Redefining the OTTB conversation

This post was originally published by Jennifer Montfort at jenmontfort.com. Jen is a Thoroughbred enthusiast and works with CANTER NE in Boston to get Thoroughbreds on the track to their new careers. 

I just spent a good chunk of the evening catching up on the trainer’s blogs over at the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge. Awesome way to spend an evening, right?

What I love most about the trainer challenge is that it’s incredibly straightforward and really speaks to what these horses can do.  We learn about the process of transitioning a horse from the track to a new career. There’s no fluff, just a straightforward examination of an individual Thoroughbred’s strengths, weaknesses and abilities.

Ryan Gosling Equestrian, CANTER

The CANTER website is for shopping amazing prospects, not defeated wrecks. So make a night of it!

How refreshing. It seems as though the conversation is changing somehow; that we’re moving away from the note of surprise in success stories about Thoroughbreds. Up until now they mostly seem to follow the theme of the warrior overcoming adversity and coming out on the other side, triumphant.

I’m glad that these stories exist. I gobble each and every OTTB story out there because hey, they prove my point, Thoroughbreds are awesome. The conversation so far has helped raise awareness of the value of OTTBs, leading us to be on the precipice of really making an impact in Thoroughbred aftercare. But I can’t help but think that by framing the conversations in this manner we’re doing a huge disservice to the breed in the long term.

Unfortunately we’ve all dealt with the very real problem of horses shipped directly to the kill pen, of horses having to be bailed and of broken down horses dumped on people. Hopefully, we’ll hear that story less and less with more attention paid to aftercare and with more human connections realizing the value in working with some of the many organizations out there.

What’s frustrating is that more often than not, that sense of desperation of the rescued Thoroughbred seems to fall on their not-so-desperate counterparts. And it’s clear that as long as that perception is around, more often than not the response from people who aren’t familiar with racing or the Thoroughbred as a breed will have their first thought of a Thoroughbred be a passive: “Oh, poor dears, we need to save them and MAYBE we’ll get a good horse out of it.” I want to hear a straightforward: “I’m looking for an excellent prospect, let’s see what’s available out there on a Thoroughbred retirement site.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a horse successfully transitioned off of the track into a new career. The horse world shouldn’t be shocked—shocked!—that a Thoroughbred is a beginner horse, or doing dressage, or galloping a cross country course, or adapting well as an “A” circuit hunter. The right reaction to these stories should be one that champions of the breed are already familiar with:  “Well, OF COURSE he was out showing a month after he left the track, he’s a Thoroughbred. Duh.” These horses are smart, athletic and noble—and for centuries have been the representation of speed, grace and power. Let’s honor that. Instead of the shock of success, let’s see the thrill of expectations being met.

We’re well on our way to making this a fabulous year for the OTTB. To accomplish that we’ll need to see more industry support for aftercare, more trainers retiring their horses when they are sound enough for a viable career afterwards and more work on a whole host of other initiatives.  But it’s really up to those closest to the cause to start redefining the tone of the conversation.

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6 Comments

Filed under Media Coverage, Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, Retirement Options, Success Stories

6 responses to “Redefining the OTTB conversation

  1. Lois Keays

    I wholeheartedly agree…there is no shock in the accomplishments of a Thoroughbred! After all, they are bred for athletic ability and they have to daily deal with more on the racetrack than most horses in the showring! And they must be quick enough physically and mentally to handle it all at speed!Education and Re-training emphasis should be the mandate for TB Aftercare!
    Excellent article and BTW, I purchased a TB mare through Canter New England nine years ago…She was a “LOVE”!

  2. Thanks, Lois! I think we all need to be more proactive about getting the focus off of the victim stories and on to all of the awesome accomplishments these horses have.

    Also love to hear about our ex-CANTER horses. That was before my time, but it makes me smile none-the-less. 🙂

  3. Annette

    I kind of hate when I get “well your horse doesn’t LOOK like a thoroughbred!” He does. He looks exactly like a thoroughbred, as he is one. And if I look at his ancestors’ photos on pedigreequery.com I can see where he gets his build!
    My guy retired completely sound… and showed walk trot at a hunter show the weekend he was picked up off the track with his previous owner (a teenage girl!) He hadn’t learned about carrying himself properly for a show that quickly, but he certainly wasn’t a green as grass three year old who had never seen anything after a year of racing, either. He was very well loved, and his race owners have a scrapbook and videos of him still.
    This is what a thoroughbred dressage horse with nice sport bloodlines and 11 races under his belt looks like with a bit of training – and still a lot more to learn!

  4. Hi Annette-

    What a hunk you have!! Aside from my mare all my TB geldings have had that same build too.

    I love the story of being at a show the weekend he was picked up from the track. I know that each horse is different, but don’t you feel like people get a OTTB and feel they need to treat it with kid gloves? Honestly I think it confuses them more than anything. These guys are used to a routine and I think it’s important to put them right back in a new one. Granted, it’s a much slower routine, but a routine none-the-less. 🙂

    • Annette

      Thanks! Yep, my horse is definitely happier in a routine! He doesn’t understand why I would ever do something like not ride for a day. In fact, this morning he was grouchy when he saw me just like he is every day after he wasn’t ridden the previous day. Never mind that I didn’t ride because of the 45mph winds and hailstorm! I’ve discovered that regardless of the weather, my horse will go do his job if I can handle the weather! Things flying through the air scaring other horses? No problem! He has his own anxiety at times and issues we have to work on, but he’s going to be honest and give me his best that he can, so I had better keep improving as a rider if I want to keep up with him.