Opinion Piece About American TB's in Eventing

Interesting and bound to be controversial.

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I read that article too. I have no comment on the author’s opinion that the quality of horses being bred has declined. I don’t know enough about breeding to form an opinion.

I did get all up in my feelings regarding the author’s statements about retirement responsibilities. It would be nice if there was a safer pipeline for racehorses. All horses really, but that’s not the subject at hand.

Be interesting to see how this thread develops.

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I heard about this article from someone’s Instagram story that disagreed with it. They made it sound like the author was just bashing the breed and saying that they don’t have a place in eventing anymore, but that’s not the take I got from it.

What I took from this was that the author is saying that there’s just too many OTTBs and not enough homes for them when their career is over… which I agree with.

Yes, overbreeding is an issue with all horse breeds, and yes, it’s poor breeding practices are found in every discipline and every breed. We know that and we know how bad it is for overpopulation of horses.

Unfortunately thoroughbreds only make up 7% of the US horse population but make up 20% of the horses going to slaughter. That should be very concerning to everyone who cares about the breed but for some reason when you point that out people get all up in arms and defensive. They say “well whatabout quarter horses? Most of the horses that go to slaughter are quarter horses, why doesn’t anyone blame the AQHA breeders?” Which is true as I’ve said overbreeding/ bad breeding practices occurs in all breeds but quarter horses make up half the population of of horses in the US which is why it makes sense that half the population of horses going to slaughter are quarter horses. It’s not good obviously, ideally no horses go to slaughter but at least the number that goes to slaughter is proportional to the population. For thoroughbreds however, there is a large disproportionate number of TBs going because there are just too freaking many.

Personally, I love the breed and think they are great horses. Many of my favorite horses I’ve ever ridden/ leased have been TBs. I do think they are misjudged and misunderstand as a breed a lot of the time. That said, if I’m being honest, personally I’m reluctant to buy one myself only because they’re harder to resell. I know for a fact that if I took on a project horse that was a 6 year old warmblood I’d have no problem reselling it. However a 6 year old OTTB? That’s a lot harder. Maybe that makes me a terrible person but I don’t want to be stuck unsellable or hard to sell horse.

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Where did your “20%” statistic come from. Serious question.

We have a few foals at our barn every year trying to get the hoosier stamp on their papers. I have not been impressed with any of them, mares or babies. Our barn is not set up for foals - we don’t have foal-proof turnouts, and the foal owners don’t want them out anyways. We’re a small place, but they fill our otherwise vacant XL stalls every year for the requisite 30 days.

So the “factory farm” statement is true, at least in my state.

Sigh.
The article has some facts correct. But it is largely written from the perspective of someone outside the industry. State bred programs do foster some indiscriminate breeding, this is true. But it also gives a place for mid level horses to be. It allows smaller breeders to survive…believe it or not, Kentucky can’t supply enough horses to fill 8-horse fields at every track in the country.

I do believe drugging is a problem at the track; and the piecemeal state oversight is a huge issue, there needs to be a national regulatory agency. Believe it or not, the Jockey Club has very little power. It is a REGISTRY, and has no control over racing at all. This is probably the biggest issue in racing, and solving it is very political. Many, many important industry leaders would like to fix this, but it is complicated…states would have to give up their own control (and possibly lose $$) and that’s tough.

But my PRIMARY concern with the article is the continuation of the belief that “TBs bred today are ill suited for sport, not like yesteryear…”. Baloney. I go to at least 4 sales a year, I see a thousand TBs and their pedigrees. Because of the immense success of AP Indy sons & grandsons, there are more uphill, good minded horses out there than 12-15 years ago. Add in MDO, Tiznow, Awesome Again & their sons, and it is vastly easier to pick out a horse suitable for eventing from pedigree & conformation.

And, no, it is NOT general practice to drug yearlings to “make them muscled” for the sales. I used to manage a premier TB farm for one of the major Kentucky consignors. Our horses, whether they were worth $10,000 or $1M, were on the same program. Good hay, McCauley’s feed, flax seed, and Lubrisyn. They lived out 24/7 in group herds until May; then we switched to night turnout and stalled during the heat of the day. Survey xrays taken in March; any chips or OCD lesions were surgically removed (and this is disclosed at the sale repository). 90% of horses were clean. Yearlings started sales prep 90-100 days out: handwalking 30mins every other day, and working on the euro walker the other days. Horses who had surgery or any joint concern about circle work were ponied instead of the walker. Good food and exercise makes those yearlings look fit and muscled, NOT steroids. A buyer may opt to test for steroids or illegal substances, and if positive the consignor must refund and take the horse back.

