Updated April 28, 2014
I am a Thoroughbred lover. In fact, maybe even an addict. But I never thought I would be. However, since owning a Thoroughbred, I will be hard pressed to ever own another breed of horse. I don’t mean to downplay anyone else’s favorite breed, but I have found Thoroughbreds to be athletic, incredibly intelligent and noble all at the same time. So…let me tell you a little bit about Thoroughbreds.
First of all, most available Thoroughbreds have some racing history in their background. They were most likely bred for the track and either went to a training facility or actually raced. Most likely they raced. That right there is enough to turn most people, especially trail riders, off. They don’t want a horse that will run away with them. Now, a racing background isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here are just a few of the things that horses from the track typically have had lots of exposure to:
- loading on trailers (many on a daily basis)
- multiple handlers
- multiple riders
- bathing, clipping and standing tied
- crowds of people
- lots of horses
- grand stands
- loud speakers & PA systems
- flag, umbrellas and other things that move on their own
- tractors and heavy equipment
- traffic / vehicles
Those are just a few of the things that immediately come to mind, but the list goes on and on. Life on the track is an active place. People and horses are almost always coming and going. Things are happening all around them. This is what Thoroughbreds are used to. Think about it…we spend considerable time and effort desensitizing the home-bred horse, that has never been off the family farm, to a lot of those things. Heck, we may never be able to train the home-bred horse to easily load on the trailer, so that right there could be a selling point! However, the Thoroughbred ex-racehorse typically comes with that training already under its belt. People, other horses, traffic, flags, PA systems, etc. This is all old hat to the Thoroughbred.
Aren’t they taught to run?
Thoroughbreds are actually ridden and worked on nearly a daily basis at all three gaits and both leads. Yes, most horses on the track are galloped regularly, but most usually come with brakes and are very responsive to the riders seat and weight. Keep in mind that most horses retire from the track because they are no longer competitive. In many cases, they’ve lost the desire to run and given a little time off, easily come to love life as a pleasure horse. Its important to note that horses coming directly off the track should be considered green broke. They are handled extensively, can be tacked up, hauled places, etc. but they typically don’t understand subtle aids from the seat, leg or reins. Most have only ever been ridden by a light weight exercise rider or jockey who balances up over their necks. Therefore, they need help and time learning to balance under the weight of a rider who sits in a typical english or western saddle.
Aren’t they broken down when they come from the track?
In most cases, the horses that come from the track are too slow to be competitive. While they’re at the track, they are given excellent care because they are valuable athletes. However, once they stop winning, or become injured, they typically will be sold on to other owners as quickly as possible. Sometimes those other owners are rescue organizations or private individuals. Sometimes though, thoroughbreds end up in the hands of slaughter dealers.
What I’ve Done with My Thoroughbred
Here is a short list of activities that I have participated in with my Thoroughbred exracehorse:
- dressage shows
- trail riding
- breed demo at horse fair
- riding clinics & lessons
- sidesaddle demonstrations
- cowboy mounted shooting
I just want to trail ride.
Perfect! Thoroughbreds make excellent trail horses. In fact, one of the major competitions that TBs participate in is 3-day eventing. In 3-day eventing, horses must go out by themselves onto a natural course, cross water, jump small (or large) obstacles and in general, keep their rider safe. Usually this is done at a canter, but slow it down and its pretty much trail riding! The photo to the left shows Stormy and Print Out, two Thoroughbred exracers, having a great time trail riding on the B&O ride at Natural Valley. In fact, Stormy has gone on to be adopted by a competitive trail rider.
Are All Thoroughbreds Really Tall and Fine Boned?
I have only owned one Thoroughbred, but since 2008, I have fostered over a dozen off-track Thoroughbreds. And let me tell you — they come in all colors, shapes, sizes and temperaments. If you’re willing to wait long enough, you can get exactly what you’re looking for right down to the sex, color and markings. I’ve fostered everything from the 17h big gelding to a barely 15h mare. Bays are definitely the most prominent, but chestnuts and grays are readily available too. Regarding size, most Thoroughbreds average around 15.3h. There are many available at or above the 16h measurement, but quite a few are in the 15.2 – 15.3h range, which can make a nice family sized horse. Big enough for dad, but short enough for the kids.
