Life After Racing

The October 2 edition of The Blood-Horse magazine is a special report. "Unwanted Horses: How the Industry is Dealing With Life After Racing" has features on second careers for runners after their last race; equine slaughter; Thoroughbred adoption; and the racing industry's current and future attempts to find solutions for retired racehorses.

Also in the news: my colleage at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care, Alexandra Beckstett, recently posted a story well worth reading. Considerations When Purchasing or Adopting an Ex-Racehorse for Sport identifies several precautions potential adoptors should take when evaluating a potential racetrack retiree.

The fate of Thoroughbreds following their first career is an important one to me, and I know it is a passionate concern to many of you. We've had some good discussion about Thoroughbred racehorse retirement previously on this blog; we've explored the controversial topic of what happens to mares after they're culled from the broodmare band; we've shared opinions about which Thoroughbred bloodlines make the best sport horses; and I recommended a must-read book-- Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses--about the topic.

Today I'd like your ideas about how we can start to prepare our horses for their future careers, even while they're in training or being pointed towards the track as young foals. Can it be done?  Can 2-year-olds be trained, simultaneously, to be competitive runners and good riding horses? Is exposure to trails, or to small jumps or to elementary dressage training, a practice that distracts a Thoroughbred in training from running fast on a big oval?  Have you ever raised or trained a racehorse with a sport/pleasure second career in mind?


Leave a Comment:

Karen in Indiana

I'd like to know that, too. One of the things I heard about Tiznow is that he got bored racing and they had to work to keep him interested. So would cross-training be something that would help those horses who get bored or who need encouragement stay interested in racing? I'm thinking now about Giant Oak or Mr. Hot Stuff (who would make one of the most gorgeous dressage horses ever).

30 Sep 2010 12:27 PM

Have trained and ridden active horses in training,, and most make wonderful riding horses after racing if injuries are not to severe. I have a couple right now. But I always look for good even temperment and always,,always let them come down long and slow when taken off the track. I don;t do anything but feed and let them relax in good safe pasture or paddock.

30 Sep 2010 12:59 PM

I believe Seattle Slew received some dressage training before he went to the track.  Sure didn't hurt him any!  I think all horses could benefit from it and it would help after their retirement as well.  I'm not sure what Michael Matz's training regimen is but I'll bet he's incorporated some of his prior knowledge of the jumping world and he is quite successful.

30 Sep 2010 1:24 PM
Fuzzy Corgi

A trainer I used to work for at the track would show all of his personal QH weanlings & yearlings in halter classes to get them used to being handled and exposed to different sights & sounds. The basics of training a horse to turn or go forward are the same for any career path. I know that everyone has a different approach to training, some I find agreeable and some not so agreeable, but once a horse has a good foundation, and is not scared into submission, the next stage of a horses career usually evolves fairly quickly.

Personally, I prefer getting horses after their racing career is over. Some have a few physical issues that prevent them from racing but can find success in a less physically demanding career. Some are just slow or don't want to be a racehorse. Some ONLY want to be a racehorse. Some are best suited to simply being a lawn ornament.

Most retired racehorses can easily go on to new careers with moderate to extensive training. It all depends on what the horses new job is supposed to be. I know more than one person who has bought a prospect expecting him/her to evolve into a jumper or event horse but the horse wanted to be something else. Some people sell that horse for what it wants to do and start with a new prospect. Some people have followed their prospects lead.

I wish American race horses had similar living and training conditions that the Euros have. I think in general the Euros have a less stressful environment. They train in fields that often have undulating surfaces. They are not stabled at the tracks so they don't have busy people preparing horses for races and/or listen to race calls and cheering fans most afternoons. Some even have to do a little trail ride (sometimes near traffic) to get to the training fields. I think that the diversity helps their minds stay a little fresher, but that is just my opinion.

30 Sep 2010 2:47 PM
Cal Poly Alumni

Back in the 1980s, Cal Poly University at San Luis Obispo had a two-year-olds in training program.  They took donated weanlings or foals they raised from donated stallion services, raised them, broke them, galloped them and sold them at the CTBA March Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.

Our horses were always dead calm at the sales and usually overlooked, in part, because they were so calm.  Before they got to the sale, they were ridden in Western saddles, taught to go through pasture gates, walk through the University's herds of cows, went on trail rides, et cetera, for weeks before they ever saw the training track that a donation from the Oak Tree Racing Association made possible.

Assuming they weren't made head cases at the track, I fully expect that our horses came off the track more easily than most and went on to useful lives in their "retirement."

Sadly, the program no longer exists and they sell yearlings, instead, but it was a great program while it lasted.

30 Sep 2010 3:32 PM

Our eventing coach has aways said that ex-race horses make the best eventing horses because they have such a good foundation. (assuming they are handled by horsemen, not someone in it for a quick buck. They are exposed to a lot and can take new experiences in their stride because there is hustle and bustle at the track, they are vanned around, groomed in a stall, handled a lot.

Like Becky Holder who is currently competing Courageous Comet at WEG, he has taken ex racehorses sired by the likes of Lear Fan to four star wins (the highest stakes level of eventing).

It can be done.  Our daughter as a new mother bought a winning (130,000) 4yo daughter of Coromorant out of a Belmont horses in training sale for a song and competed her to intermediate (2*) level before her untimely death by anesthetic afer bone chip surgery.  (What an addition she would have made to our fledgling broodmare band, alas.) Like all the TBs I have bred, owned and/or competed in numerous horse sports, she was smart, affectionate and willing to learn.

With our own foals, we expose them to everything we can and do everything S L O Wly. With TBs, forcing issues will always create problems.

