A TB mare I bought off the track for my breeding program was a doll. I had mucho experience retraining on ground issues, in hand work, etc.
But even though I was a fairly experienced rider, I turned her over to a wonderful eventing barn/trainer who had much experience in the under saddle department. After about 4 weeks of 5 day a week u/s work with HER, I was able to start taking lessons on her.
This mare was a doll and actually won 50% of her races in her young racehorse career, so she had a go button and was a racing "thinker", as that was her early training. But she had a wonderful brain and a kindness that made converting her to dressage work a breeze.
If I were you, that's what I would recommend. After 3 mos. she came back home for breeding. In between babies, she was a wonderful riding horse in l/l dressage.
Good luck. I think it's great your reasoning for considering this.
I think your instincts are in the right place, to offer a horse a home that might need one. But there are tons of older horses (some former OTTBs, some other breeds) that need a safe place to land and I think one of them might suit you better. For example, an older horse (by which I mean teens) might have an owner get ill or die or be in a divorce or job loss or the horse might need to step down in competition level or change (i.e. an eventer to do just dressage) or it might need some medical care the owner can't afford (hocks injected, regular chiro or massage). If you are a novice rider, you will be much happier and progress much faster on a horse that knows the mental ropes. I also think if you are going to stay with your trainer, you ought to head in a direction he/she is experienced in.
I am a huge, huge fan of TBs, and particularly OTTBs. And I am well aware that they can have amazingly good, steady brains (most do, in fact, once they unwind and decompress). My former horse was sweet, quiet, and dead easy even as a 3 year old. At 5, I was letting much less experienced clients ride him, both for fun and in lessons. Even when he was three day fit, he was a fun, safe, easy horse (as long as you weren't trying to do dressage, but that's a different story). And, he is not the exception to the rule, I find (I actually think my current horse, who's not quiet and can be hard to manage if you don't know him is more the exception to the rule).
All that being said, I would never encourage a rider with no retraining or starting experience to get an OTTB or a very green horse of any breeding. Even with good brains, an inexperienced rider can have a lot of set backs unless working very, very closely with a trainer who has the experience (which is how I got experience. I participated in starting and retraining both a lot of young horses and OTTBs, then was closely mentored when I started my own for the first time).
As OTTBs have their own host of baggage, especially when they are bought right off the backside, it really does take someone who has BTDT to get the horse through its letting down, to understand the changes its body is going to go through, and understand that a lot of the stuff that is FACT as a race horse doesn't work as a riding horse. So, if your trainer is unfamiliar with those early, early steps, I think you are making the right decision to find something at a different point in its training.
If you want to help those CANTER horses, donate to CANTER or volunteer!
Ditto to YellowBritches. And to many of the other comments about the many wonderful OTTBs that are out there. You already seem to be taking the feedback to spend the $$$ and get a horse (OTTB or other) that has already had training from a good professional. But just in case you ever have second thoughts.......
I was you in 2000 and adopted an OTTB. I wanted to give a horse in need a good home.....and I thought I had the knowledge and experience to do it. That naiveté nearly killed me. Some of them are truly 'not wired' correctly after being on the track and you may not know it for months or years…that is what happened to me.
As I was approaching 40, I wanted to get back into the horses I had enjoyed so much in my teen years. I had not owned or ridden a horse for 15+ yrs but had been a pretty darn good hunter/jumper rider in my youth. I adopted through a legitimate OTTB rescue group. We took our time, talked about the various horses, didn't rush, looked for sane and AA personality, had vet check and complete history. In other words, I still think I did a lot of things right. One thing I did wrong is the horse I selected had not been ridden since off the track due to injury and rehab.
I adopted Chot in January 2000. We started slowly, worked on ground manners, lots of good old horsemanship, no hurry to ride. He was normally calm and responsive to learning, but after several months Chot started demonstrating one of the strongest flight instincts I have ever encountered in a horse. Like “I have to get out of this situation now and I don't care how I do it” flight instincts. I got in touch with Chot's trainer to learn more about his background.....he had been cattle prodded in the starting gate to improve his reaction time. I’m convinced that had something to do with it. So another thing I did wrong – didn’t thoroughly understand his race training and career.
