WITH SARAH PARLIER
IS AN EX-RACE HORSE RIGHT
This is one of the first questions you should ask yourself when you start searching.
Also before your search ask yourself these questions:
- How much horse and riding experience do I have?
- Do I have someone experienced to help lend me a hand, if I need one?
- How much time do I have to give to my new horse?
- What discipline do I intend to use the horse for?
- Do I want a horse who I can work with, or do I want a horse to show right away?
How much horse and riding experience do I have?
The horses that are just coming off the racetrack are young, fit, have a high protein feed diet, and are usually full of vitamins. They are also considered "green". They will need to be retrained to back off the bit, slow down their pace, accept a new saddle weight, etc. If you are a beginner rider or someone that is just coming back into horses from a long lay off, these horses would not be the best match straight off the track. I recommend putting them in full training with an experienced trainer to get them re-started into the direction you are wanting to take them into. It does happen and has happened that many of these horses become beginner friendly, but with time, training, and patients.
Do I have someone experienced to help lend me a hand, if I need one?
That is always the best thing to have is someone around to help you out! Even the experienced person sometimes needs an extra hand to get a task done. This is even more important for the non-experienced. In that case, I recommend finding someone who has formal experience with ex-racehorses.
What discipline do I intend to use the horse for?
When looking for a racehorse, you must keep in mind, not all of them are sound, in fact, majority have issues here and there. You need to ask yourself what discipline you intend to do and how sound does your horse need to be? If you are just looking for a trail riding horse or a pleasure horse, an old bowe or even a bone chip will be able to tolerate the discipline and not make the horse sore, but might also require some maintenance such as supplements as they age. If you are looking to do Eventing or upper level Jumpers, those injuries might not hold up to the physical duty you will be asking you horse to perform. Also, don't be put off to little things, some people feel the horse needs to be 100% sound to show in a local small level Hunter class, that's not always the case, usually small, healed injuries are fine. Speaking with the trainer and having a vet check are always a good way to determine a horse's physical abilities off the track.
How much time do I have to give to my new horse?
Since we are talking about horses from the age of 2-8, these horses are still considered 'babies'. Since, they are also just coming off the track and are 'race fit', they will need consistent work to bring down their energy level as well as stall board um. If you are only able to get the horse out once or twice a week, I'd steer away from a horse right off the track. Not only will you be faced with an over energetic horse, you will also start to see stall vices, such as weaving, cribbing, pacing. I prefer to get them out of their stall for a turn out or a ride at least 5 times a week, if not more, or if someone can help you out during the off days, that would be ideal.
Do I want a horse who I can work with, or do I want a horse to show right away?
This you have to consider into your riding plans, if you purchase a horse in February and want it to be show ready by March, you are probably aiming a bit too high. Not all horses will be the same, some take only a couple of months to be able to head into their first schooling show, while others need more time, might even be up to a year! The point is to never rush the horse, don't over face them, that will only make them fearful and your training will start to go backwards. They will tell you when they are ready.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT YOUR VISIT TO THE TRACK?
The racetrack is a fast paced environment, at which the grooms and trainers are very busy attending to horses and the daily chores. Make sure you stay out of the way of the horses you are not looking at, they are fit, spunky, and can get silly, so its best to keep out of their way as much as possible for the safety of everyone. Leave the younger children at home. Its just too busy and too dangerous for children to be running around and its hard to keep a hold of them when you are busy trying to visit a horse.
Ask the trainer background questions about the horse:
- How long they have had them in their barn?
- Have they had any lay up time that they know of?
- Any 'known' previous or current injuries?
- Any recent vet work (cortisone injections, etc)
These are all important questions to ask regarding the horse and the information isn't often presented unless asked! You may also ask to have a vet overlook the horse before you purchase it, yes you will have to pay for it, but it might be an invest worth if you are looking to do strenuous work with the horse. If the trainer says you cannot vet check the horse, that is a red flag and I'd move on.
Can I ride the horse?
No, due to strict insurance policies, you will not be allowed to ride the horse while it is on the track. You have to have a special license to be able to ride the horse illegally, it just isn't safe, the horses are just too fresh and too fit.
Can I see them turned out or lunged?
Majority of tracks do not have the facility for turn out or even a round pen for lunging. Most just have hot walkers and a race track. You may ask the trainer if you could set up and time where you can come down to watch the horse on the track, however some might not be keen on this, only because they have to pay the rider each time the horse is taken out. I also try to discourage this only because how the horse looks and acts on the track doesn't usually reflect on how they will be outside of the track environment. The track is a super stressful living arrangement for the horse and they know what it is and what their purpose is, so they will be a bit more on the 'high' side. They change so much once in a farm/barn environment, that's its hard to really judge how they are going to be by watching them on the track galloping.
The horse seems really excited!
You have to have the understanding that these horses are fed a high protein diet with an unlimited amount of vitamins, are extremely fit, and in a high stress environment. You will see them 'on their toes' and a bit on the 'high' side. This will all subside and the horse will relax, once taken off the track and fed a low calorie diet, and have regular work and turn out time.