30 Sep 2010 4:08 PM

Hard to know who reads these, but it may be somewhat telling that no one has really tackled Scot's key question (can they be trained simultaneously for both?). I also don't have the answer, because I haven't seen it tried. Scot's question alludes to other intermediate questions, such as:

Would it be beneficial or detrimental to the racer trainee to get extra time (let's say afternoons) in schooling related, etc. activities outdoors? Assuming that these outdoors are in close proximity to other racers stabled nearby-what affect might be had on them?...What is the ideal amount of "exercise" for the average racehorse in training? (ex.-would they be better off outside for a majority of the day if within a very closely controlled situation?)...Also to be considered-weight on back/time...Most racehorses, as they become fitter, are ever less manageable (tougher to handle). This too should impact on the hypothesized "simultaneous" regimen...My guess is that racehorses in training would benefit from far more "out time", be it for alternative training or otherwise. Logistics, perhaps, more than anything prevent it. I had before noticed that those in a Godolphin barn at Belmont received daily afternoon shedrowing.    

30 Sep 2010 7:34 PM

Sorry, forgot to mention:

When, long ago, I first sent some horses to Fair Hill I thought that one of its attractions was the potential for increased time out of stall. I soon discovered, however, that while they do have some access to small paddocks, and some get this, it's only during typical training hours. I should add that some also are "cross-country'd" during same training hours. That said, go to Fair Hill post say 11:00-11:30 AM, and I doubt you'll see a single horse outdoors-paddocked or otherwise; just as it would be at a sanctioned racetrack.  

30 Sep 2010 7:46 PM
Bet Twice

I come from the hunter/jumper world where thoroughbreds are being phased out of the sport and replaced with the quieter and (arguably) more tractable warmbloods.  

The best horse I ever had was a brilliant TB who had a tricky mind but extraordinary ability.  Over the years, he more than made up for his opinions by being so smart and so physically gifted.

Given the amount of money and time it takes to train a young horse, I wish the Jockey Club would track the TB's that went on to successful careers in other fields.

Most people on the track know the crazy ones from the sane, but buying an OTTB right off the track is a total gamble for anyone in the hunter/jumper world.  It takes 3 mos. to see their real personalities and you are still left with the giant question of whether it can jump.  

It would be great to know if there were "known" producers of good jumpers.  Horses with good minds that would be suitable to the sport.  I believe Spectacular Bid became known as a sire who produced very good jumpers.  

They may not always be the right type for the hunter ring, but with their intelligence and athleticism, there's no reason they can't excel in the jumpers and the equitation.

I think the thoroughbred industry needs to do more to make these horses viable for other disciplines.  Establishing successful sire lines (both in ability and temperament) might do a lot to mitigate the risk of taking on an OTTB.

As an additional advantage, if it was discovered that the offspring of certain sires/sire lines made particularly good sport horses, I'm guessing their post retirement value (in the very wealthy hunter/jumper world) would skyrocket.

30 Sep 2010 8:06 PM

It's a tragic fact that not all thoroughbreds get anywhere near to their natural lifespan.  It's a tragic fact that such a small percentage of those bred and raced get to be re-trained and re-homed.  Too many bred, and too many not earning their oats...sad fact; easy come-easy go.  And so, the slaughter business thrives on the blood of thoroughbreds, standard-breds, and and quarter-horses bred to race at our pleasure.

Here's a simple solution for the racing industry's "dirty little secret" of so many unwanted and disposable TB's being sent to slaughter.  

Let the industry mandate a Fee that covers the pre-paid cost of a gentle euthanasia. The Fee would be paid  EVERY time the horse is sold.  Let there also be a modest retirement-fee collected EVERY time the horse races.  This would create quite a pool that would certainly most adequately serve to keep American TBs out of the slaughter pipeline.

There would even be excess revenue, because most TBs are sold and raced many times.  This excess would cover the cost of administering the program.

Every TB in the program would receive a cold brand (perhaps on the inner thigh) that would alert auction owners, and the USDA, to the fact that the horse is NOT to be shipped for slaughter.  The horse would have a micro-chip in its thigh near the area of the brand, that contains necessary identification, and contact information.

If this were to be implemented, there would be NO reason ever for any beautiful and noble TB, champion or claimer, to ever be the victim of the brutal betrayal of horse slaughter.

If it is truly at the end of all possibility for a forever home, it would leave this world at a veterinarian's hand, in stead of in a bloody, brutal, slaughter plant.

C'mon "horsemen"...this is the very least that CAN be done for the ones on who's back the indu$sry depends...the ones who always give their all.

30 Sep 2010 8:16 PM

Well, I would never start a 2 year old over fences as they have their joints torn up enough as it is, but the basics of dressage or flatwork in general I don't think could hurt anything. It would be that much easier to restart my TBs if they had a little more ring work under their belts to begin with! Even if it's a couple years back, most have pretty good memories.

30 Sep 2010 8:41 PM
Twitter Trackbacks for The Five-Cross Files | Life After Racing | Blog Stable, Life After Racing - The Five-Cross Files [] on

Pingback from  Twitter Trackbacks for                 The Five-Cross Files | Life After Racing | Blog Stable, Life After Racing - The Five-Cross Files         []        on

30 Sep 2010 9:10 PM

Please indulge another post...I am remiss, were I not to express gratitude to Blood Horse, for addressing this very important issue...important to the Fans, for sure, but most of all...important for the horses.

Your FOB Fren, O

30 Sep 2010 9:12 PM
Bet Twice

The Five-Cross Files,

I just discovered your 2009 thoroughbred bloodline blog.  Apologies for my careless reading and inattention to topic.  Thought the comments about jumping bloodlines were absolutely sensational and extremely helpful.

Is there a blog or website specializing in these subjects?  Clearly people have devoted a lot of time to investigating these bloodlines and it would be great to have a permanent  destination to discuss.  