We worked hard on building trust and respect. I watched/read a lot of books/videos. I was getting lots of help and support. I had help from a very strong horsewoman with a history of starting horses. She specialized in barrel racing and had taken many QHs off the track to train. She started his riding and did the first 90 days when we thought he was ready. Chot made huge improvements and we came a very long way. He was carefully exposed to lots of things and places. But it was daily reinforcement that he did not need to flee away from something uncomfortable.
I also made an extensive and expensive effort to rule out anything physical. Chot was checked out from head to toe. We did x-rays, nuclear scan, blood work, etc. etc. I worked with a nutritionist on his diet. I worked with a holistic DVM on supplements. I made sure I was doing all I could to mentally and physically make Chot happy. And I was riding Chot regularly with much success. No big aspirations, just basic riding and starting to go out on trails.
The first time I came off was a big spook at a cat by the mounting block that he had seen many times. He stepped or kicked my left shin. Nothing too bad but I have extensive bone remodeling. I was lucky that time. And fortunately bucking had not been one of Chot's issues so coming off was not a huge fear for me....I could manage his spooks as I was always ready for one.
Unfortunately, as I was mounting 10/26/2001, and as soon as I sat in the saddle, Chot pinned his ears flat back and launched like a rodeo bronc out of the shoot. A lesson was going in with 6 year olds and the only real thought I had was, 'don't come off and keep him away from the lesson kids'. The parents that were there said I made 7 of the 8 seconds before he launched me straight up in the air. I landed from about 10 feet (Chot is 17H).
A week in the hospital, a walker for almost a month, rehab and PT for months let me pretty broken and with no confidence. I still have flashbacks of that evening when on the mounting block even today. But physically I was lucky – just broken ribs, collasped lung, severe soft tissue damage in my hip and lower back. I almost never rode again, but that is another story for another day.
And yet I would not give up on Chot. Since bucking had not been one of his issues, I got the vets back to work to look for a physical issue. Sure enough, he had a tumor at the wither that most likely met my saddle on that horrible night. We had the tumor removed but Chot had learned to buck. He now had a new tool for when he wanted to escape something uncomfortable.
Again I worked with the best and spent 3+ yrs trying to rehab Chot. He would be fine for long periods of time and then for no obvious reason go into fits of bucking off anyone who dared to sit on him. No one could ride it out when he started.
My story is not for debate on what I did right or wrong. Nor is it to say OTTBs are crazy. It is only to say that novice/green rider on a green horse is never a good match. It is only to say that even if you do everything as well as you can, some OTTBs have issues that cannot be resolved. Please read my story about Chot on my website….this has been a very emotional journey for me and I am lucky to have walked away with only massive scar tissue in my hip. And Chot is lucky to be alive….
Chot is happily in my pasture but now at 16, the liver damage from his neglect is taking its toll. I have to manage him carefully and keep a close eye on him. He is very high maintenance requiring 3 meals a day with free choice hay at all times even out on good pasture, and he can still drop weight at a blink of an eye when his liver is acting up. Do you have the resources to take on a Chot? What can you do or are willing to do if it is not working?
Chot and I have been down a long road since 2000.....it is not one I would want you to travel. It has been emotionally and physically draining, not to mention financially….I left no stone unturned. Take your time, save your money and buy the best horse you can with the most training possible. Don’t get sucked into the rescuing a horse or how cute they are on the websites. Leave that to others with the experience, skills and knowledge to be able to do it successfully.
Wow, Stoneymeadow -- what a tough experience you had! The unpredictable horses are the very hardest to deal with, for sure. Chot is very lucky that he had you and ReRun looking out for him!
I strongly agree that it's a better idea to see an OTTB that's already been restarted. You have a much better idea of what you're getting both from an athletic perspective and what kind of mindset they bring to the table.
I had a friend who bought a very flashy TB off the track and he turned out to have some real work ethic issues. He also figured out pretty quickly that he could get her off and that became a pattern for him when she asked him to work a bit harder. After having him in professional training several times, she finally gave him away to a young rider who used extensive wet saddle blanket therapy. In the end he turned into a nice horse but he needed a kid with velcro breeches who enjoyed riding the snot out of him and who wasn't intimidated when he tried to buck her off.
