So You Want an OTTB?

From Tails & Trails, a Sidelines Blog About Rescue Organizations:

So You Want To Own An Ex-Racehorse?

September 24, 2012 By: Lisa Molloy Category: General

Lisa Molloy – ReRun Inc/Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue


So many times over the years, I’ve been contacted by prospective adopters that have had a slew of questions, many originating from fables told around the barn about what it’s like to own an off track Thoroughbred. While I always try my best to alleviate any concerns, I also like to be pragmatic and make sure any adopter is realistic in their expectations of what owning, riding and caring for a Thoroughbred entails. Going into an adoption with the rose tinted spectacles lifted means that actual match making process between horse and owner has a higher rate of success and is a better situation for all concerned. Although the horse’s welfare is of paramount importance, it is also vital that the adopter is happy with their choice of companion. With this in the forefront of my mind, I decided it was time to dispel a few myths that surround this glorious although often negated breed;



They are all “hot” and “crazy”!

Actually no – one of the leading misconceptions about Thoroughbreds is that they are all wild, crazy and hard to handle. Just like people, they all come with their own individual character traits and personalities – no two horses are the same. Treated on an individual basis with socialized turnout, correct balanced feeding and a regular training program, some can even be described as downright lazy. 95% of horse issues are man made and are created by the handler/rider. With correct transitioning from the track, Thoroughbreds are one of the kindest, smartest, most versatile breeds in the world.

You are in love with the idea of owning your own Secretariat!

Anyone can see and appreciate the majestic nature of a Thoroughbred be it running in the pasture or running on the track. However as with any animal, the reality of owning one can be a lot different. Although in the movies, the horse forms a tremendous bond with a small child, a retired Thoroughbred 2 year old that has just been gelded is unlikely to have watched that scene and would not be appropriate for a child.  Boarding, feeding, shoeing, routine vet work plus any emergency vet calls all come at a price and it’s not cheap and can quickly eat into any budget. Have realistic expectations of what is involved in owning and training an ex-racehorse. Most are not suitable as child mounts, for novice riders or first time horse owners. Although the horse is broke to ride, it should be considered green broke in terms of general riding. Typically horses available via adoption programs are not finished horses and will require additional training and re-schooling. You get out what you put in. To be successful at re-training your new horse, it requires consistency and time on a daily basis – be aware and prepared for the constraints that this will put on your time. A finished horse does not just happen overnight!



All Thoroughbreds have bad feet!

Another huge fallacy! It’s true that some do have bad feet (but this goes for most breeds with the exception of native ponies) but there are also plenty that don’t and are capable of going barefoot and even competing over fences without shoes. There is a transition period once the shoes are pulled but once that has passed and the feet have begun to grow out, many of them will grow a tremendous amount of hoof wall and be sound and comfortable barefoot.   

Thoroughbreds are poor keepers!

My own horses must have missed the memo on that one! When a horse retires from training, they have a high percentage of muscle and low percentage of body fat. Fed correctly – low sugar and starch with high fat, the muscle can be quickly replaced with body fat. Feed volume will be greater to start with but as the metabolism slows and more fat is laid down, the food intake can gradually be reduced to a maintenance level. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule due to body type, activity level, quality of hay and pasture available. A horse with a poor appetite is not normal and requires an evaluation from a vet. If an otherwise healthy horse that has a negative fecal, no ulcers and has teeth that are in good condition is still not gaining weight, contact your local feed nutritionist.


All retired racehorses have soundness issues!

Yet another widely held belief that is unequivocally untrue. Although there are plenty with soundness issues, there are just as many without. Some never make it to the track, some do and run as fast as a proverbial donkey – there are a myriad number of reasons why horses are retired – owner is downsizing, syndicate broke up, loss of interest, horse is non-competitive, horse does not have the right aptitude, horse may not be a stakes winner and the owner has no interest in running in lower ranks – the list goes on and on. Horses frequently retire for other reasons than just soundness. A reputable re-homing or re-training program will disclose all the information they have available to them regarding soundness issues prior to you completing the transaction. Also consider the fact that some conditions that may render the horse unsuitable for racing may have no impact whatsoever on its potential use in a new career. Check with your vet if unsure of certain conditions and the implications for intended use or have the horse vet checked prior to adopting/buying.


All Thoroughbreds will bolt!

That’s a bit like saying all dogs bite – given the right circumstances, any animal will react in a way that is out of character or in an unexpected manner. More ponies bolted with me as a child than all the Thoroughbreds combined in the past 25 years of riding them professionally. Horses regardless of breed are large animals with a flight instinct. With correct training from the ground up, bolting should not even be in their repertoire. And do consider, pulling with all your might against a 1200lb animal is futile; it’s a battle that physics dictates you cannot win. Ensure that your horse learns and understands vocal commands such as whoa and that you take the time to teach your horse a half halt.