Also, with the current economic crisis, there isn't quite as much money in the hunter/jumper world and lots of kids (and ex-racers) looking for good partners.  It would be great if there was somewhere to send them for advice, etc.

The info would be a godsend for those of us who love TB's and want to see them make a comeback in the H/J world.

30 Sep 2010 9:44 PM

One of the things I've long admired about the trainer H. Graham Motion is the fact that his horses in training are regularly ridden in company with others out in the lovely rolling terrain of Fair Hill Training Center.  The photos on their website are  beautiful and it surely must help the horses for their future training post racing.  They have also had photos of some of the horses after retirement doing well in their new careers so it can be done.

30 Sep 2010 10:15 PM
Karen, Australia

As the owner, breeder, & trainer of racehorses, I often try to evaluate what direction I think would suit my horses when they are no longer racing. I also have a bit of experience in dressage and pleasure riding, and years of instructing.

I found basic dressage training is invaluable on my young thoroughbreds. I believe if you educate the horse first to be responsive and submissive it is much calmer and easier to train for racing, and much kinder for the horse.

Anyone can easily get any horse excited but it is much more difficult to calm a horse, especially one that has had it's head 'fried' (easy to do with thoroughbreds, just do lots of gallops..especially if horse has a physical problem), so I try not to 'fry' my 'babies'.

I have trained metropolitan winners that started out doing dressage from the time they were broken in and after every spell they would do 4 - 5 weeks dressage training in paddocks or road work before fast work starts, and also on slow excercise days. (no they don't gallop fast everyday!)

Well balanced medium trot is WONDERFULL for building muscle and stamina.

It can be done, the big problem is jockeys and track riders do not understand dressage etc so not many can help the horse, it's very frustrating.

01 Oct 2010 5:06 AM

I am so glad to see this question asked and being talked about on the big stage.  Thank you!  In answer to the question; Yes, it is possible to train simultaneously.

We breed and run QH & TB's.  Every baby we have is ridden regularly; down the road to the lake, around the pasture, trails, over fences, checking cows, even in the feedlot.  I even start my babies in the gates as weenlings; feeding, standing and walking through them.  Every little constructive thing you do with them as babies only benefits at the track and beyond.  Our babies go to the track with sound minds, trusting people and come home the same way.

The biggest reason more aren't trained this way comes down to money.  The day rate for most trainers and farms is high and most owners want to get them to the track in as short a time as possible.  (Also, I have found with quite a few owners, when you start training "outside the box" they balk at anything out of the norm.)  

On the trainers end, the morning riders get $20.00+ per head, and cannot spend hours each day on one horse.  You have no idea how hard it is to get a rider at the track to even gallop a horse more than a mile 1/2, much less 5 miles.

We are fortunate in that I have the trainers license and my husband does the riding.

01 Oct 2010 7:08 AM

The basic elements of dressage and learning to walk, trot and gallop in company over natural terrain creates harmony, balance and trust...beneficial for all disciplines.

01 Oct 2010 7:19 AM

Regarsing bloodlines that went well over fences; Secretariat has (had?) a son, Romatico who's offspring (from what I have researched) excell over fences.

[Last year, we had a renter who kept her horse here in my barn.  He was an Appendix QH (she said he was Secretariat crossed with a snail) by Romantico out of a foundation QH mare.  She was trying to make a barrel horse out of him to no avail.  The first time he seen the jumps, he took to it like a duck to water...absolutely loved it and such a beautiful mover.]

01 Oct 2010 7:24 AM

"Our horses were always dead calm at the sales and usually overlooked, in part, because they were so calm." Cal Poly Alumni 30 Sep 2010 3:32 PM

I have had and seen the same thing happen.  Isn't it a shame that people will not look twice at a calm, well behaved animal?!  

When I first started running QH's, mine were the only ones that didn't flip in the paddock or get obnoxious in the gates.  They were/are always overlooked at the window because the bettors think they're plugs.  While they don't always win, they nearly always make a check and always give 110%.  What more can you ask for?

01 Oct 2010 7:34 AM
Gail Vacca

Thank you for covering this incredibly important issue!

As a licensed trainer who also serves as the president of an organization which rehabs, retrains, and rehomes retired racehorses, I have much to offer on this topic.

Horsemen would serve their horses well to incorporate basic dressage into their program when starting youngsters. Basic dressage not only lays a solid foundation for life after racing, it also serves to develop a more supple, responsive, and confident racehorse.

An often ignored issue at the track is "ground" manners or manners in general. As a trainer I must admit I too was often guilty of allowing my horses to display poor manners. One of the most time consuming issues we face in re-schooling these horses is teaching them that biting, kicking, and other aggressive behavior is no longer acceptable. When a newly retired horse comes into our facility, the first thing I teach them is "no racing equals no more biting and kicking!" If good ground manners were encouraged from birth and throughout the race career, our OTTB's would be vastly easier and far more safe for the average person to handle in their next vocation.

Finally, and most importantly - owners and trainers simply MUST strive to retire a sounder horse. As an industry we need to do everything in our power to protect the health and well-being of these incredible athletes. Stop injecting joints to eek one more race out of your horse. Retire the horse while its still capable of serving a useful purpose as a pleasure or sport horse. A sound horse is an adoptable horse.

01 Oct 2010 7:53 AM

Thoroughbreds are the smartest horses to work with.  They are a can do kind of horse at any time of their lives.

If given the time and patience to work with them and treated kindly, anything is possible with this wonderful breed.

I had an eight year old off the track, best horse I ever owned. He tried it all and ALWAYS put forth his best.  I miss him.