I am a big fan of OTTBs but you need to have a program with a trainer who enjoys the off-the-track challenge, you need to know as much background on them as possible (working with organizations like CANTER can be very helpful because they do have the relationships with the trainers) and you have to be willing to let it go if you discover the horse is not right for you. As someone else pointed out, if you buy a horse off the track you will most likely spend less up front but more in training. In general, unless your really enjoy the training yourself, it's better to spend a bit more up front and get one that already has some retraining on it.
Now that I've passed 50, I know I'm a lot more careful about what I ride. And yes, I did agree to restart an OTTB over the winter but I'd gotten good background on him and I'm taking it very slowly.
I agree that you shouldn't get a horse directly off the track but I don't see the last two stories (the formerly cattle prodded horse with painful tumor and the horse that had a bad work ethic) as being particularly relevant to the discussion of OTTB's.
They seem more appropriate for general advice against getting any horse that you can't really try out or green horses in general unless you've got a lot of experience. That's common sense. Other than the cattle prod (do they really do that at reputable tracks?), none of the issues would seem to be particular to TB's. Any horse can get a tumor and one thing TB's generally have is a good work ethic.
I do think you can get more bang for your buck with a retrained OTTB than a WB of equivalent talent and training because a lot of people don't like the TBs.
Unlike with directly off the track where you are saving money now but you may have to spend more in training later, the money you save buying one of appropriate temperament that has been properly retrained instead of a comparable WB can be spent on other fun stuff.
Also keep in mind, most of what you get off the track starts before it ever gets there. We usually have no way of knowing but, the trainers that take the time and have the youngster backed correctly and patiently come off the track just about the same as any green show horse. The ones that have a 2 week/ 1 month break out, come off just like that, completely confused and let down by humans. Of course good bloodlines help the equation.
I realize that I am basically just reiterating what many have already said, but I really think that you'd be better off staying away from the OTTBs.
That said, thoroughbreds, (particularly the OTTBs) will always have a soft spot in my heart. There are so many wonderful OTTBs, and I know many lucky people that have acquired great partners with this breed. There are absolutely some real gems out there who require very little extra training and vet care to become knock-out horses.
BUT, BUT, BUT, I have also met so many talented, confident, and skilled riders who purchased an OTTB (who asked everything they should have in the pre-purchase stage), and realized too late that they did not have the requisite skills and know-how to have a successful relationship with the horse. Most of them ended up with an injured/sick horse, and/or they got hurt themselves. In virtually all cases, their confidence was in shambles.
As someone who lived through the situation I just described, please believe me when I say that you will not realize that you don't have the skills necessary to deal with all the possible trouble your OTTB might throw in your way until you're in too deep to easily extricate yourself from the situation.
And similar to you, I decided to work with a trainer who didn't specialize in OTTBs--HUGE mistake. Most OTTBs really are a "breed" apart, and so many of them really do require a special touch. I eventually sold my guy (to a loving home) and I went to work with a trainer who specialized in rehabilitating OTTBs. Once I learned how to properly ride/train them, I finally felt comfortable dealing with most of the antics that the horses threw in my way.
The market is still fairly soft at moment, and you can probably pick up a horse more suited to your *current* skill set for not too much $.
I wish someone would have told me to look elsewhere when I was in your shoes.
NCRider - I'm sorry if I didn't connect my points clearly to the OP's question but I do believe my story is very relevant to the discussion. Never said my OTTB was representative of all OTTBs and clearly said green horse/green rider is never a good combo.
OTTBs go through a whole different level of stress at a very early age than the vast majority of other horses out there and as a result, they MAY respond to stress differently.....This is a huge difference between OTTBs and other horses. Chot is absolutely "miswired", most likely due to being a track TB, and no amount of training is ever going to change that. If that is not relevant to this conversation then I don't know what would be. Yes there are many wonderful OTTB success stories but sharing the ones that are not so wonderful is important as well. I shared a very personal and emotional story for the benefit of the OP to hopefully help her in her decision making. If it wasn't relevant to you, skip over it but don't minimize it.
and regarding cattle prodding, Chot was with a reputable trainer at one of the most highly regarded tracks in the country....think of name and place we have seen on TV in May/June. this was also 1998 when it was done. Chot is also topshelf breeding. The trainer had no issues with disclosing this information and wanted to be as helpful as possible. The point being made is that you have to ask more questions with adopting/rescuing/purchasing an OTTB because there may be things helpful to know. And with the tumor, it produced another evasion due to the other ghosts that Chot carriers with him.
side note - I have two Hanoverian/TB geldings - I know TBs and agree that the vast majority have wonderful work ethics. One has been my partner through Intermediare I and the other is new for me but showed 3rd & 4th in 2012.
