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OTTB Biker Boy performs in his new career. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)
OTTB Biker Boy performs in his new career. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

by Melissa Bauer-Herzog

After seeing all the videos of people getting new horses this holiday season, you’ve decided it’s the perfect time to get an off-track Thoroughbred (OTTB). You’ve visited the track often and tune in to the races on television so getting a retiring racehorse seems like the natural first step.

However, before you jump in with both feet, there are some things to consider when bringing a former racehorse to the family. We’ve talked to some big names in aftercare to get their opinion on 12 things you need to consider before taking a new horse home.

1. “When getting a horse off the track you have to remember these horses are going to transition and go through phases. They are serious athletes that are used to one job and one specific schedule every single day. It takes time to acclimate away from that and transition into the life of more of a pet/hobby on a more relaxed schedule. Life off track is without a doubt less stressful but when it's the only thing you’ve known your whole life it is actually the exact opposite, so to make their transition less stressful keeping a set routine will really help them adjust.” - Amy Paulus, Changing Saddles LLC

2. “Remember horses that come off the track are not ‘green.’ They are being sold as prospects to new disciplines but they are not true ‘green horses.’ These horses experience more on the track than your average show horse, they also have all their transitions and have to be able to clean flying changes. It's easy for people to believe all these horses know how to do is run, but that is not correct. They have the basic fundamentals; it’s just teaching them how to use them in a different way. I encourage anyone looking for an OTTB to spend time with a reliable source on the backside of the track because understanding where these horses come from is the first step to success in where you want to take them.” - Amy Paulus, Changing Saddles LLC

3. “Prepare your space at home with a small turnout when your racehorse first comes home. They have likely not had turnout lately, and a small turnout allows them to acclimate to their new life and play safely.” – Katie Peery, Hidden Fox Farm Horse Sales

4. “Racehorses love to have a job! There is nothing wrong with putting them to work right away, even if it just working on the ground and lunging.” - Katie Peery, Hidden Fox Farm Horse Sales

5. “Always get a veterinarian’s opinion. You don’t have to spend $3,000 on X-raying, scoping and scrutinizing every little thing, but paying a few hundred dollars to have a vet do a basic soundness and health exam can offer priceless peace of mind, OR can key you in on issues that could factor into the horse’s selling price or future performance and viability.” – Jen Roytz, Retired Racehorse Project

6. “When figuring out what a horse will cost, don’t focus solely on the purchase price. Everything from the typical costs, such as board/feed, routine veterinary care/vaccinations, blankets, farrier work, properly fitting tack (for a horse whose body will undergo a transformation in that first 1-2 years) and training to less obvious things, such as supplements, gastrointestinal support, therapies, and more. Horses have a way of helping you spend money and Thoroughbreds go through a tremendous physical and mental transformation in their first year or two after racing. It’s your job to make that transformation as easy as possible for them, and often that comes with a price tag.” – Jen Roytz, Retired Racehorse Project

7. “If at all possible, go to see the horse more than once before deciding. If (s)he is at the track and you go to see them in the afternoon when it’s quiet, ask if you can come back one morning during training hours (and hopefully even see them under tack on the track). Or, if they’re at a sale/adoption barn, the same idea applies – go to see them multiple times at different times of the day to see how they handle various environmental stimuli.” - Jen Roytz, Retired Racehorse Project

An OTTB performs in Western tack. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)
An OTTB performs in Western tack. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)
8. “If you’re not a seasoned pro at evaluating conformation, do your research to learn what conformational attributes lend themselves to the style of riding and type of horse you want, such as the slope of the shoulder, relation between their withers and top of their rump, how long their neck, back, cannon bones, and gaskins are in relation to one another, etc.” - Jen Roytz, Retired Racehorse Project

9. “Most take quickly to any new discipline, as these horses are incredibly smart and happy to partner with their riders. Also, a pet peeve is when people say they ‘rescued’ a horse off the track- most of the people at the track caring for these horses put their hearts and souls into their charges, and usually put the horse’s well-being before their own.” – Beverly Strauss, Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue

10. “The most important early lesson is to stand quietly at the mounting block while being mounted - it might take no time at all, it might take 30 minutes - but I find this sets the tone for success down the road if people take their time with this step. Also, these horses have been exposed to so much, so not much bothers them - but perhaps the most common issue is the first time at a horse show or competition, when the horse hears that loudspeaker. It tends to remind them of their racing days - so we always recommend taking a horse to a show for the first time and just hang out until they realize the loudspeaker does not mean racetrack.” – Beverly Strauss, Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue

11. “When a horse comes off the track, they have a lot of muscle and very little fat so as their work load drastically decreases, they usually lose muscle tone and look thin and ribby. But as their metabolism readjusts, they will start to gain fat, generally starting around the belly and moving up and around the top line. Initially an OTTB will require a LOT of quality grain and hay, and it is still probably less than they were getting fed at the track. But as time goes on, they will require less and less to keep a nice weight and top line. We feed a 10% protein, 9% fat sweet feed, and initially a horse might get nine to 10 quarts twice a day, but after they have let down they are fat on two to three quarts twice a day.” – Beverly Strauss, Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue

12. “They have been shod the majority of their lives. if you wish to pull off shoes, think ahead - ask the farrier not to trim them so short the first few times and leave plenty of toe, try to plan on doing it when the ground is soft and most importantly, for the first few weeks paint feet twice daily with a brushing of Venice turpentine or bluestone.” – Lisa Molloy, ReRun

This article originally appeared on America's Best Racing and is published here with permission.

Find more interesting articles in our section on Retire & Rehome.

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