Bridges to Second Careers: Certifying OTTB Trainers

By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea

A solution to help off-track Thoroughbreds find forever homes is having them undergo training in another discipline, preferably with an experienced professional. While the kind of training depends on many factors, including a horse's soundness and willingness, having a solid second career foundation on an OTTB can help make them more marketable to people shopping for pleasure, show, or sport horse mounts.

"Clearly one of the answers to 'How do you transition racehorses?' is you get them good training," said the Retired Racehorse Project's Steuart Pittman. "That's what secures their future and that's one of the reasons we created the (Thoroughbred) Makeover and training competitions to reward people for being good trainers and good retrainers."

In RRP's recently released annual report, one idea the organization deemed a potential area of future expansion was a trainer certification program for those experienced in retraining OTTBs.

The concept builds off a collaboration announced in February between RRP and the United States Eventing Association that works with the USEA's Young Event Horse Professional Trainer Certification. The Young Event Horse (YEH) certification program offers two certifications: one for those individuals who instruct students riding young event horses and another for those who train young horses themselves.

The collaboration is still in its early stages. During this year's Thoroughbred Makeover, USEA will present a seminar on the program and trainers awarded YEH certification will be marked as certified in RRP's resource directory.

"One of the questions we've always asked ourselves and people have always asked us is: Why not certify people as good trainers? The answer has been because it's very complicated," Pittman said, adding that certification is easier under one discipline instead of many disciplines like in the OTTB realm. 

"When the USEA decided that they were going to do this—and because so many event horses are Thoroughbreds who raced, and because I'm an eventer—I wanted to be involved, and I wanted RRP to be involved so that they focus on Thoroughbreds in their workshops, and also so we would learn from their mistakes if we decide to go forward and create a certification program."

 YEH trainer candidate Richard Lamb takes a green horse over a liverpool jump while instructor Robin Walker supervises
YEH trainer candidate Richard Lamb takes a green horse over a liverpool jump while instructor Robin Walker supervises. Photo: Erin Drage Pittman

One participant currently going through the YEH certification process said a Thoroughbred version of the training is needed because of the different methodology used in training a Thoroughbred versus training a warmblood.

"I think there is a tiny bit of a difference. A lot of it for this (certification) was geared toward warmbloods," said Michelle Warro, who works with many OTTBs at Pittman's Dodon Farm in Maryland. 

"Some of the ideas and methodology, I hesitate to use on off-track-Thoroughbreds of my own," she said, adding that some techiniques may be too aggressive for a hotter breed of horse. "I have to be a bit more creative (with OTTBs)."

Pittman said an increased demand for OTTBs creates a market that needs some regulation for the greater benefit of the horses. A trainer certification could add another layer of oversight in the aftercare industry onto the already existing Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance accreditation for non-profit facilities.

"We have a market-based solution. The horses are getting sold, people are jumping in to make money (training and selling horses)," he said. "We have to make sure that it's somewhat regulated, somewhat overseen, and that the horses are benefitting."

To add to this, Pittman also said RRP will update its resource directory to include reviews, so it will be similar to Yelp but for OTTB retrainers, farms, etc.

"We have a directory of trainers on our website, but there's no oversight. You put the information in and it's buyer beware," Pittman said. "Our plan is to have a new directory that will have most of the same information but it will have reviews. So if you're brave enough to put your name in, you're going to get reviewed by clients."

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