Your first OTTB… Do tell!

There’s something about a girl and her horse that is touching and beautiful, isn’t there? Perhaps it’s that they’re choosing horses over hanging out at the mall, or torching cars, or whatever it is that the kids are doing for fun these days. Perhaps it’s that we remember when we were girls with horses. (With regrets to my two male readers.) Whatever it is, I know that I love reading accounts of teenagers and their darling Thoroughbreds.

chestnut thoroughbred

Dexter, another OTTB Blog star! Photo: Terri Cage @ Past The Grandstand

I love this one so much that I will overlook my usual jealous scorn of fifteen-year-olds who have excellent writing ability and have already had a guest post published at The Blood Horse. After all, it’s not Mary Cage’s fault that when I was fifteen the coolest thing about the Internet was an America Online chat-room, midi files, and bitmap images. I daresay I would have had a freaking fantastic blog, had blogs existed, and I have the piles and piles of notebooks to back that claim up.

(And you will NEVER, EVER see what’s inside them! Hint: horse drawings.)

At any rate, Mary writes “Past the Grandstand,” a horse-racing blog, and when she isn’t writing about Derby prospects and freshman stallions at stud, she writes about her adorable paint pinto piebald Thoroughbred gelding, Dexter. Dexter, originally known as Wet Paint (for good reason!) looks like a doll and anyone would want him in their backyard, but nope, Mary is the lucky one. Dexter, a graduate of Texas’s Remember Me Rescue, is the realization of a long-held dream:

For years, I have wanted a Thoroughbred – an ex-racehorse. As a result of my fascination with the sport of horse racing, I wanted to have my own Thoroughbred that had graced the historical, enchanting place we call the racetrack. It didn’t have to be a horse that had been exceptionally prosperous at the races, or even a horse that had superb bloodlines. I just wanted a retired racehorse to call my own.

Exactly. Yes. This. Those were my thoughts precisely when I was a little girl… and when I was a teenager. Which is how I ended up with a fresh young gentleman straight off the track when I was thirteen. Worth every moment, to have one of those elite blood-horses who had trod the track. Even if he was dreadful at it.

Mary’s beautiful tribute to her one year anniversary with Dexter is published here; click the tags to read more stories of Mary and her spotty Thoroughbred.

Now, readers. I’m curious. When did you get your first OTTB? When did you decide you wanted one? And did those two things happen to correlate, or did the fates deal you a retired racehorse that just happened to become the equine love of your life? Was it an all-out dream come true to have a Thoroughbred in your barn,or was it just the mysterious workings of fate… and a little help from the equine Cupid?

Come on, do tell! 



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13 responses to “Your first OTTB… Do tell!

  1. Michelle

    Ascot Doll was retired in 2004 and sent to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in Lexington. We adopted him through the TRF Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center. They were wonderful there and they sent me profiles of at least eight different off-track Thoroughbreds who matched my riding goals and abilities to the abilities of the horse. I had only been riding for seven years having started as an adult at the age of 35. After much research and many exchanges I decided upon Ascot Doll, a grand chestnut gelding
    who has Northern Dancer as his great grand sire. .. They told me at the TRF that they would recommend Ascot Doll to a beginning adult rider but that they would not recommend him for a child as he is quite large at 16.2 hands.

    In March of 2006 we flew to Kentucky and met him and signed the papers right then and there and officially adopted him. Two weeks later Ascot Doll arrived at the beautiful farm where I board him and my other two horses his “bother” and “sister” Patches and Peaches. .

    He is ridden as a hunt seat pleasure horse as I do not jump or compete in horse shows, though when they were training him at the TRF, they had him jumping small jumps so he is suited to that discipline.

    He loves his life with me and Peaches and Patches. Patches is a handsome Pinto gelding and Peaches a beautiful Saddlebred mare. He is a large horse but he has such a gentle nature and he is so devoted to me, it is almost as if he knows that I “rescued” him.

    Ascot Doll won 13 of 111 races and was retired at the age of ten.

