My journey for my most recent OTTB started about a year ago when I became mentally ready to find my next forever friend. I started slowly looking on various websites to see what was out there. I even inquired about a few but nothing that I followed up on. A few months into my search I started to become more serious, checking websites daily for updates. I would see a horse that caught my interest and by the time I would reach the owner or trainer the horse would have sold. How is that possible, they were just listed this morning!!?? I was getting discouraged because the thought of bringing a horse home that I had never met in person, never mind rode, was a bit uncomfortable for me. I am not a horse seller, I am a horse owner. Nothing wrong with selling horses, I just know that I was in it to find my next soul mate so if we didn't click I wasn't sure what I would do. So I kept looking. After all, I wanted a grey, 16.2+H, sound, no vices with forward movement...this combination isn't easy to come by, unless you act fast. My husband even got involved checking listings for me, updating me on new postings. I could feel it, we were getting close. Finally, I had somewhat narrowed it down to 2, a grey gelding and a grey mare. I knew I had to act quickly. But something kept me looking and over the last several days I had returned a few times to another listing, a dark bay/black gelding with bad pictures and blurry videos and a history of cribbing, nothing that I had set out looking for. Something about this horse piqued my interest. No one else in my circle of trusted advisers were really on board though so I was once again hesitant, but I just couldn't get him out of my head. I called the trainer/owner and by the time we got off the phone I had agreed to buy him pending a PPE. WHAT!!!?? Did I really just do this!??? Half exciting, half scary, but yes I was finally getting another OTTB. I had never seen him, never touched him, didn't know anything about him and yet I could tell I loved him already. He passed his PPE and arrived at my farm in late October, only having raced his final race the week before. The moment he stepped off the trailer I felt my heart melt, this was MY guy! Still with many unanswered questions I had a sense of a peace come over me. My search was over.
Rehoming an off the track Thoroughbred is a BIG decision, whether you have previous experience with OTTBs or not. Anyone in the market, or that finds themselves in the market for an OTTB by chance, will be faced with many questions. Some questions can be answered through personal preference or reflection. Questions like what color am I looking for and what size do I need don't always require the advice of professionals. Although, having said that, many professionals will tell you these are not the important questions to consider; however, I completely understand the reason for asking them. More often than not though we end up finding that perfect horse that isn't the color we were looking for, or doesn't quite measure up to the height we were expecting....but they are still PERFECT (see above)!
Along your journey, there are certainly some questions to consider no matter what. These questions can often use the assistance of experienced horse people, especially those experienced with OTTBs. There are several different rescue groups and non-profit organizations which are dedicated to helping OTTBs find forever homes off the track. The staff and volunteers at each of these will be more than willing to assist you in your search and answer any questions that you may have. Additionally, local resources, social media, other OTTB owners will always be willing to lend the hand of experience and answer questions you may have.
Regardless of where your journey takes you, here are some questions you should consider asking when considering any OTTB:
1. What is their race history?
While this alone does not reveal any issues a horse may have, those horses that have spent many years on the track or raced frequently can sometimes be more at risk for injury and/or arthritis. At the same time, the opposite can be true. A horse that has been able to withstand the daily grind of racing for a long time can sometimes be a sign that their body is made well and should be able to continue performing at any level in another sport. I would say that more important than number of races or how many years spent racing is what was their race schedule and/or track life like? Did they race infrequently over a number of years versus race constantly over a shorter period of time? Did they get some time off, say during the winter months? Again, while the answers to these questions will not determine your horses future, it can be helpful when it comes to "down time" off the track and what the horse may need to fully recover before going into any other heavy training.
2. Have they had any previous injuries?
This of course should be an obvious question to ask. It is an unfortunate truth that often times this question is not always met with truthful answers. This is where a PPE becomes important. If you are investing your heart into this important decision be wise in your approach and use precaution. It is never wrong to get a PPE, but you could end up majorly regretting it if you don't. At the bare minimum you should at least specifically ask if the horse has any previous injuries, not just major injuries, but ANY injuries. Don't expect that the owner/trainer will be forthcoming with this information unless you specifically ask.
3. If injured previously, are they sound to perform at your chosen sport?
It should be unexpected that racehorses have NEVER been injured. My husband says the hardest part about having a horse is keeping it alive! Such true words. It seems like horses can injure themselves pooping, never mind when running full speed ahead out of a gate and around a circle surrounded by other mad dashers. What you are concerned about is whether any of those injuries had lasting effects that could effect your future partnership. If they are currently recovering from an injury, what is their expected prognosis? Are you able to put in the healing time in order to increase the chance of full recovery? A PPE might reveal some signs of previous injury, but even in the event of a passing PPE you may still want to consider some additional exams, including x rays and/or ultrasound. Again, make the investment now so you don't have to later. Maybe you are looking for a companion and have no expectations to ride and giving a horse a home that otherwise may not have that chance due to injury might be the right choice for you but you also want to know if moving forward you are willing and able to cover any future vet bills that might come as a result of previous injuries.
