OTTB what is different about them?

I am looking at an OTTB that is three weeks off the track. I have heard that they need let down time.
Please tell me how much time, why they need it.
What is different about riding an OTTB fresh off the track?

I am experienced with thoroughbreds but not one fresh off the track.
thank you.

How much time they need is dependent on the horse, the horse’s racing history, any past injury, and the care/quality of its connections.

They don’t always need time off, but, racing is physically hard on their bodies. In a short time they learn to carry themselves very tensely because they have small ‘micro-complaints’ from working hard. Being fit is HARD work. Being a race horse is even harder.

I do not treat my OTTBs any differently than any other breed. They are put to work if they are sound. They are given time off if they are lame.

Most TBs love/thrive on routine. If the horse is sound there is no reason to give them time off.

Depending on their age and last race, they might get a little time off if I suspect they are still protecting their bodies/sore. They get groomed daily, they get chiro, teeth done, shoes pulled behind (sometimes up front). They get a new diet, and 24/7 turnout right off of the bat. They are quarantined for 2 weeks and then put in cycling turnout with their future herd members until all are met/acclimated.

For work, if they are sound, they are instantly put out on trails. A little ring work W/T/C twice a week. Depending on how bad their feet are they might have it easy the first few cycles until angles are back.

They spend a few weeks lunging once or twice a week too. I will put surcingle and side reins on them. Just enough that they learn basics of contact. W/T/C, nothing crazy, 20m max.

For riding remember these horses are only green to their new job, not to riding. I spend time doing serpentines and figure eights in the school to work on their rhythm and balance, and hacking out to keep them fit. All TBs off the track know how to W/T/C - it just may be more forward than you like.

Typically for a TB of mine that campaigned consistently, it takes me about 2-3 months to see an improvement in their movement/letting go of racing tension/back soreness. They are ALWAYS back sore off the track. I have never had a TB not have residual back soreness. Some are better than others at hiding it. Usually a few weeks of full turnout fixes it. Sometimes they need rim pads if they have thin soles, which most track-shod horses do. Once you fix the angles they grow sole as well as any other horse, in my experience.

For feed – keep in mind they are used to high volume and high quality food. Feed accordingly. I transition all of mine to alfalfa pellets and Poulin Fibremax. Most transition quite well on 2qt of alfalfa 2 qts of Fibremax, but some need additional calories as they transition. They get full access to hay 24/7 - TBs on the track are typically “free choice” in terms of hay, so don’t be scrimpy.

Got pics, video?

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@colorfan

Remember also that their previous training has emphasized galloping at full speed, faster than you will likely ever ride.

I see a lot of OTTB come through to riding homes and some current race horses at our barn for relaxation.

A lot depends on the basic personality. Some horses get cut from training young because it’s clear they don’t want to run while others love to run but it’s time to step down. But even a lazy TB is faster and hotter than many other breeds.

My observations with recent OTTB kept in a barn is they are more prone to get antsy under saddle or explosive on the longe line because they can’t do the running they are used to and bred for. If I was going to restart an OTTB I’d want it to live in a field where the horses could do big gallop sessions at will and get that out of their system.

An ammie restarting an OTTB needs a sticky seat and tolerance for spooks and scoots. Lots of people do fine, some come to grief.

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Just want to agree with the galloping in a field part! My 12 year old OTTB still gallops almost every day. Kept him at a barn with a small lot for about 8 months a couple years ago and he went slowly insane and started to be explosive in hand and under saddle like he never had been before.

I didn’t get him right off the track, he had time off to heal from injury before I got him, so no advice there. I’d say it probably depends on the horse. Take it slow and easy and listen.

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My now 19 year old used to gallop 10-20 miles a week on his own. He has slowed down now, so he spends more time going upward in play without as much gallop, where he used to just get airborne while running full out.

This forum would have you believe it was pain, but he simply enjoyed movement! If he could get a child, dog, or other horse to join him it was even better - but he would run alone if no one else cared to try keep up. He would very happily run circles around anyone who went in with him and wasn’t trying to catch him, because it felt more social to him that way. Goofy extrovert of a horse :slight_smile:

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Great advice here already & from people who have a LOT more knowledge & experience than me.
My TB was “off the track”, but failed his 2yo Speed Test & spent the next 4yrs as a Pony for the trainer. Then I bought him to be my Hunter.
One of the first things I learned was you do not slow a horse from the track by pulling back.
They learn to brace against your hand & Go Faster - that is the training they had.
Sit deep & take back a bit at a time.
Kind of the Polar Opposite of what a jockey does. :wink:

Him @ 2:

Schooling as a Hunter:

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This isn’t so much breed specific as it is lifestyle/job specific, but be on the lookout for symptoms of ulcers. A lot of the OTTBs that have come through our barn fresh off the track are treated for ulcers as a matter of course. Whether you opt to treat prophylactically or wait and see is up to you and the individual horse’s needs/risk factors.

High stress, grain/concentrate heavy diets, and limited turnout can be a recipe for ulcer trouble for any horse, but especially an OTTB. I’ve learned the hard way with mine just how radically ulcers can change their demeanor and the literal Pandora’s Box of problems it can mimic.