Basically, the entire equation is dependant on how much pro-help you are willing to get with your first one.
When I got my first ottb I was under no circumstances a professional level rider, but I took weekly (or more) lessons on the horse.
When I got my second ottb I still was not a professional level rider, but I was a working student/assistant for a very good trainer and had her eyes on me several times a week.
When I got my third ottb I still was not a professional level rider, but I took weekly lessons on him and taught him to jump ONLY in lessons (with prorides for the early jump schooling sprinkled in).
I did not start jumping ANY horses outside of lessons until I had taught (under supervision EVERY jump school) at least four horses how to jump 2'6"/3' courses, A show quality, complete with lead changes. Repeat: how many times did I jump a horse outside of a lesson before I had taught from scratch several horses how to go in the ring at rated shows and hunt around? ZERO. I did it over and over again under lesson supervision before I ever hopped a horse over a crossrail by myself.
Over the course of SEVERAL horses, I weaned myself off more lessons for teaching a horse the baby-basics, although I still take two lessons a week on my most advanced competition horse, and I *still* take occasional lessons on a baby-baby to check in with how I am riding those guys. Lessons are a lifestyle choice, and ammy owners who love that lifestyle have a huge leg up in terms of getting an ottb and having a good experience.
Now I am a professional (which I learned how to be by ...training up horses under the guidance of excellent professionals), and most of my horse-clients are ottbs. The horses are doing great because they get several pro-rides a week and the clients ride them in lessons. My clients whose budget allows them fewer interactions are ok with following my instructions and limiting their efforts to the "allowed activities."
But the absolute MINIMUM is one lesson a week. And/or/plus several prorides a week. This simply needs to be budgeted in as part of the monthly cost of an ammy owning an ottb until you have SEVERAL retrained-ottbs under your belt.
On the other hand, the number of horses I see, who could have learned to hop around 3' courses within six months, and whose owners could be owning a rated show quality animal with a 5 digit price tag by now, who are still giving their owners major problems years (YEARS!) down the line is also quite high. Owner is still years later paying the same board on a $3,500 "challenging" horse, when the same horse could be worth $35k by now and they could be going to A shows, not falling off every third week.
Needless to say, these horses and their owners are not getting and never did get any kind of regular help from professionals, and incidentally a $3,500 horse that dumps you once a month costs the same to feed as one that canters politely around at HITS.
You CANNOT teach yourself to train up an ottb by trial and error.
It NEVER WORKS.
But if you do it right, learning how to train up ottbs can teach you how to ride at the professional level, and not in a lifetime, either.
How well getting an ottb turns out for the human is generally directly proportional to how much the human is prepared, from the outset and for the long haul, to invest in pro help.
Last edited by meupatdoes; Jan. 11, 2013 at 05:55 PM.
Maybe I have a different perspective because I rode a large quantity of OTTB's of various levels of retraining when I was not that experienced and had a grand old time on most of them. I am not a good rider. I do not have a magically quiet seat. Nor was a super fearless teen at the time. They weren't needles in haystacks. Nor were they ticking time bombs as one of the above posters seems to imply. Any number of them would have been a perfectly appropriate horse for someone in the OP's shoes because they weren't directly off the track and someone who knows OTTB's had presorted them into the "likely to be appropriate for amateurs" pile. They had all been restarted by someone with more skill than me but they weren't super experienced. I don't think they were more likely to cause a "good but new to greenies" rider any more trouble than a purpose bred horse with comparable training.
In fact, if you are comparing them to warmbloods, they were often easier to ride because they didn't require nearly as much strength and were usually a little bit smaller and narrower.
They're just horses.
ETA-to follow up with MEUPAT's post, I agree with everything she says but I think it applies to any green horse, not just an OTTB.
NCRider, I think the point most of us are trying to make is that the OP going to the track and buying something straight off the backside, that may have raced the day before, would not be an appropriate choice for her AT THIS STAGE OF HER RIDING CAREER. At some point, yes, maybe. But, right now, as a novice with a trainer who does not have experience with OTTBs, it would not be a great scenario.
