It's no secret that I love me a good Thoroughbred horse. I grew up around Thoroughbreds. The owner of the stable I boarded my horse at growing up in Nebraska owned her own string of racehorses and was very involved in the racing industry in the Midwest. Through her, I learned a ton about the racing industry and the Thoroughbred breed. And she believed in me enough to let me gallop her horses! What an experience!
In my career as a dressage trainer, I still work with many Thoroughbreds. It's tough to find a horse with more heart and athleticism than a Thoroughbred.
With that being said, let me introduce you to the newest addition to my program...
Meet Ellie - a 2020 mare (Great Stuff x Smart Strike x A.P. Indy). She raced 4 times and never finished better than third. She wasn't exactly a great racehorse... but I'm excited about her future as a dressage horse!
Thoroughbreds can make excellent dressage horses - especially for those of us who do this dressage thing on a budget! But you do need an eye to find the right Thoroughbred to give everyone the best shot at success...
What do I look for in an OTTB dressage prospect?
Looking for an OTTB is similar to looking for any young warmblood prospect... How the horse moves and how he thinks are the two big factors I look at. Take a look at this article for the details!
But when you're buying an OTTB, especially one straight from the racetrack the HOW we're able to look at these horses and evaluate them is very different.
If you're looking for a competitive future dressage horse, there's no getting around the fact the horse needs to move well. While some Thoroughbreds will move as well as a big, lofty warmblood, the reality is most don't. BUT that doesn't mean you can't find a competitive horse.
When looking at a horse on the track, you'll be limited in what you can see. There aren't round pens or turnout spaces at the track to watch a horse move around. You'll be able to watch the horse jog in a straight line and usually you can see the horse gallop on the track. And it's going to move like a racehorse. These horses don't spend a lot of time trotting so they haven't learned how to find the "big" trot.
When I'm looking at a racehorse, I worry less about how big the movement it and more about how balanced the horse is. Balanced is very different than flashy... Does the horse show clear rhythm in all three gaits?
How the horse thinks and solves problems is even more important to me in an OTTB dressage prospect than how well they move. It's a safe bet that most OTTBs will not bounce like a warmblood... and that's not a deal breaker! But that's why it's even more important that the horse has a solid brain.
Pay attention to how the horse jogs. Does he respect his handler? Is he relaxed and paying attention or is he distracted and bouncing off the walls? The track is a very busy place. A horse that gets a little distracted doesn't bother me. A horse that cannot focus at all and is crawling all over his handler would concern me.
Talk to the horse's trainer and exercise rider. Ask them how the horse handles on the track. This will give you a ton of insight into what your future dressage horse will be like under saddle.
Other Things to Consider
When you're looking at racehorses, you're certainly much more limited in what you get to see compared to when you're looking to buy a "regular" horse but that doesn't mean you're going into horse ownership totally blind, taking everything on faith. Renowned speaker Tony Robbins reminds us, "Success leaves clues."
Conformation: Look at how the horse is put together. Many racehorses are actually built pretty downhill, which helps facilitate a better gallop. But we all know, that will also make dressage a little harder.
Racing History: How many times has the horse raced? How did he do? How much did he work? Equibase is an amazing resource for this!
Pedigree/Breeding: Do some digging and learn which Thoroughbreds tend to make good sport horses. Some stallions have better reputations for this than others.
Buying an OTTB is the start of an exciting journey - a terrifying yet incredibly rewarding journey! Do your homework and learn as much as you can about the racing industry and the Thoroughbred breed. Enlist appropriate help and take your time. And, most importantly without sounding too cheesy, have fun!!!