WHAT ARE THE SOUNDNESS ISSUES WITH AN EX-RACEHORSE?
While we all hope our exracer is retiring because he is "just too slow", there are many out there retiring for soundness reasons. I will go over the most common injuries you will see; such as bone chips, spurs, bowed tendons, suspensories; as well as the most common prognosis and questions regarding disciplines.
BONE CHIPS AND BONE SPURS:
What is a Bone Chip and Bone Spur?
A bone chip is a small piece or several pieces of bone that breaks away from the joint and floats around. Can be the size of a small grain of sand to as large as a tip of a finger. These usually occur when the bone is under a high degree of stress, fractures, and breaks away from the bone. This doesn't just occur in racehorses and has been commonly seen in un broke yearlings. You will mostly see them in fetlocks and knee joints. A Bone Spur is developed by the horse's body when a part the bone gets thin, worn, and weak to help stabilize it. You might see some filling in the joint and feel some heat with either injury, but it may not always be the case.
Will my horse be lame with a Bone Chip or Bone Spur?
Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on where the chip/spur is located and if it is bothering the horse, however bone chips can move and might bother the horse in the future. Although, if in the right place, chips can fuse back to the bone. Many horses still race and compete with bone chips/spurs and some do require vet maintance such as cortisone injections. The less injections the better for a horse since cortisone damages cartilage over long periods of time. If you are going to do the injections, I'd highly recommend hydraulic acid over cortisone, it may cost more but will be better off for the horse in the future.
What riding disciplines will my horse be able to perform?
Depends on where the chip is, if arthritis has set in, how much cartilage damage is done, and how much pain the horse is in from it will determine what your horse's performance will be. Xrays and a proper exam by your vet will give you this answer.
How can I manage a Bone Chip or Bone Spur?
Your horse might be a good candidate for arthroscopic surgery, but an xray and a vet will confirm that. Or can be managed by injections and sometimes even just joint supplements, as well as an approiate exercise program for the horse. With a Bone Spur the horse might be able to undergo Shockwave Therapy to dissolve the spur. With either treatment a horse most likely will restore back to sound condition. Both procedures are costly and usually run anywhere from $1500 - $3000.
BOWED TENDONS AND SUSPENSARY INJURY:
What is a Bowed Tendon?
A bowed tendon occurs when the superficial digital flexor tendon is stressed and the tendon fibers tear or stretch. You will see swelling and feel heat on the effected area and the horse will generally be lame.
What is a suspensory injury?
The suspensory is a ligament that extends from the knee down the back of the lower leg. The injury usually occurs when the horse gets tired or at high speeds. It can also occur with improper hoof balance. You will notice lameness and inflammation.
What do I do if my horse has a bowed tendon?
Time, time, time is going to be your horse's best friend! An Ultrasound of the tendon will give you a better idea of the severity of the damage as well as how to manage a healing time line. Of course, you want to get that inflammation down as much as you can! One might sweat, mud, ice, or cold hose. Wrapping should be done to help support the injury.
How to treat a suspensory injury?
Ultrasound to determine the severity as well as stall rest and hand walking.
What disciplines can my horse perform once healed?
Depending on how well the horse healed, I'd say anything! They can go back to racing, jumping, etc. As long as you properly heal the injury (also checked by Ultrasound), brought back up slowly, and taken care of during the horse's life, you shouldn't have a problem with it in the future.
HOW ARE THEY FED AT THE TRACK?
Your racehorse on the track was getting a very generous amount of oats, sweet feed, calf manna, rice bran, and any other very high in protein feeds. They are also getting dosed with vitamins in feed, and IM. As far as hay is concerned, most are fed a grass or oat hay diet, very few are given alfalfa. Alfalfa tends to increase pulmonary hemorage during physical exertions, such as a race, so that is avoided as much as possible.
Now that is he out of his race environment, its time to really downsize on his feed! Everyone has different opinions on this however, I like to cut the grain cold turkey! No oats, no sweet feed, no calf manna, everything high in protein needs to be gone. The one thing I do like to keep the same, at least temporary is the hay. You can gradually change the hay over if you like. The reason why I like to cut out all the protein is because you want your horse to be as calm as you can get him so he will focus on the new things you are trying to teach him and have a positive learning experience. Last thing you need is him to be high as a kite doing leaps and bounds while you are trying to just simply walk around the barn!
You will want to put weight on your guy as soon as possible, but keep in mind, they are not coming to you 'starved' or 'underweight' per say. They are mearly extremely fit, such as a athletic. Of course there are always the exceptions such as the poor eaters on the track due to high stress conditions or stomach ulcers and sometimes even a thyroid conditions. Uclers are thyroid issues are very treatable and should be consulted by your vet. Majority of the time it takes about a good 3 to 6 months to build a good weight on a horse coming off the track if done right.