01 Oct 2010 10:33 AM

One of the biggest barriers to life after racing has to be m-o-n-e-y. This applies especially to the "just plain ... " horses who end up just a little ouchy and not really fit for serious sport careers. Ambitious riders are looking for sport prospects: jumpers, hunters, event horses etc - but there are a lot of people who, like the racehorses, are a little ouchy and could give love, attention and gentle hacking to horses who need those things. What gets in the way? Money! What if racehorses, from bottom claimers to grade 1 winners, had a pension plan like the humans do? What if a small part of every single purse was set aside to fund retirement? What if human retirees still able to sit across a horse and trail-ride could get help to give equine retirees the same? His legs might not be the strongest but his personality probably is - and he's been attended by people his whole life. Maybe he'd enjoy spending his golden years with the same one-on-one he enjoyed when he was a working guy. After all, it's a whole lot harder to place horses than dogs and cats. You can't exactly adopt a horse and take him home. I used to think about that 'way back as a kid, when the not-so-sound layup horses came into the barn. Where do they go if they don't come back sound enough for hard work? Under the loving attention we gave them, even the sourest of them blossomed. It just seemed like such a waste to toss all that away ... I know! It's a big impossible idea - but social security once looked like that too - and these old war-horses deserve it too.

01 Oct 2010 11:44 AM

I want to second what Gail Vacca pointed out.

As a horse owner who rides for pleasure, trail, etc and is also a huge fan of racing, I would love to adopt a retired TB some day. But I have a few concerns...

One, is the ground manners. I have seen a lot of behavior in TBs that "regular" horse people simply would never tolerate. Biting, kicking, shoving handlers around, dragging people this way and that, rearing, striking. Of course, not *everyone* allows that kind of behavior, but is there good reason to allow it at all? You can have a mannerly horse without destroying it's self confidence. I understand that they're working with a lot of studs and colts, and so some of that behavior needs to be managed, but it's totally inexcusable in mares and geldings.

Second, soundness. Trainers would go a long way to improving the future of their races horses (esp the GELDINGS) if they would deliberately retire the horse--when possible, of course accidents and injuries happen--when the horse is still serviceably sound. No one wants a lame horse, or a horse that is bound to be too lame to ride in a couple years. Horses are EXPENSIVE to keep. Most people have them so they can RIDE THEM. You can't ride a lame horse.

Do whatever you can to preserve the SOUNDNESS of these animals.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of habits that racehorses can have that are a problem for the average rider. Biting, kicking/fussing while saddled, wont stand still for mounting, doesn't understand leg cues, hard mouth, etc. Any work done to alleviate or prevent those habits would be a benefit to their second career as a sport or pleasure horse. Keep in mind that you're asking people to take a risk with these animals--having them be both questionably sound AND requiring a ton of remedial, skillful training is asking a lot.

That said, a few months ago we had a retired race horse come into the barn where I board my horse. He had been retired for a few years-- "Mikes Straightman"--and he was super calm, very sweet, easy to ride. He obviously had some work after racing. Incidentally, he was  terrible tooth grinder when being ridden in a bit. When ridden bitless he was much more relaxed and stopped the grinding. But what a gorgeous looking animal and a very kind disposition. I would have loved to have owned him.

01 Oct 2010 12:43 PM
in- the-know


First off you are unfortunately off base.  Think for a moment about Tiger Woods,the golfer not the husband, he is all calm cool and collected right up to the point he sinks that oh so important impossible putt. Those shouts and fist pumps are Passion and Adrenaline.  The same is true with racehorses.  Do you think we like kicking, biting,and getting pushed around?  Do you think those behaviors happen everyday?  They Don't.  When an athlete gets to the level of fitness RH's do you have to walk a fine line.  They think they're Superman and you have to let them "let it out" to a point.  Those same behaviors ebb and tide throughout the season. Very few are actually pulling that hard, they just bow up and typically just after gallops cuz they feel so good. Second I've never met,although some are scary as hell, a horsemen who wants to push one past the point of no return. If they can't be ridden for some purpose they can't run.  So in the trainers mind if they are sound enough to race they are sound enough to do anything.  We, I, They DO NOT like seeing a ruined horse and all trainers I know (to many to count) prefer to able to find them a home when and where they can be productive. There is more of a problem with peoples misconseption about what owning a retired race horse would be like,(pure joy) than with the people handling the in-training horses. People are afraid to give them a chance.  How many old grade geldings have you seen that aren't a pleasure to ride.  There are problem childs' in every breed.

01 Oct 2010 2:31 PM
in- the-know

I should have mentioned that when the time comes for me to retire a gelding off the track I typically give them away,(to what I think will be a good home) FREE!! and that can be really tough.. Imagine a horse plenty sound to jump ect. that loads easy, good for body clipping, bogey monsters don't exist, stands good for shoes, vet, dentist, good around kids and dogs being hard to give away.  It sure can be. People have a bad mental picture of OTTB's. I have resorted to delivering the horse free and promising that if they don't like I'll pick them back up. Alas have never had to pick one back up.. So much for that mental pic they had it's always "OMG this is the best horse ever, he's so sweet, THANK YOU"

Spread the word OTTB's are the best!!

01 Oct 2010 2:50 PM
Fuzzy Corgi

to Nonnonheinous - please remember that the racehorses you see at the races are also getting a lot of grain and are ready for action. As soon as most horses come off of their feed from the track they act a lot like almost any other horse. In fact, some of the rudest horses I've ever seen aren't off the track. A lot of the nipping is from colts that need to be gelded. They just can't help themselves. Except for immediately after a race, I have never been bit or nipped by a mare.

There are al1 types of horses in all disciplines; hot ones, lazy ones, sweet ones, cantankerous ones, etc. In our hunter barn we used to have a 15.3 hand TB gelding that was the perfect little kids horse. A lot of the amateur and junior riders also had retired racehorses. The most severe injury that any of the off the track horses had was a 17.1 hand gelding that had some pretty beat up ankles. Despite his ankles and not being the prettiest mover on the flat, he was always either champion or reserve champion in the older junior hunter classes. He never was lame in the 6 years that he was showing. I got him after his show career and did all sorts of silly things with him. He had a great mind and was easy to work around.

