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Novices and offtrack Thoroughbreds?

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  • Novices and offtrack Thoroughbreds?

    I would appreciate the opinions of those of you who have worked with horses off the track. I have read everything I can about retraining racehorses and there's a lot of conflicting info about how much experience one needs to take on a project like this. I'm a novice rider half-leasing a horse and riding at First/Second level. I'll be shopping for my own horse soon. I've never trained a horse, only working to retrain this one, and will be working with a trainer, but not one who has a lot of experience with OTTBs. I am drawn to the horses in trainer listings for CANTER because it sounds like a lot of fun and challenge to retrain a racehorse, and because they are so inexpensive, and also because I like the idea of providing a good home for a horse in need.

    So, in your experience, when does a novice rider become good enough to take on a horse like this? Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    I felt competent to take a TB right off the track after I had started a couple horses from scratch.

    If you're working with a trainer, then I would want that trainer to have experience starting horse from scratch, and you likely would be best served with experience riding green, unpredictable horses. The ability to stay out of the horse's way is pretty vital, IMO, along with just being to go with the flow.

    Comment


    • #3
      It can be done, but I'd recommend getting one that has already been selected/started by professional. You may pay a bit more than fresh of the track, but it will already have been screened for sanity/soundness, been let down, and assessed for ride ability. So instead of paying $700-1,500 you might have to pay $3-5K -- but money well spent to have better idea of what you are getting.

      If you can get regular help, you would be OK w/right horse, but it isn't going to be a fast process. Green on Green is NEVER great, but it can be OK.

      Comment


      • #4
        I would look for an older trained horse, personally. If you are a very confident person with a trainer riding full time then perhaps... but generally I would discourage it.

        OTTBs can (generally) be prone to ulcers and may need quite a bit of help getting weight on. The purchase price is nothing compared to long term care for a hard keeper (I know they are not all hard keepers, just speaking in general).

        Why not get a free horse from a rescue?

        Comment


        • #5
          When I was a teenager in Trinidad my trainer got all her horses off the track. They had many different personalities and temperaments. My favorite horse was a tall chestnut named Entre (parentes?). I think the trick is to choose the horse compatible with your needs and get a trainer. Also there are some horses that come off the track that aren't race horses. Pony horses are almost better than bombproof for all they go through in a day's work.

          Paula
          He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).

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          • #6
            It depends on the horse. I bought a horse at 3 year old who was 6 months off the track. The horse was pretty much born broke, had zero spook, and really tried. Other horses come off the track breathing fire and will challenge even the best of riders. A boarder at my barn has a 3 year old that, while green, is sweet, great brain, and quiet. He went to his first hunter pace a few months off the track and was a star. His owner is doing a fantastic job with him I know plenty of people with... questionable riding ability who get horses off the track. Might not be the best choice, but they make it work.

            Basically, you are more than qualified to get a horse off the track *if* you pick one with a temperament and brain that suits you.
            .

            Comment


            • #7
              I`m a notice and my mare (unraced) when I took her on was probably comparable to those OTTBs with a bit of initial retraining, but in addition she had a wonderful, steady temperament. She has been a great horse for me. You do need a trainer who has worked with a lot of TBs and understands the TB temperament--some don`t.

              And they aren`t all hard keepers. My gelding is one of the truly tubby ones and my mare is probably in the average range, neither a hard nor an easy keeper.

              Have you checked out the Retired Racehorse Training ProjectÉ It`s a great resource:

              http://retiredracehorsetraining.org/

              Comment


              • #8
                It sounds so romantic to give an OTTB a great home and have fun learning together...

                But the learning doesn't happen automatically. It takes time and experience, and even then, the success is very much dependent on the horse's temperament - something that can be hard to assess at the outset.

                I agree with GAhawk... get something that someone else has already done a bit of work on. So much easier to evaluate what you're going to have when you can see the horse after its been let down a bit, and has had a bit of re-training. There are several COTHers who do this, and have some really nice horses at very reasonable prices.
                **********
                We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.
                -PaulaEdwina

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Thanks everyone, you confirmed what I figured but didn't really want to hear. I initially decided to go with one that had been retrained already but those trainer listings are killing me! So many lovely horses.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I worked at a few sales barns, here and in UK. I hate the myth of the killer, crazy TB. I would go through a reputable rescue like CANTER, and tell them about your experience. They often have some that have been fostered that aren't that pricey. If you don't plan to jump, sometimes there are horses with minor soundness issues that they prefer to go to non-jumping homes.

                    The key is having the skill to pick a good mind, and they are not that rare. Honestly, if a horse has no desire to run, that often means they will be great amateur owned horses. If they are let down properly, ulcers treated if needed, chiro and farrier work done as needed, then they are just a normal green horse. They are stiff but they do know about leg. They are way better than a badly trained dressage horse you'd have to undo/retrain! I don't think a trainer has to have OTTB experience, but the trainer must be classical, patient, and empathetic. I do not dislike WBs, and I hate broad generalizations. But WBs seem to tolerate abusive riding better than TBs. The handsy, hot-seated, aggressive trainers who force a frame will fry a TB. You ask TBs, you tell WBs. Yes, all horses are individuals, etc, but the stereotypes exist for a reason. I prefer the TB ride; I joke that I'm lazy.