What to feed:
I recommend a combination of things and you will have to experiment with different feeds to see what is working and what isn't. I recommend soaked beet pulp pellets, hay pellets, 1 cup of corn oil, plenty of hay. If you are going to try Equine senior/junior, rice bran, or any other high in protein feeds, you will need to work the feed! Meaning, you must exercise your horse according to how much grain you are giving them. If they are left out on pasture without plenty of exercise and fed a high amount of grain, not only will you have one hot horse, but your horse will also be at high risk of founder! With their feed I also like to give plenty of supplements such as electrolytes, probotics, and glucosamine.
USEFUL TIPS FROM OTHERS:
- Also, make sure you do a good course of wormers. That means monthly for 2-3 months. You rarely get their worming history. My vet recommends Ivermectin the first dose or 2 since it's a "slow kill." In the event that your horse is wormy, a quick killing wormer can cause too much to happen at once and they can ball up and cause colic, so take it easy. Usually Strongid after the Ivermectin but, consult with vet on that.
- Most ex-racers don't start packing on weight til they're exercising regularly. It actually makes them hungrier, and if you let them stand around they will be either depressed or get too "high"' too quick. So get them started in a mellow, but daily, exercise program and watch them start gobbling the food.
- TB's are often suspicious for a few days of different foods, don't panic, just make sure they have some food they will gobble so they eat enough. I love rice bran, and feed it, but beware the ads that say it doesn't make horses hot. It's a very digestible source of ENERGY and TB's quickly use it as that: energy! So feed with caution and back off if Ol' Smokey starts to blow smoke out his nose, LOL!
- I find that a flax/B complex/biotin product such as Glanzen 3 is great for digestion, weight, and attitude...also consider Source which is dried kelp. Cheap to feed, adds nutrients they are missing and does wonders for coat and hooves and mind, too!
- I will second keeping - or gradually moving from - their main forage the same, Beet Pulp- It's great for digestion and helps prevent colic due to a change in diet, worming - worming - worming, also electrolytes since the stress of everything tends to leave the horse dehydrated and with that - as much I know everyone knows this - Plenty of fresh clean water 24/7. As well as going cold turkey on the hot feed (sweet n high protein). That is generally true with bringing in any new horse, not just the OTTBs. Of course then the experimentation will begin to find out what works for them - just remember to do so gradually and only if there is a noticeable deficiency - to prevent colic and diarrhea as well as spending your money on something that isn't necessary.
- I will also add my observation that a good majority of OTTBs (Especially the 'rescue' ones who are 'always down on weight') trend towards having stomach ulcers, and getting them on an ulcer treatment is usually a good idea if they are having even the slightest weight issue, I know that some of the treatments (cough- gastro gaurd) are hugely expensive, but there are some really great alternatives that only run about $30-$100 for a month .. and in most cases will cure the ulcers or at the very least make them manageable.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT MY HORSE'S FIRST WEEK OFF THE TRACK?
They will be on their toes and might be a bit spooky for the first week or so. This is just a whole new environment for them. In the past if they were trailed out to a new place it was either to race at a different track, or to spend some time at a farm. You must remember they are also all jacked up on high protein feed, such as grain and are fit physically.
The First day:
The first day they arrive off that truck, I like to put them in their stall, observe them for a bit and leave them alone. Let them meet their stall mates, take in all the new smells and sights and just give them their space.
The Second day:
I like to take them out, and hand walk them around the property to show them around, also will put them in a small turnout, enough to stretch out their legs, but not enough to really pick up speed and hurt themselves. I'd carry a stud chain with you just in case you need to put in one, if they are getting a bit too excited for more control.
The Third day and on:
I work them a bit in the round pen, teach them the 'join up' method and then start teaching them common barn horse routines, such as tying, standing, etc.
Things to remember:
- Your horse will not know how to tie, so I'd start by just looping the lead rope around the hitching post, so if they pull back, they have release.
- Your horse will be rusty on remembering how to lunge with a lunge line. Going to the left will be easy, but to the right will be a bit more challenging, you will have to re-school this with them. I'd also recommend using a stud chain over the nose, since they can get a bit wild on the lunge the first few times.
- Your horse will not know how to stand at a mounting block to be mounted. They are used to walk and go while a rider is being legged up. Teach them to start standing at the mounting block, before you get on this way.
- Your horse does not know weight of a rider in one stirrup to be mounted, some will take this as a flight and scoot out from underneath you. I'd start by lunging or round penning them with a saddle and stirrup dangling.
Should I just get on and ride?
Depending on the horse's physical condition as well a rider's ability will depend on the answer to this question. I generally like to give them at least a day or two to settle into their new place, meet their new stables mates, and get into a new routine. When I do decided to ride, depending on the horse's temperament and how well he settled into his new home, I will usually lunge them first, then get on them and ride them around in the round pen. Some are super excitable and if they decide to take off, their isn't much room for them to go in a round pen and I can get them under control faster.
The best thing to do when you are first taking him out on trails, is to go out with a seasoned quiet trail horse. This will help relax your new horse's mind and ease their tension. They will be a bit prancy, however that other trail horse will make a world of difference to your horse.