The best place I would recommend to find the perfect horse for you would be a rescue. They would be able to tell you exactly what would are looking at and match the type of horse to your needs. I would also recommend that if you are unsure about your training skills to let a professional help you. A trainer might also help you to decide which would be a good horse for you. Good luck on your TB quest.

01 Oct 2010 4:20 PM
in- the-know

To anyone out there considering an OTTB, Remember this:  

A GOOD horse of any other breed MAY leave you Wanting.

A BAD Thoroughbred WILL leave you Wishing..... Wishing you had got one sooner.

01 Oct 2010 5:35 PM
in- the-know

Fuzzy Corgi,

Thanks for your comments as well.  there are so many people out on the blogisphere who enjoy horse racing, but don't fully appreciate the true nature of the game. It's nice to see someone who gets it. I rarely post but this is one subject that is near and dear. This is in no way meant to detract from our supporters, but people have to start putting their money where their mouth is and start adopting and encouraging others to do the same. I have, to the point I've been flat broke more than once.  It's annoying to hear people who have nothing to lose comment without being willing risk anything. My horses do or don't pay my mortgage, utilities and groceries.  How many times have I bought grain instead of steaks? Damn good thing I'm not a big meat eater.  

01 Oct 2010 8:49 PM

There sure are a lot of misconceptions about Thoroughbreds.

People forget that a Thoroughbred at the track is not the same horse they are in retirement.  Plus many people compare a 2 or 3 year old right off the track to their 7 or 8 year old riding horse.  They forget that their quiet riding horse was not so quiet and safe at 2 and 3, but they just never saw them or handled them at that age.  Young horses of any breed are a lot more dangerous than they are when they are older.

Racehorses are usually young--2, 3 or 4 years old.  In the Warmblood community, they wouldn't even have been broken by the time many Thoroughbreds are retired.  There is a HUGE difference between a 2-year old of any breed and one who is 7.

A Thoroughbred has been exposed to an incredible amount of things.  Imagine what a race must be like for a 2-year old the first or second time?  I am always awestruck that they are so professional.  I doubt any breed but a Thoroughbred could mentally cope with racing.

Horses who race are fed a lot of grain and are incredibly fit.  They are being wound up tighter and tighter like a spring so that on race day they just explode out of the gate.  It is a fine line between a horse that is "on the muscle" and one who is over the top.  Riding horses are never wound up that tightly.

I've owned a few racehorses and even groomed at the track to learn the business.  Racehorses are incredibly well socialized.  As a child I was bitten and kicked by an awful lot of riding horses; but other than colts, racehorses rarely bite or kick, and with colts they just can't help biting.

Yes, they might rear once in awhile in the shedrow, but that is because they are very young, unbelievably fit and are being  trained and fed to be jumping out of their skins.  Racehorses in training feel incredibly good and strong.  Let them down properly and they are usually quite quiet.

The other thing that sometimes happens at the track is that the people working around a horse want to do everything possible to make the racehorse happy.  Happy horses run better than unhappy horses.  Sometimes they put up with bad behavior that wouldn't be tolerated in a different situation.

The original question was what could be done to better prepare racehorses for a second career.  I can't think of a horse better prepared for a second career than an OTTB.  They have been exposed to an incredible amount of things that they take in stride.  They need to be let down properly and they need to be started up in their new career by someone who is experienced with developing the mouth of an OTTB.

I can't say enough about the heart, courage and intelligence of this breed.

01 Oct 2010 9:23 PM
Bet Twice

In the know - I completely appreciate the TB booster club, but let's be realistic.  Soundness is a huge issue in off the track  thoroughbreds.  If people are looking for pasture horses or the occasional trail ride, the bone chips, bowed tendons, suspensory tears, bad knees, bad ankles and shelly feet aren't going to be a problem.  If you want your horse to have a real second career, all of those things can be deal breakers.  

In Southern California, the average monthly fees at a show barn are between 2K and 3K per month, not including supplements, meds and vet bills.  Do you really think anyone in their right mind is going to fork out this much money for a hopped up, biting TB who has a fat ankle or a bowed tendon?  They are going to spend a little more on a warmblood who vets and doesn't try to take their head off.  

RACETRACK FOLKS  -   Listen to nonnonheinous - If you want your horses to have a good home, take care of them on the track.  

Sorry Fuzzy Corgi, no way a bad mover wins in the A circuit junior hunters today.  Too many good horses who can do it all.

JAJ, as I posted earlier, I love TB's.  No one is questioning their merits, but the excuses made for inexcusable behavior is going to make those horses very hard to place.  Early training, could mean the difference between a home and slaughter.  Racetrack people seem to like the crazy, but they better hope the crazy can run.  The rest of the horse world thinks horses, like dogs, should be good citizens.  Ground manners are key and should not be undervalued.

02 Oct 2010 5:19 AM
westward way

jaj, I am an eventer,lower levels but a confident amatature.I have been riding tb's off the track for 30 years. I will not even look at a horse unless it has raced. I cannot agree with you more . what they learn at the track is invaluable. They are so smart, with an incredable work ethic.

02 Oct 2010 7:18 PM

I retrain OTTB's and OTSTB's and rehome them and the biggest mistake I see people making when working with a retired racehorse is they don't give them enough downtime between the track and learning a new career.

I like to typically take them in during when our local meet is winding down...leave them at pasture over the winter, and start working with them in the the spring.

