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An OTTB for Eventing? What to expect with the vet check?

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  • An OTTB for Eventing? What to expect with the vet check?

    My eventing partner of two years tragically and unexpectedly passed away. I am devastated, but want to move forward in a positive direction. I've been looking at horses online (and have visited a few), but nothing caught my eye until a friend sent me a link to an OTTB at a local TB rescue/rehab. He was the first horse that stopped me dead in my tracks. Really incredible conformation, nice eye, lovely mover. My budget is small ($3500) due to my guy's vet bills and the fact that I wasn't planning to buy a new horse for many years. He fits the bill.

    I visited and it was a really wonderful experience. He has been impeccably cared for at the rescue, let-down correctly, adjusted well to life off the track, etc. He is gleaming with good heath, is a proper weight, sane and happy, nice ground manners, etc. Our ride was phenomenal and we had a special connection.

    However, both my dressage trainer and jump trainer and several other barn friends have expressed serious reservations about an OTTB. He had a long career: 5 years with 38 starts. He was never raced more than 10 times in a year (not running multiple times a months like some I've seen). He raced at nice tracks and has no gap in his record. He was imported from New Zealand but as far as I can tell only had one owner and one trainer during his US career. He retired with a bruised canon bone at age 7 (technically 8), but the vet said he was cleared for all disciplines. Truly, this horse has the best conformation of any I've seen. Perfect proportions, great angles, straight clean tight legs, big bones, solid construction. He looks like he's 4, but he's actually 9 (10 technically).

    I am having a vet check this Friday and am a little nervous. I am planning on doing x-rays of feet, but am also considering knees and hocks. Any recommendations? I don't want to throw money away, but I want to be thorough. I'm expecting some wear and tear from such a long career, but what kind of wear and tear is acceptable and what is unacceptable? I plan to do lower level eventing with him. After all the unexpected issues with my last partner, I am wary about getting a horse with injuries/issues. I know that there are no guarantees (my last guy vetted clean, but wasn't), but I also want to minimize risk.

    I've never considered an OTTB before, although I've ridden them and done plenty of research. Is there anything I should consider in terms of vet check? What issues are normal/okay and what issues are deal breakers? I know my vet will help me with all this, but I want to go in as prepared as possible. Also, does a 5 year career seem too strenuous and long or does it prove that he is sturdy and well-built? Is ten too old? I'm just a little nervous about adopting my first OTTB, especially when everyone is urging extra extra caution.

    Thanks for the input. I'd love to hear from OTTB eventers about their experiences, esp. their vet checks. I'm really excited, but nervous! I really want a sound horse that will hold up in the long run (don't we all!)...

  • #2
    He raced for 5 years, sounds like he was well managed so he could sustain a long career, and you are in love. Your trainers and friends are silly to have reservations. We refer to that type of OTTB as a war horse. They are tough and game and usually end up being fabulous riding horses.

    I would vet him and plan on rads of feet, hocks, and, my bugaboo, backs. Realize he is an older horse with mileage, so he may not be perfect.

    Eventers, especially the ones on this board, love OTTBs. My partner in crime, who raced til he was 4, is currently sleeping off a hang over. I love him to bits and pieces. He is an amazing person.


    • Original Poster

      Originally posted by yellowbritches View Post

      I would vet him and plan on rads of feet, hocks, and, my bugaboo, backs. Realize he is an older horse with mileage, so he may not be perfect.
      Thanks for the feedback! What kind of "mileage" issues do you think are okay? Since he's older and had a long career, what should I be okay with and what is a dealbreaker?


      • #4
        You need to decide what you your Vet & farrier can deal with.
        Everybody is comfortable @ different levels.
        My NZ TB raced there 4 yrs, then had a 2 yr career here, before trying in the jumper ring and finally being an awesome eventer.
        His X-rays are a nightmare has screws in RF fetlock, and now @ 18 showing Navic changes in LF.
        But I knew who did the surgery & rehab, so was 90% certain he'd be Ok.

