Off the track Thoroughbreds, or ex-racehorses, can make wonderful hunters, jumpers, dressage and pleasure mounts. But many people pass them by because of unfortunate myths surrounding them. If you've admired the intelligence, courage and beauty of the Thoroughbred but were afraid to adopt or buy an ex-racehorse because of some of these myths, maybe it's time to re-examine your beliefs. Your next show or pleasure horse may be on the track now.
Myth 1: Ex-Race Horses Are Difficult to Groom
Perhaps it's because we've all seen a horse shying away from the gate at the track while watching race coverage on television. People tend to think that Thoroughbreds are cranky, moody or difficult to handle. For the most part, the opposite is true. Thoroughbreds at the track are handled daily by grooms, hot walkers and others. They're brushed, bathed, clipped, bandaged, tacked up and handled with minimal fuss. They have to be; racing stables are busy places, and prima donnas are expensive to take on. Most Thoroughbreds are people-oriented horses who love to be handled and are great in the stable.
Myth 2: All Ex-Race Horses Have Injuries
It's true that racing takes its toll on a horse's legs. But so does any equine discipline. Many Thoroughbreds are retired simply because they're not fast enough. They may have no injuries, minor injuries or are recovering from major injuries, but not every ex-racehorse has terrible injuries that will cost you a fortune to heal. A sound practice before investing in any horse is to have your veterinarian conduct a thorough pre-purchase examination with X-rays. Such an exam can pinpoint any health issues and help you decide whether or not you're capable of handling them before you purchase or adopt the horse.
Myth 3: Former Racing Thoroughbreds Only Take One Lead
Some horses naturally prefer one lead over another, but Thoroughbreds aren't naturally "left leading" horses. They're trained in both directions, and should take up either lead when asked.
Myth 4: Thoroughbreds Are "Hot" Horses Unsuitable for Amateurs
Like people, Thoroughbreds vary according to their genetics and environment. Some may be spooky, while others are pure babysitters. It depends on the horse, the rider and the circumstances. Ex-racehorses are no spookier than other horses. In fact, in some circumstances they can be more level-headed. Think about a crowded indoor arena or schooling ring at a horse show. Thoroughbreds used to the noise and crowds at the race track may be calmer in such an environment than a backyard pony who has never been at a horse show!
Myth 5: Ex-Race Horses Have Stall Vices
Cribbing, weaving...horsemen know what a toll such vices take on their horses' health. Ex-race horses and Thoroughbreds are no more prone to stall vices than any other breed. Why some horses develop vices and others don't remains a mystery, but there's no basis in fact that Thoroughbreds as a breed are more likely to crib, weave or exhibit stable vices than other horse breeds.
Why Adopt or Buy and Ex-Race Horse?
Thoroughbreds are among the most intelligent, athletic and beautiful horses of all. If I seem a little prejudiced in favor of them, thank a former race horse named With a Twist. "Cookie" as she was affectionately known in the barn was a gorgeous bay Thoroughbred mare who was retired from racing and purchased by a friend of mine to train as a hunter/jumper. She went on to become a trusted equitation and hunter, carrying both my friend and subsequent owners to many show ring championships. She had no serious vices and no injuries except for a scar that marred her appearance somewhat; she was indeed one of the best horses I've been privileged to ride. She set the bar high for me, so that every horse I ride, I compare to her. I learned a lot about retraining Thoroughbreds from my experience with Cookie and her owner and trainer, and these experiences dispelled many myths.
There are thousands of Thoroughbreds in North America, Europe and Australia that need a second career after racing. If you long for an athletic, intelligent equine partner, an ex-racehorse may be exactly what you're looking for.
IMAGE SOURCE: Jade, Morguefile.com
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