02 Oct 2010 8:06 PM

Bet Twice,

Ground manners are NOT an issue with OTTBs.  Racehorse people do not like crazy--fat and calm are what we are looking for in temperament.

Soundness is not as big an issue as many think.  Yes, there are some very unsound horses, but there are an awful lot of them who retire who are incredibly sound.

02 Oct 2010 9:02 PM
in- the-know

Bet Twice,

Really?  We don't like the crazy it's just a by product of having super fit horses. I have a back round (since I was 6yrs old) of western pleasure, dressage and jumping.  I, in 28 yrs of being in horses, have yet to see anything fitter than a winning racehorse.  And I will again say that horses that can race are physically capable of doing ANYTHING! S**t happens and horses get hurt. I also have personal experience in high level athletics, and athletes who put it all on the line have injuries, even if it's only the nagging kind.  The horses I have given away are now Competing in trail,endurance,jumping, barrels, 3rd Lev Dressage ect. Even though they had some ankles,hocks, stifles and so on and so forth. Moving on to other sports was a vacation as far as they were concerned.  Racehorses are some of the best cared for athletes in the world.. They have to be, even the cheap claimers. Strike that, especially the cheap claimers. It's harder to keep a bad horse together than a good one.

02 Oct 2010 9:58 PM

I have a permanently injured rescue ex-racehorse we adopted; he is doing a fine job for us as a babysitter of our two-year old and our weanling.  He is really useful even though he can't ever be ridden.

The two-year old has been in training for six months: just ground work / round pen only to start him off well; then he goes to track training at the end of this year.  We expect him to have a hunter/jumper/dressage career after the track (if he's fast enough to even get to the track).

02 Oct 2010 10:06 PM

I have placed TB's off the track for many years, in fact I just placed one in an eventer home and it looks like he is going to have great ability. My TB stallion is the highest scoring TB ever in DSHB. He is sane and smart, and above all kind. He is In Reality bred on the top side. If bloodlines tend to be important. I like the Man O' War line. He has 3 foals in Germany now and 3 here at my place and they are all even tempered and laid back. I am working with a trainer right now trying to figure out if we can show one of his stallions that he is running this spring at some of the Sporthorse Breed Shows at the same time.He wants him to have another career after he stops running even though he is planning on breeding him. We will see how that works out. This stallion is also very well behaved. I have shown with the  "quiet" warmbloods since 2005 and on 3 ocassions those stallions had to leave the ring due to dangerous behaviors being in the same ring with other stallions during the championship classes. My TB boy was always so well behaved that he was always included in the group and did not have to show separately. At another show the handler never did get the stallion there to walk except on his back legs. I have ridden warmbloods over the years and would not go back after riding TB's. If people saw some of the things I have as far as temperment goes the warmbloods have nothing on the TB's. I have often thought that as foals and yearlings that if they were shown inhand and earned points at that that would put them in a better position of life after racing.

03 Oct 2010 2:44 PM
Bet Twice

Check out the WEG results.  Not one TB amongst the dressage horses and not one in the entire speed (jumping) class.  Eventing still has TB's, but not many OTTBs and here too, the warmbloods are becoming more and more popular.  

Certainly these horses are the elite and maybe thoroughbreds just can't hack it at this level. Except you see the attrition rate at the lower levels too. I don't think it has to do with talent, I think its bad PR.  

All those stifles, hocks, sesamoids, etc. add up if you want to compete.  You can put up with those nagging injuries if your horse is only doing backyard dressage or never has to jog in a hunter class, but the truth is, at the higher levels, people aren't going to take on TB's with bad x-rays, bone chips or an old bow.  In the A circuit hunter/jumper world (the feeder for US Olympic show jumpers) folks would look at you like you had two heads if you told them you were buying a horse off the track.    

JAJ and in the know,

The reality is OTTB's are competing with horses with perfect x rays, that are quieter and have shown on the line since they were yearlings.  TB's have to be better because they come with baggage and its up to the people on the tracks, the people who own and train them, to help get them there.

The point of this blog was to discuss how to get more TB's placed outside of racing.  You guys can keep telling yourself that your horses are perfectly trained, perfectly sound and perfectly sane.  Meanwhile, thoroughbreds are becoming a novelty in the sports that offer them their best chance for a long and productive career.  Its a shame.

TB's are performance horses.  They are ill-suited

04 Oct 2010 9:35 PM

This blog has been so informative and, for the most part, positive as to the subject.  

Gotta say though, Bet Twice, your 10/04 9:35 PM post was a real downer.  You don't think the WEG Judges might have a bias in favor of the Warmbloods, because they have historically been the gold standard?  Surely, it's encouraging that OTTBs even made it to that level of competition (WORLD), win or not?

05 Oct 2010 2:15 PM

Bet Twice,

You are full of misinformation.

What do you mean by "perfect x-rays"?  There are not too many horses with "perfect x-rays"--even horses who have never been lame a day in their life and who have never been broken!  The experts are very confused about the implication of irregularities in x-rays to actual performance and are modifying their recommendations.

You think that sport horses--eventer and dressage horses included--have more stresses on their joints than your average race horse.  You are mistaken.  If a horse can stand up to racing, believe me, they can stand up to anything a sport horse can do.

You talk about an ex-racehorse being unsuitable for the upper levels of dressage and eventing.  That may be true because the STYLE of horse that is IN FASHION TODAY is not a Thoroughbred.

But, let's be serious--how many riders are looking for horses at the Grand Prix level?

To put it in perspective, I breed and own racehorses and am somewhat successful in my own little way.  I'm not going to be competing in the Kentucky Derby any time soon.  Does that mean that my racehorses are not worthy of being racehorses, just because they are not good enough to run in the Kentucky Derby?  Of course not!

The same goes for your top level event and dressage horses that are worth (or were worth before the market crashed) millions of dollars.

