You found the perfect ex-racer, you wrote the check, and it’s on the trailer. What next? EN’s resident off-the-track expert Lauren Nethery gives us a gameplan.
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons
Good Tuesday to you, Eventing Nation! February is almost over and, while I can hardly believe it, the Eventing season is starting to gear back up here in Area VIII with our first recognized event (Spring Bay) barely a month away. Hopefully this article finds you in a warm place with good footing with your spring training already well under way. This week, questions were pretty sparse and mostly readdressed topics that this column has already covered. So, in the spirit of last week’s article, I will offer a bit of direction on what to do once your new OTTB prospects has been found, vetted, and paid for. Enjoy!
The miles and dollars whiled away on trips to and from the racetrack, the hours on the phone and computer pouring of race records, pedigrees, pictures, and histories, and the pacing and hand-wringing of waiting for radiographs to be read have come and gone. You are the proud new owner of a brand-spanking new OTTB. Oh crap, the van is on the way to your farm. Now what? While much caution should be exercised during the acclimation of your new OTTB to his or her surroundings, her mates, and new routine, pleasepleaseplease keep in mind that they are HORSES and not china dolls ready to shatter at a moment’s notice. When a horse arrives to my farm fresh from the backside, there is a routine that I follow to ensure the integration into normal horse lifestyle is both smooth and stress-free. It goes something like this:
- Have a stall bedded down for the new arrival, preferably on straw or hay but shavings will do as well. Two full water buckets, a feed tub, and some fresh grass hay in the corner will make OhMyGodWhereAmI feel right at home. Remember that most horses on the track are accustomed to being contained within their stalls behind something (a gate, stall guard, webbing, stall chain etc) that they can stick their heads out over. Closing them behind a full stall door without a way to poke their curious noses out to investigate passers-by may induce some claustrophobia.
- Once OhMyGodWhereAmI had made his or her off the van or trailer and into the stall, give him or her some time to settle. There may be some frantic moments or it may be all smooth sailing and quiet snorting and slurping while munching hay. Hopefully the latter.
- I will often leave newly-OTTBss in a stall their first night on my farm just to rule out any travel-related maladies and to allow them to become acquainted with the sights and sounds of the my barn. All of my horses live out 24/7 unless terribly inclement weather or illness keeps them inside so I never plan to permanently house my new OTTB’s in stalls but if you plan on a 12/12 schedule this should be normal anyway.
- The first day I will usually hand walk around the area and turn out in a small, confined space, ideally a round pen or ½-acre paddock. There will almost always be some tearing around like a moron because God only knows how long it has been since OhMyGodWhereAmI has been left to his or her own devices in a space larger than 12’x12’. Don’t be too alarmed. As long as your fencing is solid and the footing is pretty good, OTTBs aren’t typically a danger to themselves or others when first turned out. I do find it helpful for the first turnout space to be small enough that they can’t travel Mach 1 right off the bat, however.
- Once OhMyGodWhereAmI has settled into a stall and experienced some turnout, my next course of action is usually to find a buddy for him or her to go out with and slowly begin the process of integrating into a herd. Most of my herds are broken up by gender and nutritional requirements. Here, it is important to note that you want to attempt to maintain the new OTTBs feeding schedule from the track as best you can for at least the first couple of weeks so he or she doesn’t crash and burn when they are suddenly eating 3000 fewer calories than they were last week. Make sure to ask the seller what the horse is accustomed to receiving rations-wise. Also, remember the OTTBs may have varying degrees of food aggression and have not had to ‘fight’ for their food. Most OTTBs will sort of ‘pick at’ their grain much like natural grazing patterns because they have all night to eat it (and not really much else to do).
- Usually 2-5 days after arrival to my farm, I will endeavor to ride my new OTTB for the first time (the sooner the better if I have not had an opportunity to ride on the track). As a blanket policy for every single horse that comes into my farm, I treat them as though they have never been ridden. Every trainer that starts horses under saddle has a different method so certainly go with what you know. At my barn, I tack the OTTB in exercise tack with a basic bridle, simply caveson/noseband, and kind loose ring or D-ring snaffle. If you only have English jumping tack, that is fine too but understand that the average English saddle weighs about 10x that of an exercise saddle so there may be some adjustment period here.
- Perhaps 10% of OTTBs know how to lunge on a line. You can chase most around a round pen at liberty without too much drama but don’t expect any OTTB to take too kindly to lunging on a line right off the bat. Because of this, I tack my new OTTB’s in a stall (usually 14’x14’) and mount them in there. If they turn left, right, and stop in good order, the next step is usually to walk up and down the barn aisle a couple of times and then head to the round pen. Depending on the demeanor of the horse, I may or may not have someone with a shank on the horse’s head for any or all of these steps. In most cases, however, there is zero drama and in short order I am W/T/C-ing around the outdoor ring.
- As a last note, Anti-Lock Brakes and Power Steering are probably not installed. If you are not comfortable with that or with anything mentioned above, and even just as a good general rule of thumb, have a professional familiar with OTTBs put the first few rides on for you as sort of as a crash test dummy.
Good luck, EN readers, and if you need ANY help or enabling when it comes to OTTB hunting, shopping, viewing, or purchasing, please do not hesitate to ask ([email protected]). Also, don’t forget to send questions about your new OTTB’s crazy habits, quirks, and neurosis to me to answer next week! Go gallop your former racehorse so you can (very soon) GO EVENTING!