Training tips for showing Off The Track thoroughbreds

8 October 2021 Written by Debbie Higgs

We recently caught up with Britain’s Katie Jerram-Hunnable, retrainer of many of Her Majesty The Queen’s ex-racehorses, to get the inside word on some of her top tips for retraining Off The Track thoroughbreds for the show ring.

Britain’s Katie Jerram-Hunnable has been associated with thoroughbred horses all her life. Her family ran horses in Point to Point and National Hunt races and in her earlier years Katie was involved in training the family’s racehorses as well as being a keen eventing rider. But it is through her success in Showing, particularly with Her Majesty The Queen’s ex-racehorses, that has led her to be recognised as one of the most skilful producers of retrained racehorses for the show ring.

We recently caught up with Katie to talk about some of Her Majesty The Queen’s ex-racehorses that have enjoyed success at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and she also shared some of her top tips for retraining Off The Track thoroughbreds for the show ring.

One of the recent additions to Katie’s stable is Limato, an Irish-bred, British-trained racehorse who ran 33 times and won 14 races, including two Group 1 wins, between June 2014 and September 2020 before coming to Katie to be re-trained and start his showing career.

“He is a quality little horse but he’s very sharp and has always been difficult to saddle up – he was renowned for that when he was racing,” explains Katie.

“Because of that I decided to completely re-start him as a breaker and bring him on slowly. He really didn’t like the pressure when he felt a rider’s legs on his sides – a new sensation for any racehorse – so we took the time to make him comfortable with that. And now he’s riding very well, he’s very happy and he’s enjoying his new life in his new job.”

Taking the time and treating each horse as an individual is very much a key to the re-training process for Katie and her husband, Chris Hunnable who does in-hand work with many of the horses at their base at Collins Farm in Essex, England while Katie does the ridden work at home and in the show ring.

Here are some of Katie’s top tips for re-training thoroughbreds after their racing career:

  • The aim is to make their new job enjoyable.
  • Let them down for a while after they finish racing and come to a new environment: “I simply put them in a field to give them time to ‘let down’ after racing and get used to their new surroundings before asking anything new of them.”
  • Racehorses are very used to a routine, so try to establish a new routine for them and stick to it.
  • When beginning to ride them, start by just gently hacking around before introducing any pressure in their work.
  • Saddles and leg pressure – be aware that they need to become used to the different types of saddles which are much heavier and touch different parts of their body. In the same way, they need to become comfortable with a rider’s leg on their side, in quite a different position to what they are used to, and allow them time to become used to the leg pressure.
  • When you start schooling, don’t drill them but ask for a little extra each day and, if it doesn’t work, it is sometimes better just to go for a hack, release the pressure and try again another day. You will achieve the outcome in the end.
  • Prepare for Ride Judges by making sure that the horses are ridden by other people long before they experience being ridden by a stranger in the ring: “Our girls all ride the retrained horses so that they are very used to having various different people ride them.”
  • Get them comfortable with noise and speakers. Racehorses can associate noisy environments with adrenalin-fuelled race days, leading to tension so it is valuable to train them to be relaxed in noisy environments: “I have radios turned on in the yard and playing in the school so there is always some sort of background noise at home and I have a loud speaker set up in the school to get them used to that particular sound. I don’t think I’ve ever had an ex-racehorse that isn’t a bit ‘noise-conscious’ – even the more relaxed ones are aware of it, so you do have to work on it. I like to ease them into it gently, sometimes using ear bonnets so that they can settle into themselves before suddenly subjecting them to a new environment plus noise all at the same time.”

Katie Jerram-Hunnable holds The Queen's horse, Barbers Shop, at Windsor Castle, Berkshire ahead of his retirement ceremony at the 75th Royal Windsor Horse Show. The 16-year-old former racehorse was bred by the Queen Mother as one of her last foals and then gifted to the Queen when she passed away. Following a successful race career Barbers Shop was campaigned in the show ring by Katie Jerram-Hunnable (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)