There is a wonderful new video from Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, featuring an interview of trainer Kerry Blackmer (who of course is riding our darling Four X The Trouble, or Tempyst as we should be calling him) by Steuart Pittman, president of the Retired Racehorse Project. In their conversation, they focus on three things that I think are very important to public perception of OTTBs.
1) The Retired Racehorse Challenge horses are going far too well, and as an amateur rider, I’m either messing up badly or missing something:
Steuart Pittman suggests some riders might be asking “Why are they riding them so round, why are they riding them in a frame already?” and I’ve also seen a few self-deprecating remarks in the comments, as people say they clearly have been messing up on their OTTBs.
Well, come on, folks, you’re not being fair to yourselves at all.
There are two important questions to ask yourself here:
1) Do you go through multiple, possibly dozens of OTTBs per year, retraining them and selling them on as amateur horses?
Probably not. So stop beating yourself up, keep studying, and have fun with your horse.
2) Do you treat your OTTB like he’s a bronc fresh off the range, or do you remember that he already has a very specific skill set, and your job is to hone certain skills and re-direct others?
Never forget that they have a rich history! One of the reasons why Kerry Blackmer says that OTTBs only need a day or two in a new place to calm down is that they are already more well-traveled than most Americans, they already know what is expected of them in the barn (settle down, shut up, walk nicely, do your job), and they are already professional workers who are begging to be allowed to get back to work.
2) Every horse is different, and there is no one formula for training.
The trainers might be showing tremendous progress, or maybe even things that you think are over the top. But they’re doing what feels right to the horse. Kerry says (paraphrasing)”He’s more comfortable at the canter; I’m going to let him canter to the jumps.” Even though you might normally start a horse over jumps at a trot, Tempyst feels really good at the canter, so it’s easier for him.
Some horses will have a really balanced canter. OTTBs have spent a lot of time cantering. When they trot, they’re usually goofing off, looking around, watching what’s going on around the racetrack, putting their head wherever they want it. Trotting is busy-work at the racetrack. It’s not thinking time.
So it’s possible that you have a prodigy at the canter. It’s going to depend on their build, it’s going to depend on what kind of exercise rider they had, it’s going to depend on how they were trained and what kind of muscle they’ve built, but once again, remember: if the horse is coming right off the track, or even a few months off the track, you’re not dealing with a horse off the range, and you’re not (in most cases) dealing with a rodeo reject. You’re dealing with a horse that’s had quite a lot of training… how are you going to mold that training and complement that training to make your OTTB a sporthorse? That’s the question.
3) An OTTB’s prior training makes him the ideal sporthorse candidate.
Race training and the racetrack life do not automatically equal a schizophrenic sociopath that is afraid of birds, and it’s time to put that rumor to rest… permanently. What’s one of the most compelling reasons to select an OTTB, with an athletic background and history, over a young green-broke horse who has only lived on the farm? Kerry says it best: “They know how to go forward!” Anyone who’s started a youngster can attest to this: young horses have no idea how to go forward. It’s hysterical how much you can boot a baby in the ribs and they will turn and look at you with big, innocent eyes. “Um, you are kicking me? So maybe we are playing a new game? Maybe I should try to bite your foot? This will be great. Good idea, mom.” And you are sitting there thinking, “My baby has no go-button.”
When, in fact, it turns out you have to install the go-button.
OTTBs: go-button pre-installed. Part of the standard package.
“You can jump right in there and get down to the details,” Kerry says, and Steuart brings up the fact that it takes twice as long to get a young home-bred to the one-star level as it does an OTTB.
I think that about sums it up.