Will it always be this hard? Adult ammy and her OTTB woes

I am so tired, and looking for a shoulder to cry on or a friend to commiserate with or shit someone who is on the other side and has seen the light. This will probably be a long ass post, so if you read it, thank you.

I am the late-twenties owner of a six year old OTTB. He is sweet and athletic and has bounds and bounds of potential… but he is six. And six year old OTTBs have baby brains.

After getting burned from spending a few months in a training program with a trainer who didn’t give him the attention he needed and in an environment that was altogether too stressful, said OTTB has settled into a great rhythm in a new place for the last year. He is ridden or worked with 4 times a week, usually flatting, at most jumping (not coursing, and always under 2 foot) two times a week, by me. Once in a while by my trainer, who is fabulous, but the OTTB is by no means back in a “full program.”

As an adult ammy, I make as much time as possible for this horse. I drive the 45 minutes, one way, to the barn many a week night and weekends to ride or lunge or do general groundwork, he gets body work when necessary, anything the vet calls for, he gets. The OTTB has made me a better, more confident rider. I am not afraid of his antics but my god am I tired of them.

This is a horse who has been off the track since spring of 2021, he had several months off to be a horse before coming into training. But he is still a baby and with babyhood comes moments of babiness that makes it feel like every stride forward is four back.

Sometimes we’ll be making wonderful progress, and I’ll be enthused by the potential of what could be, only to have an episode where he forgets how to turn or what brakes are, he’ll decide out of the blue that today, he must take off in a gallop after that ground pole or cross rail.

Does it ever end?

Again, I’m not afraid or nervous, or feeling like I can’t do this, but I sure as hell am tired of dealing with it. I love my trainer, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t considering just throwing him back into a full program, but I don’t want to offend my trainer, and what if a different trainer isn’t a good fit? And if I keep chipping away, how long till this iceburg starts looking like an ice swan? (Hopefully with the reward of tequila sluicing through somehow)

I just am exhausted, and want to know if it gets better or if there’s advice or if this is just–how it is. Help me, people of the internet!

7 Likes

No, it won’t always be this hard. But with horses, especially OTTBs, you just have to accept that you ride the horse you have that day. Sometimes they do seem to make forward progress steadily, then they get stuck on a plateau or even go backwards for awhile.

As long as you’re confident that you have a good training regime for him, and that he doesn’t have any physical issues, keep on keeping on, calmly and consistently. The steps forward will end up being more than the steps back.

I don’t know how many times over the years I would call my trusted horse friend in tears saying “I’ve ruined my horse.” My dear friend, Leslie, would always remind me I hadn’t ruined any of my horses (all OTTBs) yet and that it was just a phase. And she was always right.

On your bad days, grit your teeth and remember why you got into this sport to begin with and know better days always come.

Chin up and best of luck.:kissing_heart:

11 Likes

Is he 6 in the TB sense that his bday was Jan 1st and you just got through his 5yo year? Because my TB was a sweet 4yo, but the 5yo year was tough. There were definitely tears. Things got better and much more manageable once we got through that stage.

However if he’s 6 going on 7 this year, I might wonder if that is more his personality and you might not be a match.

4 Likes

He’ll turn a true 6 this January, so fingers crossed it’s the terrible fives

1 Like

Baby brain isn’t something TBs grow out of. A select few do , but generally they remain giant babies for the long run. The antics tend to stay. They will be be the hardest working most willing beast you ever sit on, will give you their entire heart and then some…… and then do the most inexplicably stupid, reactive move just for pure entertainment.
This is the joy of TBs and either you fall in love with it or you truly hate it.

Now there’s antics - and then there’s pain. The “scoot” after a pole or jump is classic kissing spine behaviour. Kissing spine is plaguing OTTBs. And no , body work won’t necessarily catch it. Radiographs and ONLY radiographs can rule it out.
Ulcers , also common in TBs, cause these issues. Treating for ulcers is honestly pointless and also will not fix anything. The only LEGITIMATE fix for ulcers is changing the environment , training, and living conditions of said horse until you find a combo that the horse can relax in. Easier said than done - I know.