                    If you are open and willing to learn, patient and listen to your horse, and seek guidance but question even pros,if the horse says it's not working, you will be so happy to save a OTTB, they are often such loving, responsive rides! Just get help picking the temperament, and you won't have any issues!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      If I were in your shoes, I would definitely go with one who has already transitioned. I bought one from Jess with Canter Mid-Atlantic and he was exactly as represented. She had had a couple months with him to really assess his personality and point him in the right direction.

                      I've bought several straight off the track and likely will again, but I have my own place and lots of Dr. Green and time. If I were paying board, I'd much rather invest in a known entity to the extent possible.

                      Good luck in your search!
                      If you believe everything you read, better not read. -- Japanese Proverb

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by LilyandBaron View Post
                        I worked at a few sales barns, here and in UK. I hate the myth of the killer, crazy TB. I would go through a reputable rescue like CANTER, and tell them about your experience. They often have some that have been fostered that aren't that pricey. If you don't plan to jump, sometimes there are horses with minor soundness issues that they prefer to go to non-jumping homes.

                        The key is having the skill to pick a good mind, and they are not that rare. Honestly, if a horse has no desire to run, that often means they will be great amateur owned horses. If they are let down properly, ulcers treated if needed, chiro and farrier work done as needed, then they are just a normal green horse. They are stiff but they do know about leg. They are way better than a badly trained dressage horse you'd have to undo/retrain! I don't think a trainer has to have OTTB experience, but the trainer must be classical, patient, and empathetic. I do not dislike WBs, and I hate broad generalizations. But WBs seem to tolerate abusive riding better than TBs. The handsy, hot-seated, aggressive trainers who force a frame will fry a TB. You ask TBs, you tell WBs. Yes, all horses are individuals, etc, but the stereotypes exist for a reason. I prefer the TB ride; I joke that I'm lazy.

                        If you are open and willing to learn, patient and listen to your horse, and seek guidance but question even pros,if the horse says it's not working, you will be so happy to save a OTTB, they are often such loving, responsive rides! Just get help picking the temperament, and you won't have any issues!
                        THIS. I have two right now - one has taken me three years and a lot of hard, hard work-and he has turned into a really nice guy. The other one was easy from the start, and loves to work. I'd look for one that is "uninterested in racing" rather than one that has had a successful racing career - they tend to be more laid back. Letting one down isn't that big of a deal, and it can be a good time to establish some trust that will make the transition to riding/flatwork much easier. They are not the fire-breathing monsters everyone makes them out to be.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          It really depends on the horse but I would, in general, agree with buying one that's at least been restarted. It's much easier to evaluate a horse after someone has let them down and got them working under saddle. They will move better and you'll get a sense for their work ethic.

                          You have to really enjoy the training process if you take them off the track. I've restarted four and have a fifth one that I'm fostering for CANTER right now. They have all been different. Some were pretty easy; others came with some challenges. What really helped me was when I got my first OTTB, my trainer had restarted many ex-racers. She worked very closely with me and gave me a lot of good information.

                          It's great to give a racehorse a non-racing home, but it can take a lot of patience and a willingness to move at the pace that's appropriate for the horse. The one I have right now doesn't really do anything wrong but he's quite anxious and needs lots of long, slow, easy work just to get him to settle. After some trial and error I've discovered that he goes much better in a bitless set up than any of the five bits that I tried! One of my friends at my barn has been a bit surprised by how much training he needs -- I think she thought that he'd be out trail riding and galloping in just a couple of weeks (there are, certainly, horses who can do that, but this isn't one of them). Now that she's watched me working him, I think she has a better understanding of what goes into it.
                          Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
                          EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Lots of good advice here. Personally I love ottb's, they have the biggest hearts and are just looking for a partner and a job. As a trainer, I've restarted a few and had good experiences, but agree that they are all a little different and the "too slow" horses are easier than the "successful but old" types (although those have the most mileage/experience and become easier in their own ways once they understand the new job). They learn so much at the track that comes in handy later, like how to travel and stand for vet and farrier, and they tend to have great work ethics.

                            That said!!... They do like to work, which doesn't work for everyone's schedule, and I've seen perfectly good ottb's become "problem horses" when someone tries to ride them 1-2x a week or less (especially in winter when turnout footing is not good for self-exercise). I've also seen problems when someone who is quite competent on a solid, trained horse gets on an ottb and wonders why the buttons don't work. Some understanding of how to "install buttons" is necessary- the horses are usually willing, but they need to be shown the way, which is slightly different than "just riding" a horse that already knows what to do, and some become nervous when uncertain or confused, so the right rider attitude/understanding is essential. They also can "know" things that are different than what we want, and "un-training" is slightly different than just teaching a new skill (remember, they are just trying to please you, and may be upset if you don't appreciate the attempt they offer, especially if it's been rewarded in the past, so this is where tact is important).

