Retraining Racehorses in Japan with Boyd Martin: First Clinic (Gotemba)

We’ve had a brilliant start to the retired racehorse clinic in Japan, hosted by the National Riding Club Association of Japan (NRCAJ), the Japanese Racing Association (JRA) and Godolphin. The first three days were spent at Gotemba in a beautiful setting at an Equestrian Center right in the shadow of Mount Fuji.

We had four groups of riders each day. The first group was very green and the second and third had been jumping for a year or so. The fourth group was quite advanced, jumping about a meter; they had been out to competitions and were working on some more high-level stuff.

On the first day of the clinic we all met in a big conference room and got to know each other. Each of the riders got up and talked a little bit about themselves and their horses, and we followed that with some questions and answers, and discussed some of the qualities that the Japanese OTTB’s have as potential sport horses. It was good to see familiar faces in the group as a number of riders who participated last year made the trip again, and it was quite rewarding seeing how their horses had advanced in the past 12 months.

That afternoon we did some basic flat work and then worked on jumping some small fences, turning exercises, and the general rideability of the horses.

On Day 2 we stepped it up a notch and did gymnastic work. For most of the horses I did a grid: for group 1 they trotted in and for the more advanced group they cantered in to a different exercise. At this point in the clinic I fell in love with three or four of the horses. The beautiful thing about the Japanese Thoroughbreds is they ideal sport horses: big strong, rangy horses, perfect for dressage, jumping and eventing. Probably 95% of them are bred in Japan but a few of them were actually imported from America. It’s a small world. Basically the reason for the different type of horse here is they have longer distance races in Japan, so they’re breeding for staying power and not as focused on two-year-old sprinters as in America, so they tend to breed a bigger, stronger animal.

On the third and final day of the clinic we designed the exercises to be competition-minded: we built a course in the stadium and walked the course with all the riders and talked about what I’d be looking for. Then we warmed up as if we were at a competition before each horse jumped the course three or four times. Each horse improved with each round and again, there were a number of horses I’d have gladly taken home to America.

Kosi translating for Boyd

I’ve got to say, I really enjoy helping the Japanese riders. They’re very engaged and hungry for information. It’s a bit unusual teaching as only a couple riders knew English, so by my side morning to night is a Japanese-born, Australian jockey named Kosi; luckily we like each other because we stand next to each from breakfast until dinner!

I’m very grateful to be here and am thankful to the NRCAJ, NRJ and Godolphin. Tonight we fly up to Hokkaido where we have one day of visiting breeding farms on the North Island; I’m really excited to see some of the world-famous stallions, breaking-in and pre-training that occurs here. It’ll be awesome to have a look as I actually worked in the North Island breaking horses about 20 years ago. I’ll report back to everyone after we check that out.


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  1. Cynthia Lawler says

    Enjoy the detailed blog

    What a cool trip!

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