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3 Tips on Training a Race Horse for Successful Endurance Riding
Val Heart

As an animal communicator I am often asked for help with the challenges of taking an ex-race horse off the track and preparing them to be successful in other equine sports. by Val Heart

Of course there is no simple answer to that because there are a myriad of things to consider.  This story is an example of a woman who purchased a promising gelding and needed to know what course of action to take in retraining him for successful endurance riding.

Abigail had recently purchased a wonderful seven year old Arabian gelding called Tiger who was very fit, talented, bred for racing and endurance.  She considered herself a relatively good rider but she was also new to the endurance sport, and was having a lot of trouble with Tiger. 
Her question was:  How could she re-train her horse for the best possible long term results?  She’d tried a number of things but wasn’t having a lot of success.  Abigail was committed to working with and competing with her new horse, and in addition to working through their problems, she also wanted to do whatever it takes to create a life partner with her equine friend.  She simply didn’t know how to proceed. 

In the beginning of their rides, he would quickly work himself up into a race horse mindset, wanting to barrel on at top speed.  She wasn’t comfortable with him and couldn’t even begin to relax until they’d ridden at least 11 miles together because of his crow hopping and skittishness. 
My answer to Abigail is one that I feel many sport horse enthusiasts can appreciate.  This is a common issue with ex-race horses and is an indication of several things that are not working for Tiger.  It’s also critical to know how to support and work with endurance horses since they have unique and special needs many horses don’t face.

1) Take a Reality Check:  First she had to take a reality check and realize that when her horse crow hops for 11 miles, this is not normal behavior!  Our horses always try their best and don’t willingly expend energy like this for no good reason.  If we take the time to listen to them, they’ll be glad to tell us what isn’t working for them and why. 

When I communicated with Tiger, we learned that he had significant pain in his body, and it was much worse under saddle.  His back hurt, his withers felt pinched, and his shoulders didn’t have as much range of motion as they needed. 

His left front foot had been injured, and his right hock was painful from inflammation and misalignment.  To further complicate the issue, his hooves and shoes were too tight/small and not properly balanced.  So it was critically important that before they proceeded in endurance riding, he needed to be reshod correctly. 

He also suffered from a very tight poll area, and his mouth and jaw hurt.  When the poll and cervical vertebrae two are locked up, the animal can’t think clearly and is much more reactive.  The cranial nerves going through that area are also impacted, and the blood circulation to the brain is impaired.  He was holding his jaw tightly to brace against his riders hands and to protect his mouth, creating a chronic tension in his body.

Tiger told me that his saddle was hurting and he couldn’t get comfortable.  He was constantly trying to rebalance his rider and often felt precarious – which explained all the crow hopping!
If all these things aren’t corrected soon, then Tiger will end up lame and suffer from mystery soundness issues for the rest of his life.  I know because I work with horses all the time who are literally on their last legs because their owners didn’t take the time in the beginning to listen to their horse.  They just kept pushing them through it and then wondering why their animals suffer mental and physical breakdowns.

Until Abigail had a properly fitting saddle that was comfortable and balanced for both her and her gelding, she should not be riding yet, and certainly not engaging in a sport like endurance. That’s like asking someone to run a marathon in shoes that don’t fit and panties that are too tight!  Of course he would fuss initially and try to rid himself of the pain by overreacting, crow hopping, and creating other methods of distraction and diversion.  Over time and miles, he numbed down to the pain and lost the energy to put up a fuss.  That’s not what any caring horse owner would ever want.

2) Start at the Beginning:   For re-training, I recommended that they start at the beginning by doing simple foundational exercises, lunging and groundwork.  If he got excited (in “go go mode”), that meant he was stressed, nervous, over reactive and unstable and they needed to slow down.  Tiger needs to learn how to listen to her better, and she needs to learn to listen to him as well.  She now knows to be more careful to recognize and reward calmness in herself and Tiger.  Using visualization exercises by imaging exactly what she wanted from him would be very helpful.
3) Get in Balance and Train Yourself:  Also, Abigail needed to be in better shape herself.  It’s very difficult for a horse to carry a badly balanced rider for any real distance.  Her inner core balance was off, and there was tension in her body when she rode.  She also tended to hold her breath which contributed to his nervousness, over-stimulated ‘hot’ state of mind, making him unable to relax and enjoy the riding experience.  Over time she finally does eventually relax as she gets tired, so Tiger’s job isn’t as hard and he can focus better.
She needs to begin riding in a relaxed mode by doing flexibility exercises, creating more suppleness in her body.  Dancing and breath work exercises will help her find her center and empower her core strength.  Visualization exercises will help her decrease the chronic tension and stress she habitually carries in her body too.

This athletic gelding has a willing and big heart, and a wonderful personality as does Abigail.  Now in the beginning of their relationship is the very best time to create a solid foundation of respect, trust and open communication.  Of course, they can just keep fighting each other and suffer the consequences – or they could spend time now learning how to communicate, connect at the heart, mind, body and spirit level, rebalance, and enjoy a willing, healthy and happy lifetime partnership.  I’m guessing you know which decision I’m voting for.
Note: The names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Bio:  Val Heart, Expert Animal Communicator, Behaviorist, Author, Master Healer -- Providing Communication, Clarity, Balance and Healing for You and Your Animal. Called The Real Dr Doolittle, Val works with chronic pain, illness, trauma, training, behavior, performance, euthanasia.  You know your animals have secret lives, thoughts, feelings and wisdom. There is a way to talk with them, understand their  viewpoint and resolve problems together  so you can enjoy a long, happy, healthy partnership.   The Val Heart Method™ of Learning Animal Communication includes the World’s 1st complete Beginning Animal Communication Home Study Course for horse lovers!  Speaker, Teacher,  Columnist, seen on TV and heard on radio.  TeleClasses, Expert Animal Communication eTips & Newsletters. 
Call (210) 863-7928, email:  visit

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