OTTB or nah

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The majority of my instagram is dedicated to my journey with the many ottb’s (off the track thoroughbred) I train so naturally I get asked a lot of questions about my process. I’ve trained close to 10 ottb’s over the past few years for the hunter/jumper world. All of them come straight from the track (with the exception of one that I bought from my friend.) When you’re buying straight from the track there’s no videos of them going under saddle, no free jumping videos, no trials, or anything like that. All you have to work with are conformation photos and videos showing a walk and a jog. That’s not a lot to go on especially if you’ve never bought an ottb before!

So let’s start from the beginning. Most of my horses are found on Canter USA (canterusa.org) If you use Canter make sure to look under trainer listings to find the horses that are still waiting at the track for their new homes! Canter is my favorite place to go when I’m looking for my next prospect. They do a very good job at giving an in depth description on the horse including any vices, injuries, or physical limitations the horse might have. That’s not to say trust everything on there completely – there certainly are trainers that are not full disclosure type of people so you have to watch out for that.

I look for big, well balanced, uphill horses that have a kind eye. I prefer a younger horse with minimal starts (there’s less of a chance anything’s going on with their legs.) I steer away from any horses with injuries because all of my horses are for resale and when you start asking a lot of money for a horse then there’s really no room for previous injuries no matter how well the horse recovered. That’s not to say horses with injuries can’t go on to have successful careers, they most certainly can, but it’s just not something I can afford to deal with in what I’m doing. I like to zoom in on the legs in the conformation shots and make sure their legs are clean. I look for any signs of a bowed tendon, ankle rounding, splints, etc. If the horse passes my leg inspection then I’ll watch the videos of the horse jogging. The main thing I watch for is soundness. It’s hard to get a good idea of how they really move because they are so nervous and uptight at the track, but you can tell if they’re off or if their stifles or hocks are bothering them. I definitely don’t go any further with a horse if they appear to have stifle issues. Stifles can be tricky to manage, hocks are easier to deal with but even still not ideal. It just depends on how much maintenance you want to have! The movement on every ottb I’ve had makes drastic improvements after they leave the track so I don’t worry too much about short choppy strides in the video, although if you can find a horse with an already big stride at the track, that’s definitely a plus! If I like what I see then I’ll text the trainer of the horse and get a time within the next few days to go see the horse.

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When I’m at the track, I’ll ask any questions I have about the horse (I don’t like to ask questions through text because it’s too easy for trainers to lie), I run my hands over the horses legs to check for heat or anything out of ordinary, and I watch them jog. If everything looks good, then I take the horse home with me. I don’t do any sort of pre purchase on any horse I get off the track. There’s not ever any time to do it (I’ve seriously had to race people to the track for a horse. Maybe not like an intense head to head race down the interstate but I have bought a horse a few hours before someone else was supposed to buy him!) Some of the trainers are ruthless! They don’t care about any sob story you might have about why you think you deserve the horse over the other people interested. The first one to show up with money and a trailer is who gets the horse. That’s typically how it is in all of the horse industry though – not just at the track.

With exception to the last two horses I bought, my ottb’s have all been complete nuts their first few days at my barn. I had one horse that coliced for two days straight, one that bucked in his stall non stop, one that reared constantly so he could see into the stall beside him… I think you get the point. I hate to make it sound so terrible but that’s just how it goes sometimes. The hardest part to me is those first few days dealing with all the crazy antics but when they start settling down they are the best horses in the world.

I like to give my ottb’s a week or so off to hang out in the pasture with their new
friends. The following week I’ll get them out and start getting them used to cross ties and lunging. I don’t have a specific time frame I stick to when I’m training my horses. I do have a order in which I do things but you have to be flexible about when those things happen in order to successfully train a horse. I go off my gut and the horse doesn’t take the next step in training until I feel like it’s ready. Some horses progress quick and some are slower. Regardless of what brain your horse has, it’s important to remain calm and not get frustrated with them. After all, it is a huge culture shock to them to not be at the track or around racing anymore!

When I feel the horse is ready, I’ll get on them for the first time. It’s very brief and I might not even pick up a trot if the horse doesn’t feel up to it. Positive experience’s are so important for a young horse so slower is always better than trying to progress too quickly and scaring them. I like to introduce them to poles very early on in training. I have actually started letting my baby horses trot poles and jump their first fences on the lunge line and it has been working pretty well. It seems to really help with their confidence. In my experience, they always feel safer over a fence with a rider so if they realize they can jump it on their own too then they don’t really worry about any fence put in front of them! That approach may not work with all ottb’s but it certainly has worked with mine.

Thoroughbreds are hands down the best breed of horse I’ve ever worked with. Warmbloods are cool but thoroughbreds are cooler. You can’t beat their heart. If they respect you they will do absolutely anything for you. “No” just isn’t in their vocabulary. I am beyond thankful to get to work with these amazing animals everyday and I look forward to all my future ottb’s I’ve yet to meet!

-Stephanie

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