Team Thoroughbred

More than two years after it was written, I think it’s safe to assume that the words “You Can’t Hug a Thoroughbred” will be engraved on my tombstone.

Thoroughbred Y U So Crazy?

A fitting epitaph, for a girl who loves to hug those nutty, dangerous, fire-breathing dragons, right? In the minds of some, I walk where demons themselves fear to tread, skipping lightly down the shedrows and through the paddocks haunted with those flighty, unpredictable, caffeinated animals that we try to pass off as riding horses, when everyone knows they are only fit to gallop in circles.

Of course, if you’re reading this blog, it’s because you’re one of the crazy ones, too. You drank the coffee. (We only serve coffee here; Kool-Aid has entirely too much sugar.)

“You Can’t Hug a Thoroughbred” has been viewed more than 2,000 times on this site; it has been reprinted in myOTTB, an Australian Thoroughbred website; its opening lines are repeated over and over in hundreds of Facebook links; it is the working title of my nonfiction work-in-progress.

I’m writing about it today because it got cited on another blog; not an uncommon occurrence, sure, because You Can’t Hug a Thoroughbred (YCHATB?) gets lots of OTTB blog love. But I like this story, from the new OTTB blog “A Gift From Heaven or Belle.”

The writer says this:

“Before I even got Belle I had been researching on the internet about training OTTBs and one article that I read has been stuck in my head for awhile. The article read “You Can’t Hug a Throughbred” and was written by an  OTTB owner that shared her experiences with other horse owners about Off The Track Race Horses.

“Now at the time I read the article I thought it was interesting but honestly it didn’t relate to me at all so I just looking for more ways to train OTTBs. However something happened yesterday that triggered the article in my mind again and it blew me away how much I could relate now.”

(This is when I pause and  mutter under my breath didn’t relate? Didn’t RELATE? I am really touchy that way. I am the world’s worst receiver of criticism. This is why I am very relieved that the only reviews for The Head and Not The Heart have been good reviews, and after I receive the first bad one I will have to go to Ikea to buy an entire new set of dishes.)

The writer, who has only had her OTTB, Belle, for two or three months, went on to describe her first experience with anti-OTTB prejudice, and it wasn’t pretty. The writer was doing the right thing, sticking with her horse, helping her figure out what she was supposed to be doing. I think we can all agree that sometimes, that isn’t pretty. Longeing OTTBs can be a contentious subject; some people say to never do it, some people say to always do it (I stick with the inconclusive but accurate “it depends on the horse, really”) but if you judge a young Thoroughbred (or young Hanoverian, or young Norwegian Fjord pony, or young goat) on their longeing ability, you will probably get a poor impression of that horse’s future potential. Just as, sadly, the barn manager did, when she told the writer that Thoroughbreds weren’t worth the time.

(Now that I think about it, don’t Quarter Horses often get shown on the longe as yearlings? Perhaps this barn manager’s expectations of what a horse ought to be able to do by age four are slightly skewed?)

Anti-Thoroughbred comments sting. They feel like an attack on your children. You’ve got this amazing horse, with this astonishing history, and all the heart and grace and beauty that anyone could ever ask for, and someone is telling you that they will never amount to anything. We’ve all been there. I am as confused and outraged by comments like these now as I was when I was a teenager. I sputter and get defensive. I bite my tongue and shake my head. Everyone has breed preferences, of course, and that extends to their other animals. Some people, I hear, think that poodles are an acceptable pet… it truly takes all kinds! (Everyone knows that only hounds are appropriate pets.)

The point is, when you need a friend, I’m here for you. We’re here for you. Remember… we know very well a secret, that some people out there just refuse to hear: Thoroughbreds simply thrive on hugs. And they are well worth every second. Stick with Belle, my friend. And remember you’ve got a whole community over here at Retired Racehorse, on your team. Team Thoroughbred.



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12 responses to “Team Thoroughbred

  1. Kim Alexander

    Personally, I have never ridden anything like a thoroughbred. Never OWNED anything like a thoroughbred. Never LOVED a horse like I have a thoroughbred and, most importantly, never LEARNED so much from any other breed like I have my thoroughbred.
    Here’s hoping that this movement of ours will restore these amazing athletes to their proper place at the Throne of the Sport Horse Kingdom.