I would not try to market an OTTB to someone looking for a potential Olympic-level dressage horse.

Do remember that horse showing is full of politics.  They changed the 3-Day event cross country because the warm bloods couldn't cope with it and the Thoroughbreds were superior.

I take exception to your accusation that Thoroughbreds come with baggage because that has just not been the case in the many, many Thoroughbreds I have dealt with over my years in the business.

05 Oct 2010 3:23 PM

I have shown TB's against the warmbloods at the upper levels of inhand and won. Twice qualified for the Breeders Championships. I have also had a German judge score my appendix colt (QH TB cross) higher than some of the wb colts. He told a secretary that he was one of the nicest colts he had seen, and he did score weanlings well at all. I was shocked with it all. Didn't expect it. As for all of these wb's most are 1/2 to 3/4 TB to start with, and they may start with clean xrays, but they are having alot of hock problems themselves. As far as temperament please do not go there. Even Jimmy Wafford does not think they have good temperaments. I have seen way to many with horrible temperaments, and are let get away with rearing, dropping,Squealing, dragging their handler around the ring, signs on stall that say they will bite. This is not a sign of QUIET temperaments. The TBs are not more perfectly trained than their trainer or handler allows them to be, just like the WBs, and I don't think this is what people are trying to say. As far as soundness, ANY horse that has miles on them have soundness issues. I have a friend who is a vet and she has been horse shopping for a year for a dressage horse. 2 have vetted sound. For the most part they were WBs at the higher levels. All breeds have their problems. Alot has to do with what is popular at the moment. There are certain TB lines that have the ability to do well in dressage, but these horses are not bred for that. There is no money in that as opposed to racing. So until breeders realize that maybe they should breed with a second career in mind or do things with the young horses to promote a second career things will be slow to change, but I do believe that TBs are one of the most athletic breeds around. Look at all the breed registries that allow them to be crossed. These are the things that need to be brought to peoples attention, not the bad xrays and the negative things all breeds have problems even within their disciplines.

05 Oct 2010 3:48 PM

TBs in eventing:

Until he lost a shoe on cross-country and injured his other leg overcompensating, so that he had to be pulled before the Sun. a.m vet check and subsequent show juming which might have caused more damage, Courageous Comet was standing in third place at WEG. An American offthetrack TB. The two former Aussie US team members were also riding TBs, and the Germans including the gold medallist were riding 3/4 TBs.

06 Oct 2010 8:31 PM
Bet Twice


You may not like what I say, but I'm not full of misinformation.  Clearly I have offended you, which was not my intention.  I tried to respond specifically to your comments.  It may be we just have to agree to disagree.  

"What do you mean by "perfect x-rays"?  There are not too many horses with "perfect x-rays"--even horses who have never been lame a day in their life and who have never been broken!  The experts are very confused about the implication of irregularities in x-rays to actual performance and are modifying their recommendations."

See the below article, cited and linked at the top of this blog.  A pre-purchase exam is essential and at least in my experience, x-rays are a standard diagnostic tool for evaluating soundness in a horse.  Are there certain issues that are forgivable?  Sure, but most horses we buy need to have very good x-rays.  

In reference to the experts being very confused, I've never met a vet who said x-rays weren't essential in a pre-purchase.  Maybe its different in racing.

From the above linked article:  Considerations When Purchasing or Adopting an Ex-Racehorse for Sport:

"Prospective owners also should be aware of injuries common in ex-racehorses, including:

Fetlock chips and arthritis;

Carpal (knee) arthritis;

Bowed tendons (Horses with bowed tendons "generally require 12 months of healing and do fine competing at lower levels after careful rehabilitation," said Newton.);

Foot lameness;

Suspensory injuries (These injuries "are very painful and there's a high incidence of becoming chronic," explained Newton.); and

Bone spavin/tarsal arthritis. "This can cause chronic low-grade issues, but the horse is still usable," according to Newton.

To check for issues and injuries such as these, Newton urges owners to have a veterinarian conduct a thorough prepurchase exam that includes a physical exam, flexion tests of limbs, neck, back, and pelvis, behavioral and temperament evaluation, soundness evaluation, and longeing with tack to evaluate a horse's performance and behavior under saddle. Further diagnostic exams such as radiographs of the fetlock and knee joints, ultrasound, airway exams, blood work, bone scans, and drug screens can be expensive yet useful to determine pre-existing conditions."

Clearly Dr. Newton (Rood and Riddle) feels there is value in a pre-purchase exam and in radiographs for establishing soundness.

"You think that sport horses--eventer and dressage horses included--have more stresses on their joints than your average race horse.  You are mistaken.  If a horse can stand up to racing, believe me, they can stand up to anything a sport horse can do."

I never said I thought sport horses have more stresses on their joints.  Clearly the rate of injury/fatality suggests racing is much harder on horses than show jumping or dressage or eventing.  Which is exactly my point.  If horses are raced to injury, it makes them less viable for other disciplines (see above comments by Dr. Newman).  I'm not worried about a 3 year old off the track.  I'm worried about his soundness at 7 or 10.  As I mentioned above, a lot of money is invested, and you don't want to worry about unsoundness right from the start.  

"You talk about an ex-racehorse being unsuitable for the upper levels of dressage and eventing.  That may be true because the STYLE of horse that is IN FASHION TODAY is not a Thoroughbred."

I never said they were unsuitable (particularly in eventing), I said they have a bad image.  Gem Twist?  Touch of Class? Keen?  TB's are extremely suitable for the Olympic sports and the horse show world, but they are being phased out because there isn't a concerted effort to make them appealing to those sports.  There are many TB's that look identical to warmbloods, so while warmbloods are "fashionable" there's no reason TB's can't compete with them.