  2. My first OTTB also happens to be my first horse, and I waited nearly 45 years to realize that dream. I’ve always been fascinated with race horses and the track, but the only time I’ve set foot on a track was as a child in the off-season at Churchill Downs. I still remember standing in the entry with chills running up my spine.
    I’ve painted and drawn horses since I could hold a pencil. I love them all, but I’d only ever ridden Quarter Horses and grades. Fast forward from 16 years old to having raised two great kids with no horse outlet or input in that span, and I found myself looking at the very real possibility that I could finally do this.
    As a teenager, a big ol’ Skipper W bred cutting horse named Bigfoot pulled me out of depression, summer after summer. As a 40-something, a handsome 15.2h Louisiana-bred bay OTTB (with more than a passing resemblance to Bigfoot)named Mardi Gras Dancer served as not only the catalyst for my stepping out of a bad relationship, but also as my healer.
    I have learned (the hard way) that I am not the fearless teen who’d jump aboard any horse anymore. I have learned that while my boy is very laid back for a TB, he’s still not as laid back as the QH I used to ride. Nor as stubborn. If I ask for something, I get it! I have learned how vital saddle fit is. Babe (his barn name) has learned that he’s not getting shipped off again, and that I am a constant. I have watched his confidence and health blossom- he is a gorgeous creature- admittedly, I’m biased.
    I don’t yet possess the skills to do some of the things I’d like to, but I am learning his language, and working on my own confidence…which is some days a daunting task. My first ride was the best I’ve ever had. We went bareback with a rope halter around the arena. I was told I was crazy. Our third ride, I got dumped and fractured my pelvis- and it was entirely my fault. That’s the one and only time I have not gotten right back on, and yes, fear does set in. I’ve come off since and still the only fears go right back to that one fateful event.
    Fact is, I’m not a good rider. I didn’t have a clue about balance as a teen and still don’t have it down. But what I had going for me then was the lack of concern about it, and the physical aptitude to stick anyway. Now I do and I have to do something about it if I want to get anywhere with fewer unscheduled dismounts.
    Not only have I gained a beautiful horse to call my own, I have begun a whole new education, met wonderful new friends I wouldn’t trade for anything, and found what makes me feel truly at home.

  3. Stephanie

    I in no way planned the acquisition of my first OTTB.I wasn’t even looking for a horse at the time. But my roommate was. And she found this skinny fleabitten thoroughbred on a craigslist ad and decided I should buy him. To the point where she stood over me pestering until I made a phone call. I went to look at him, and he was about 300 pounds underweight, had horrible anxiety, and a really nasty attitude. He almost bit me a few times as I tacked him up, and then I spent about 30 minutes on his back trying to get him to walk as he was attempting to canter in place. I’m pretty sure his owner at the time thought I was kidding when I said I absolutely loved him and handed her $500.

    As far as I can find, he had about 12 owners before me. His race career was long (6 years) for a horse that didn’t run very well. And who knows what happened in the years between when he came off the track and when I found him. But as a 12 year old, he knew nothing other than what he had learned on the track. He is now a fantastic little hunter pleasure horse, and we’ll be trying our hand at eventing this year.

    I’d definitely say it was fate. To go from not even looking for a horse to having the love of my life fall into my lap. As much as I make fun of him being named Pocket Fullof Hope, maybe the name is a little more fitting than I originally thought.

  4. When made the switch from Dressage to Hunter/Jumpers at 14 years old, I went to a trainer who had more off track/retrained thoroughbreds in her barn than warmbloods. I had always loved horse racing growing up but never considered a Thoroughbred being my dream horse until I fell in love with this small dark brown thoroughbred lesson horse in her barn Richie, and after that I was completely sold on the breed.

    I didn’t actually acquire my first horse until years later, I was a working student with the above mentioned trainer while I was in college and she had picked up a gorgeous, south american bred, 5yo blood bay stallion at the track that had blown a suspensory. We bred him (sadly the filly coliced at 3yo and we had to put her down), gelded him, rested him and rehabbed him and I became his dedicated rider to put him on the fast track to showing and being sold. He was wily, opinionated, maltempered, and we argued a lot… and I absolutely fell in love with him. I still have him, he is 13 years old, and he is the horse love of my life.