2 other huge factors :
1- DO NOT GIVE YOUR TB GRAIN!!! I can’t say this enough. They need high quality hay, and a cool weight type supplement (many of these on the market) throw in a mineral supplement as well if you want.
Do. Not. Grain. Them.

2 - TURNOUT.
TBs need to move. If they can’t get their “yayas” out they are going to try - with you aboard. And no, lunging isn’t enough. They need to run , play , bolt, buck …… if there isn’t a turnout field then a turnout arena will suffice. They need to option to lose their minds on their own terms without you in the mix.

Thoroughbreds are a breed of their own.

7 Likes

Ehh… it can last another year after that.

5 year olds are my LEAST favorite, followed closely by most of the 6 year old year. After that they seem to understand that they ought to get to work and quit effing around.

Every horse is different though. Some mess around forever, or take way longer to mature. Me, I bought a mare because mares tend to grow out of the idiot stage faster (IMO). My mare though… she’s a gelding in a mare body. Whoops. Oh well, I bought her sight unseen off a free-lunge video, so I got what I got lol.

3 Likes

It goes away way faster than it does in WBs. There’s your good news.

14 Likes

Agree with this whole-heartedly.

2 Likes

You can cry on my shoulder OP. It can be a slog.
The good days will get better and be closer together. Then you will have more good days than bad. Then the bad days will be rare and might make you appreciate how far you’ve come.
Something that helps my 2016 OTTB is more work days. Can your trainer sit on him 1-2x/week? Or another competent rider at your barn?
You didn’t specifically mention lessons - can you take lessons with him? That might put more tools in your tool belt for how to sense antics before they bubble up, and how to stop them before they escalate.

3 Likes

Oh you’re right on all fronts. He did have ulcers but was fully treated and clear and he does have KS, ironically, the antics above are what had the vet coming out for another round of injections.

To your point, some things simply are pain related, so do think the taking off is the KS acting up; it historically hasn’t been an issue but it’s just been a matter of time to see how long the injections last him before needing another round. Based on the recent behavior, looks like around a year!

And of course the gets full, 24/7 turnout which has done BUNCHES for him!

Progress is a slow slow slow road, I do love this horse but it gets hard as an ammy :sob:

2 Likes

Sounds like you’re doing everything right, hang in there !

2 Likes

@coffeehag – I LOVE the user name!

I could have written a similar post a few months back. I also have a 5 year old (not an OTTB) and just came off a really challenging year. At one point in the fall, there were many tears and serious discussions about whether or not I could do this, and whether or not I, as an adult ammy, even really wanted to do this.

A few thoughts on your post:

  1. I don’t think enough discussion gets shared about how truly difficult it is to bring along a young horse or OTTB successfully. There are so many social media posts about RRP, so many glowing stories, but the journey is HARD and there are often so many setbacks and it seems like it takes FOREVER to develop a solid equine citizen.
  2. Your OTTB has really not been off the track that long. Less than a year. A wise trainer told me that it takes at least 3-4 years before a horse really starts to understand a discipline. Take a breath. I know with social media it is easy to think you are behind the curve. If your horse is sound and healthy, he just needs time.
  3. This might be an unpopular opinion, but at certain times in his development, my horse really did best on a 6 day a week work schedule. He had one day off, one day was groundwork/lunging, one pro ride, one lesson, and 3 days just hacking/flatting. Thankfully we have moved away from that schedule, but at times it worked best, and I would have no hesitation to go back to it again.

I think there needs to be an online support group for ammies with young horses. I keep telling myself that someday it will all be worth it and I will have a really nice horse. In any case, I am committed to him. It may take longer than expected, we may have to adjust our target goals, but I’m in it for the long haul.

No one tells you how hard it is when you buy the young horse with stars in your eyes and the excitement of “Ooooo shiny new horse” wears off and reality sets in.

