So where’d you get that racehorse?

We live in a strange world. It’s a world where there are tens of thousands of racehorses who want homes every year, but hardly anyone seems to know how to get them. It’s a world where trainers and owners are absolutely desperate to get rid of perfectly nice horses, but don’t seem to know how to find homes for them.

What you may not have known is that the racing world and the sporthorse/pleasure horse world exist in two separate sections of the solar system, and are divided by an nearly impenetrable asteroid belt. Only those with years of ninja-astronaut-horse training experience can navigate this belt and shuttle horses between their two alien worlds.

Oh wait, I made that up.

Thoroughbred, hunter pace

Me and my Craigslist OTTB after an 8 mile hunter pace. He isn't done yet.

It turns out that we all live on the same planet, in some cases in the same county, and either we’re all scared of one another or we just don’t like one another or something else is going on here, because the people that want horses and the people that want rid of horses are just not talking. 

Instead, the nice kids who want a cool show prospect but don’t quite make enough in their baby-sitting money to afford to import an Icheinberlinerbred (they’re like donuts, but horsier) are looking at $200 bubba-breds on Craigslist with a look of dejection on their faces, and the Thoroughbreds are going to the weirdos that do have access to the racetrack. People like Kelsey Lefever.

Michelle Michelson, who was initially investigated in the Kelsey Lefever case but who has been found to be unconnected to the fraudulent racehorse-to-showhorse scheme Lefever was running, has a statement on her website that really displays the trouble with the racetrack/show barn schism. The bold-face is mine:

I was briefly associated with Kelsey Lefever and met her when she brought a very nice horse for me to sell on sale board with commission, which is a big part of my business.  She seemed to have access to many OTTB’s through trainers at Penn National and other race tracks, that I did not have.  At the time Kelsey seemed to care about the horses and finding them good homes.  As a way of making it easier for trainers with horses for sale to contact us I had some pens and mugs made for Kelsey to give out at the track with the slogan, “Make your slow racehorse count, finding new homes for OTTB’s”.

Casting herself as an agent and go-between, Lefever was able to acquire horses from trainers and ship them to New Holland for the kill-buyer, armed with testimonials from the few horses that she did give a second chance. It was a very good business strategy.

Meanwhile kids keep scrolling through Craigslist, hoping someone will have accidentally bought a Thoroughbred they don’t know what to do with, hoping they’ll stumble on that jackpot, the free-to-inexpensive OTTB that needs a home, unable to access the literal thousands of Thoroughbreds pacing bored circles around the straw of their backside homes, in limbo between racehorse and an uncertain future.

Meanwhile, sporthorse trainers aren’t getting the OTTBs into their barns that they can train and resell, horses that used to be the cornerstone of the horse show business because there were so many trainers who could acquire sound horses, retrain them, and sell them on for a good profit.

The good news is, we have a few tools now to bridge that gap, which are especially useful to buyers who live near a racetrack. If adoptions aren’t feasible (you might be a trainer like Michelle Michelson, and wouldn’t Flip That Thoroughbred! be an amazing reality show?) then there are the trainer-listings, which many organizations such as CANTER use to list racehorses for sale.

I think we need more, though.

I think it needs to be easier to communicate between race trainers and sport trainers. I think racing trainers should have an idea of what sports their horses can go into after they’re done racing. I think sport trainers should have easy access to trainers so that they can develop a working relationship. So that they can network with one another. So that they can do the best by each and every horse. And all those poor damn kids.

I’ve gotten Thoroughbreds in a variety of ways. From a cowboy who took in a starving OTTB from a rescuer. From the RNA list at Ocala Breeders’ Sales. From Craigslist. Never directly from the racetrack, though.

How about you? How’d you get your racehorse?

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48 Comments

Filed under Racing, Retirement Options

48 responses to “So where’d you get that racehorse?

