Ask Christine: FAQS About OTTBs
If you’re new to owning an OTTB, you likely have a lot of questions. We’re happy to offer some answers!
New owners of off-track Thoroughbreds have many questions — from when to restart them to how to balance their diets. Fortunately, Horse Nation contributor Christine Olsen has plenty of experience with OTTBs and is here to help. In this series, she presents questions — and answers! — from OTTB owners.
Hello, I just bought my first OTTB this weekend. I was wondering how long should I wait before restarting him after I bring him home?
Congratulations on your new horse! I would like to answer your question in two parts. First, I would like to address your horse as an individual. When we think about restarting a Thoroughbred coming off the track we think about the physical and mental needs and requirements of the horse to adjust to a second career. Each horse is an individual and might excel in some areas while needing additional help in others.
A thorough exam of your horse is essential up front. Information gathering can be difficult with horses coming off the track but an exam from your veterinarian will determine what your horse’s physical needs are. Common requirements for horses coming off the track may involve rest due to muscle or tendon strain, chiropractic adjustments, dental work or shoe changes, among many others. Getting your horse assessed will be a great way to indicate if there is a medical reason for giving your horse time off before starting any physical retraining work.
On the opposite side of physical needs, a horse’s mental or emotional needs also must be addressed. Some racehorses have been well socialized while others may not have been. Behaviors commonly seen in racehorses can include cribbing, weaving and stall walking. This is why you see some horses coming off the track and adjusting well to their new environment and other horses having trouble living outside of the stall or socializing with other horses. Keep in mind horses that race off the farm will have a different body type and personality than a horse that has lived at the track for several years. Working with an equine behaviorist can help with a horse that is poorly adjusting.
Next I would like to address that restarting actually happens the moment the horse is taken off the track. Horses are creatures of habit and the best way to start your retraining program is to start on day one with safe horsemanship habits. From day one you can start teaching the horse what is expected of him when he is being handled. Letting things slide early on will make issues become harder to address later.
I advocate giving horses a couple months off of physical work (riding, lunging) when they retire off the track. This gives me time to work on their barn routines and manners in hand. I have found that taking the time to work on this accelerates success in the saddle because their bodies have had time to relax and I have had time to form a bond with that horse.
There is no definitive right or wrong answer, but the important thing is to address your horse as an individual and remember retraining starts on day one. Good luck with your new horse and have fun!
Christine Olsen is a multi-disciplined riding instructor based in Northern Illinois. Her lifelong passion for horses has taken her across the country in many different saddles and arenas.