When it comes to horse racing, a competent exercise rider is critical. There is a huge difference between riding a horse in almost any other discipline, and riding a thoroughbred racehorse.
Thoroughbreds learn early, to get “on the bit”; they naturally love to run, and most racehorses, once they know what they’re doing, will be keen to get to work as soon as they hit the track. The role of the exercise rider is to stay balanced and restrain the horse to the required tempo, and usually, while exercising, this is a steady canter. Even during fast work sessions, most trainers like their horses to be kept “on the bit”. It is rare to see horses pushed out a the end of a breeze.
So how do you ride a racehorse? They key is to maintain control at all times, and it is more about technique than strength. Older thoroughbreds often have a hard, or “dead” mouth, from years of pulling riders around the track. I’ve seen the strongest riders struggle to hold these horses because they’re simply pulling against the horse.
Here are two simple techniques that will help you to hold your horse:
1. Cross your reins to form a “bridge” and hold it tight on the horse’s neck – not high up but down low closer to the saddle. A tractable horse will flex it’s neck while working, and it ends up pulling against its own neck. I have held the strongest pullers with one hand in this manner. You can see the world’s fastest racehorse, Black Caviar, being worked in this way here, with jockey Luke Nolen aboard (picture courtesy The Daily Telegraph):
2. Keep one rein tight on the wither and hold the other rein loose. As the horse quickens, put pressure on the loose rein to bring the horse back to the speed required.
It is inevitable that, as you’re learning, the odd horse will run off on you. As a friend of mine says, there’s no end to a circle. So, assuming that you’re working on a circular racecourse (and you shouldn’t be anywhere else if you’re not absolutely confident that you have full control of your horse first), don’t panic. Just keep steering the horse around the track and it will tire. This won’t happen once you learn how to hold your horse properly.