  1. Shannon

    West Point Thoroughbreds is always looking for a good home for our retired OTTB’s. Please message me, shannon@westpointtb.com if you are interested in being included in our adoption list. We ask that you provide proof where the horse will be stabled and we can speak with your attending vet. We also ask for at least yearly updates. Beyond that, our horses are free to a good home. These are horses that were often very expensive public auction purchases.

    • PERFECT! This is exactly what we need. Shannon, I’m going to add you to our Adoption Resources page as well, okay?

      Thank you very much!

      • Shannon

        Yes, please do add me to your Adoption Resources page. We are always looking to get the word out and find great homes! I am very much in agreement, OTTB’s make wonderful sport horses and companions.

  2. Kitster

    I have got all my TB directly from the track, but I was one of those fortunate ones who worked at the track for 12 years, so all the trainers know and trust me. They know that I am connected in the show horse worlds and have found their horses good homes. I think it is getting easier now with social media and places like Canter, New Vocations, Fla TRAC for people to find Tb’s. The biggest problem is that alot of the people are not screened well enough to find the right match in a TB. I know must the rescues are pretty good about it, but some fall through the cracks and the horses end up back in the system again. I am actually working on a project to match OTTBs with people who want to adopt. Because I agree, alot of people have no clue on where to find a nice OTTB.

  3. Agreed, social media is making huge in-roads.

    I know my personal goal is to see Thoroughbreds return to a place of prominence in the show and sport worlds, and I think one of the ways to do that is put them back in the hands of trainers who can turn them over for a profit. That’s why trainer-listings are such a great thing for trainers and riders who have skill but not a lot of cash.

    I’ve never adopted a horse because I’ve never bought a horse I intended to keep for life. But had I know about trainer listings, that would have opened up a much wider selection for me.

    I was lucky enough to live near Ocala, so I was able to nose around the breeding farms to see what had been sent home for lay-up or sale, but not everyone lives near an international breeding hub, so…

  4. Kitster

    Can you please add http://www.elitethoroughbreds.org They are located in West Palm Beach. Sonia is great and retrains the TB’s and is very good on matching up the right person with the right horse. She has alot of nice ones.

  5. Stephanie

    I found my OTTB on craigslist. I paid off the past due board on him ($500) and took him home. That was unfortunately 6 years after he had left the track, and he still knew nothing other than racing. He’s an amazing hunter now and it’s such a shame that he spent those years doing nothing rather then being retrained. I am lucky enough to live close enough to Suffolk that when I’m looking for my next horse I’ll get some help from CANTER. But when I first started looking for an OTTB, I had no clue where to start.

    • Wow… that is a really long time to waste a good horse. Thank goodness you showed up.

      There’s just no reason for that, either. These horses have value. But a lot of people fail to understand that there is more than one kind of value.

  6. Robin Coblyn

    I just placed a lovely horse from Laurel with The Thoroughbred Adoption Network which is associated with the Makers Mark Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park. They went out of their way to get him transported down to their facility and placed with a foster. The web site is: http://www.thoroughbredadoption.com/ and Melissa DeCarlo is fantastic.

    They definately should be added to the network.

    • Excellent, good to know about! Feel free to keep adding rescues. That’s not quite where I was going today, but I’m happy with it. The Adoption and Rescue Resources page, located at the top of the blog page, has links to Thoroughbred organizations. Anything else you think you should go on there, talk to me.

  7. As an owner and rider of other disciplines, I use to directly sell mine via ads online from the track or bring them home for a few weeks on the farm and sell them privately that way. Now I prefer to list my retiring racers with Second Start, an organization that is soley in it for the horses’ benefit. I know and trust the organizers, and they, in turn, work to find the right matches between interested persons and available horses. It takes a lot of the stress of finding a good home for them off my shoulders.