IMO, yearling sales prep is excellent for the long-term health of a young TB. It teaches them obedience and good manners, walking briskly at the handlers shoulder. The long slow work helps build bone and muscle, and has a level of fitness on them before they are started under saddle.

Getting back to the article…the writer appears to have done minimal research beyond reading an industry summit contemplating current problems and quoting trainers. I urge this author to study pedigrees more thoroughly, and attend the sales in person to judge these horses. Sit down and talk to one of the MANY ethical owners and breeders who do right by their horses…they are definitely out there but get little fanfare. You don’t hear about the hundreds of horses who get rehomed privately and quietly to good connections, or the racing owners who send their retired runners to trainers like me, investing $5-10k in board, rehab, training, showing to sell the horse for $3-5k.

There ARE good TBs out there, and some bad ones too. But purpose-bred sport horses don’t always make it to Rolex, either. The sport bred horse has a higher chance, absolutely. But if you’re on a budget and know what to look for, and have good connections, an upper level TB isn’t a needle in a haystack.

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Great comments @EventerAJ

I don’t think the author is looking in the right places. Yes there are some garbage TBs. But even those who appear “garbage” have a purpose for someone. You can breed two great horses and still end up with something undesirable.

I see a lot of truly stunning TBs every year that would rival many many big money warmbloods in terms of sport suitability.

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Reading the article as someone with experience breeding for both sport and TB racing, the author made it GLARINGLY apparent that she does not understand what she is talking about.

She sees lame and badly conformed TBs. Yes, it happens. Yet she is throwing around 30+ year old dated experiences and blaming things she sees today on practices that haven’t existed since the mid 00s. It’s a very “swiss cheese” perspective.

There are certainly systemic issues with TB breeding and I’m not trying to bury my head in the sand, but this article is akin to someone shouting nonsense in the wind…

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I LOVE my TB. He is not impressive just standing around but is a true athlete when he’s moving. His daddy won almost 1 million as a stakes racer, his mama was a polo pony in a former life after a less than stellar racing career. He never made it to the track due to illness of his owners but if he had, I think he would’ve done very well. He’s never taken a lame step in his life and is barefoot most of the year. His owners were small time breeders but dang did they produce some nice horses who not only raced, but went on to successful show or polo careers afterwards. The author of that article can go pound sand. It’s just the usual bs about the US horse industry and how wonderful other countries and other breeds are.

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I think this article had potential, but turned into a sloppy opinion piece really fast. I was hoping she’d bring up some more substantial and relevant facts, but nope.

I have always been a Thoroughbred person. I grew up riding some pretty fabulous Thoroughbred show hunters in the 90’s, and I always viewed “warmblood people” as people who paid extra money because they couldn’t sit a spook. The love of my life is a 23 year old OTTB who is tough as nails and has never been unsound a day in his life. But it is also old with old bloodlines. Both his dam and his sire were in their late teens when he was bred in 1997.

I have to say, in recent years, my love for the OTTB has waned. I work in the equine industry, and between thoroughbreds belonging to clients and friends, about 60% of those horses are KNOWN to have kissing spine. But I bet if rads were taken of all the OTTB’s backs, the actual percentage would be even higher.

I’ve been horse shopping on an off for the better part of two years now, and the kissing spine occurrence is enough to scare me off of the breed. And then I know that there is an art to taking a good conformation picture, however, in sale adds lately I’ve seen awful lot of sway backed 4 year olds and horses with really straight pasterns. Those are conformation flaws that don’t point to a horse who was bred with longevity in mind, and horses like that are darn near impossible to use in a second career. Its hard to not blame breeders anymore.

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Do you think there is a higher incidence of kissing spines in TBs?

I personally think it’s a matter of better diagnostics because I certainly have seen it in every single breed.

