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Common injuries in OTTBs (tendon bows, bone chips, sesamoid fractures, etc)

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  • Common injuries in OTTBs (tendon bows, bone chips, sesamoid fractures, etc)

    Hi guys,
    Frequent COTH lurker here but usually too busy to post much. However, my search for a TB has led me to some questions which hopefully some of you can answer. Hope this is the right forum.

    A little background: I've found a nice WB mare I'll most likely be breed leasing next year, but in the meantime I'm looking for a personal horse. I'm lucky to be able to ride my trainer's horses but I miss horse ownership and tbh, I've been a TB person ever since bringing my first OTTB home years ago.

    I live just south of the Golden Gate Fields track in northern California and have found some horses that I like through the trainer listings on CANTER (great site, btw). I know the inherent risks of purchasing an inexpensive horse off the track... I'm well prepared for the let down period, some possible rehabbing, and a whole lot of training.

    I know finding a horse on the track with no issues is going to be one in a million and plan on doing a thorough PPE as well as utilizing both my trainer and farrier. But I basically want to know what injuries are relatively minor after some rehabbing and time off and what injuries should be an instant red flag...

    For example, if I took on a horse with a fractured sesamoid how long of a rehab period am I looking at and (depending on the severity) is it likely I'll end up with a sound riding horse?
    Same question for tendon bows and bone chips, which both seem to be very common in ex-racehorses..

    I've been reading up a lot, but would love some input from someone with experience purchasing OTTBs or just someone who's worked with a lot of racehorses.

    If you've read all this, thanks in advance for your input!

    PS. I've been reading up on TB bloodlines for sport as well and I won't ask here since I know there's a lot of threads on it already. But feel free to post links with more information on good TB bloodlines.

  • #2
    Honestly, a lot of TBs at the track won't have bad legs, most are too slow to hurt themselves. Most OTTBs aches and pains are easily dealt with by having massage, a slow introduction to turnout, a change of feed, and calm/consistent handling.

    I have a routine of slow introduction to turnout, 30 days of ulcer meds, 30 days of handwalking, and the introduction of a turnout buddy.

    These are pampered athletes, they have not been turned out so they need a slow reintroduction into how to be a horse. I have a round pen that I put them in for 4 hrs the first week, and a small paddock for 6hrs the next week. This is also when I introduce an older/laid back gelding or mare depending upon if I got a gelding or filly as a turnout and hacking buddy.

    I do not use sweet feed, but a pelleted feed, with high fat and fiber to give them smart calories. I also use SmartPak's ulcer meds for a minimum of 30 days, a cribber or horse with behavior issues get 60-90 days of ulcer meds.

    I also introduce them to long line driving and during my handwalks I teach them to disengage their hind quarters and shoulders. This is a huge benefit to both of you to learn "power brakes" as I like to call them. After 2-3 weeks of ground driving I introduce the saddle, and we then only walk while they learn to do circles, figure 8's, clover leafs, diagonals, walk over poles, etc. Once they can do all of this and stop when asked do I introduce the trot. I then spend a lot of time working on the trot until I get the canter back in rotation.

    I also during this time have them go hacking with their turnout buddy and learn how to go out on trails.

    I can spend up to 90 days getting an OTTB the basics, some more quicker (especially if they have been turned out, then I jump ahead to ground driving)

    Taking on injured can really vary from 2-3 weeks to 6 months to a year it really depends upon the injury.

    I can give you bloodlines to avoid:

    Dynaformer (love them but they are very hard to reschool without a trainer)
    Fuchiasi Pegasus (FuPegs are notoriously hard horses)
    Storm Cat lines (he passed a few days ago, great stud but opinionated)
    Unbridled and any of his sons are really hard and frankly, can be really fragile


    • #3
      If you want to know more about other people's experiences with OTTB's then you should check out the website for Bits and Bytes Farm in Canton Ga. The owner Elizabeth has sold several of my retiring racehorses sight unseen with pictures and PPE's with great results. PM me if you want more info. I am in Ohio and one of my horses sold to an eventer in Utah this past winter. I just sold a sweet gelding to a trainer in GA. this month.
      My mom didn't raise no jellybean salesman!


      • #4
        I think the biggest thing to consider before purchasing off the track is what your intended purpose would be for your new horse (hunters, jumpers, eventing, pleasure). Once you decide on that, then you can begin to consider what ailments you can deal with and which ones are deal breakers.

        It is not at all hard to find a horse on the track that is clean legged and sound for any discipline. Most racehorses have been xrayed at one point in their lives and the trainers that I have met, have been more then happy to share them with you.

        You will also find hundreds of examples of folks who bought an "on track" horse with some more serious ailments that competed just fine in high impact careers. Just remember the vet check is only as good as the day it is performed and every vet, if they look hard enough will find something wrong with a horse, especially if they are not used to dealing with track horses.