"But, let's be serious--how many riders are looking for horses at the Grand Prix level?"

There are 100,000 members of USEF.  It's not just the Grand Prix level.  It goes all the way down the line.  The potential of TB's is not being maximized in many of these disciplines.  You breed 30,000 TBs per year and those horses are losing out on thousands of potential owners and great second careers because OTTBs are seen as a risky investment.  

There needs to be a real effort made to make OTTBs more desirable to those disciplines.  My point was the TB industry can do more by giving them more extensive training on the ground (post racing perhaps?), by emphasizing soundness (see above article), by identifying bloodlines that transition well to these disciplines and by doing outreach programs to promote the abilities/accomplishments of TBs in these disciplines.  

"To put it in perspective, I breed and own racehorses and am somewhat successful in my own little way.  I'm not going to be competing in the Kentucky Derby any time soon.  Does that mean that my racehorses are not worthy of being racehorses, just because they are not good enough to run in the Kentucky Derby?  Of course not!"

99% of people in the horse show world aren't competing in grand prix either.  They still buy and show horses and those horses need to be sound enough to do their job.

"Do remember that horse showing is full of politics.  They changed the 3-Day event cross country because the warm bloods couldn't cope with it and the Thoroughbreds were superior."

So all of the other equestrian disciplines conspired to exclude thoroughbreds?  That sounds unlikely to me.  I think they  changed 3-day because too many people and horses were getting hurt.  I agree though, horse shows are full of politics, but the truth is, if a few great jumping TB's showed up on the scene and were promoted as such, TB's would become more popular.  If people consistently had great experiences getting horses off the track, TB's would become more viable.

"I take exception to your accusation that Thoroughbreds come with baggage because that has just not been the case in the many, many Thoroughbreds I have dealt with over my years in the business."

You are misunderstanding my use of baggage.  The baggage is a perception problem.  I'm not saying every TB is unsound or a head case, quite the opposite, but they do have a PR problem.  In other equestrian disciplines, they are often perceived as such.  This isn't misinformation, its fact.  

As I mentioned above, my favorite horse was a TB and I would love to see them back on the circuit.  In fact, I'm willing to argue with you and be insulted by you because I think TBs have a viable future in the show world.  You don't show horses, so its fair that you don't know how OTTBs are perceived outside of racing, but I do.  Both worlds have to come together and find a common ground.  


Sorry to be a bummer.  Sending $500 to help rescue a bunch of TB's from going to slaughter is also a bummer.  

07 Oct 2010 10:36 PM

All the bickering here on this forum is a diversion in terms of shifting the racing "industry" mindset.

Making a profit is not wrong in a business, which horse racing is. There are, however, ethical issues  connected to the pursuit of profit. For example, does a mining company have the right to scar the landscape with an open pit mine, and leave it that way after the ore is removed? Most States now say, no fill in the pit when you are done. This ethical question of downstream responsibility has yet to be answered for race horses. It seems we, as a culture, care more about mountains than horses. Perhaps it is because the open pit mine is more visible after its career is over than the retired racehorse.

One example of how businesses struggle with this issue of long term responsibility is called the "Life Cycle Assessment" (LCA). Companies do them on their products to protect themselves against downstream liability.

If a company does a LCA on a new product, and sees the potential for pollution, injury, fines, fees, or a diminished company image after the product has fulfilled it's intended use, the company alters the product or manufacturing process to limit that eventual liability. These LCAs are done on shopping bags, automobiles, cell phones, and just about everything today, but not on racehorses.

So how do we change this and get the racing industry to do Life Cycle Assessments on their racehorses? Bickering over the suitability of OTTBs for this or that sport, the use of pre-purchase x-rays, and speculation about people's intentions here will not lead to success. Presumably if people here take the time to post, they care enough to do something useful.

As a horse trainer, I wrote an article about Thoroughbred pre-race training for the Pennsylvania Equestrian newspaper. Basically, I pointed to reasons average potential horse owners shy away from adopting or buying OTTBs. I recommended simple pre-training procedures that I feel, as a professional trainer, might help.

The Real Fix for Retired Racehorses

publisher <>

This article triggered some support letters from readers, and some predictable industry responses about cost and practicality.  One "positive" defense of racing's  status quo boasted that probably half the retired racehorses found second careers. Wow, I thought. That defense admits a 50% waste of these horses. Is this the racing industry's standard of acceptable losses?

People who love horses, particularly Thoroughbreds, I feel need to do something that will get the racing industry to do LCAs on their horses. The industry responds to these efforts with polished arguments for the status quo that have been the standard for a century or more.

Meanwhile, our cultural standards for ethical responsibility have changed. Industries can no longer leave an open pit mine, make a toy that poisons children, or a cell phone that pollutes ground water, but the racing industry has survived these cultural shifts toward greater responsibility with their outdated standards untouched.

The racing industry should not be exempt from change, but should  come into line with the contemporary standards of ethical care. It's that simple, but if we who care bicker and ignore the larger picture, the racing industry's well organized PR campaigns and trite defenses will hold. Their 50% waste of these horses will prevail.

Take the time to email a horse publication and ask for articles that legitimately evaluate the fate of retired racehorses. The racing industry has PR people constantly sending these equine publications articles about rescues that save 100 or 200 horses a year, while thousands are cast aside.

Raising awareness of the racing industry's organized efforts to avoid responsibility and related costs in order to maintain profit margins will bring them into the present. A race horse deserves the same consideration as a used mountain or a outdated consumer product.

02 Jan 2011 9:17 AM

Recent Posts


  • Pedigree Newsletter:
    The Five-Cross Files will be featured in a new Pedigree Analysis newsletter from To sign up for this free weekly email -- or any other newsletters from The Blood-Horse -- just click here.

Recommended Reading

More Blogs