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I do. I know it occurs in all breeds, and I know that diagnostics have improved greatly, so my anecdote should be taken with a grain of salt. But no one stumbles across kissing spine accidentally. There seems to always be a pretty dramatic change in the horse’s attitude under saddle and in their way of going that requires medical intervention to get to the bottom of why it happened. And then after spinal taps looking for EPM and Lyme tests and whatever else, kissing spine is the culprit 9 times out of 10 with OTTBs. And I just don’t remember the behavioral symptoms that often come along with KS happening so much 15-20 years ago.

And then in talking to other professionals on the horse care side of the industry, it certainly sounds like I’m not the only one who has made that connection. A good vet friend of mine has noticed a pretty significant increase in the rate of OTTB’s with kissing spine within her practice and has been trying to talk me out of buying one for years. My farrier has noticed the same thing too, although he tells his clients he doesn’t want to hear about anything above the stifle.

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I am not disagreeing on your statements, but I do approach the claim with some skepticism. I think we have always had these behavioral changes and chock them up to the cause du jour, meaning whatever we have recently gotten good at diagnosing.

But I do agree back problems like KS are a very real concern and certainly aren’t unseen in TBs, even on the track. I just am not sure I would describe it as a “prevalence” based on breed. I would instead say it’s something that occurs in horses regardless of breed and we happen to diagnose it frequently in TBs due to many of them having show horse careers where their owners have the means and interest to pursue a diagnosis.

I’m sure he’s being funny but one of the leading contributors to back pain in horses is bad shoeing. Another reason why it may appear TBs are more prone to KS— long, hard careers in spanning multiple disciplines, often with questionable farrier work the entire time.

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Oh of course the farrier was joking. He is a real smart ass, but he is also really good at his job, and he always learning more too.

I wonder if my perspective is related to where I live? Maybe I just see more Thoroughbreds in general and that’s why I made the jump to “most OTTBs have kissing spine” when it should be “many sporthorses have kissing spine.”

But regardless, despite being a proud thoroughbred lover for years, I’m really nervous to get another one.

She also went into the comment section on FB stating that people need to add Arab or QH blood into the TB to make them better. I replied with a photo of Kids Classic Style and sarcastically said yes please lets infuse QH blood into the TB breed :wink: I told her if she can play the “sweeping generalization of a breed” game, so can I. She clearly doesn’t know anything about glaring issues with other breeds.

PSA I know not every QH is like KCS, he’s an extreme example just like she used in her (horribly unfair) photo comparison.

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Side note, I’m working with my first Awesome Again OTTB. Holy crap, does she have potential for eventing/jumper ring. She is SO catty, natural lead changes, so balanced, so light. My only complaint is how waify/slab sided she is, but it doesn’t seem to impact her at all. Really nice horse.

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Y’all might wanna check out this H/J thread … and refer it to the woman who wrote the article in this thread’s OP:

I don’t know if it discredits her theories or is merely an exception to the rule.

I‘m re-looking this up now and I believe I got it from the department of agriculture freedom of information documents from 2004, which I know is ancient and not very useful. I think I did a paper on this when I was in high school and the 20% number has stuck with me. Here’s a link I found but again, I know that’s not super helpful: http://www.kaufmanzoning.net/FOIA%2006-444%20Horses%20slaughtered%20by%20breed%20type.pdf

Your comment made me actually try to search for more recent breed specific data but I’m coming up short. If anyone has a link to newer data I’d be really interested in it. The 20% number seems accurate to me based off of just the unwanted horse ads I see on Craigslist though. Id be really happy if that number was way wrong but I’m kind of afraid it isn’t.

Thanks for mentioning me here! I posted this on my thread, but here are my very long-winded thoughts about why, I, an experienced amateur in a Grand Prix rider’s AA show barn bought a cheap, cheap OTTB filly off a 10-second trot video, LOL.

So I thought a lot about why I decided to do a Thoroughbred project this winter. And, you know, the reality of the situation I found myself in is I am in a great program with a great trainer who gives me a ton of opportunities. I’ve been super lucky to have ridden some incredibly nice sale horses—got to spend a couple of months showing a Grand Prix horse in little jumpers, for instance, and that’s fantastic. But the reality of that situation is that those horses are fleeting, right? It’s a constant turnover. And now, with my trainer about to go to Florida, the opportunities for me for the winter are fewer.

