Rehabilitating an off the track Thoroughbred can be a very rewarding process. You often have the opportunity to take a horse that has only known the stressful life a being a race horse and give them the opportunity to experience a whole new way of life, one that is filled with love and trust. But before you can start to focus on getting your new playmate to fall in love with you, there are many things to consider when bringing your OTTB home.
Keep in mind that these horses have had very strict routines almost every day of their life, at least while they were being raced. Typically a race horse in training will begin their day around 4:00 am with breakfast. This breakfast typically consists of high energy grains full of molasses and calories to meet the demands of their training regimen. After breakfast, they are groomed, tacked and ready to go exercise long before the sun even comes up. Now at their new home, day light has broke and no one has paid a visit yet and they are hungry! This can introduce some stress into the horses transition. It is important to keep all of these historical facts in mind when deciding how you will approach transitioning your new horse to their new home. They most probably will not need to continue the same feed or same amount of feed now that they are not racing so you will need to decide what type of feed you will use. Any transition you make to their feeding routine, including time of day, should be gradual and carefully monitored. Selecting the right type of feed for your OTTB will depend on their health, their training and their access to other forage and/or supplements.
Beyond basic feed choices, there is the decision about stabling. Most race horses in training are in a stall 23 out of 24 hours a day. Unless the facility where you will be keeping your horse, including possibly your own farm, does not have access to turn out it is highly unlikely that your horse will be in a stall for this long at their new home. Additionally, most race track stables have open concept stalls with low cut front doors where the horse can at least hang his/her head out into the aisle during their long days inside. Consider their new living situation when taking into account the transition for your OTTB. Will it be in a stall with 3 full sides and a full metal door where they have no access to socialization? Will they be stalled next to other horses where there is the possibility of contact, especially during feeding time? When they are not in the stall, where will they be, in a pasture with the ability to graze possibly, maybe even with other horses? While eventually the horse will probably be able to adjust to any living situation, the initial period could be difficult and it would be best to provide ample socialization even from the stall that is carefully monitored, and if grazing is provided do so carefully slowly increasing duration. Any introduction to other horses may need your watchful eye in order to avoid injuries. Most Thoroughbreds are highly social and extremely adaptable as long as care is taken during their transition.
Another step in rehabilitation is hoof care. Racing shoes and pads are significantly different than any horseshoe that is worn off track. So at the very least you will have to switch shoes, even if you are keeping your horse shod. This transition might not be as challenging as the decision to go barefoot might be. Some race horses are kept barefoot on the back feet when they are not actively racing so you may not have to factor in the back feet as much. But as for the front feet, it is highly unlikely they have ever seen the bare ground. Additionally, Thoroughbreds historically have very sensitive and soft feet and making the transition to barefoot can be met with many set backs. It is wise to seek the counsel of a certified farrier that is familiar with Thoroughbreds and discuss what would be best for your OTTB. Even if your long term goals are to go barefoot, the farrier may recommend that initially you should keep at least front shoes on your horse until their feet grow out some, or for some other reason, and I would trust their professional advice. Many people take to nutritional supplements and topical applications to help their horses feet recover from any side effects from racing but keep in mind these often take time to start to show any benefits.
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