Thinking of Getting an OTTB?
I apologise if this has been posted before. I have been working with OTTB's for years, but lately I've been working with alot. I see lots of people having trouble with them, and buying one, then getting upset when they have issues, so I thought I would start this as a sort of...manual for people who are contemplating an OTTB. I'm no expert, but I thought I would give my 2 cents. Feel free to add on.
an Off The Track Thoroughbred has, as the name implies, been on the race track. Even if a thoroughbred has not been raced, but it has a lip tattoo, it has been trained for the track. This training is done better with some horses than others. I have seen some come off the track with a lovely stop, soft mouth, nice back up. Many pull into the bit with iron hard mouths, rush around in a hurry with their heads in the air, evading the bit at slower speeds, take the opportunity to run off at the slightest excuse, and don't know the meaning of stop, relax or back up. Most are some where in the middle. Many have no ground work, and don't know how to tie. They are led with a chain or ring bit. Their day is typically, come out, get groomed and tacked quickly, run, cool off on the hot walker, go back in the stall. 22-23 hours a day stalled, 1-2 (that's being generous), being worked with.
Side Effects of The Track Life
The hours of boredom punctuated by short periods of intense activity wreak havoc on a horse mentally, and a combination of that and being worked hard young can cause physical problems. Horses that crib and weave are common. Soundness issues are very common. Tendon and joint problems, slab fractures and sore feet from incorrect trimming are seen often. If you are considering an ottb for a demanding sport, have it vetted very thoroughly.
Thoroughbreds are a hot breed. They are bred to be incredibly fast and athletic. They typically have lots of endurance and speed. While each individual is different, breed should be factored in. If you are looking for an excessively quiet companion to plod along a local trail once a month, this is likely not the breed for you. They have lots of heart and will often work themselves to death if you ask it.
Every horse is an individual, and should be treated as such. Some are quiet. Some are naturally forgiving of mistakes and well suited to a confident beginner(with a suitable amount of after track training). Some make great trail horses. Some are fireballs that only an experienced handler should touch. Like any breeds, some are nuts, mean, unpredictable, flighty, while others are kind, steady, loyal, hard working. Take an experienced friend with you, evaluate the horse and owner.
You have a thoroughbred fresh off the track, and are aware of what you have gotten your self into. Now what? Well, first step is usually to pull the shoes and trim them properly. Many OTTB's come with horribly shod feet, typically long toes and under run heels. They often need to make a slow transition to barefoot, so make sure the footing is soft right off the bat. Then they need time. Kick them out for 6 months. Some are hyped up on high calorie feeds, a unnatural lifestyle and supplements/drugs. Others are just plain drained and exhausted. They need time to learn to be a horse again, and for their bodies to re set. After that, start retraining. Take your time and have fun!
I personally love these horses, and would like to see them all eventually in suitable homes, with jobs they enjoy. They are hard working, talented horses suitable for a number of disciplines. I believe one of the keys to avoiding unhappy ottb's and their owners is knowledge. People should educate themselves well, and have understanding people around to help them work through difficulties. Choosing a horse that is appropriate to your skill level and suitable for the riding you do is essential, with any horse.