If you are involved in the horse world, you have probably heard the term "OTTB" quite frequently these last few years. Thoroughbreds have had a resurgence in popularity these last few years. "OTTB's" or off track thoroughbreds seem to be a dime a dozen and organizations who place them seem to be popping up everywhere.
Why Thoroughbreds All of the Sudden?
Thoroughbreds are great athletes. Even the ones who don't take to the track have good work ethics. They excel in many other disciplines if they are retrained properly.
Many who are looking for an athletic horse who can't afford a fancy warmblood can find a prospect in their price range if it is off the track.
Also, if you get your racehorse straight from the track, you can often get them for free. Boarding and training at the track are normally charged per day and if a horse can't train and run to win, the trainer and owner are often happy to see them go quickly. Even if it means giving them away.
Many racetracks even have programs in place where owners can donate their unsuccessful racehorse to a rescue organization for a certain fee, and then the organization will take ownership of the horse and place it in a new home.
Sometimes this means that the horse will have received training, sometimes it does not. It depends on the situation.
Thoroughbreds as a Breed Are Great
Thoroughbreds as a breed are great. They are my favorite. All three of my personal horses are thoroughbreds. Two of them I retrained, one of them was already retrained when I acquired him.
They have many great qualities and are readily available almost everywhere, but if they have not been retrained, they are not well suited to inexperienced riders.
Why Aren't They for Everyone?
Racehorses live a different life and are trained completely differently than our riding horses are. They have to relearn things in order to be successful as a riding horse. Simple things such as standing still to be mounted and not leaning on the bit are new concepts to a horse that was raised at the racetrack.
Generally speaking, the longer they raced, the harder it will be, or more time it will take, to retrain them to respond as a riding horse would to our cues.
It is important that someone who is going to undertake the retraining of a racehorse be familiar with the differences in racetrack training and the way we ride our horses normally. The better understanding that you have of how a racehorse is trained the easier it will be for you to retrain it.
Are You Ready to Retrain a Thoroughbred?
If you are a new rider that is just coming off of lesson horses, I would not recommend a thoroughbred off the track. Though they are inexpensive and easy to come by, it takes a long time to get confident under saddle. If you lose your confidence on an inappropriate horse, it will take a lot longer to get it back again then it did for you to get it in the first place.
Thoroughbreds are sensitive horses. In order to retrain a racehorse, you need to have an independent seat and hands. Meaning you need to be able to use your hands, legs, and seat independently of each other to give your horse cues.
If you really don't know much about them, or you have any doubts about your abilities or confidence you probably are not ready to retrain a racehorse. Ask your trainer what they think. They have your best interest in mind and will tell you the truth if they think a thoroughbred off the track would be appropriate for you.
If you ( and your trainer) agree that you are ready to take on a racehorse to retrain congratulations! Now you should have your trainer help you find a good prospect for you.
Also, if you decide to go this route, make sure that you are not in a big rush to get on the show circuit. These things take time, and to retrain a racehorse properly you need to take your time.
Soundness is something that you need to take into consideration when purchasing a horse off the racetrack. Racing can be hard on a horses body, depending on how long they raced, it can have lasting wear and tear. Depending on the type of wear and tear, it may or may not affect the horse's ability to stay sound in the future.
If you are purchasing a horse off the track, or even through a rescue or placement organization a pre-purchase exam would be a good idea. You want to make sure that your new dream horse is going to be able to hold up to the retraining you have in mind. As well as the new future career you have in mind for it.
Sometimes, racehorses will be retired due to injuries that are the end of their racing careers, but they just need time and they will be ready to start a new career. So, take that into consideration that you may find a nice prospect that needs some time off to heal before you can start to retrain them.
Let Down Time
If you get a horse straight off the racetrack, he will probably need what is known as let down time. Meaning, time to relax and learn to be a normal horse.
At the track, they live in a stall all the time, never get turned out and only come out to get work. It is a whole different lifestyle. Even if the horse doesn't have a physical reason to need time off after retiring from racing, a lot of trainers recommend some "let down" time, to help the horses mental state before you begin to retrain it.
Another reason not to buy a racehorse to retrain if you are in a big hurry to go out and compete.
Rescue and Placement Organizations
Rescues and placement organizations are a good source of prospects if you decide that you are ready to retrain a racehorse. Most of them are very forthcoming about the horse's soundness, and will even provide medical records for you.
It depends on the organization whether or not the horse will have had any retraining. A reputable organization will be forthcoming about the horses training also. Most have adoption type applications so they can learn about you and your ability level. This is for both the benefit of you and the horse. Nobody wants to see a rider hurt because they are not on an appropriate horse, or a horse passed around because it landed in the wrong place.
Just Because You Can't Retrain One Doesn't Mean a Thoroughbred Isn't for You
So what if you decide you aren't ready to retrain one yourself just yet? Look for one that someone else has already retrained. One that has already been successful in whatever it is that you are hoping to do. Thoroughbreds are versatile, can and have been retrained to do just about anything.
You can still buy a thoroughbred, just buy one that has already been through the retraining stage, one that is experienced and well trained.
There are many advantages to owning a horse that was a racehorse. Things like the fact that they ride on trailers all the time from a young age, so trailering usually isn't an issue. They are used to the commotion and crowds at the racetrack, so they have been exposed to a lot at a young age. Which makes them some of the most well-adjusted horses around. They have great work ethics, it's bred into them. Even if they didn't like racing, I have never met one that wasn't a willing partner at work when ridden and trained well.
A Cool Fact About Thoroughbreds
For those of you who don't know, thoroughbreds that raced have lip tattoos to identify them. This number can easily be used to look up your horses racing history and breeding. You can find out where they were born, where they were sold, and for how much, where they raced, who the jockey and trainer were.
A lot of times if you contact the track photographer at the track your horse ran at, you can get their win pictures. It is so fun to see your baby back in their racing days. I have my horses win pictures framed in my living room.
With the resurgence in popularity of the thoroughbred, there are a lot of trainers and clinicians specializing in retraining racehorses. This is a great resource for those who are skilled enough to do it. Make sure though, that you honestly evaluate your skill level, and have your trainer evaluate your skill level. It is very easy to be convinced by watching professionals giving demonstrations that anyone can retrain a racehorse. Anyone who is experienced and has a certain level of skill can, but it is not for everyone. Definitely not for beginner riders.
Thoroughbreds Deserve all the Good Publicity They are Getting!
Thoroughbreds deserve all the good publicity that they are getting. They are great horses, great athletes, and willing partners!
Though it is trendy to retrain the "OTTB," make sure you get the thoroughbred that is right for you. If that means one that is older, and already experienced and retrained, there is nothing wrong with that!