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Guest Post ~ Ex racehorses turning their hooves to safari and trail rides

A group of ex racehorses and thoroughbred crosse on safari in Limpopo. Credit Sanne Westera - Hooves Around The World

Today I am pleased to say I am joined by Sanne Westera from Hooves Around The World, a blog dedicated to equestrian travel. Sanne has experience retraining racehorses with a new life as a safari horse in mind. Today she has kindly shared her thoughts on why thoroughbreds are so well suited to this new career.

After a thoroughbreds career on the race course, they often go on to become riding horses. This amazing breed really does it all: from dressage to show jumping and from eventing to trails. They even go on a little bit further and are often used in trail riding holidays through nature in lots of countries in Africa such as Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana and so many more. Here they take guests on stunning outrides and horse riding holidays through big 5 reserves with lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and cheetahs. Below you will read all about why this breed is such a perfect fit for the horse safari and trails holiday industry, how bravely they stand for wildlife and the love they have for their job of strolling the bush and galloping over the stretched out African plains. 

Thoroughbreds in the racing industry are of course trained, ridden and cared for very differently than your regular trails horse and even safari horses. After years of working in safaris in South Africa, I have retrained my fair share of off the track thoroughbreds. Every guest that would ride one of the retrained OTTBs fell in love with them straight away. Their willing character, sweet and soft personalities, stamina and speed makes them the ultimate trails and safari horse. 

Retired Polo Cross TB on safari in Limpopo. Credit Sanne Westera - Hooves Around The World
Retired Polo Cross TB on safari in Limpopo. Credit Sanne Westera – Hooves Around The World

When race horses start their second careers, they are usually ‘difficult’ to ride. These amazing horses have quite a bad reputation despite being one of the most amazing breeds I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. They truly aren’t difficult though, they have just learnt things a bit differently than your regular trails or English riding school horse. Maybe it’s hard to stop them, they don’t steer well, they don’t walk in frame. However, they are already incredibly brave, are used to a rider on their back and are very sensitive and try their best to accommodate to your needs as a rider. Personally, I retrain racehorses in a halter or bitless bridle as they have often been taught to pull against the pressure of the bit instead of slowing down when pressure is added to the bit. They understand the bitless bridle very quickly as they are such intelligent creatures and soon you will realise that OTTBs have an incredibly calm nature and are very willing to please their human. When these beautiful horses relax on your training sessions or hacks, they will soon walk over their backs, and carry their head nicely by themselves. This way you’re adding muscle to their topline and they’ll be ready for longer hacks out through the bush, on the beach and more. 

Given the fact that these horses are so incredibly brave, they make fantastic safari horses for every type of rider. You will often see OTTBs or thoroughbreds in general with second careers working as trails horses for horse safari companies and loving it! They bravely stand for lions, elephants and hippos, and make very wise decisions regarding wild animals. A few years ago, I worked for a safari company for an extended period of time where I retrained thoroughbreds. These thoroughbred usually came off the race track, or from polo competition life. After their retraining they quickly became guests favorites by making every rider feel safe on their back. They have a great capability of forming bonds with their humans. Also, as mentioned before, they are very sensible regarding wild animals by keeping a reasonable distance but also standing bravely if confronted. They are fast learners and during retraining it only takes a few tries before they fully understand and relax whilst facing the wild animals. 

Retired Polo Cross TB on safari in Limpopo. Credit Sanne Westera - Hooves Around The World
Retired Polo Cross TB on safari in Limpopo. Credit Sanne Westera – Hooves Around The World

While they are fantastic for beginners given their calm nature, they are still bred for racing. Therefore they are great for experienced riders on fast paced beach rides, long canters through the bush, or even galloping over the endless plains down in Africa. Beginners, intermediate and experienced riders alike all fall in love with their thoroughbred safari horses. They are such a sensitive breed and can read the feeling of their rider with a lot of precision. You will be able to see them take very good care of beginners, and are super excited to race the whole group when ridden by an experienced rider that understands their nature. 

Every horse riding trails company I have personally worked for, stayed at or ridden at, all at least has one or several thoroughbreds in their herd. This is because the other great thing about them is that they create fantastic crosses. When crossed with bulkier breeds who put on weight a little bit easier, they have beautiful stocky foals with thoroughbred characters, the perfect combo! There are loads of Friesian x tb crosses, which are stunning, able to carry more weight but are also able to go for quite a distance with the right training. In places such as the Drakensberg, where it is steep, rocky and overall very mountainous terrain, thoroughbreds are often crossed with local breeds. The local breeds are small and able to climb through this rocky terrain super well. Therefore, when mixed, it creates the ultimate trailhorse, which is a bit bigger than the local breeds and stockier than your regular thoroughbred with the ability to tackle the terrain. 

All in all, thoroughbreds, whether they are off the track, coming from (competitive) polo or even thoroughbreds crossed with local breeds will make for incredibly dependable and willing safari and trails horses. Standing bravely for lions is nothing to them compared to the craziness of the race track or polo field and even kids can ride these horses in difficult terrain. Through mountains, over plains and full speed across beaches, they will find a place in your heart if they haven’t already.

A TB x Boerperd (South African breed) in Drakensberg. Credit Sanne Westera - Hooves Around The World
A TB x Boerperd (South African breed) in Drakensberg. Credit Sanne Westera – Hooves Around The World

Who else now has horse back safari on their bucket list? Thank you so much Sanne for sharing how popular thoroughbreds and ex racehorses are in the safari and trails world. I had never even considered that this is something they might go on to do. If you are considering a horsey holiday, checking out her blog is a must! You can find her here: Hooves Around The World.

Last Updated on 15/02/2022

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