

Thank you as ever for taking the time to read my pieces, the response to my last piece was huge and all your kind words have really helped me to feel that my feelings are valid.

Remember if you are struggling, do reach out to someone, anyone.

Feel free to follow me on my social media channels for more insights into life with Grumeti & Azzerti

XOXO Katie.

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