Re-Educating Thoroughbred Race Horses

The Re-Education of Basa


Susan Hopf

I have been involved, in some capacity, with horses for most of my life. 4-H as a young teen, riding and teaching in Combined Training for over a decade and most recently, for the last fifteen years, I have dedicated myself to learning and teaching all I can with regard to Classical Riding and Equine Stewardship. For the last several years I have included writing as a way to reach out and share my experiences with others that are also looking for a more equine friendly approach to working with their horses.


Always searching for answers I have followed the evolving teachings of Jean Luc Cornille for many years. And it is now my great privilege to contribute to the web-site, Science of Motion. I thank you all for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with you. Susan Hopf

Basa, a richly colored bay Thoroughbred mare, born in 1999 came into my life as a rescue in the year 2004. She was destined for the track at one point in her life but an undisclosed injury caused her to be listed as a “Do Not Race” horse. A friend of a friend told me about her (and another) that were on their way to the killers but they both instead found themselves at my little establishment and both have been here since.

Defensive, angry and uncertain Basa’s attitude was no different than many tack horses I have re-trained. As is typical the first few weeks were spent just working up some sort of give and take so we could at least communicate without hysterics. Once she settled and realized I would not be putting chains, my teeth or other items of torture where they should never ever go I found her to be sensitive and quite willing to accept new ideas in her life as long as they were presented slowly and she was given time to assess each and every new danger. With a great deal of patience she eventually became a nice riding partner.

My equine cup was over flowing at this time and it was never my intention to keep her but to, instead, get her started and then find a good human match for her progressing talents. After much searching I thought I had found that good match but this did not turn out to be so and in fact returned to me a horse I barely knew.

A bright young woman who was, as far as I could discern a decent person and competent rider, answered my advertisement and earnestly took on the task of connecting with the now quiet mare. Looking ahead toward the goal of one day becoming a professional horseperson she was beginning the tedious process of college applications. All was going along swimmingly and the horse really seemed to like this young confident woman. However about 95 percent through the trial period with Basa an incident occurred that was never explained by the perspective new person in Basa’s life and never confirmed by any means other than deduction. All I do know for sure was that as I looked out my back window one evening while preparing dinner there stood Basa alone and loose in the barnyard with the crossties still attached to her halter and flapping in the breeze. Of course abandoning dinner in favor of catching a loose horse I ran the 200 feet to the barnyard and was greeted by Basa’s perspective new human with an air far too cavalier for what was an obvious difficulty that loosed the horse with gear in tow. Questions were not answered to my satisfaction and with rising suspicions and declining trust the deal was brought to a screeching halt and Basa was once again solely my responsibility.

The next several weeks found me faced with a highly agitated horse with a swollen back and anger in her eyes. She lunged at me with her teeth and sent her back legs flying in my direction more than once. She went through many sets of crossties rearing back until they broke and she was free of human intervention. Deciding some time off might do her some good she spent the next 9 months living the life of a “wild” horse going in and out of the pasture, eating her supplied meals and just enjoying the company of the other horses.

The next spring found her, once again, more amenable to human contact and within a few months the nice mare that I knew was back or so I thought. She worked in-hand and on the longe with her usual flair and as she regained her strength and the level of discipline I require of all of my training prospects I once again approached her with the saddle. In the blink of an eye the nasty mare was back and in rare form. Hind legs came within inches of my knees at the same time her teeth were gnashing only inches from my face and with all intent of injury. She reared, saddle went flying and landed with a crash, a scuffle ensued and there stood the mare out in the barnyard with crossties once again flapping in the breeze.

When I caught up with her the look in her eye said it all “no more betrayals from humans are allowed!!!!!!”  At that moment I knew she would either be my horse for all of her life or her life would not be a very long one. I will not pass extremely troubled horses along to others and despite the emotional struggle of euthanizing a young horse realized this was a distinct possibility for Basa if I could not resolve all of the conflicts surrounding her troubled existence. And so began a two-year project of healing this emotionally and physically injured horse.

Over the course of the next few months I will take you through the painstaking process of regaining this horse’s trust and healing her injured back. I hope you will come with me from time to time and that you will find this journey interesting and informative.

Next Articles by Susan Hopf-

Basa’s First New Steps

Basa First Few Months

Perhaps a setback with Basa

Equine Gizmos and Gadgets

Equine Colic