You Can’t Hug a Thoroughbred

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 couldFinal Calln’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.

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20 Comments

Filed under Stereotypes, Training Theory

20 responses to “You Can’t Hug a Thoroughbred

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    They are not for everyone, no, but I hug my Thoroughbred all the time, even right after he’s acted, well, like a Thoroughbred. And he loves it. He is much, much more snuggly than my Paint mare, and while he’s given me a lot of challenges, the rewards have been tremendous.

    I’ve owned him two years now, and he always comes to his gate, ready to go out. He’s awesome on the trail–which is what has pulled me through some of my low points in our training–and he has forgiven my many mistakes and faults and just keeps trying for me.

    How could I not love this horse? You can see more about him on my site, Spotty Horse News.

  2. Well, what’s his darned NAME??

    Drag me over here..

    Kidding.
    Awesome idea, you’re duly bookmarked!
    To Thoroughbreds!

  3. Can’t wait to hear more – we have an off the track TB who is now 12 – she’s been with us since she was 4 – her name is Dawn, and working with her is a challenge but fascinating.

  4. Litia

    I love this blog! I have an 8yo OTTB mare and I love her! Now some things make sense after reading your blod. I was a greenie and still am when I got her and so was she. Probably not the wisest choice at the time but I was going through the loss of my daughter and Dancer aka Native Star helped to start heal my heart. She has heart, is smart, sometimes to smart and always is trying to please. She was training to be a sprinter and injured her shoulder, recovered and put back into training and was never the same, she was sold to the woman I got her from. I have heard it said that she was one of the fastest TB’s that the track trainer had ever seen! She is fast, when she wants to be.

    I will be a permanent reader of your blog! Thank you!

  5. Lindsey

    I like what you’re doing here! Can’t wait to keep reading!

  6. Barb Fulbright

    Excellent article!

  7. Natalie Keller Reinert

    Thanks for all the comments! I hope that you’ll keep them coming – along with suggestions – as we progress!
    -Very excited, Natalie

  8. Lindsey

    I love this blog too because, when I graduate college, I want my next horse to be an OTTB. First of all, you can get them fairly cheap (and lets face it, graduates don’t have the most money) and secondly they’re a challenge, which I love! I’ve been riding since I was 6 and I got my first horse at age 11 who was a horse who had been abandoned at a farm. It was hard competing against such nicer horses, but when we ACTUALLY started winning consistently a couple years later, I knew it was because of my OWN work. Unfortunately I had to put my beloved horse down last year, but when I graduate from law school in about three years the first thing I want to do is find a horse to work together with. I love the challenge, and I love the spirit thoroughbreds have. I never wanted a “made” horse, I loved building the bond with a horse together and knowing you both accomplished something at the end of it. While they may be more work, I think they are worth it in the end. I love this blog, and your writing style as well!!

  9. I dunno, I hug Lucky all the time. I’m not sure he LIKES it, but he puts up with it. Of course, he seems to be on a one-horse campaign to change the stereotype (if you check my blog there are some lovely pictures of the OMG SO CRAZY OTTB a little over two weeks off the track. In crossties. With a kitten on his back.)

  10. Tania

    I have been retraining and living with OTTBs for 16 years. I wish this blog had been around. Since it wasn’t I had to learn from them (8 over the years). My goodness they have a lot to teach if you listen. As for hugging. I am afraid my horses would be in the house if I’d let them. You may have to earn it, but no hug is as good as a TB hug. I have sent a few on to the big race track in the sky and if you did right by them, you sure know it at that time. Hard as it is to let them go, I do really believe an OTTB is the most grateful animal there is. They know you gave them a second chance.

