The Amazingly Versatile Thoroughbred
OTTB stands for “Off Track Thoroughbred,” and thousands of these retired racehorses are looking for new owners to retrain them and give them a loving home, where they can excel at their next job.
The Retired Racehorse Training Project conducted a study on the second careers of 4,200 OTTBs in 47 US states and Canada. Here is the breakdown of the disciplines they switched to:
9% Trails & Recreational (English)
4% Trails & Recreational (Western)
Interestingly, the typical OTTB owner is a female (95%), amateur (80%) competitive rider (78%). As the study shows, Thoroughbred horses are smart, athletic and extremely adaptable. Some are spirited, but this is certainly not true of all of them. In Could a Thoroughbred Be Your Next Horse? Amy says that inconsiderate or unknowledgeable owners are responsible for giving the breed a bad name. Her experience of fostering many OTTBs has revealed that Thoroughbreds have an excellent work ethic and are very intelligent. “They just want to know what their job is and then have you allow them to do it.”
The breed varies in height between 15 and 17 hands. Bay is the predominant color, the others being gray, chestnut, brown and black. The average lifespan is 25 – 28 years and they can live up to age 30. So where do they go after retiring from racing as youngsters?
Why Off Track Thoroughbreds Need a Plan B
Kimberly Clark, who rescues and retrains OTTBs at Leighton Farm, writes: “On average, 30,000 Thoroughbreds are bred in the U.S. each year for the purpose of racing….and the majority of them will be retired from racing by the age of 5.”
Thousands of them then become unwanted. Many end up in killer pens, and Thoroughbred rescue organizations work hard to give as many of these animals as possible the chance of a new life in a good home.
The OTTB Edge
Clark’s excellent manual “New Track, New Life” explains that the OTTB has been well-handled from the age of two and exposed to cars, trucks and tractors. He’s been around many different people, and worked with and around other horses.
These professionally started animals have also traveled extensively, ‘been there, done that,’ and learned to take crowds and noise in their stride. As a result, they are calm about many of the things, such as busy traffic, which bother ‘regular’ horses.
Where to Look for Your OTTB
One place to start your search is The Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses (CANTER), a national organization whose mission is to provide retiring thoroughbred racehorses with opportunities for new careers. Click on the state nearest you to find available OTTBs in your area. The website has an FAQ page which addresses many common concerns, including the following:
This page states that the price of the horses is very negotiable. The urgency of the owner to dispose of the horse is a factor. I persuaded one owner on the track to part with his mare for nothing, because it was cheaper for him than continuing to pay the horse’s board for the next few weeks. This argument won’t always work, but it’s worth asking.
I trailered the mare straight to Leighton Farm. Several months later her thrilled new owner contacted me to say how well she and the retrained mare have bonded.
Can I ride the horse at the track?
The answer is ‘no’ except under certain circumstances. (I was done the huge favor of being hoisted into a tiny racing saddle and led under the shed row and back!)
Does CANTER vouch for the soundness and health of the horses for sale through the program?
If the horse is being bought directly from the trainer, then no. If it is a CANTER owned horse, then yes.
Whether or not you find your new horse through CANTER, this is valuable information to help you make the best of your trip, if you go to the race track to look at prospective animals.
Other organizations which retrain and offer OTTBs for sale:
This is not a complete list.
Judging the Temperament & Soundness of Your OTTB
If the horse is at a retraining facility, its temperament will have been assessed by the organization offering him for sale, and they will know what type of rider and riding he is suitable for.
Listings of horses still at the track give as good an indication as possible of the horse’s temperament, based on what is seen on the day the animal is visited. Often they can only repeat what the trainer has said about the horse and it will come down to your own judgment.
Because Thoroughbreds are raced as physically immature two and three year olds, they are prone to injury. The organizations are honest about known physical issues in their horse listings.
In any case, be sure to have your prospect vetted.
If your horse has just come off the track, he’ll need much patience and understanding.
After being on a lot of high-energy feed and pent up in a stall for 23 hours a day, he’ll need to be taught gradually about turn out. Reduce his feed and start him out in a small pen where he can stretch his legs but not reach a full gallop. Once he settles down you can move him into a larger field and gradually integrate him into his new herd.
Under saddle, he’s only learned to go, go, go. Says Jessalyn Zimmers, OTTB trainer: “Let them know it’s OK to take a deep breath; drop their heads and just walk. That sensible horse will start to emerge. This takes time.”
Her excellent article The Off Track Thoroughbreds Experience and Clark’s downloadable ebook “New Track, New Life” A Guide to Understanding and Retraining Your Off Track Thoroughbred give valuable insight into the lifestyle of a racehorse. They detail how to settle him into his new home and re-school him for a successful second career.
For the intermediate or experienced rider, buying an OTTB is enormously rewarding. With patient training and TLC you can have a lot of fun in his company, and he will work diligently to become your ideal equine partner.