My neighbor told me you can’t hug a Thoroughbred.
I think that was the catalyst, really, where it all started. Having grown up with Thoroughbreds – on the track, off the track, breaking from the starting gates, jumping double oxers, you name it – I have always been convinced of the breed’s total superiority in all things.
Sure, they have their quirks. They have history. A Thoroughbred fresh off the racetrack has forgotten more than most of us will ever see. They have been pin-cushions for veterinarians, they have logged thousands of miles in horse vans, making the trek from race meet to race meet. Perhaps, compared to a show horse, they have been taught very little – but what they have been taught is very specific.
The universal cues of the racehorse: change leads on the turns. When the jockey takes hold of the bit, push down against his weight and run. When the jockey loosens the reins and stands up, relax – the work day is over. And always, always, always stay in motion. That part is more genetic, than taught. A Thoroughbred’s most important purpose in life is to keep moving forward.
When my neighbor told me I couldn’t hug a Thoroughbred, the way she could hug a Quarter Horse, a whole chain of events started sputtering to life in my mind. First and foremost, it seemed that a sizeable portion of the equestrian community, expert and fluent in so many breeds and disciplines, didn’t understand the very unique life and thought process of the racehorse.
Moreover, retired Thoroughbred racehorses, which have dominated the American showing and eventing scene for so many years, have recently begun to feel the push from Warmbloods and cross-breds. Thoroughbreds are being categorized as “hot,” and “sensitive,” and “too much horse” for the average equestrian. They’re being marketed as “For Experienced Rider Only,” or “Great For Professional.” The rare quiet horse is being tagged as “Not a typical Thoroughbred!”
How, I wondered, could these horses be so universally tough to ride, when my childhood companion had been a five-year-old Off-Track Thoroughbred (OTTB), just six months off the racetrack? He’d been just the first in a long line of OTTBs that I’d taught dressage, jumping, and cross-country to.
And so, following this conversation with my neighbor (and myself), something serendipitious happened. A Thoroughbred, five years old, plain bay with a tiny white snip on his nose, came into my life. He and I are partnering up – with this blog – to help the world remember that nothing is quite so wonderful – and compulsively huggable – as a retired racehorse.