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By Larry Cassidy | Friday, September 23, 2011

In last week’s blog I mentioned a few difficult moments I had on a couple of horses during what was an eventful seven day period for me.

The feedback on that from readers was that some of you wanted to know more about my thinking on how I deal with fractious horses before a race and also how I handle unscripted scary moments that can arrive at speed whenever a horse on the move.

When you are an apprentice you are always told to talk to the horse … sing to them. Give them a pat and basically always try to keep them calm. Horses do listen … usually!

To get them to listen though, you have to try and keep calm yourself because they can feel through you whether you are nervous or scared or things like that. They will pick up on that.

It pretty much all just flows on from there really and experience has a lot to do with it.

Even when you might feel you are in real danger, the safest thing is probably to try to stay on and sit with them.

There are two areas of obvious danger, that being in the enclosure beforehand and then actually during the running of a race.

Horses in the enclosure when they plant their feet … I think that is the scariest part. When they plant their feet it usually means they are going to flip over.

When I was in Sydney I had one horse who was always very fractious. She was a very good mare. I’d won three or four races on her. I actually got on very well with her, but she was always fractious.

Then one day she planted her feet. I said … come on girl, and as we moved she just flipped over and she actually landed straight on her back. She threw me clean, but her head actually came down on the ground between my legs.

I had hit the ground so hard I was slightly concussed, but if her head had actually landed on me I would have been seriously injured.

So, I guess it relates to personal experience, but I always think back to that when a horse plants its feet. My first instinct is, give them one chance, then get off … slide off. It’s just not worth it, especially if there is a fence behind you.

Some jockeys seem to be better suited than others to fractious horses, but I think that has more to do with the method they use rather than the fact that they’ve got some sort of particular affinity with a troublesome horse.

Some people are better on horses that play up simply because they don’t belt them back. It is true that you do need to take a ‘stand-over’ tactic with some horses. Generally though, when a horse is ratty, you are best off just going with them.

Instead of fighting them and making them worse you should just work at trying to calm them. I tend to go well on these type of horses in most situations.

They are still probably going to piss you off, like some of them do, but the most important thing is still to stay calm and let them work it out of their system themselves, preferably by defusing their nervous tension.

On the track, whether it is in work or during a race, the situation obviously changes and the dangers increase.

Glen Boss became the latest riding casualty when 2010 Golden Slipper winner Crystal Lily reported died of a heart attack during a jump-out. Boss ended up with a broken shoulder.

I’ve never had a horse drop dead under me … luckily, but I have had several horses break their legs on me in races.

You can feel when you are going along, something happens. With a break, quite literally it is one stride … and then the next they can realistically fall over. So all you can do is you try and hold their head up and get them out of the way.

When a horse bleeds you can certainly feel when that happens. It’s like the horse starts floating underneath you. It almost feels like there is nothing there underneath you. It is a hard feeling to explain. But you have been given notice that something is wrong.

On other occasions though there is no warning and therefore no time to react. If a horse puts its head down coming out of the gates, you go over the top. If your horse clips heels, you invariably hit the ground very quickly.

You aren’t really taught what to do when you fall without warning and you know you are on the way down and about to hit the ground hard. It’s hard to teach you that, but instinct does kick in to a degree.

For me, if I hit the ground I like to try to keep moving. It’s when you land and just go splat, that’s when you really do get hurt. Obviously you have very little control on how you land because it all happens so fast, but if you can keep rolling … you might get hurt, but not usually as bad.

One of the experiences I’ve had was I had a bad fall fifteen years ago. Half the field went over the top of me. I thought I’d keep rolling and all I had was a knee injury out of it. In that sort of case, if you are lucky, they’re clipping you more than standing on you because you are not a sitting target waiting to feel their full force … so you are generally better off if things pan out that way.

Fractious horses and falls are all part of the game. Jockeys are better off without them, but every rider knows he will inevitably get his share of both.

It’s our job to deal with it!

Till next week,

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Larry Cassidy
Larry Cassidy
Queensland's Own www.horseracingonly.com.au Queensland's Best