Yearly, thousands of ex-racehorses become available for a new career. Whether due to injury, behavior, lack of running ability or for any other reason, some thoroughbred owners choose to donate their horses to an adoption organization when they no longer have a use for them. Your goal is to strategically begin retraining your OTTB and enable him to start a new life career. This can be accomplished by encouraging him to reach his full potential both mentally and physically, getting him fit and healthy, and handling him safely on a daily basis.
If you’ve adopted your OTTB from an agency or organization, most likely he already has some basic training if he’s sound, whether it be on the ground or under saddle. When you adopt a horse, both you and the horse need to go through a transition period, where you begin to work together and understand each other. Some people encounter bumps along the road when working with their ex-racehorse. If you and your horse feel like you aren’t “clicking” for whatever reason, and you still want to make your partnership work, it’s best to learn how to understand your OTTB and the situation that he came from.
If you had a job your entire lifetime, imagine how difficult it would be to lose the only job you have ever known, leave all your friends and everything familiar to you. You move to a new town, where you start a new job for which you have no training. The schedule is entirely different from your typical routine, and the whole situation is a bit unnerving. This is what it’s like for your thoroughbred to leave his life as a racehorse and go on to a new career. It can be stressful mentally.
It’s best if you know something about your horse’s previous experiences and histories as you aid him in transitioning to his new lifestyle and into his retraining program. It will take some time, maybe months or even years, before you begin figuring out what exactly his likes and dislikes are, as well as his true personality. Although most thoroughbreds have had substantial ground training as yearlings, they may be touchy and defensive around a new person. Kicking, pinning the ears, switching the tail – these are all common OTTB behaviors when first taken off the track. These are especially exhibited while grooming or tacking up, as thoroughbreds are notoriously thin skinned and sensitive. Personally, these little quirks subsided for my thoroughbred within the first eight months of retraining. He is now an extremely well mannered, sweet guy on the ground and undersaddle, and is very quiet even at his young age.
When first arriving in a new environment, some OTTBs will be overwhelmed with anxiety. They may pace their stalls or paddocks, refuse to eat, or paw nonstop. Horses are less likely to pacer walk in their stalls if they can see what is going on around them. At the track, most thoroughbreds have web stall guards that allow them to put their heads out and take in their surroundings. This allows your horse to have mental stimulation that may prevent unwanted behaviors.
Most thoroughbreds will require a period off time to be “let down” after they come off the track. They settle into their new environment, routine, and training schedule. Allowing your OTTB to relax in his new environment before you begin training will benefit him immensely both physically and mentally, and it won’t be long before training is in full-swing.
“Beyond the Track.” Anna Morgan Ford. Print.