    He still has all those attributes that I listed above but working with him I learned of his humor, grace, gentle and sweetness. I learned that he loves a challenge, loves to compete. He always ribbons over fences, I’ve shown him in the hunter ring, the jumper ring and the equitation ring. I’ve ridden him in clinic’s with show hunter hall of fame rider, Linda Hough, Former Olympian Lauren Hough, and the infamous George Morris and they all thought he was a fabulous horse. He didn’t race much, and his ownership changed hands only a few times but I know and he knows I’m his last owner. He’ll never be sold on.

  5. Katherine

    My first OTTB was a 4 year old, 16hh chestnut gelding who needed a lot of work and a ton of groceries. After discovering that our paint, Spencer, had gone off with navicular we decided to try a lease. So our coach found us this guy. We were told that he never raced, was schooled, could jump, went to shows and was 7. We soon discovered otherwise. Dispite the lies fed to us at first, he turned out to be the most amazing horse anyone could ever ask for. He was so laid back, happy with everything and loved everyone. After having tremendous success with our first OTTB, we decided to adopt another one through LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement. That’s where I got my guy, and he’s all mine! He’s a 16’1HH, 5 year old gelding. He may not be the brightest creature on earth but he will snuggle forever.

    Unfortunatley, in November 2011 our chestnut, Keanu, passed away at 5 with liver failure. It was a shock and we were devistated. The only one who could colsole me was Thor. The adopted one. He had shown me the light and told me to carry on. When one door closes, another one opens. He has been my support through this tough time and I can’t imagine having anyone else. OTTB’s have the biggest hearts going. They may seem tough on the outside but you have to remember what happened to them at the track. Deep down they are truely loveable and know so much. I highly suggest, your next horse be an OTTB. You’ll never regret it!

  6. Sarah

    Slippin’ On Up came to me through CANTER-Michigan. Two years ago, I was working at the farm in where the horses initially come through, as well as taking lessons with a Hanoverian that I had rescued with hopes of using him in Eventing. After much research into his past, I had found he had been jumped since the age of 3 in Level 4, and the age of 11 when I got him, was used up as far as jumping went. As the farm we were at gets regular contacts from buyers looking for horses, I was able to network with an amazing dressage trainer in Indiana that had just lost his lesson horse. He fell in love with my boy and he is now a happy dressage school horse!

    The sale of him allowed me to have a budget, albeit a small one, to find an eventing prospect. Having ridden since a very young age, I had never evented, but had been through almost every discipline out there and worked with MANY breeds. I was hoping to find something that had at least jumped, was a gelding, and probably a QH or cross of some kind. The farm had 2 horses come in that were both retiring sound from racing, one mare and one gelding. I didn’t pay any attention to them really, they were not what I was looking for. Or so I thought. At the urging of the farm owner I hopped on the mare for a very tense, not so pretty ride. The mare hated being fussed over (and I fuss over my horses!) and could care less if a human paid her attention; she was just there to do a job. I said I would think on it, not being overly serious. But she wouldn’t get out of my mind. I tried her again. There was another buyer interested. So I impulsively said I’ll take her. Two months later we were at our first dressage show showing Intro with mid 60 scores! We have had our moments of frustration, our moments of eleation, and everything in between. It has been so worth it! She happily takes her oh so novice jumping mom around the XC course, tolerates my errors when they happen, and most importantly we have both had a lesson in trust. She has learned she can trust me, and I her. She even comes to greet me in the pasture these days and lets me hug her…most days! She is the absolute horse love of my life and she will be with me for her lifetime!

  7. My first horse, after wanting one for nearly 50 years, is an OTTB. Halawa Moon (stable name Harley),a son of Malibu Moon, grandson of A.P. Indy, had a good start at the track with 4 wins, a 2nd and a 3d out of 21 starts. But somewhere in his career, he got chips in his knees and was fortunately purchased and had surgery. Here, things get a little murky. I know he spent time recuperating at a stable in Portsmouth, NH, but his owner had financial issues and he became the property of the barn. Harley wasn’t exactly a great school horse, so he then moved to another stable with a new owner. He was too much for her to ride, so once again, Harley was for sale, or “free to good owner”. Unbeknownst to me, my partner John had been looking for some time and announced one day, “I got you a horse”. I was scheduled to go into surgery the next week, and wouldn’t even be able to ride for over a month. We went to see Harley following my surgery. John lunged him, rode him in the arena, and a week later, he was mine.