10 Likes

OK, I’m gonna buck the trend here… A 2 yr old TB, if well trained and not mentally incompetant, CAN be a complete professional. One would NOT “expect” wierdness. They walk out of the barn, after being stalled 24/7, walk out onto the racetrack, trot, pick up the canter, in company or alone, get their flying changes at each turn, do what they are supposed to do. They handle the saddling paddock (usually) adequately, with hundreds of people, many with umbrellas, waving racing forms. They walk out on post parade, gallop back past the crowd, load into a starting gate, race, pull up, get unsaddled, and go back to the barn. No drama. They are professionals. Their riders have NO leg on their sides to cue them, or to wrap around them if they were to misbehave. Even less drama as a 3 year old. By 4, they are considered an “old campaigner”, a seasoned vetran. Know their job inside and out. 2 year olds are the easiest to ride. Green gallop riders start riding at the track on the 2 year olds (they are not “green” riders, but are “green” about riding racehorses).
Trying to “blame” this situation on your OTTB being SIX (or 5), and having a “baby brain” is not reality (IMO). If your horse has been at the track, has trained, has raced… this is where his training is… he’s done this. He may not have done some of the things you are now asking him to do. I can’t say what is the root of your problem with this horse, but whatever it is, it’s not “baby brain”. He’s broke to ride, if he has no other physical issues that are bothering him, he should be able to be ridden. If he has “antics”, there’s a reason why. If he needs to move a bit under saddle before you get on, give him 5 minutes on a lunge line to settle into work before you get on. If he’s not safe to ride in a regular fashion with just doing these basic preparations, there’s a reason why. Was he a blinker horse on the track? If so… that might be your issue now. Put a set of blinkers on him and see if that helps him settle. He may be unfamiliar with seeing a human sitting on his back. It does freak some of them out to see this, when they have not seen it before in their training. Lots of buyers of OTTBs don’t ever ask if the horse has ever been ridden without blinkers.

I’m old. Getting OTTBs off the track and turning them into show horses WAS the norm. Everyone did it. Most were successful. It’s not USUALLY difficult. We did this as teenagers, or when finished riding ponies at 13 years old. Really. It’s a learning process, learning to communicate and train a horse. It’s fun, quite enjoyable, very rewarding. Even more rewarding when you get a good one, who turns into a superstar that you were able to purchase on the cheap. This happened quite often, and it still can. It’s a learning process for you.
Good luck.

32 Likes

He’s under a year under saddle. My advice is take your expectations and extend them another 2-3 years. That’s SUCH a short time period to retrain a horse.

While it gets easier, some Thoroughbreds will always be more sensitive and difficult. Some of mine are 10 and experienced and I still get near death experiences just because they are althletic and excited. It makes you a better rider but only if you want to take on the challenge. Nothing wrong with not wanting that.

9 Likes

Ehhhh… there’s a lot of drama. It’s just the norm though, and the handlers at the track are the true professionals to keep a lid on it without roughing the animals up. The horses are not in the mindset that we, as recreational riders, want. Sure, the horse has seen a bunch of stuff - but not in a relaxed way. They’re hyped up and excited, and very little if any time is taken to reduce their anxiety about the process because, really, so long as it doesn’t manifest in a horse who refuses to get in the gate, the anxiety ends up being a performance enhancer.

4 Likes

How many racehorses have you trained?

2 Likes

If working with him and dealing with his antics just isn’t fun for you anymore, there is no shame in considering selling. Horses should be fun. They cost the same whether you’re finding joy in it or not.

For the record, I’m not saying you should sell him, I’m just saying that in case you’re considering it but feeling guilty or unsure about it, it’s perfectly okay to sell if you aren’t finding joy with your horse partner. That doesn’t make you less of a rider or a person. It’s just that you need/want something different.

Best of luck on whatever you do. :slightly_smiling_face:

10 Likes

Over 15.

20 years here with a trainer’s license, plus the years as a groom before that. Lead ponies for a lot of that time. Working post parade. Breaking yearlings, training and galloping. But it always amazes me how sensible they can be, so soon, what they can handle. And yes, there are some exceptions LOL.

12 Likes

OP, you posted this as I was typing my last reply. Your journey will be that much harder with a symptomatic KS horse. That changes the picture somewhat, IMHO.

8 Likes