        Another thing to consider is the amount of starts a horse has had. Most inexperienced people will tell you not to look at horse with "x" number of starts. The amount of starts should truely not be a deciding factor in your purchase, but if you are buying the horse with the hope of reselling him in the future, you will have to consider it. For me personally, I would rather have a horse with 30 starts or more that retired sound, than one with only a few. If that horse could come away clean from that many races, chances are hes going to stay sound for you too.

        All of this information can be found on equibase for free using the horses jockey club name. As a rule I read every chart in the past performances of a horse I am interested in. The charts can tell a lot about the horses past and bring up additional questions for you to ask his trainer: for instance, if he went long periods without racing, did he suffer an injury? Was he ever eased in a race or vanned off, whether or not he ran on lasix, if he was a bad actor in the starting gate, etc. If the horse was claimed several times the current trainer may not know his whole history.

        You will need to come up with a list of questions for each of the trainers. Remember, these trainers are not in the horse selling business, so remember to ask as many questions as you can to find out the information you need.

        As far as ailments here is my very general rule of thumb for buying a personal horse without wanting to resell in the future:

        For any high impact jumping (above 3', eventing etc): I would only consider a clean legged horse or one who had a bone chip which was removed

        For lower level jumping, higher level dressage: I would consider minor osselets

        For low level dressage, pleasure horses: I would consider healed and properly rehabbed bone chips, osselets, set bows, some other fractures as long as they are healed and rested
        Last edited by I Winglish AQHA; Apr. 30, 2013, 12:17 PM.


        • #5
          As far as injuries go, I would do a set of xrays on the ankles, knees and hocks. In our business there are a few "injuries" that can be managed quite well with routine injections and keep a horse sound for intended purposes. Once you get the horse home, ankles that are no longer injected can start to set up, same with knees and arthritic hocks. In short, what you see is not always what you get. It probably wouldnt hurt to also have a potential purchase scoped either.

          Small issues wouldn't bother me to much, or even larger ones as long as the horse was rehabbed properly. But as someone else pointed out, it totally depends on what your intention is with said horse. Good luck on your search!


          • #6
            I find 99.9% of the horses I buy and re sell off the track have relatively few if any issues beyond normal wear and tear at PPE.

            Bows usually will heal if given the full amount of time to heal properly which is usually a full,year. But a good ultra sound to determine the extent of the damage is mandatory before acquiring the horse. There are some bows that will eliminate certain levels of sports activity.

            Chips are like realestate location location location and good current x-rays using quality digital equipment plus a savvy radiologist will tell you where the horse is headed..either surgery or not.

            I have had 2 horses with sesmoid fractures...both horses have no soft tissue damage or involvement which meant they went onto outstanding under saddle jobs with no limitations. 60 days complete stall rest followed by 30 days hand walking and gradual introduction to turn out, then back under tack and into work. My Vet has a 3*'horse she knows with same injury before he went onto event. But again proper diagnostics X-ray and ultra sounds are the tools you will need.

            Spend your PPE dollars wisely look at the whole picture from 1st day racing to last. Educate yourself on reading past performance read race results and ask a lot of questions....


            • #7
              Some of the most unsound OTTBs I've had were the supposedly completely sound "too slow to hurt themselves" type. Often those horses are the kind that are plagued with constant minor stuff that empty your bank account and make you want to pull out your hair... that's why no one could get them to run worth a lick at the track!

              Tendons are almost never a problem for any discipline (besides racing) once they've healed, but you're looking at 6-12 months. Chips aren't a problem if they're removed... but that's something a lot of folks don't want to deal with. The recovery for a chip removal if it doesn't involve the joint is pretty quick-- under 3 months for most. Sesamoids are something I tend to avoid. They can be touch and go depending on the location of the fracture and the involvement of the ligaments.

              My own personal preference is older campaigners that are just no longer competitive!
              Last edited by Texarkana; May. 6, 2013, 12:28 AM.
              Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


              • #8
                On Canter, I would look for horses that have "films" available.
                We have a couple of horses listed that do have injuries that have healed very well. We have rads available to you/your vet upon request. We have nothing to hide. We want amazing homes for the amazing horses that we have the honor of training


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks for all the responses, I've been so busy I didn't see this had gotten responses. Great information provided here.

                  I ended up taking home a bay TB mare home from Golden Gate Fields.
                  I posted about her on the H/J form but she was listed on CANTER, her race name is Nip of Gold.

                  Her trainer ended up giving her to me because she needs some time off due to her left front. It X-rayed clean and my farrier checked it out and said it was minor, she just needs to be handwalked daily and have that leg coldhosed 10 minutes a day for a few weeks. But she's going to get a full evaluation next week.

                  She's 8 years old though with 39 starts so if that leg is the only issue I'm fine with it. She has excellent ground manners and I have yet to see her so much as blink an eye at anything "scary," though she will have a moment here and there where she gets really wound up. But it must be tough for her to be stuck on stall rest and handwalking after most of her life spent on the track.

                  1 week in her new home:


                  • #10
                    How are things going with your Mare? She is beautiful!