As a go-to Standy gal, one of the most common questions I get asked about is how long it will take to break a Standardbred to saddle. To this, my answer is an age-old classic: “how long is a piece of string?”
As discussed in our Retraining Guides, rarely will two Standardbreds share the exact same life experiences. There are many factors introduced long before the horse retires, which can impact upon the horse we inherit and their journey from track to hack.
When the Raising the Standards retraining program was operational, I liked our Standardbreds to have been out of race work for a good eight weeks (minimum) prior to commencing retraining. This time allowed for the body and mind to adjust to sedentary life.
Some horses don’t have any issues moving from racetrack to retirement. Others can struggle with the transition and suffer issues such as gastric distress from dietary change, muscle atrophy, or even experience a bit of mental distress learning to adjust to retired life (without routine) and having to negotiate paddock politics in a herd environment. Each horse is unique.
In essence, there is no ‘one size fits all’ guide to how long it takes to successfully retrain a Standardbred.
Many Standies are ridden as part of racing training, others are started under saddle in their racing stables upon retirement (as a Standardbred broken to saddle may be easier to place in a new home). On the other hand, some Standardbreds have never seen a saddle, nor have they racked up much experience in cart.
Over time, I developed a process that worked for the Raising the Standards program horses. My methodology focused on ensuring that each horse enjoyed a little time out in the paddock, before asking them to start the next chapter.
I feel this approach was great for my horses’ mental health. It also provided adequate time to make thorough assessments; to keep watch for any ailments that may come to light over time (it’s amazing how soundness issues can fail to surface until the body is completely relaxed), fill out into a more rounded body shape/weight and to book all the necessary health care appointments.
For me, it was also very important to get to know each horse’s personality and quirks before starting the breaking process. I wanted a nice rapport and trust to have been established. Proper introductions take time and I always enjoyed watching and interacting with new horses without any pressure to jump into things in a hurry.
As a general rule, the individual learning style of the horse and the experience of the retrainer will ultimately play a huge part in the time span it takes to successfully retrain a Standardbred from track to hack.
A skilled trainer with a developed system will obviously be able to set about things with a sound, methodical plan which makes the process more efficient than someone learning as they go.
Similarly, a horse with a calm temperament who has ‘been there, seen that’ may take to ridden training a lot quicker than a horse who is underexposed to the world outside the paddock gate, or one with a cautious/sensitive nature.
What I will say is that the journey of retraining and shaping a Standardbred to develop into a riding partner is hands down the very best part about inviting a champ with a stamp into your life.
Rather than worrying about how long the process takes, I advocate for focusing your energy on building a strong bond with your horse, which should make the transition both positive and progressive.
A Standardbred is the best investment of time and energy, you will ever make.
All you need to succeed is a little patience and to remind yourself stop every now and then to acknowledge and celebrate the ‘little wins’ that make horsemanship such a joy.
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