Even though I enjoy several breeds of horses Thoroughbreds have always been my favorite, so I was happy to see The Chronicle of the Horse  devote an issue to Thoroughbreds earlier this month.

Most of the many Thoroughbreds I’ve ridden or owned had racing careers before I met them. I’ve purchased horses at the track, from dealers, ridden them for clients, and purchased some OTTBs that had already started their new careers.

Thoroughbreds are cool

Thoroughbreds are bred to be bold and brave, and they’re very sensitive, traits which normally don’t make them suitable for beginners, but make them super for skilled riders. OTTBs require patience and tact and a rider with good basic horsemanship skills.

Off-the-track Thoroughbreds have additional qualities that can be helpful to the serious horseman when you compare them to starting a horse. For one, they’ve seen a lot. They’ve heard noises, been exposed to crowds, and lots of activity. They’ve had a certain amount of ground work: bathing, wrapping, ponying, grooming, tying. And they have experience in horse trailers. Unless you find an OTTB that’s been mishandled, they’re usually well started in these areas. Under saddle they’ve walked, trotted and cantered (and galloped) alone and in company.

The other thing they have that other horses their age usually don’t is work ethic. No matter how you feel about the age baby Thoroughbreds go to work, they learn to work a conditioning routine. They’ve learned work is their job, not an option. They’ve operated under stress and learned to compete.

I’m not suggesting racing as the method we should use to start our riding horses, competitive or otherwise. I’m pointing out that Thoroughbreds who have finished their racing careers have a lot to offer and are worthy candidates for a second chance at a new career.

They could be for you

But off-the-track Thoroughbreds aren’t for everyone.  I’ve already mention they aren’t for beginners. Frankly, these horses deserve better than to be bumped around on by someone who is still developing balance and independent aids.  And they’re not for the timid, especially in jumping as I have found that with an OTTB, usually jumps are not the problem. The problem comes with the rider who isn’t bold enough to go with the horse through the air on an landing. And they aren’t the horse for the impatient short tempered rider—did I mention that off-the-track Thoroughbreds are sensitive?

If you’re a patient, skilled rider with good basics, good seat and gentle hands, and if you’ve got guts an OTTB might be the perfect horse for you. If he is you, might end up with one of the bravest riding partners of your life.

Check out these organizations

An online search will produce numerous 501-c3s that rehome Thoroughbreds once they are through racing.  There are  several groups that you may not be aware of. I’ve included blurbs from their websites but click on their names and take a good look around. See what these Thoroughbred industry leaders do for the horses when their careers are through.

  • Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance

    “The 501(c)(3) nonprofit Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accredits, inspects, and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations to retrain, retire, and rehome Thoroughbreds using industry-wide funding.Funded initially by seed money from Breeders’ Cup Ltd., The Jockey Club, and Keeneland Association Inc., the TAA is supported by owners, trainers, breeders, racetracks, aftercare professionals, and other industry groups.

    Since 2012, the TAA has granted more than $10.8 million to accredited aftercare organizations.”

  • Thoroughbred Charities of America
    “Our mission: To provide a better life for Thoroughbreds, both during and after their racing careers, by supporting qualified repurposing and retirement organizations and by helping the people who care for them.

    TCA is a charitable organization that provides grants to approved non-profit organizations that work toward improving the lives of Thoroughbred racehorses and the people who care for them. TCA offers the Thoroughbred industry and its supporters a way to give to one organization while helping many.

    TCA distributes grants to four types of organizations:

    • Thoroughbred rehabilitation, repurposing, rehoming and retirement
    • Backstretch and farm employee programs
    • Equine-assisted therapy programs that utilize Thoroughbreds
    • Equine research
  • Retired Race Horse Project
    “RRP exists to facilitate placement of Thoroughbred ex-racehorses in second careers by increasing demand for them in equestrian sports and serving the farms, trainers, and organizations that transition them.”
  • Thoroughbred Makeover
    Thoroughbred Makeover is an exciting competition for off-the-track racehorses who have embarked on their new careers. Check it out. Maybe you’ll train the next America’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred!

Do you ride an OTTB? I’d love to hear about him or her.

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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