Q & A with Charlene

Hey guys, previously, I’ve written about what I want to write about. But I wanted to know what you wanted to hear about! So for this months blog, I opened things up for questions from you!  Here are the answers to some of the questions I received:

Is there a reputable organization that re homes OTTSB's? Where would you recommend first time potential Standardbred owners go to purchase a horse?

Love this question. There are a number of organizations across Canada that focus on rehoming Standardbreds post racing. For a first time owner I would recommend a place like Go & Play Stables (Ontario) or Greener Pastures (BC). Both of these organizations regularly bring in horses, and start their post career education for you! That way the Standardbred is already headed in the right direction and has a few life skills for you to build on.

How does their personality compare to a QH say? Would they make good trail horses? I'm currently unable to ride so will eventually be looking for more of a partner in crime to spend time with (horses are my emotional solace), someone to do in hand trail with- eventually in a couple of years, if possible the odd trail ride - maybe learn how to do some pleasure driving. Would you recommend them for all of that? Are there any health concerns with the horses that come off the track that we would need to be prepared for? Does their track training complicate their off the track training at all?

I personally have very limited experience with QHs and can’t really give you an answer to that question at this time.
Standardbreds make excellent trail horses. That’s one of their most popular uses post racing along with Endurance riding.  In hand trail, trail rides, pleasure driving are all jobs Standardbreds are great for!

Generally speaking, the only thing you’d want to be aware of is their dietary changes. Many racing Standardbreds are on regular grain and high quality hay. I would recommend finding out what they were on, so that you can transfer them methodically to their new diet, instead of taking a horse from a high grain, and high alfalfa diet and suddenly putting it on just grass hay.  Aside from that, there aren’t many other race horse specific issues I would really caution you on.

I’ve actually covered your last question in two blogs I’ve previously written for Go & Play Stables.  “A Step Ahead” which talks about the benefits of getting an OTSTB and “Stigmas & Questions” which answers a number of frequent questions I’ve be asked while out and about with Leo!

I have Standardbreds myself, but purely to race. We either rehome or retire them here at our farm.  We have never trained them to saddle, so I’m curious to know how they compare to other breeds.  Does riding come naturally to them? Will most trot? Anything info in general about switching from racing to riding would be interesting!! Thanks! J

Because of the skills they already have as harness horses, going from being covered in equipment, with a race bike and vocal commands coming from behind – most of them actually transition quite easily into riding. They’re already used to being thoroughly handled from a young age by people. So having someone giving the commands from above, instead of behind, usually isn’t too big of a stretch for them.  With that said having them understand instructions coming from a riders legs/seat/weight/indirect rein can take a little more time.

Being around the Standardbred racetrack and people, what trick or technique did you find most useful or what thing did you learn that will be most useful later in life with other horses or Leo?

In my industry, generally, if a horse seems off or sore, the first go to, is to give it a couple days, or a couple weeks, or a couple months even, and see if whatever the ailment is, sorts itself out. In the race industry, that’s not really an option because the horse typically has to race that weekend. They’re so on top of the bodily care of the horse! Legs, back, GI tract, you name it, they’re on it.
As a result there is much more knowledge about lameness, soreness, flight patterns, behaviour patterns etc throughout the harness community that just doesn’t exist in mine. If your horse is off or lame or sore, it’s guaranteed someone from the harness world will be able to tell you what it is, what’s causing it, and about 20 different ways you could treat it within a couple minutes. It’s probably been the biggest learning curve I’ve had since I started going to the race track and spending time at various harness racing barns, and something I’ll be able to benefit from with Leo and any other horses that come my way for the rest of my riding career.

Where did the name Standardbred come from?

The name ‘Standardbred’ comes from the requirement of each horse to be able to pace a mile in a ‘standard’ time frame in order to qualify and be listed in the stud book. I.e. they are bred to meet the standard. 


How long does it take to ‘retrain’ an off the track pacer or trotter under saddle, can they all do it?

It depends on what you define as ‘retrained’.  As with any other breed of horse, theoretically yes, every pacer or trotter can be trained or retrained to be ridden under saddle. On one hand, I know of Standardbred owners here who have taught their retired racers to walk around with a rider on their back in an afternoon, just with simple direct reining, nothing complicated. On the other hand, I’ve had Leo for just over 9 years, and while I’ve been riding him the whole time he’s still constantly being ‘trained’ to learn new skills or improve old ones.  Long story short – like every other breed, it’s slightly horse dependant.

Why do they have tattoos on their neck?

To my understanding this practice was started for ease of identification. Standardbreds used to have lip tattoos (like the Thoroughbreds) but over time these can become distorted or hard to read. The freezebrands they started using around 20-25 years ago and still use now, when well done, are very easy to read and don’t lose their clarity.

How do you encourage a pacer to trot? Why do the pacers revert to pacing sometimes?

When encouraging a pacer to trot, I think it’s essential to remember that in most cases you are not simply training, but untraining and retraining. As race horses – out of necessity, not just for speed but also for safety – pacers are more or less taught that pacing is THE expected gait. (Much like you would treat a horse that would gallop instead of trotting, gallop = NO. trotting = yay! Good boy!) Thus, when you are attempting to encourage them to trot, there is a prominent psychological side to the training as well. It will take time for them to understand that their job, and its requirements, have changed.

Praise and positive encouragement is important. Even if you only get a few strides of trot, count it as a solid effort, a good try, praise them to the stars, and start again. Standardbreds are workaholics, and like to please, but sometimes just need a little time to sort things out and figure out that you don’t want them to do what everyone else did from the time they were born until now. Likewise, when they get confused or flustered it is very easy for them to revert back or ‘guess’ that pacing is the answer because up until now, pacing has always been the answer.

With that said, I’ve had Leo for 9 years, and occasionally when doing something new (like flying changes) he’ll still sometimes ‘guess’ pacing. But it’s usually only for a stride or two, and then he hops back into canter, no correction needed.

I really enjoyed answering these questions, and hope to do it again sometime later this year. In the mean time, if you want me to expand more on anything I’ve written above or another question you have, I can be reached on Leo’s facebook page, or any other social media outlets.

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