The phone rings: ‘Can you get me an OTTB?’

Cowboy magic: An OTTB goes western at a recent competition in Kentucky.

Cowboy magic: Penn National race trainer Clovis Crane and OTTB Yo Koffy won the Working Cattle division at RRP.

Before the last Thoroughbred had pranced out of the Kentucky Horse Park, Sue Smith’s phone started ringing, her email buzzing.

On everyone’s lips was the same question: Could she get them a competitive OTTB?

“I actually had to caution people to hold off’ leaping to adopt a Thoroughbred, says the longtime executive with Thoroughbred re-homing charity CANTER-PA. After nine years spent trying to convince prospective buyers to at least consider an ex-racehorse Thoroughbred, Smith says it feels pretty good to be part of a shifting tide.

A change that has come with the growing success of the Retired Racehorse Project’s yearly Thoroughbred demonstrations and competitions, which topped itself this year with its biggest, most inclusive Thoroughbred Makeover competition in Kentucky last month.

After roughly 165 horse & rider teams competed in myriad disciplines for big cash prizes, Smith, a board member of the Retired Racehorse Project, says people began clamoring right away for a horse to compete in the next Thoroughbred Makeover.

Picture perfect: The versatile Thoroughbred sport horse storms the hunting field.

Picture perfect: The versatile Thoroughbred sport horse storms the hunting field.

“People are already on the lookout for horses,” she says. “I had to caution people to hold of until we know what the eligibility requirements of the next show will be.” Thoroughbred Makeover rules often restrict the amount of post-racing training a Thoroughbred can have to qualify for competition, she says, adding, “We have requirements on the length of time a horse has been retired from racing, to make it fair to everyone, and to level the playing field.”

Once the rules for the next Makeover event are released, it’s Katie bar the door! The Thoroughbreds will be in big demand, and horses and horsemen alike will win.

“I would say we’ve been inundated with requests from people who wanted to enter the Makeover. Last year, from our small (CANTER) affiliate we had over 10 horses who were selected for that purpose. Not all made it to KY but that was their intent … Some of the others who were selecting horses for the Makeover had the intent to re-sell, which is a great service, as well,” Smith says. “I personally feel strongly that the best thing you can do for your horse’s safety is to provide him with basic training. One of the keys to any horse’s security is to have value and marketable skills that will hopefully protect him in the event that he changes hands.”

Selfies: A dappled gray gets into the perfect frame.

Selfies: A dappled gray gets into the perfect frame.

A Thoroughbred who has some good training under his belt stands a higher chance of being sold on to a good, safe home, she adds. And, training also increases their resale value.

“We saw numerous horses available for sale at Retired Racehorse Project with five-figure asking prices, so in a matter of 10 months a horse who was perhaps worth $1000 when he left the racetrack is now valued at 10 or 20 times that,” Smith says. “And while there is no guarantee that any horse will never end up in a bad spot, the likelihood is reduced when people attribute a considerable dollar value to the animal.”

When Smith was a kid, Thoroughbreds were in demand. Now’s she thinks that trend is coming back around.

“We just talked to a top dressage rider who is working with a very big name in the sport,” Smith says. “We didn’t have a horse at the moment who matched her criteria, but it was still pretty neat to get the call. It’s great to see the interest returning to Thoroughbreds.”

5 responses to “The phone rings: ‘Can you get me an OTTB?’”

  1. Elizabeth Wood

    Jan Scott you are spot on! Thoroughbreds are great teachers. They will point out a rider’s flaw instantly. Use too much leg and hold too strongly and you are giving the GO signal. They like a following hand and consistent contact with a light leg. Too little rein contact and their noses are in the air because you are popping on their mouth. Many riders new to Thoroughbreds are afraid of contact and hence the head tossing. Pop. Pop. Pop. Rider error not hot TB. Never use two hands and constant back pressure. Sponge alternating reins and use your seat to say whoa. Good dressage riders – who can ride any horse not just warmbloods, understand how to properly use their seat and hands to give direction to the Thoroughbred. That’s all they need. They want to please but are not pleased when we are not as sensitive and aware as they are. More Thoroughbreds are ruined after racing than come off-the-track hot and crazy. Bad riders or pain is what causes bad behavior.

  2. Linda King

    Back when I was training and showing hunters, jumpers and eventers in CO in the 70s, 95% of the horses were OTTBs. At a time when one could purchase a sound, sane and beautiful mover for $1250 off the track, I paid $2500 for a 3 yr old filly that never was allowed to start because she threw all her jocks. To say she was gorgeous was an understatement — the question was only whether she could ever be ridden. Well, turns out she just didn’t like being bullied and so men were out. And while she loved bucking when turned out, she never bucked with me except in a few instances of exhuberance without any intention of trying to unseat me. She had the biggest heart and the biggest jump of any horse I’ve ridden before or since. It became a common occurrence that after every show we’d attend, the judge would look me up after the last class and try to buy her from me. Of course, I’d never sell such an amazing partner and she was the first of five beautiful and amazing mares I found on the track.

  3. Celeste

    My family was in thoroughbred racing and even though I am not, I still love my OTTB’s.

    I have one that I’ve had for 15 years who is 23 and showing ware from his racing career. I still ride him on occasion but he is mostly retired now and enjoying life as a pasture pet.

    3 years ago I picked up a OTTB who was 5. I decided we were going to do things I didn’t get a chance to do with my other OTTB.

    We’ve done some fun shows with the OPRC, went swimming, tried dressed (what an experience and we’re improving), even did some barrels but mostly you can find us on a trail.

    Thoroughbreds are awesome! I hate that they are thought of with stereotypes of crazy or too fast… I have one that prefers to lolly gag… And will open up with lots of encouragement… And Yea, he raced. One his first race out and one later in his 14 start career…

    I can’t tell you how many people ask, is he a thoroughbred cross… No, he’s just thoroughbred,i say.

    I love my OTTB’s….

  4. Jan Scott

    It is awesome to see the returning interest as TB’s and OTTB’s in particular can excel at anything. I would caution only those that are used to warmbloods that while just as athletic and in my opinion more so thoroughbreds are by there nature more sensitive and require knowledge of the breed before they are adopted and started in new careers by those who are used to the warmbloods.

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