SARATOGA SPRINGS —Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses often have stigmas set against them that they can be wild and unruly animals. This myth is most likely based around the fact that racehorses, just like any other athlete, enjoy what they do and put a lot of energy towards their goals. Horses love to run, and most racehorses are quite young and full of excitement when they are racing. That is what makes them good at what they do.
However, horses, just like people, have many different energy and mood levels, and their environment can have a large impact on how they react. So, one can imagine that being in large space surrounded by other horses and thousands of fans can get a horse amped up – and isn’t that what fans want from an animal about to race to the finish line?
Once these racehorses have transitioned into retirement, though, we see a drastic change in their energy levels. Some horses still love to have a very active, go-getter lifestyle – but many enjoy a leisurely life once given the chance.
The first step in finding the right ex-racehorse for a life in equine therapy is to determine what kind of horse they are. Therapeutic Horses of Saratoga look for a horse that more often craves an easy-going life because that is what we can provide for them. It is very important that the horse thrives in and enjoys the life that we give them just as much as we do.
Next, transition into their new world can take time depending on whether they are coming right off the track. A horse who transitions straight from the track environment to farm life will more likely take much longer to settle into their new life because they are both in a new home with new friends and also in a whole new world. In contrast, a horse who has already been in retirement for a while – for example, a mare who transitioned into breeding for some years after racing – can have an easier time of transition into a new home because they just need to be integrated into a new herd, not a whole new life.
Making the right decision on when to start training comes from taking the time to get to know the horse and observing them in their new environment. You want to be careful not to overwhelm the horse too quickly with too much new information. Just like humans, they will need time to create a life within their new home.
Once the horse has settled, it is time to begin training. Training for a therapy horse varies depending on what specific type of equine therapy is involved, but many components remain the same.