But what you are describing- the "pre-sorted" (love that term!), and re-started but green- may be perfectly acceptable. I think the step we are all suggesting she avoid is the going to the track and picking one up from there and instead seeking out something (OTTB or otherwise) that is a little further along.
I agree with you, they ARE just horses, but the first couple of months, directly off the track require (or should) a certain amount of experience or guidance from someone who has that experience.
From my personal experience, it is key to just let them down for a few months. Lots of pasture time to just wind down. To do nothing but to be allowed to just be a horse and out of the pressure than can come with racing and being managed for racing.
This can be very helpful -- and TB's seldom lose their work ethic -- so you can start with a less fired up critter. Starting over with a more quiet mind.
You all are providing great insight. The fact is that I am an ok rider, nothing special, trying every day to improve, but I can see that one of my big problems, which is recognizing the exact moment to correct and the exact moment to reward, would be a big limiting factor in my ability to train a green horse. I will never be the kind of person who can hang around a barn and ride other people's green horses to learn, will never be a pro rider. And I doubt I'll have the resources to have a trainer ride my horse for me. One lesson a week is what will probably be all I can afford. And if I went to the track to find "the one" they would ALL be the one (barring poor conformation- I am studying up on that). I'm a sucker for a cute face. So this is great advice and I will take it. So one other question, it seems like many of these started horses from organizations like CANTER and New Vocations, etc. are still pretty green when they go to their new homes? I feel like sticking to an established organization instead of craigslist, etc. because I feel like those orgs have the horse and rider's best interest in mind.
I'd steer clear from Craigslist, but there may be a re-seller like JudyBigRedPony (MD), Mapleshade Farm (GA), or Maxxtrot (FL) in your area. They have the experience to pretty quickly ascertain if a particular horse is going to be ammie friendly or if it will need a pro ride.
I've been very fortunate (as a plump, out of shape ammie) to have really good experiences with OTTBs. Most of mine (7 or so over 20 years) have been exceptionally kind and willing horses. But I did have one with a screw loose and a couple that were never going to be sound enough for a sporthorse career. Those were risks I was okay with taking both financially and emotionally.
Good luck finding your off, off track TB and please keep us posted on the journey. Lots of great experience here in evaluating OTTBs for sport, so take advantage of it!
If you believe everything you read, better not read. -- Japanese Proverb
Yellowbritches, I agree with what a lot of you are saying. The OP doesn't seem like a good candidate for anything super green, whether an OTTB or not.
What I was objecting to were the two posters who seemed to be implying that OTTB's as a whole were something the OP (and any non-expert rider) should avoid. They seemed to imply that OTTB's are like ticking time bombs and you never know when they're going to go into some acid/track flashback. That sentiment is what bothered me.
OP, even if you find a horse with a lot of training, it can be very helpful to have a trainer hop on occasionally to make sure the buttons are still working. Even if it meant that you skipped a lesson everyone once in a while and paid for a training ride with you watching.
TB's have SO much heart, so I will reiterate the importance of letting it down for several months to get rid of the stressors of racing and the racing world management.
Don't hurry and be patient when it's time to get u/s again, as they are programmed to ride the way they were trained...to RACE.
So funny, with "Sly", the hardest thing for her to learn when first mounted after a year of let down was that the minute rider got on her back that she could just stand. She'd jig, jig, jig. Even at the walk she'd jig". In her mind, the act of a rider getting on her back meant to race. We never reprimanded her. Just sat on her while she jigged and struggled through that fact that she was so left bent she could not flex right on the track at all.
About 3 weeks later of this, she finally realized "I don't have to race" and stood like a stone. Once they understand they don't have to race, they are so fun when they understand they have "no pressure".
You'll never find another breed with such heart to work for you, but after racing they really need to be let down, be a horse and
let that life be a part of their past.
Last thing, I know I'm running on...you will learn a lot. Seldom do we learn anything to be better riders, better trainers and better horsemen from "made" horses. This is an adventure and a wonderful one. At least it was for me. I've had 4 OTTB mares who I bought for my breeding program who became the loves of my life (and great moms too).
The thing I found common from turning them from hot to normal was that "let down" time. And then patience and understanding that they only know how to ride well LEFT, and can get competitive and RUN (ignore you) when a horse wants to pass them on a trail ride. That will pass too with patience and no reprimanding. They were, after all, trained as babies by humans to run as fast as they can regardless.