                            As a rider, I think it's important to ask yourself how skilled you really are (or ask your trainer). If you are doing first level on a school master, or you are reschooling an ex-trail horse (which I'm doing right now, and it comes with it's own challenges I can assure you!!), it's a whole different type of riding than on an ottb. If you are used to a hotter/more forward/sensitive type of ride, or you've done some h/j in the past, you're probably in a better position to take on this challenge. An easy, balanced two point with independent seat/hands is a really, really great tool to have in the tool box. You should be to the point as a rider that you can stay balanced (even when the horse moves unexpectedly - which is where I think the background in h/j can be helpful)) and give subtle, correct aids (reinforcing as necessary), while also helping the horse stay balanced (all greenies are so different balance-wise than older/more educated horses, hopefully you've ridden a few to get an idea what they need from the rider, otherwise you're in for a surprise the first time you try to canter a corner! lol). It's also important to consider your goals and timeline. If you're in this to learn and have as long as it takes, an ottb might work! If you want to move up and compete at a certain level by a certain time, you're probably better off getting a horse that already has some training or is showing some inclination to dressage. Ottb's can make awesome dressage horses, but especially for your first one, there are apt to be bumps in the road and significant learning curves. On the other hand, once you get past those bumps, many are lovely movers, super motivated, and can become so light to the leg/seat that they are an absolute pleasure to ride! In the process of riding an ottb, you will learn to be a light, balanced, tactful rider with a finesse that will help you to ride anything. But it does take time and hours in the saddle to become a light, balanced, tactful rider, and some of the ottb's I've known haven't cut me any slack in that department! Of course, in time I've come to appreciate that about them If you can give them what they need as a rider/trainer/owner, they will give you their whole hearts and do anything to please you.

                            If you're not sure if you're ready to handle a project right off the track, I see tons of ottb's for sale (craigslist and whatnot) that have had some time away from the track and some sort of retraining that are just as cheap as the Canter horses. That's not a bad way to go, the horse may still be real green, but at least you'd have the chance to ride it first and see if you're comfortable on it. Also, make sure your trainer is on board with whatever you decide to do, I've run across a few trainers that were not real interested in working with my ottb's, which is fair enough (they aren't for everyone) but good to know ahead of time!
                            Gallant Gesture "Liam" 1995 chestnut ottb gelding
                            Mr. Painter "Remy" 2006 chestnut ottb gelding
                            My Training Blog: www.dressagefundamentals.com

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I am currently transitioning four geldings off the track... of them two are relatively easy - hopped right on after a month of down time and was able to WTC with no real trouble. Another one was dead broke and amazing from day 1 and happily carts his 13 y/o kid rider around jump courses with no adult intervention, and the last is a silly, sassy, up to no good hooligan (he is my favorite). I think it is all about getting the one with the right brain. For the kid, temperament was more important than fanciness.

                              You can easily find a horse with a great temperament if you look for it. What will be harder is retraining all their muscles to move in equal balance when you yourself are learning balance. That is definitely where you will need trainer help

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                It depends on the horse. I have known some downright lazy TBs. The thing is to give them some down time from the track. They have been exposed to a lot already. Noises and colors and crowds which is good. The also spent 23 hours a day in a 12 by 12 box, fed and conditioned to the max (if they were lucky) and had a lot of time to fill mentally which is not so good.

                                If you are riding 1st and 2nd level you probably have the seat and hands not to have too many problems astride. What you want to do is educate yourself on the small differences in handling from the ground. Most don't tie, are mounted on the move so standing at a mounting block is not usually a natural thing, having all their feet cleaned from the near side, etc.. I have no doubt you can do this if you pick the right horse. Especially if you have the guidance of a trainer. Talk to the grooms not just the track trainer and going through something like the Canter Org. is a great idea. If you are in Fl I can hook you up.
                                Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  I was a first time owner, with an unbacked two yr old Arab. Any money you think you will save on purchase will be sent on training. I'd go with an OTTB that has been "let down" and retrained by one of those well established, long organizations. I can't recommend any, as I have not used them, but when you are at that stage, post again for recommendations.

                                  Comment

                                  • Original Poster

                                    #18
                                    Thank you for the good info, everyone. I'll stick with a pre-restarted one. I'm middle-aged now and will only get a few more horses in my lifetime so I want to set us up for success.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Squashnmoon View Post
                                      Thank you for the good info, everyone. I'll stick with a pre-restarted one. I'm middle-aged now and will only get a few more horses in my lifetime so I want to set us up for success.
                                      One way to think about it-if you get one that's been restarted already, particularly from a seller that specializes in restarting OTTB's, the seller is going to have an empty stall that needs to be filled -and empty stalls don't stay empty for long, easiest way to fill the stall = another trip the track-so in away, you're opening another spot for one to come off the track.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        What kind of novice? A novice rider, new to horses? Absolutely not. A more experience rider newer to training a horse, with a lot of support from a teacher/trainer for support, to get on it needed? Yes. But it is a long road to re-school a horse.
                                        I.D.E.A. yoda

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