        Aside- may need to look for another trainer as yours doesn't even sound willing to give this guy a chance.


        • Original Poster

          Check out his pics on the rescue FB page:



          • Original Poster

            Thanks Ltc4h. I was reading a conformation book and it said something along the lines of, "Most horse people know how to spot a problem, but most do not understand the implications of that problem." Some problems are small and unlikely to cause issues, while others seem small but could cause major complications down the road. I am the first to admit that when it comes to x-rays and racing injuries, I'm a total beginner. I can spot a problem, but I couldn't say whether the problem is actually a problem or not. It sounds like you were pretty confident your horse's fetlock issues had been fixed, although they showed up badly on the x-ray, but I know I don't have that kind of "instinct" or experience yet. So nervous!


            • #7
              He looks like a lovely horse.

              38 starts is by no means a deal breaker for me, especially if he was well cared for at the track. A horse that has stayed sound over a longer career often means that it has good conformation and knows how to use it's body well. I am fostering a horse this winter who ran 68 times and retired at age 9. He was well cared for at the track and has nice clean, tight legs. He's understandably a bit stiff when he starts out and has some soreness in his SI area but this horse is an athlete who is tough as nails.

              If possible, I would try to get in touch with his trainer from the track and ask specifically if he has ever had any injuries and if so, get a sense of how he was rehabbed.

              My own OTTB raced 28 times and was retired at age 6 due to a tweaked suspensory and an apical sesamoid fracture. I knew how he'd been rehabbed so felt comfortable with him and he has been sound for the 5 years I've owned him. I'm foxhunter so he does a lot of galloping on uneven territory and jumping.

              The most important thing about a PPE exam IMO is getting realistic feedback from the vet. A horse does not pass or fail per se, but if the vet understands your intended use, they can help you understand if this horse is a good fit for you. It's always best to use your own vet but when looking at a horse out of state, that's not always possible. In those cases, I always have my own vet look at films and I might send them some video of the horse. I really like my vet and trust his assessments.

              For a PPE exam, I want to see the horse trot out sound on soft and hard ground. I want the vet to do a basic neurological exam. Flexions are iffy. I prefer to use my own vet for exams because they have to be done and reviewed properly. You can always make a horse look lame from flexions.

              If a horse is noticeably unsound, I will not proceed to films. Otherwise, for an OTTB, I always have films of front feet, ankles, knees and hocks. No horse is perfect but I stay away from horses with chips in their knees or ankles, if anything (like a coffin bone) was broken or fractured I want to make sure it has healed right.

              I'm okay with a horse that needs "some" maintenance. A horse that's raced most likely has enough wear and tear that you will need to consider joint supplements or IM joint support sooner rather than later. Sometimes a simple anti-inflammatory can help.

              Good luck with your search.

              ETA: I wrote this with my Vet for CANTER New England. You might find it helpful. Tips for Buying a Horse at the Track: A Vet's Perspective.
              Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
              EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


              • #8
                ^Bogie gave you excellent advice. Not much more to add other than to make sure you realize that the chances of this horse (any horse, really, and especially ones with performance careers behind them) have "perfect" x-rays will be slim. Expect to see arthritic changes and remodeling. Choosing a vet to do the exam that you are comfortable with and who will evaluate all the information in a helpful way (not "pass" or "fail") and help you understand what they find is key. Good luck!


                • #9
                  I concur with Bogie...flex ions can be a deal killer for a horse who is sound under tack....ask to have him ridden for vet if there is a question. some horses just don t flex well but do their job every day sound. Put him on a good joint supplement regimen do him a fa or and keep him on Adequian or a similar and just enjoy him. He looks lovely..


                  • #10
                    I just wanted to say that I have an OTTB who raced for six years at low end tracks; had 63 races total. She had very clean x-rays of her legs--feet, fetlocks, pasterns, knees, stifles and hocks. The vet who did them was an ex-track vet, and he said that she had the joints of "an unraced five year old."