  8. Bree Lake

    I purchased my first Thoroughbred mare, Switch, at the age of 12 from a local classified ads publication. I got/adopted/started feeding my second former racehorse, Lydia, a couple of years ago from Heather Buras at A Pinch of Luck (www.apinchofluck.com). Heather is awesome at finding and re-homing OTTBs, and has placed over 100 horses in the last 5 years. She has several resources including the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program aka FLTAP (http://www.fingerlakestap.org/), the Finger Lakes Finest Thoroughbred trainers listings (http://fingerlakesfinesttbs.proboards.com/index.cgi), and a contact in Florida who can bring you almost whatever you want in a Thoroughbred (color, shape, size, age, height, etc).
    Most of the horses that come through A Pinch of Luck have at least a few rides put into them to find out how they move and the type of rider they are suited for. Some may be a bit on the thin side due to their previous circumstances, but the longer they stay, the fatter they get! Heather also spends time with each horse working on ground manners and the basics.
    If you are looking for a new horse to fall in love with, be sure to give Heather a call.

  9. Sarah

    I found my OTTB through CANTER. He was a week off the track and had just been moved to a farm that was holding an open house for CANTER. I grew up raising and showing quarter horses and bought my OTTB on a whim. He’s a neat horse and has taught me a ton.

    I’m on the verge of getting a new OTTB, also through CANTER. He was injured off the track, came to Michigan State University for surgery, and is now on pasture rest at the farm I board at. He’s getting rechecked by the vet in March and if everything seems to be healing as expected, he’s mine.

    I think Michigan only has one track left that races TBs (and it isn’t a nice track), so organizations such as CANTER and New Vocations are a good option around here to find OTTBs. Michigan CANTER also ends up with a lot of Ohio horses, since they end up at MSU for surgery and then after they recuperate CANTER works to find them new homes. I’m lucky enough to care for many of these horses after their surgery (I get free board for my OTTB because I am responsible for the surgery horses) and it always amazes me how sweet and wonderful these horses are right off the track.

  10. I got Gabe through a jockey friend who had a trainer friend who was trying to find him a good second career. I would have never found him without her help. Our local racetrack here has an annual paddock sale where you can pick up the track failures for next to nothing, but I know a lot of the horses fall through the cracks during the rest of the year.

    The adoption process required by many of the OTTB adoption organizations is daunting and prohibitive for someone like me. I keep my horses at home, living on pasture, with access to run-ins, twice daily feedings, excellent care and a good home where I dote on them and probably spoil them rotten, but, I don’t have a fancy barn or five-board fencing that I can show the organizations to prove I have a good home. I don’t have a barn manager or trainer that can vouch for the care I give my critters. I have a good relationship with my vet and my farrier, but other than that, I don’t meet the “adoption criteria” set by most of those adoption organizations. So, even if there is an OTTB I’d love to give a good home and a second career that is looking for a home and living with one of those organizations, I just don’t meet their often stringent criteria. I’m just a backyard horse owner/rider/amateur who dotes on her horses and gives them excellent care, but that’s not what most of them want when they are looking to place the OTTBs. So yes, I’m frustrated.

    Because I’d love to have a second one, but I don’t have all the right connections.

    • From Alex Brown Forums (there was a link to my blog, which is how I found it)

      “This is why all rescue and retraining groups need a permanent presence at every single racetrack in the country. The trainers need to know who to contact that’s reputable when they need to find a new home or job for their horses. And the rescues that take in OTTBs need to reach out to the sport horse community and advertise their available horses to them.”

      More food for thought.

    • Really good comment, Jenn, and I’m sure a lot of other people feel the same way. I know I have felt that way just about dogs and cats, too.

    • Sarah

      For what it’s worth, when I got Finn through CANTER, I had a total backyard set up. I think they talked to my vet (and I think I had to provide other references), but my set up wasn’t an issue for them. It was more that I would take care of him and give him a good home, even if it wasn’t flashy.

      On the other hand, the process to get approved to adopt my first greyhound off the track was a nightmare and astoundingly complicated/drawn out. 🙂

      • That’s interesting about the vet. I mean, when I was just getting back into horses after a few years out, I wouldn’t have HAD a vet for someone to talk to.