4. Do they have any vices?
Some vices are considerably more tolerable than others, while some can be dangerous when not handled appropriately You may decide that you are not willing to accept any bad behavior (as I initially was) and this is when asking this question becomes more important. Again, like many of the things we discuss here, track vices can sometimes disappear when the horse is finally removed from the stressful environment of the racetrack. Choosing to accept a vice is a personal decision but you cannot make an informed decision unless you know the answer.
5. Have they had any surgeries?
I had scheduled a vet exam for my new guy two days after he arrived, just so I could get established with the vet and to ensure that his trip down did not cause him any stress or injury. I remember the first thing she said to me, "oh well he has had throat surgery." Immediately my heart sank, WHAT!!??, throat surgery, no one mentioned that to me! Thankfully, she quickly followed that statement with, "or, he is a cribber." Shhewww, this I WAS aware of! But it dawned on me, I never asked about previous surgeries. I asked about injuries, which one would suspect could lead to a surgery, but surgery without injury, I did not ask that specifically. So, in my case my new guy could have very well had throat surgery and I wouldn't have known! My point is, be sure to ask EVERY question and be specific. Previous surgeries can often limit a horses abilities and you want to know this before committing to your new friend.
6. Does the owner/trainer have previous health records?
More often than not, owners/trainers will have at least some previous health records. Most, if not all, racetracks require health certificates and up to date vaccinations and coggins in order to be training and racing at the facility. If they are good, or if they have done this before, they will automatically send these with the horse (especially if traveling across state lines as it is usually required), but regardless make sure to ask for them. Don't expect your horse to have been seen for every cut and scrape, or every runny nose, up until now they have been a business commodity, not a pet. All that matters is that you have the PPE report (if you got one), most recent coggins and vaccinations. This could also be where you could ask for a copy of the horses jockey club papers and/or birth certificate and any other identifying documents.
7. What is their current temperament?
I encourage you to at least inquire about this, but do not hang you hat on what the owner/trainer says. While at the track, many Thoroughbreds display personality traits and/or vices that once removed from the environment can often change or go away. When I went to visit Dalamar with my now husband before bringing him home my husband questioned my decision to get him, rightfully so. I have to admit, I had a little doubt in my head as well. Not because I did not want him, but because I wondered if at this time in my life he was what I needed. He was a little "hot" at the track, very excitable and easily distracted. He was 4 and he had all the energy to prove it! When I had him transported home the shipping company did a lay over at a horse hotel where I was going to pick him up the next day. I instructed the owners of the horse hotel not to handle him at all once he arrived because I did not want anyone getting injured. When I arrived the following day I expected to walk up to a wild horse that could barely be contained in his stall. To my shock and surprise he stood there calmly and loaded on the trailer like a champ. After the first 48 hours at home and observing what I thought was going to be a crazy horse become a puppy dog in my back pocket I questioned whether they sent me the right horse! I remember calling his previous owner/trainer and telling him what a completely different horse he was now. My situation turned out to be a good one in terms of his temperament, but the opposite can be true as well. Additionally, what the owner/trainer reports the horse is like at the track might very well be what you get at home. Use this question with caution and take the answers with a grain of salt.
8. Do they get along with other horses?
Like the question above, the answer to this question can sometimes be misleading. Not because the owner/trainer is trying to mislead you, but more so because they either don't know because the horse has never really interacted with other horses, or, like the scenario above, the horse could be completely different around other horses once removed from race life. But, if you have another horse that you want your new horse to get along with then consider asking whether they have been around other horses and if so how did they act. I think more important might be what did their place in the herd totem pole seem to be, are they dominant, submissive, etc?? This will help you know whether they will easily adjust to any introduction to other horses.
9. Have they ever been turned out?
Many race tracks close down for the winter months, or off season and often times owners/trainers will take their horses to off site farms for the off season. Often when they do this the horse might actually have the opportunity to be turned out. If they are used to being turned out this can make their transition to a new home slightly easier, and less stressful for you. Find out what kind of fencing they have been around. Ask if they had any trouble with being turned out. You can feel safer that first time you set them free knowing they will not get injured because they have been there done that. If they have not been turned out you may want to consider gradually introducing them to this new freedom.