    It’s been a learning curve for both of us. Harley learned how to negotiate uneven terrain on the trails, and is still overcoming his fears “in the wilds” on our rides. For me, having not ridden in over 30 years, Harley has tested my abilities, and continues to do so often! I think he knows he’s landed in heaven with a 50+ year old owner that acts like a horse-crazy love-struck 14 year old every time I see him. I rode him on my first organized 16 mile trail ride this past November, on my birthday no less, and he was a doll (except for the fact that he wouldn’t get back on the trailer!)

    I find myself riding Harley and thinking,”He’s really mine!”, remembering my teen years spent at the show rail, watching gorgeous TB hunters go round, and dreaming of that “some day” when I might finally get a TB too. When cars pass us, with little girls staring out the window, their mouths open, probably saying, “Ohhh, look”, I remember being that little girl and smile. So here I am, years later, living that dream, and although I’m not competing in shows or events, I’ll spend 4 or 5 hours, exploring the woods and trails on board Harley.

    This past fall, we purchased two more OTTB’s, a couple a four year old fillies we saw at Canter New England’s Suffolk Downs Showcase. They are such wonderful creatures, smart, athletic, and best buds. I’m proud to own all of them and love to brag about all our OTTB’s.

  8. My experience sounds like a composite of many of the comments above–I had very little riding experience, loved horses forever and drew and painted them ad nauseum, and when I was 50 I finally started taking riding lessons. When the stable I took lessons at ran out of available shareboards, my trainer said that I “needed” to own a horse. Since I trusted her implicitly, I let her pick the horse–a 10 year old OTTB gelding who had only one owner since leaving the track at age 3. Despite his impressive bloodlines (Native Dancer, Bold Ruler, Count Fleet) he was a total washout at the track–coming in last and second to last in his only two races.

    Considering that in general “Billy” has absolutely no patience with anything on his back that doesn’t know what it’s doing, I am so grateful to him for putting up with me and only occasionally dumping me (usually after landing from a jump…) I’ve owned him for 10 years now, and we’ve been through so much together, and I can truly say this horse has a great heart. He’s a real tryer, and he has always given generously to me. In turn, I have repaid his generosity many times over, and we are truly best friends. I ride much better because of him and he has been my best teacher. We’ve moved on to dressage, and he has had some physical difficulties probably due to both genetics and his past jumping history, but we are partners forever.

  9. Hannah

    Officially I bought my first OTTB a year and a half ago. But my sister had a TB that was race trained but never entered in a race. I have also been stuck on TB’s ever since I rode my first one around the age of ten. While I am only seventeen I have been training green horses, for six years. My OTTB does occasionally have her fits of giraffe or bolting because she heard the loudspeaker at a show and thought she was going racing. She is usually really responsive, very willing, and we have really built a huge bond together. We are currently only showing in walk/trot because I want her to get used to the loudspeaker before I ask anything large from her. She has enough quality movement and jumping talent, that I am hoping to start her in eventing soon. I did not go out looking specifically for an OTTB. But I knew I wanted a horse that would GO when I asked them to, therefore I concentrated my searching on TB’s and I found my OTTB.

  10. The one horse I didn’t want was a solid bay TB. Too common, my ego thought. I’d been looking go a horse for a long while in anticipation of my best horse friend at the time leaving this world. Probably because I was looking for a Bastiaan clone, which didn’t exist, I was unsuccessful. Then the very day Bastiaan was put down, Halloween 2006, I received an email about an OTTB needing a new home and career. What did I have to lose? I’ll go meet him. There he was, a solid bay, covered in mud, hay belly, no muscle tone. You get the picture, seemingly nothing special. Yet once I went in to his muddy paddock to meet this “boring” horse, I recognized immediately the friend I had been looking for, when he walked over and hung his head in front of my heart. The very posture I had secretly been waiting for a horse to do. It’s been over 6 years since that day. Tom (Tom’s Thunder) and I gave done a lot together. Hunters, moving cows, dressage and tons of trails. Our top favorite activity is to simply hang out grazing together. Well, Tom grazes, I usually read, write or snooze alongside him. The love affair continues for us both. And I now find solid bay to be the most stunning. Without the flash of chrome, their trueness shines through.