    • Anna

      true, true!
      I have had my boy 3 years and floundered through with him- and it’s ME, not him. I am not the rider I thought I was at 16. Nor is he the cutting horse I rode.
      I’ve had injuries, he’s had injuries, and we’ve both endured criticisms.
      I don’t have a trainer, I sent him off to one and will never do that again- if and when we get anywhere that feels like we’ve arrived, it will be because I have finally learned how to ride. My horse knows what to do.
      I just have these damn fears….not unfounded- I’ve come off of him several times, badly injured one of them. And it was my own fault, too.
      He’s far more sensitive and giving than any horse I’ve ever ridden, and I guess I worry about things being just perfect, where I don’t on any other horse.

      • Hang in there, Anna! I started with (and we still have) a cutting horse and my OTTB has given me several hard lessons, but he is always willing to step backwards a little bit and start over.

        When you get stuck, go back to something he knows and praise the heck out of him. AND don’t be afraid to hurt his feelings a little. He wants you to be the boss, which is hard when you’re afraid to push–believe me, I know!

        Good luck!

      • It’s a fact alright: if you have a more giving horse, he’s almost certainly more sensitive, as well. Intelligence and heart work both ways; you have to be able to give as much as your horse can give. It’s a lesson well worth learning, though.

        Jessica, your blog is a wonderful read for anyone who is working with an OTTB!

      • Thanks, Natalie! A labor of love for sure. Speaking of.. must.. post.. more.. soon. 🙂

  2. Christy

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post and Team TB. Always and forever ❤ ❤ (Wow, I look like I'm 12, not 40. LOL)

  3. I’ve heard the term “you can’t hug a Thoroughbred” before and it mind-boggled me! I hug my horse so much he probably has permanent indentations on his neck! 🙂 Great piece, Natalie

  4. Laura V.

    My OTTB mare’s breeder gave her to me because she was, in a word, un-rideable. With moderate successes on the track and lots of downtime in the pasture, she was still tense, hot and almost dangerous under saddle. I was the only one brave enough (read: young and stupid with no sense of self-preservation) to mount her, and whenever we would go to work in the indoor arena, other horse and rider teams vacated like rats leaving a sinking ship. It was embarrassing and secretly very discouraging. They would yell snippets of advice from the other side of the fence, like: “You should put some draw reins on her and get her head down”, or “Quit giving her grain. A hay-only diet would do her a world of good”. Empty arena, empty advice.

    Fast forward three years, and we’re at a completely different barn and I’m riding a completely different horse. She nickers when she hears me coming down the aisle. Instead of leaving the arena, people come stand on the rail to watch. Instead of “You should do this….” I hear, “How do you get her so relaxed?” “She looks like she’s floating at the trot.” “Did you ask her to do that transition? I didn’t see you move.” My mare is 16 and every time someone compliments me on her movements, brains, or muscling I feel like the next helmet I buy is going to have to be the diameter of a beach ball.

    I read about OTTB’s constantly. I cleaned stalls to pay for lessons with good trainers. I tried to end our training sessions on a good note and communicate clearly what I wanted from her. It was not easy and I certainly didn’t get instant results, but it was well worth the wait. Once I started speaking her language, she revealed to me all her glorious Thoroughbred talent and heart. People have noticed, and they like what they see.

    Screw the haters! I know where my heart deservedly belongs!!

  5. Nice post! My OTTB will never be the poster child for OTTB’s for training and temperment. He’s tempermental, opinionated, insecure, extremely athletic and with a personality that’s just too big for his body. I love him!

    “Chuckie” as he was known on the race track, is becoming a lovely ride for me. Albeit slowly since I’m doing the retraining myself with occasional lessons but we are definitely moving forward. I’ve never learned so much from one horse. I get some of the same responses as Laura V (both negative and postive). When I’m taking a lesson and he goes into his round frame and the instructor yells out “Wow! He’s a FANCY mover!”, my barn owner seems to get a little annoyed because she’s convinced that he’s perfectly useless… I can’t wait to go to our James Houston clinic this weekend and possibly a show at the end of the month.

    Best part is that his racing connection have always cheered us on even after giving me all their warnings about him. They are probably 2nd in line with pride for him. I think it’s cool that they care.