Adopting a retired racehorse isn’t exactly the same thing as expecting a human baby, but it still requires a lot of preparation! Win Place Home, an off-track thoroughbred rescue based in Southern California, is here to help prospective OTTB parents on their journey to finding their next heart-horse. Read on to learn about everything from picking the right rescue organization, to what to look for in your next equine companion, and how to ensure your partnership starts off on the right foot!
Photo above: Win Place Home volunteer Aubrey working with a couple of the OTTBs.
Thinking about adopting an Off-Track-Thoroughbred? Wonderful! They are some of the smartest, most generous creatures on the planet. There are so many retired racehorses that not only need homes but are also capable of having full, exciting second careers. In fact, some of them just competed in the Olympics! (find examples!)
Still, finding the right OTTB and the right rescue can be an adventure, to say the least. Sometimes horse shopping can be heartbreaking, and sometimes it can even be a little dangerous, so make sure you’re not ever going it alone. We at Win Place Home would like to offer a few other tips on how to find the right OTTB, and what should be expected from the process.
Let’s start by finding a reputable rescue. Look for nonprofits that have been accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, The Right Horse or GFAS for example. Being an accredited organization adds legitimacy because of the necessary process and transparency needed to attain them. How long has the rescue been established? What kind of experience do the founders/trainers have, both in the world of horses and in the nonprofit sector? Most importantly, look for a rescue that provides a safe environment and a consistent, kind approach to each horse.
CJ Wilson, founder and head trainer at Win Place Home.
Now let’s get personal and specific about your expectations and desires from your next partner. At WPH, you can expect a horse that passes the Basic Behavior Profile written by our partners at The Right Horse. This means that horses are able to safely perform common interactions, like standing quietly to be groomed, given an oral syringe, picking up feet, etc.
Beyond those basics, all horses at WPH are taught how to long-line longe, as well as walk, trot, and canter under saddle, maybe even jump… or at least working towards these goals. Each horse is an individual. We’ve had horses that we’ve ridden within a week of their arrival from the track, and others that have needed months to just be a horse before they were ready to start retraining. What’s most important is that they aren’t forced to train faster than what they’re ready for, which you will be able to see in the level of relaxation from the horse. Overall, horses should be in great physical condition, handled in a consistent, non-violent manner, and working toward a second career that suits them and their personality. Not every horse wants to be a trail horse, just as not every horse wants to be a fancy hunter/jumper. You may want nothing more than to trot that pretty dapple grey into the show ring, but if their heart isn’t in it, it’ll be a long road ahead. Before you start meeting horses, get clear on what you’re looking to do and/or accomplish with your OTTB.
A dapple grey might be gorgeous, but make sure you take more than just color into account when searching for your future OTTB.
We mentioned finding a reputable rescue that offers full transparency. Here’s where that becomes of utmost importance. Known injuries and/or limitations should be disclosed freely before you ask. If there are X-rays or Ultrasounds, they should be easily accessible to you. It doesn’t serve anyone, least of all the horse, to keep this information private. At WPH, we have a policy in our adoption agreement that any horse is always welcome to come back if the adoption doesn’t work out, but our goal is forever homes. The best way to do that is through honesty. And, frankly, it saves a lot of time. Why show you a horse that doesn’t suit your needs, only to have it returned when it (predictably) doesn’t work out? Finding the right home for a horse is the best way to ensure a lifetime of its safety and happiness.
So. You’re at the farm. Now what? Keep your eyes and ears open. Does the facility look like it did on the website? Are the people warm and friendly? Easy to communicate with? Do the horses look happy?
Once you get to your chosen OTTB rescue, make sure that the horses seem happy and treated fairly.
When meeting the horses, keep in mind their level of training and time off the track. We carry the philosophy that the horse isn’t ever going to do anything wrong, only show us what they haven’t yet understood. Remember, they’re learning a new career- they may not have put all the pieces together just yet. That’s the fun part! We can’t be expected to gracefully navigate a grand prix jumping course when we’ve only just started over cross rails, and neither can they. However, this is also a great time to check in with your needs. Are you willing to put in the time to get the horse where it needs to go or have a trainer that can help you? Or do you need something that’s further along, and just requires some polishing? There’s no right answer, just so long as your needs and the horse’s are in alignment.
You’ve met the horse, you’ve fallen in love. What’s next? At WPH, we encourage second (or third, or fourth) visits. You’re welcome to bring your trainer. And you’re definitely welcome to bring your vet to perform a pre-purchase exam (PPE). These provide invaluable information that should be considered heavily in your decision. What you find may not be a dealbreaker, but something that could be easily addressed by exercise, or a simple supplement. Better to know so you can plan accordingly, which will only set you and your new partner up for success.
Lastly, be willing to be open-minded. Do you really need a horse that’s capable of jumping a 4’ oxer, when you really just want to ride trail? As well, don’t be afraid to consider a horse with a past injury. Injuries heal, and they don’t always limit a future. And even when they modify it a little, be honest about your goals before passing on a gem. They are looking for their next loving partner as much as you are and when it’s right, they will give you everything they have.
Learn more about this great rescue by visiting WinPlaceHome.org. Thanks for reading and happy riding!