Chill time can be critical
Many Thoroughbreds (TBs) behave differently on the farm than they do at the racetrack. Still, if you’re looking for a good plan to begin on the best note, give your project a couple of months of turnout and gentle handling prior to hopping aboard. Recognize many TBs have not seen a paddock (at least not the grazing kind) for their entire racing career, so make sure you start with small spaces and, done best, a single, proven companion to help keep them calm, ease them through the socialization transition and stay safe. Know too (although steroids and other drugs that they actually test for are now becoming banned in many states) that there may be products in your horse’s bloodstream that impact his behavior and thinking process. Let them dissipate prior to throwing on tack and a rider.
Pulling on the bit often doesn’t mean stop for racehorses
Many TBs are taught to pull against the bit and this can also serve as a cue to go faster. Do not make the mistake of applying non-stop contact with the bit on a horse you are trying to convert to a riding horse. As in any discipline (in my opinion, anyway), it’s best to give and release if you want a horse to feel your request. Often, simply releasing the reins will cause your mount to slow down or stop.
Remember to relax
TBs are a hot-blooded breed, and the tenser you are, the more concerned and hotter they will get. If your horse is anxious, hyper, spooky or concerned, take a deep breath, let your seat sink deep into the saddle, stop gripping with your knees, shortening the reins, tipping forward with you upper body and simply sit up, stretch down and be a quiet and encouraging force with your horse vs. a impediment to his reaching a calm understanding.
Patience is key
It’s likely going to take you a while to understand how your OTT TB horse has been conditioned and trained to react. Don’t assume he’s misbehaving if he doesn’t do what you ask. Take your time and be ready to try different approaches to problems that aren’t getting resolved. Give him the opportunity to shine by watching and listening to what he’s trying to tell you and adjusting your approach to accommodate his needs and concerns.
Be ready to call it quits
Sometimes it’s best to admit you don’t have the horse and/or the skills to bring him to where you want him to go. There are tons of great OTT TBs who are eager and willing to consider a new career and prove to be safe and dependable mounts for their new riders and jobs. It’s easy to fall in love with a horse and be determined to ‘fix’ them, but some are just too far-gone and/or unsuitable for you due to your skill level or interests. Consider improving your quality of life (and in many cases, your horses) by being big enough to admit defeat and move on.