      • Sarah

        As far as the vet, I was new to the area and at that point my only relationship with him was for my dog. I think it was more that I *had* a vet that mattered.

        I don’t know what the balance is though for these organizations. They need to do something to verify that the horse is going to a good home, and we all know that facilities/money/experience don’t necessary equal that.

    • Holly

      Jenn, if you don’t mind telling, which track has an annual paddock sale where you bought your horse? I think that sounds promising for almost any track? Thanks, Holly

      • Fairmount Racetrack in Illinois (just outside of St. Louis). The paddock sale is held every Sept. and open to the public. It’s usually very well attended!

  11. Caitlin

    I pulled my OTTBs out of broodmare lots. Both starving, lame, and full of parasites.

  12. Cindy

    We adopted our Sirgun from Remember Me Rescue here in Texas. Great place and currently have taken in several TB from the Many, LA seizure. You can find them on face book and their web site is http://www.teemkeen.com
    Take a look at what they have available for adoption!

  13. Wellll, it’s a short, cute story. My racehorse came directly from facebook. Her previous owner, who loved her very much, but was moving to “the city,” posted a picture of her on facebook with a “free to approved home” caption. I thought “huh, I like thoroughbreds, and that’s a cutie, I think I’ll have her.” Two days later, she was delivered to my house by aforementioned previous owner. Two years later, she’s still with me, and is the most delightful little red mare a girl could hope for. 😀

  14. Love your blog 🙂
    Our vision with CANTER was always to have it in place at every single racetrack in the country. If not a CANTER affiliate, some type of program that enable trainers and owners to list horses for sale as we do with our trainer listings. I think this is so important because it shows trainers and owners that horses have value and are WANTED if they retire sound. We’ve found that at the racetracks where track listings are in place, trainers tend to “stop” on horses earlier and sell them for sport horses rather than push them and risk a life-altering injury. That, to me, is making some serious inroads!

    • I love it! So putting a trainer-listing service into place absolutely will help trainers and owners recognize their horse’s “other” value. Good, we’re on the right track.

      Keep it up, CANTER!

  15. Kaarin

    I bought mine directly from the track but with the assistance of a fabulous exercise rider who networks horses needing new careers; she has her own website where she lists OTTBs and Quarters that are for sale or free from the trainers/owners. She also posts the ads on CANTER’s site. If not for her I’d have had NO idea how to access the horses still at the track.

  16. Holly

    Got my boy from a good friend! There are lots of awesome trainers and owners out there retiring their race horses. Simply talk “lots” about the type of horse you are looking for to friends you respect and one will turn up. The good ones will find homes, I promise!!!!!!!

  17. Cassie P

    I have three OTTB’s, all three of which were found through different organizations. I grew up with TB’s being used for eventing, but didn’t really know anything about getting one until I moved to Hilliard, OH and started volunteering at New Vocations. I fell in love with OTTB’s at that point. I purchased my first one directly off the track through a CANTER trainer listing at Beulah Park. Two years later, I adopted a mare that had been off the track 4 years, and had been unsuccessful as a broodmare through The Second Race, and had her shipped from So Cal to Oh. My most recent one came from New Vocations, and I had met her three years earlier when I was working there. Although, all my eventing friends still think I’m crazy to have “crazy” OTTB’s, vs. regular old “sane” TB’s!

  18. Miles is from New Vocations. What I love love love about them is that they showcase those horses like nobody’s business. I could watch 2 videos of him being ridden and see multiple conformation photos before taking the 4 hour drive to see him. At any given time I can go on their website and want to take home at least 75% of the horses that are available. When I went to see him, I was able to see him being ridden, and then able to do ground work and bathe him and graze him, turn him out, on my own. They really “stand in the gap”, which is so important for people like me. I’m a competent rider, but I really didn’t want to take a horse that ONLY knew the track. I wanted someone else to take care of all the “firsts” that a transitioning horse goes through. Also, by the time the horses are put up on the website, they really know the horses, the good and the bad, and they were very upfront. I think the more organizations that can work with these horses after they leave the track, even for just a couple weeks, the better! Also, I STILL have no idea how they keep their adoption prices so low!

