Part 2: Journey to Equimillion with Alex Vodermair 'Training the OTTB'

Training an OTTTB takes many years of patience, determination and passion, but is a rewarding journey that will leave you with memories that last a lifetime.

We chatted to Alex about training the OTTTB, how she has been training Tommy for Equimillion, and she shares her top tips when training an OTTB.

Alex Vodermair and Tommy

What is the difference between training a TB and WBs you usually work with?

They do take time and patience. TBs have more spice and heat, which is what they were bred for. You need to be patient and work on building trust to get them on your side. I found you need double as much patience as with training a Warmblood!

You need to listen to the feedback a TB is giving you and have a good feel for a horse, as they are sensitive and always communicating – it’s your job to be an intent listener.

I’ve found that you need to ride precisely. You need to be aware of your body, balance and know exactly where to put your leg. They have a strong opinion about what they want and how they want to work.

Many TBs have a great walk and canter, which is an excellent foundation. It does take time to develop the trot.

Once you have them on your side they are the greatest friend and a hardworking, dedicated partner. They are very athletic and highly intelligent.

What is the difference in your training method?

Having a different body shape than many uphill warmbloods, they are typically longer and built to be fast over ground. In training this requires working more on balance and teaching them to use the hind leg to start weight bearing and sitting. This does take longer and requires more exercises, but it keeps your training schedule interesting!

I have found I restrict the amount of time I spend on the flat or in one exercise and provide more cross training and variety. Tommy loves his gallop out in the paddock to give him fitness, while his flatwork gives him suppleness.

What are your top tips for training dressage TBs

My training for a TB is similar to that with a young horse that doesn’t know or hasn’t been taught much. Firstly, I work on balance and rhythm and making them feel comfortable under you, getting them to move and lift their back so they can start working into the bridle and the beginnings of a correct frame and contact. I find this helps build trust and a better understanding of the longer leg around their sides – and what it is asking.

I use lots (and I mean LOTS) of transitions to help them start using the hind end correctly on flat. This is important with every horse, but is more important with a OTTTB to ride these correctly, precisely with your timing, and practice it all with a lot a patience. You have to always be thinking a few steps ahead and teaching them to wait for the aid because they are super smart and eager to please. I recommend always changing where you ask for transitions up or down as they will quickly learn to repeat patterns on the arena.

What are your top tips for training jumping TBs

Introducing pole work early on when on the flat is a good place to start. They need to start learning to be careful with things on the ground so changing the distance and placement of poles all over the arena will help – teaching them to stretch and lift their legs.

Next try some small cross rails with a placing pole on the take-off and landing side of the jump to help him visually to judge distance and to give a bit more space from the jump.

Flat work is very important to improve your jumping. Developing straightness to ride to a jump and a good rhythmic canter on both reins to help with turning to manoeuvre through a course is essential. Many TBs can rush at the jumps, which is where teaching them to wait for aids on the flat helps.

Part 2: Journey to Equimillion with Alex Vodermair ‘Training the OTTB’🏋️🐎 @bareequestrian

♬ original sound - BARE Equestrian

What has Tommy taught you as an equestrian?

I have loved working with Tommy on and off for the last 6 years, and training him fulltime for 3 months in the lead up to the event has taught me a lot.

He has shown me in my own riding I need to be sitting more balanced, how to be still without being tense, and he has really fine-tuned my aids. He has given me the best feedback on the improvements I can make as a rider through either his opinion or response to an aid when I ride.

Nothing can be abrupt with Tommy, and he has me thinking ahead to help get my transitions smooth. I love that he has reminded me to take time with the training and listen much more to the subtle signs horses give us as feedback.

What have you enjoyed the most about training Tommy?

I used to jump in my earlier years in Germany and haven’t for a long time, so to switch again has been great for my seat and balance and I find I am using my body in a different way. I’ve learnt to be more with the horses’ motion and this has given me a greater feel for the horse under you.

I love that Tommy needs a lot of variety in his work, and his gallop days are my favourite! I have added in much more cross training with all the horses I ride now and I must say feeling the power of a TB when you let them go for a gallop is so fun. I have found that horses learn faster when doing more variety, they are more relaxed, happy and more open to listen to you. It is most important to look after your horse and more so their mental health, so always keep trying new things and forever learning and evolving.

And Alex’s final word on training at OTTTB

It takes lots of training, time and patience and years to get them going well, but if you do it right it is much more rewarding, and the partnership between you and that horse is strong.