  11. Jennifer

    My first OTTB is my current horse, Taylor Time. He’s a 5 year old bay gelding with 7 starts and 1 win. He has one of the best personalities of any horse I have ever met. We are retraining for dressage, and I am hoping he will shine at dressage shows. I adopted him from Race Horse Reclaim Thoroughbred Rescue and have loved every minute with him him since. I like to say that he picked me (as much as I picked him). My first day out as a volunteer I was filling the water trough watching the mare herd, and I suddenly felt this horse head resting on my shoulder. It was Taylor. From then on, he followed me around every time I came out. I tried to consider the horses available but it was no use. I’m glad we picked each other because he has really changed my life for the better! I still volunteer and am constantly amazed at each and every OTTB I get to know. They are wonderful, and I can’t imagine having any other kind!

  12. Sarah

    I’ve had Finn (JC name Primer Coat) for over 8 years now. I bought him through CANTER Michigan a week after his last race and was drawn to him because he looked like a QH (I’d always been a QH person) and because he calmly let me ride him in a noisy indoor arena during a thunderstorm. Finn has been a huge adventure – he’s one of the most athletic horses I’ve ever had but he also has massive trust issues. Judging by his multitude of weird scars, he has some mistreatment in his past. But he has been a blast and every single day I’m stunned by simply how beautiful he is.

    Finn and I are no longer well matched for riding – the remnants of an accident have left me much less of a rider and Finn needs someone who can be there for him 100% of the time. I have a student riding him now and she’s having a blast and I’m trying not to be massively jealous of her. Fortunately I’ve had another OTTB come into my life who is a much better match and I’m hoping he and I can be as good of a team as Finn and I were.

  13. Annette

    My first OTTB is definitely my heart horse. I wasn’t looking for a specific breed or registry, and he was more talented than what I was looking for, but I was extremely lucky to come across him by being in the right place at the right time!
    I had not ridden in years and just started taking lessons with a dressage/eventing trainer near my house. I wanted to get a horse the following summer, and wanted to work on getting in shape first. It was the last event of the season, and I went down to watch and catch some of my new stablemates in person. I was drooling over all the horses, but there was one dark bay who I couldn’t stop staring at. I hadn’t actually seen my new instructor ride yet, so I didn’t know she was on this horse who I felt was the most beautiful horse I had ever seen. I took a few photos of his stadium round, and he hit two rails. I didn’t know until later, but those were the first rails he had hit the entire season. My trainer immediately went straight to the vet/farrier worried something was wrong, and it turned out he had gotten a stone bruise in between warmup and his round. He went home to his owner’s place to sit around for the next 5-6 months, unridden, at the end of the season. A picture from that first sight:
    Tucson Magic
    I realized I had the budget I had wanted to spend on a horse ready earlier than initially planned, so started looking in February of the next year. I knew Tucson had been for sale the previous year, but knew he was an extremely athletic eventer and had heard he was quite hot, with the word “crazy” thrown around. Apparently he’d had a variety of people look at him when he was for sale and none were a good match, which he at some point decided to make clear to them.
    There was a young rider who had been riding with my trainer who seemed a perfect match to take him to young riders while leasing him, but she ended up falling completely in love with a different horse, so he was still for sale. His owner’s daughter had competed him off the track but was no longer living at home. Mom had been riding for a year and a half before she started riding him, and his answer to her beginner lack of balance was more “not moving” than crazy, which of course contradicted some of the stories I heard about him. She knew they were not the right fit, though, and wanted him to find a good match but had no need to sell him. When she found out I was looking, she suggested we check him out, and my trainer thought about it and said she thought we would actually be a really good match. When we went to see him and my trainer got on him without longeing first, after months of no riding, I knew for sure the “crazy” stories were untrue.
    In the end, it turned out we clicked perfectly, he’s definitely not crazy but is VERY high energy so seems crazy if he doesn’t have an outlet for that energy, and he loves having his focus on dressage. He’s the smarted, most talented and most beautiful horse I’ve ever known. And for whatever reason, I’m lucky enough that I’m meant to be his person. We’ve made a lot of progress in our two years together, and every day he is a joy to be around. Riding him becomes even more of a pleasure all the time, and I regularly thank my trainer for realizing we’d do well together and the help she has given us.