  11. Aileen

    HAHA my baby boy LOVES to be hugged and he hugs you back! Well I guess he is not a “baby” anymore but he will always be my baby! My family (with my constant begging) rescued Christopher Robin form a very uncertain future. He was injured on the track, went to auction and a western trail barn picked him up to use him on there hack line (not sure what they were thinking), they beet him, then left him in a field to starve to death. My trainer at the time pulled into the farm and said she wanted the horse in the field, they said “you don’t want that useless horse, he is crazy” she offered him money and took chris. I was 10 and riding not even a yr the first time I saw him, and it was love at first site! he was skin and bones, his coat was dull and he had the look of defeat in his eyes. He would not let you touch his face, he would quiver and hide if you tried to enter his stall. I would come for my lesson and stay all day to help out. But most of the time I would stand out side his stall and talk to him. The first time he let me touch him, I will never forget! as time went on and he gained wt and started to look healthy, he was stunning! with his blood bay coat, and his sharp black markings, and a little white dot on his forehead! he was a site! He was also the stereo-typical TB .. “CRAZY” was his label. High strung, and flighty, very un-trusting of humans (but who could blame him?) I loved that horse and he loved me. I continued to spend all my time with him… Then my trainer decided to let me ride him (not sure my, looking back I would have never let me ride him) but I did. and YES. he would bolt with me a on a daily basis lol.. then it happened they were going to send this crazy, unsellable horse to action. My parents loved him and saw how much I needed him and he needed me! so they bought him! He was had just turned 6 and I 11. we learned together, and I earned the title Velcro butt! b/c let me tell you Chris could put a rodeo horse to shame! everyone was scared of him, no one even wanted to lead him to the pasture.. but when he was with me, he would follow me holding onto my ponytail. most of the time I didn’t hold the lead rope, he would follow me where ever went! He had a sore back so we got him a chiropractor/ acupuncturist.. who did wonders for him! I got him a custom made saddle with air flocking and did not ride him for close to a year, just did tones of ground work with him, which made our bond even stronger.. He stopped bucking and doing rodeo moves for the most part after his treatments, time off and custom saddle. only when he would get excited in the show ring, on the tail, or at a hunter pace would he throw a buck, leap, twist, and prance with his head up, ears forward and zero warnings! he was an amazing show jumper and could complete a course at top speed with out hitting a rail! we trained at Peter Leone’s with one of his instructors and with peter.. and he would always laugh and say “you gotta love TBs” as chris would randomly buck when he got excited!
    Chris and I have been through a lot together, including illness, but pulled though. He is now 20 (will be 21 April 4th) he is still spunky, and looks to be about 12 y/o and acts like 5 lol.. my 6y/o and 10y/o niece learned how to ride on him! he is always a gentlemen when ppl who do not know how to ride or ppl who are nervous are on his back, but you put and experienced rider on and he is ready to go! its funny how he knows! he is the best horse in the world and I feel he was a big part of the person I am today! no horse will ever replace him, but I am planning on getting a TB off the tract in the next few months! I am very excited to be able to give another TB a new lease on life! SO YES TB’S CAN MOST DEFIANTLY BE HUGGED!!!!!! and should be all the time! I love all of your blogs! thanks for posting them!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thanks so much! That’s a great story. It reminds me a lot of Thorougbred Number One, Amarillo. He was a skin-and-bones rescue, too. Maybe sometime soon we can do features on great reader stories like that. Best of luck – we expect to hear ALL ABOUT the new TB as well as keeping up posted on Chris!

      • Aileen

        I definitely will! to bad we cant post pics to go with are stories? so readers can put a face with the horses they are reading about! my sis and I also rescued a TB/ Percheron x… shes a cutie and chris’s lady! she was 4 when we got her, she is 7 now! and a my sis does Parelli with her! rescuing is the best way to get a horse! you save a life and have a life long companion who will always be grateful for what you did for them! If you hear of any young TB’s that need to be rescued in the next few months please let me know! I am looking for a gelding 16hh or taller, that does not have an injury that would prevent him from jumping! thank you and I enjoy reading your posts!

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Aileen – please email me Chris’ photo. I am gathering success stories to put together a weekly feature on great OTTB partnerships!

      • Aileen

        What is you e-mail?

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Thanks for the FaceBook add – always a good place to get hold of me. Message me there or email me bonappeal@gmail.com

      • Aileen

        I e-mailed you some pics! some great hug shots!!!! and photos that prove the true! nature of this magnificent breed!!! hope you enjoy 🙂

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Got the pics, thanks! Will keep them for the next spotlight!!

  12. Love this! My Thoroughbreds have all been infinitely huggable and loveable. Sensitive? Yes, but with that sensitivity comes heart and intelligence that can’t be measured.

  13. Oh you can most definetly hug a thoroughbred we have 3 all by products of the racing industry

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