  19. SouthernSon

    I got Porter from a friend of a friend. She was his exercise rider and her husband was his trainer. He had been in their string for some time but he was ready to retire. They pegged me for a sucker (that face! those eyes! I want a pony!) and I shipped him from PA to CO about a month after his last start. Because they worked with him every day they could give me a lot of insight into his personality, soundness, and suitability for retraining and I trusted their opinions so much that I shipped him out basically sight unseen. The owner let him go for free because he wanted my boy to go into a good home after he retired from the track, so all I paid was shipping costs.
    It was a risky maneuver, but one that has paid off every day! He is the best, and has been the easiest horse I have ever worked with. We are now starting to train for eventing and I have such high hopes for him!
    Because of my amazing experience with Porter I am now volunteering with New Life Thoroughbred Rescue here in Colorado. We are relatively new and small (when compared with some of the other rescues mentioned here) but we have some amazing guys and girls in our program who are being retrained to find new careers. Putting the first few rides on a TB right off the track is the most amazing feeling in the world. Anyone in the area who is interested in adopting or volunteering (or anything else for that matter) feel free to get in touch!

  20. Kirsten

    My first two OTTBs were retired to my farm from their gigs as school horses for Virginia Tech and Virginia Intermont College respectively, where they worked as hunters. My newest OTTB is from the great LOPE Texas, also retrained as a hunter (and at 11 years old, a baby by my standards). All three of my boys share the same characteristics: sweet, kind, gentlemen. I’m completely smitten.

  21. Got my OTTB from his previous owners, who somehow got him off the track. He was definitely a washout on the track, but was retrained for eventing. The daughter of the family grew up and outgrew horses, so he stood around in the barn–only a couple of “training rides” a week–for two years before my trainer found him. I shudder to think what would have happened to him if that family had grown tired of waiting for a buyer. He is just a super horse, and has taught me so much in the last ten years I can’t even begin to list it. He’s with me “till death do us part”, and if I go first, he is provided for!

  22. My two young horses are from us! MidAtlanticHorseRescue.org. My old stake horse was pulled by us but went to Akindale Horse Rescue bc we were out of room- I adopted him 6 months later. We always have NICE OTTBs for adoption- and we stand behind them always~
    Bev

  23. That was hilarious. I’ve been wondering that very thing for a lot of years. What is with that?? I t makes NO sense, but it’s so true. When did that line get drawn in the sand? Who started the Big Chill between them and there?
    They are HORSES, people. Not Freakin’ top secret classified documents. I just never understood that…
    Horse people really need to learn to share. Why they don’t, is anyone’s guess. OH, sorry, I know one! Money. Hah. Ego. Two.

    Great post, thank you!

  24. Sybil

    I also got my fantastic OTTB, Redabyebye, from LOPE in Texas. (He has his own FB page!) LOPE does both listings for trainers at Texas tracks (for horses still at the track or training farm) and also takes in some horses for adoption. Redabyebye’s owner waited until there was an opening at the LOPE ranch, then sent him there from New Mexico; two months later, he was MINE! I keep in touch with her and send her updates on how we are doing. I also network to help place horses, and in Florida, Pure Thoughts is GREAT! Jennifer and Brad do the needed rehab and also retraining, then work to find a good match for the horse. There is a trainer in Ohio that will sometimes send me a horse to list on my RIP Deputy Broad FB page; that has worked, too; people interested then contact the trainer directly. I also network with a small group of committed women, Equi-Army-NDO, to get horses placed, usually with either a great trainer we know up in Canada, or with Pure Thoughts. It would be nice to have a uniform system, but it seems to come down to whatever works in a given situation.