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I think @beowolf has great insights and sounds like a really nice program outlined

One thing I’ll add - the personality you see right now straight off the track does not necessarily align with the personality you’re going to get long term - Once you fix their bodies and get them fed appropriately for the job you’re going to give them - they may change. Out of the last few I’ve sat on fresh off the track: the one who exploded the first ride and almost dumped me turned into the slowwwest kick ride around a few months later once he figured out the job. The skinny introvert started eating real food and turned into a big ol’ bully but a heck of an athlete! The one we thought immediately would turn into a super patient, kind school horse…umm STILL IS a super patient, kind school horse! They’re all so different! Find conformation you like, look at bloodlines if you want, and past that its a little bit of a crapshoot when they are this fresh off the track…

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Really good insights here thank you. I would really like the challenge of bringing along a TB straight off the track but in my heart I feel that is not the best fit for me right now.
I think I need to keep looking for something a bit further along in training.

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It depends on how much you’re willing to spend. There are some OTTB sources who re-start the horses and you get a horse who is already solidly w/t/c and even sometimes low jumps. New Vocations tends to have a lot of these. You’re looking to pay $3-5k for those, occasionally more, occasionally less, depending on other factors (like color). That’s more than many are willing to pay for an OTTB, feeling like they should only “have to” spend $1-2k for them. But it’s also cheaper than buying a well-started horse who was never at the track

I’ve seen more than a few horses come off their last race and go w/t/c like a normal riding horse in a ring. Some trainers actually put “regular” riding training on their horses before race training, and even in between seasons

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What is different about them?

They are used to having their entire lives professionally micromanaged.

A stall bedded hock-deep. A full haynet of western hay around the clock. Regimented feeding schedule. A dedicated groom who follows a strict routine. Adept handlers at their head at all times. A structured riding program where a professional expertly guides them around a busy track at high speed.

Then we take them off the track and change everything they know. To make matters worse, then “we” blame the horse and/or its previous connections because the horse doesn’t understand what is happening, when it is really “our” fault for totally flipping the script on the horse.

An OTTB has done and seen a lot in his racing career. He’s gone lots of places and been ridden around all sorts of scary things. But some things he probably hasn’t done: stood on crossties, stood tied outside of a stall, stood at a mounting block, been led in a web halter and plain cotton shank, not had a handler at his head while being expected to stand, worn a traditionally treed dressage or jumping saddle, carted a nervous rider around, had a rider use their seat as an aide, been ridden in a tight arena, been asked to collect his gaits, etc.

When you understand what your horse has and has not done, it’s much easier to bridge the gap between track life and dressage life. It’s not as much about giving them “let down time” but more about helping them understand their new life.

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Best advice ever.

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How do you teach an OTTB to crosstie when you first get them? I had one OTTB that was terrible about crosstie. He’d pull back all the time. Then we went to a rope halter and that helped things.

You do all these things like you’d do with an in broke colt. I don’t use cross ties at my barn so havent worked with that. I’m sure there’s good instruction all over the internet under colt starting.

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Here’s how I do it, which isn’t the only or best way, but works for me:

  1. Make sure they understand straight tying. Most do, but they may not understand tying in an area that is “open” like an aisle or wash rack. If the horse doesn’t understand the concept of yielding to pressure when tied, he’s not ready for cross ties. You should feel comfortable hard tying the horse in a normal situation without fear of accident.

  2. Make sure the horse is good with “whoa” and standing in a relaxed manner. I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle if I try to teach crossties to something that wants to dance around while grooming.

  3. Start grooming and doing things in the crosstie area so he’s comfortable with the space. I really reinforce the idea that the crosstie area is a place you stand quietly and don’t move. That way when I’m ready to start tying, I have less to worry about.

  4. When I know the horse is relaxed with the space, I start with one crosstie attached and me holding a lead rope on the other side. I like to use a breakaway with crossties because the length and method of attachment can cause a horse to go up and over. If the horse is particularly reactive, I might just start with a long rope attached to a cheek piece of the halter and draped over the tie ring, but for most horses I start with the actual attached crosstie. I go about my regular grooming and/or tacking routine with one crosstie attached and me holding the shank.

  5. Once the horse feels reliable with one side attached, I add the second crosstie, still holding onto a lead rope so I can maintain control of the horse’s head. It might get to this point in a single session, or it might take days— it just depends on the horse.

  6. Once I see the horse understands how to yield to the crossties while I am grooming and tacking them, then I feel confident taking the lead rope off. Again, this might be day 1 or day 10 depending on the horse.

While I always like breakaways on crossties, I also think it’s really important not to put yourself in a situation where the horse will break the tie. That’s why I go through this at a snail’s pace if necessary.

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I think I’ll print out this thread and post it in my barn: great advice!

One thing that was alluded to, but I’ll reiterate, is that when under saddle OTTBs are very unfamiliar with horses coming towards them and some will be very reactive. Obviously if the approaching horse maintains social distance, it’s OK. But if they’re going to pass within maybe a feet, you may feel tension or the horse you’re riding may hit the brakes. They get used to it though.

I had an OTTB mare let off the track and had a baby. She was quite sensitive and that’s how I learned that some TBs are grabbed by their ears to get them in the starting gate. It took about 6 months for me to comfortably bridle her or touch her ears. She had to mentally unlearn her former training and learn new training. Not unexpected.

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