Early Days

OTTB Stigmas

There’s something I realize I haven’t brought up before: the fact that I had never, ever, in a million years, thought that I would own an ex-racehorse. In fact, I would even say I had a stigma against TBs in general and OTTBs in particular. They have a reputation for being hot, spooky, nervous, hard keepers with thin skin and crumbly feet, who likely come with injuries and have no manners.

Ironically, I had my sights set on getting an American Saddlebred as my eventing horse, an uncommon breed for the discipline especially on the west coast. My own bias against OTTBs is especially baffling in light of the common stigmas against ASB: that they are hot, spooky, nervous, hard keepers who have whites around their eyes and are half-crazy from training with chains and firecrackers. Here is my post promoting ASBs as sport horses – they truly are an amazing breed that has gotten a bad rap due to saddleseat training methods.

Thoroughbred –  2012 Kentucky Derby winner
Horse: I’ll Have Another, 3 years old
Jockey (Rider): Mario Gutierrez
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Owner:  Paul Reddam
American Saddlebred – 2012 World Grand Champion 5-Gaited
Horse: Bravo Blue, 10 years old
Trainer and Rider: Rob Byers
Owner: B&T Vonderschmitt

Well, the universe has a way of humbling us. I am still promoting ASBs as excellent potential sport horses, while having to eat my thoughts regarding OTTBs.  Biases tend to start with a small nugget of truth. Let me give you my honest 2-cents about OTTB stigmas versus reality, insofar as my experience with Bohemian.

Temperament -Bohemian is well behaved, quiet, and calm 99% of the time. I’ve seen other TBs wig out on occasion, but not significantly more than I’ve seen horses of other breeding wig out. They’re animals.

My snuggly Bohemian.

Weight – TBs are naturally tall and slender, and tend to show more ribs even at a healthy weight as compared to other breeds. Bohemian certainly came to me underweight, but that was due to the change in feed from his retirement as a racehorse – a common but very fixable issue with ex-racehorses.

Skin – Most TB owners will tell you that their TBs are more sensitive to bugs and skin irritations than their horses of other breeds. Bohemian certainly is.

Feet – A good number of TBs have hooves that require more care than other breeds. Bohemian gets hoof conditioner regularly to help maintain hoof health. But overall he has great feet.

Injuries – This one is more legit than the others. Racing training starts before the horses are full grown, which common sense and research shows is not healthy for joint and ligament development, therefore creating a propensity for injury later on. Its also no secret that horses get injured during races all the time, and injury is one of the main causes of retirement from the track.

Manners – There is a circulated idea that some racehorse trainers view pushy ground manners as related to a horse’s ego, with more pushiness translating to more competitiveness on the track, so they don’t correct common ground manner violations. However, Bohemian and all the other OTTBs at my barn have had no ground manner issues whatsoever. Maybe west coast racing trainers don’t hold that particular view, or maybe they do but are keeping all the horses with bad manners since they’re the more competitive horses (after all, we’re adopting the racing rejects).

Overall, I am very pleased and proud of my OTTB. I hope all horse people will strongly consider both TBs and ASBs for their pleasure and performance mounts, or at least try to dismiss any lurking biases that might be tucked away in the back corner of their mind!

6 comments on “OTTB Stigmas

  1. You couldn't give me an ASB. I've never seen one I liked, saddleseat or otherwise.

    That said, I've had great experiences over and over with OTTBs. I connect well with TBs. I like their sensitivity and heart and generosity. Mine have had mediocre feet, bug sensitivities, been relatively easy keepers, and super straightforward to ride. I love their forward energy and honesty. I know there are bad ones out there, but I've been fortunate enough not to run across one.


  2. Well, I should be happy that you've seen any Saddlebreds at all! They seem to be getting even more fewer and far between these days.

    I'm definitely an OTTB believer nowadays. Mine has taken to his new job very well, and he turned out to be a cuddlebug to boot. =]


  3. Sarah – my experience with Sydney has been similar to your own. He is thinned skinned, 1% of the time he's “hot”, he's very sweet and lovable, with enough hay he has maintained a good body score, and aside from a bump on his lower leg, he's sound. I never gave much thought to owning a TB. They just weren't on my radar for what I do/did. Now that I own one, I see that many people find them to be too much work. I'll keep mine – he's a pretty nice guy!


  4. Don't be surprised when Bohemian chunks up. My horse was a “hard keeper” for the first 3ish years off the track. He ate 5 flakes for breakfast and 5 flakes for dinner. Now that he's older, long off the track, work load is different, metabolism has changed and he is a nicely filled out boy who gets mistaken for a QH or Warmblood Mix, and when he's in fat boy mode, just Warmblood period.. lol.


  5. Our TBs, living in lovely southern California, have it better than lots of other TBs out in places where the weather and bugs are crazy. :) They don't know how good they have it!


  6. Oh, can't wait until that happens! Even though he is putting weight on at an okay pace, I'm still just really eager to get him up to where I want him. Which is probably a tad plumper than he *should* be. =]


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