So here’s where I was: I’m at the point in my life where I am lucky enough that I can shoulder the expenses for a horse, I can shoulder going to a couple of smaller local, rated shows whenever I want to, and my options were to buy something very (VERY!) inexpensive or put that money toward a lease. Looking objectively at what I could have leased at the amount that I had to spend, it probably would have been something a little older, maybe something that you’d do 1m on or maybe 1.10m. Maybe an adult hunter that’s been there and done that, but maybe it isn’t the fanciest thing. And so I really realized, “What am I going to get out of that?”

And I absolutely don’t mean to say that from a perspective of “I walk in the ring and find all eight jumps every time,” because that’s not the case. That’s not the case for many amateurs. Right? But, at this stage, of riding for 25 years now, do I need to jump a course in a lesson every day? Do I need to flat a horse that is super broke through the winter when it’s 20 degrees, and my motivation is low anyway?

So the clear option for me was that I allocate my money as best I can and find something inexpensive with the goal of fun and learning. Next… why an OTTB?

I grew up riding them. I think I’m kind of the last generation to do that in some form, and I’m not old by any means (early-30s). I think we’re kind of the last set of riders that maybe knew how to ride them or knew what they were like.

Even if they were tougher or hotter or harder to get to the ring, I have always known them to be brave. I’ve always known them always to jump. I’ve always known them to be pretty personable, social horses that are easy to work around in the barn—and you can’t say that for a lot of young warmbloods.

This particular filly has obviously not done anything. Like, she is as fresh off the track as they come, but she’s in the fancy barn now, and we don’t know what’s she going to be or what job she’ll want to do. It’s too soon. We don’t know enough about her to say what our goals are. But the goal I feel like I can confidently achieve is to bring along a well-adjusted young horse who is a pleasure to work around in the barn and who is safe and sensible. And maybe the end goal is to confidently jump around 2’6”… Maybe I’ll bring her up to 3’? Maybe she’s someone’s great eventer or dressage horse?

It’s hard to say but, but I’ll also add that I am really heartened by the support in the Thoroughbred classes, right. If I were going to do the option this winter where I paid to lease an adult horse for the winner, those classes don’t pay up here. But if I do some of the TIP or Take2 classes, those pay. It’s not a ton, but it’s the difference between a $200 show versus a $50 show bill. That’s not nothing to me.

You know, I ultimately still believe in the thoroughbreds. I think there’s been an increase in their value. I disagree with the notion that we’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole by using them as sport horses. I think they’re the ultimate sport horse. I think their versatility and their mind is unmatched. When they are fit and well-groomed, I find them incredibly beautiful to look at. I already find the filly beautiful to look at, and she’s 150 pounds underweight.

I also think, like any of them, it’s all about the brain. We’re going to go really slow with her, so today, I took her in the ring with a rope halter and led her around. My trainer was schooling another horse. And she walked around, essentially on her own accord, and sniffed every jump, watched the horse jump (which was pretty remarkable to her at first because she’s clearly never seen anything like that), and was led over poles which she stepped over carefully but without a spook or any study. And our indoor is SPOOKY AF. In the end, she was licking and chewing and quietly standing next to me. Then she was perfect for the farrier.

I think it’s an adventure. It’s something to work on this winter that is more rewarding to me than maybe jumping around a course every day—or heck, jumping at all. And, you know, what’s the point of trailering to do a show every weekend this winter for a ribbon in a 3’ class? So, yeah, I’m excited about the journey, and I think it’s possible to do it with the right support team. About 99% of horses in the barn right now are warmblood. But I want to encourage and promote the Thoroughbred sport horse as a hunter, and hopefully, this filly will help us do that and that more H/J riders can do it themselves.

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I think more than one thing can be true. I think that TBs can make wonderful sport horses in a variety of disciplines, I think people need to stop perpetuating breed stereotypes because they don’t know what they’re doing, I think that some of the anti-TB attitudes come from a place of elitism, however I still think the racetrack industry is still breeding way too freaking many of them a year and the rest of the horse world can’t keep up with the supply… which honestly, it shouldn’t be the rest of the horse world’s responsibility.

I think it’s kind of a circular issue where you have people (like myself) that are hesitant to buy them because they’re harder to resell because there’s so many of them which obviously leads to less demand and more supply and then the problem gets worse.

I fully agree that the anti-TB elitist crap needs to stop but breeders need to stop breeding so many freaking horses a year too.

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