How about temperament? I always thought TBs were crazy?
Most thoroughbreds have an excellent work ethic. They just want to know what their job is and then have you allow them to do it. I have found that there is one consistent factor which has given thoroughbreds a bad name: inconsiderate or unknowledgeable owners. Thoroughbreds are very thin skinned (bred that way so that they can cool down quickly) and can be very sensitive to external stimuli. By this I mean, stiff brushes, whips, spurs, biting flies, big bits, etc.. They also are very intelligent and seem to be in tune with their riders, moreso than other breeds. But because of this sensitivity, Thoroughbreds will definitely let you know when something you’re doing bothers them. This is often mistaken as a temperament issue, when really, your Thoroughbred is just trying to communicate with you. For example, if you use a stiff brush on their thin skin, they’ll probably dance around when you groom them. They’re not being bad, they’re trying to tell you that it tickles — or maybe even hurts — and you just need to use a softer brush. If your Thoroughbred’s saddle doesn’t fit, they will probably react by not wanting to move forward off your leg or seat. It doesn’t mean you need spurs or a whip. It just means you need to look at how your tack is fitting.
I don’t want to ride english.
No problem. As along as the western saddle you own fits your thoroughbred properly, you’re perfectly fine riding western! Remember that Thoroughbreds typically have a narrower frame and taller withers than your average quarter horse or trail horse. Therefore, the saddle you use on your QH, TWH or other wider breed most likely will not work on a Thoroughbred. Thoroughbreds are also used to snaffle bits. They typically have never had a curb bit or curb chain used when riding at the track. In addition, many thoroughbreds have small mouths and flat pallets, which can make western bits very uncomfortable. Making sure that the tack you use is properly fitted is key to ensuring a happy, productive relationship.
Recycling a Racehorse
I could go on and on about what makes Thoroughbreds great horses, but if you really want to know, you’ve got to own one. There are a number of places that you can get Thoroughbreds. In fact, many of them are for sale for very cheap. However, a cheap price tag doesn’t necessarily mean its a good choice. And although I’ve talked thus far about the benefits to owning a Thoroughbred, horses that are directly off the track don’t generally make good beginner or first time owner horses. You’ll also want to have a good knowledge of conformation and good eye for soundness issues because buying a horse directly from the track can be limiting. You can’t ride or vet the horse at the track. What you want to do is find a reputable trainer or organization that can help you find the right horse for your skill set and desired partnership (trail, show, etc.).
There are a number of things you should consider when looking to adopt an exracehorse from a rescue or placement organization. First, does the organization take in donated horses from trainers and owners who want their horses to have a chance at a good life after racing? These Thoroughbreds from the track are usually sound, but just need some time off to recuperate from the stresses of racing. Your chances of having a sound horse (mentally and physically) are better if the organization is involved directly with the track and trainers.
Once the horse has been donated to the organization, does the organization pay to have a veterinarian familiar with exracehorses to come out to:
- look at the horse?
- determine soundness issues?
- update it on vaccinations?
- either give it a clean bill of health or prescribe a layup time for the horse to continue to rest?
Once the horse has been deemed healthy and ready to work, does the organization ride the horse? Make no mistake, the horses are still fairly green after 30-60 days retraining. But, a great deal more is known about the horses temperament, personality, ability, and work ethic. Plus, they generally will be able to walk, trot and canter both directions, as well as halt and stand quietly, after this training time. Watch the videos and if possible, go visit the horse you like in person.
Where Can I Find a Thoroughbred?
So if I’ve sparked your interest on the perks of owning a Thoroughbred, its time to look for organizations near you that transition Thoroughbreds from the track to new careers. The Thoroughbred Adoption Network has a fairly extensive list of organizations that work to transition exracers (mostly Thoroughbreds, but some Standardbreds too). You never know, your next horse might be a Thoroughbred!