                    So racing doesn't necessarily mean that horse is 'ruined'. Flexions don't mean all that much. New Zealand has a reputation for breeding very high quality TBs as far as soundness goes.

                    I bought another OTTB (he'd been off the track for years) who was 16 and who had ugly knees and ankles, He was serviceably sound for me for foxhunting for another 6 years. And he did not flex well at all.

                    Just do a good PPE with a vet that you trust.
                    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                    Thread killer Extraordinaire


                    • #11
                      Really good article!

                      Lovely looking horse. I can see why you're attracted to him. He'll turn heads for sure, and is certainly typey.

                      FWIW, I've had 6 OTTBs, 4 of which I got straight of the track. One wasn't vetted as she was a last minute "free to a good home" when I went to pick up another one, and she was a really nice mare. One had suffered a basilar fracture of the sesamoid, but my vet advised that we could rehab him, and we did. He was going prelim when a pasture accident resulted in his retirement. Another was three legged when I first saw her on the track, so I "gonged" her. But then she came back into my radar, vetted clean and has been sound except for an early bout of weak stifles. We even did a training 3 day! One had an entrapped epiglottis, tolerated the surgery well, and was otherwise sound. The other two vetted within what I would consider normal limits. it may be faulty memory, but I actually don't recall any OTTBs that didn't make it past the vetting.

                      I don't know if you have a vet who does chiropractic as well, but I've found that my vet who does both has lot of insight into what the horse will be capable of and what issues might be. Just a thought.
                      They don't call me frugal for nothing.
                      Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


                      • #12
                        Your welcome.
                        Nice looking guy, which explains longevity.
                        If you don't currently work w/ a Vet, look for one that specializes in lameness, preferably not a track vet [nothing personal]
                        When doing the PPE be completely honest, both with what your realistic riding goals are [we all tend to dream big]
                        And what you think you are capable of managing, the more you do the more you'll know.
                        Yes, I have over 40 yrs of practice, so will take on more issues than what you should start with.
                        Some of the above posters are very active w/ OTTB groups and can really help you.


                        • Original Poster

                          All this feedback is very encouraging. Great article, Bogie. I'm going to condense it into some notes and take it to the PPE with me. Thanks.


                          • #14
                            I don't understand what the issue is. Sounds like your friends are prejudiced against OTTB's for no good reason. Any 8-9 year old horse that's been working for a living may (or may not!) have a little arthritis here and there. His race record means nothing as far as soundness. Look at Suave Jazz from the retired racehorse project; 70+ starts and sound with clean legs.

                            Have rads done just like with any other horse you would PPE. Only thing would be make sure you include knees/ankles; not all "sport horse" vets would automatically include those.

                            I would also have the throat scoped - but that's my personal opinion. If you've ridden the horse at a good crisp canter and didn't detect any noise or exercise intolerance then you could potentially skip this.

                            Good luck! I think that horse is gorgeous.


                            • Original Poster

                              The previous trainer told the rescue that he never had a soundness issue until the bruised canon bone that caused his retirement. Apparently the trainer even kept him in the barn for five months while he looked for the best home for him. The rescue said he was incredibly happy and well-cared for when he came to them. The horse then went to the rescue's layup program, which involves 6-12 months of pasture time. I think that's a good amount of time to allow real healing to occur. Even though the vet who approved his acceptance into the rescue said he was sound and cleared for all disciplines I think it's good to have that extra time for healing and decompressing, just in case.


                              • #16
                                Just curious ... is TROTT out of California?


                                • #17
                                  I love him! Let us know how the PPE goes and good luck!


                                  • #18
                                    TROTT is Southern California and they have a very professional looking website. One of the best that I've seen.
                                    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                                    Thread killer Extraordinaire


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by vineyridge View Post
                                      TROTT is Southern California and they have a very professional looking website. One of the best that I've seen.
                                      Not to mention, they have some lovely horses available!


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Yep, they are located in Orange County. I've been really impressed with them so far.