How can I reassure an off-track thoroughbred that racing is done, and they can relax now?
- Vivian Rowe, Kentucky
Vivian I want to first off thank you for sending in the question, it is indeed a good one and obviously one that can be asked over and over again for many a horse changing careers. Just as there are countless number of horses being given a different lifestyle, there are as many different Individual Horse Personalities (IHPs) to figure out and then process to be nurtured into their new world. As is discussed in part in my essay Potential Withholds; Mental Illness and the Equine Athlete, some off-track Thoroughbreds can indeed suffer a variable form of abandonment (Equine Abandonment Syndrome), something I have named for my own use as the Institutionalized Equine. Among the more difficult things to nurture along mentally is a completely different lifestyle, especially all of a sudden. Removing the horse from one way of life that may have been stressful for a few years, an introducing a lifestyle that is allowing the horse to actually be a horse again, so to speak, can be fraught with many tiny battles within the equine psyche as the process of Assimilated Imprinting takes place. The key to understanding how to find ways that re-adjust the horse to a new world first requires an understanding of the view of that world from the horse's perspective. Coming off the track is being removed not from the race track as much as it is the entirety of the performance horse's lifestyle from day one. The manipulation of the environmental influences play a major part in the proper and successful training of the athlete and thus it is the proper manipulation of the environment that will work toward reeling in the horse.
Among the key things to remember is that the vices you may see the horse with or develop as time goes on in the new environment, can be manifestations that combat stress or boredom that often comes annexed with a more relaxed environment. The body may stop its demanding work-out schedules easy enough, but the mind still races on, fully developed and assimilated to survival within the confines of the only world it ever knew. This world would have rarely delivered wide open spaces and continual contact with other horses in open, non-structured settings. Therefore suddenly bringing a horse into a more natural venue isn't always as smooth as one may think. The horse will naturally assimilate as time goes on because the horse is a survivor and has been gifted the natural ability of Assimilated Imprinting. However this truth does not necessarily mean that the horse does not need attentive nurturing.
There are essentially three main factors involved in the processing of the equine psyche. Start by creating mental stimulus without too many physical demands; make the mental portion of stimuli out way the physical requirements to achievement. This will lead you into the second part which is getting to know your horse's individual herd dynamic; how high on the totem pole is the horse? Once you've established the herd dynamic you should seek to develop variable stimuli that is equal to and a challenge for that individual without necessarily seeking to expand it by leaps and bounds. If a horse is truly retired but capable of a new career, that is great, just find said careers that befit the heretofore established individual herd dynamic. The object of retirement is a non-aggressive approach to learning new things. Remove the time table, be creative and don't be afraid to be the horse's herd buddy, while you introduce them to new friends, new places and new horses. And always remember the company you keep, you don't ask a PhD the sum of 2+2, but you may inquire as to the square root of an equation.
A lot of issues embedded in the training of horses, or re-training, are that we encourage bad behaviors, vices and recalcitrant outbreaks because we are way off the mark in our comprehension of the dynamic for the horse in question. Establishing the level of the horse, any horse for any situation, is your starting point, your foundation for all that follows. It is the barometer that tells you if you need more, or less, to process the horse and move forward toward goal achievement. This is the reason for the development of the THT EthoGrade; it is how I establish the level of the horse that we have a foundation from which to build. It is a fascinating thing, to take a view from the hoof.
Kerry M. Thomas