  25. Kim

    Great article! I have two OTTB’s – one had been doing H/J stuff and I bought him via a trainer, great gentleman of a horse. The second I got through AC4H who advertises the New Holland kill pen equines. They take several photos, a short video under saddle and give you as much info as they can, which is usually not much. It is a huge leap to get a horse this way and he is a clever handful, but we are getting there. It will take time, but he is with me forever.

  26. Janice Ferneyhough-Tanner

    We got our OTTB from midatlantic horse rescue. He was in the kill pen at New Holland…must have had a lot of rough handling in his life because he is very untrusting of people. I am winning him over, but it will take a long time. That’s ok because he is with me for life. After I lost my husband to cancer, this little horse came into my life. We were both pretty lost and sad. Now we are climbing out of the valley together.

  27. You should check out TB Friends. Joe Shelton rescues and places hundreds of ottbs each year from tracks in Cali, directly from the kill buyers and from folks who have fallen on hard times. Joe really believes in the power of horses to help kids, and kids to help horses. One of the unsung heroes in tb rescue.

    Oh – and my ottb ♡Val ♡ came from Texas. He’s been pin-fired on both fronts, and never raced. I think he is probably much too lazy. After a brief stint as a hunter / jumper, he became my pampered dressage partner. Today’s his birthday – he turned ten.

  28. I’ll play! I got mine from Canter MidAtlantic. Jessica Morthole pulled him from the track in Delaware and let him down and he was sent down to Southern Pines where Allie and Suzanne restarted him. He’s been pinfired on both front legs, ran 26 races and is sweet as pie. He’s a fast learner, tries hard, and is generally a quiet, steady, sensible horse!

  29. Angela

    I found my OTTB in the Minneapolis Star Tribune classified ads 9 1/2 years ago…I currently have a few friends that help place OTTB. http://www.tampatrot.org and http://www.equineracers.com I am always sharing horses from their sites to friends.

  30. Such a great post, Natalie! We got our first from a friend who had a friend with too much horse. Harley was off the track for 4 years, with some retraining, and cold big knees. We’ve had him nearly 2 years and he’s made enormous strides as a trail/pleasure horse. We just got 2 more off the track after going to Canter New England’s Suffolk Showcase this fall. They do an awesome job at Canter. I feel like I’ve rescued them all, even though they were not purchased from a rescue organization. More groups like Canter are needed to spread the word, and I think S. Pittman’s RR Challenge will do a lot to promote the breed. Skip the Ichbineinberlinerbred from the EU and grab an OTTB for pennies and have a blast!

  31. Hi Natalie,
    Great post and an interesting observation. I have worked with OTTB retirement organizations and know how hard they push to get the word out about the new and noteworthy horses that they have available for adoption. Because of that it is surprising to me that there is still such a gap between those looking and those rescuing/rehabilitating. Hopefully this article will help you aggregate those resources and make the connections happen!

  32. Kerriann

    Great blog!! I’m so glad a friend referred me here. My OTTB fell into my lap from the barn where I was taking lessons in high school. Sadly, he had gone ring-sour from all the schooling rides; in an effort to get rid of him (because no one knew how to handle him), the owners offered him to me (my parents) for free, or threatened to sell him for meat at the next auction. So, I got a horse, learned all about horse training, and it was the best thing to happen in my life =). Unfortunately, we’ve been struggling with some soundness and tooth/sinus infections, but other than that he’s a fantastically intelligent, cooperative animal (if you’re willing to work with rather than against him), and I’ve been so blessed that I stumbled (was forced) into OTTB ownership. That said, I’d love to see more efforts to prevent situations like this from happening. My horse was cycled through so many owners and disciplines after his brief racing life because no one even tried to work with him or try different training techniques. I’m not sure what would’ve happened if I had not taken him. These situations should be prevented before they become so serious that a horse needs rescued.

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