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Answering the Question: What Can I Do for the OTTB? The Other Side of Aftercare

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next nine months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Today, blogger Clare Mansmann checks in with a thoughtful perspective on aftercare. Read Clare’s previous blogs here

Tom and Clare Mansmann, with Make It Right and Jacqui and Lynn, some of the crew of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. “Peter” is our second horse from MAHR, and certainly won’t be our last. Photo by Pat deBearn.

Across the board, there are many people who believe that adopting or rescuing a horse themselves is far preferable to purchasing an OTTB from a trainer. Let me be very clear that there are rescues and non-profits who do an incredible job, and there is nothing wrong with going through one of those organizations to obtain your next partner. We do it as well and we have some that we strongly recommend and encourage!

But there is an edge amongst people, wary to either send their racehorse to a trainer who plans to resell him/her as off-the-track, or those resistant to purchasing a restarted horse.

Wouldnt the horse be better served by getting one that needs rescuing now?

Let me offer another perspective. It is not an either/or. Its in addition.

It is the other side of aftercare.

It is the horses with the bad reputations, the ones that seem to prove the stigma that everyone surrounding the Thoroughbred industry is working so hard to disprove, the ones that boarding barns swear off. They are the ones who jig or rush or bolt or freeze or buck or rear or kick or bite or exhibit any of the potentially dangerous behaviors that any horse can develop. They are too fast or too slow or too strong or too big or too small or too lazy or too skinny or too … something. They are the ones that farms, like ours, get phone calls about regularly, albeit thankfully, for help.


Brigand Moon — 17.3h of epic talent but more epic sweetness. Moon would like you to know that he’s not too big. You can play limbo under his head and that’s an asset. (Moon is for sale and he is pretty much the funnest horse to ride and jump ever. Just FYI.) Photo by Allison Howell.

Typically, horses dont get this way all by themselves. And typically, they arent this way on the track. Just think about that for a moment. Horses are incredibly gracious creatures.

But, typically, the racehorse has been in a form of training its entire life. They are foaled at a farm with professionals. They are professionally handled from day one. Yearlings and two-year-olds have professional trainers, riders, grooms, handlers. The racetrack may not do things the way you do, but there is very much a system and it works for their purposes and that of the horse. And maybe, we should all take the time to study this system. The racehorse is trained to be an elite athlete, whether or not they make it to elite status.

Yearling prep with Sail Maker (Malibu Moon – Skipper Tale, owned by Lee Hillenmeyer). Photo by Carleigh Fedorka.

Yearling prep of Hit Girl (First Samurai – Perfect Motion). Please note polo wraps, surcingle, nose scratches, and square halt. Photo by Carleigh Fedorka.

So when the racehorse is taken off the track and thrown directly into a typical boarding barn situation, or even a lovingly built backyard barn, their world is turned a bit upside down, even with the best of intentions. There is different feed, different hay. Its suddenly very quiet when they are used to being busy, and busy when they are used to being quiet. Their exercise routine is vastly different. The grooming is different, saddles are different, riders are different, the training is different, the tacking process, shoeing, turnout is all different. The expectations are different, and these creatures of habit, these animals who learn through repetition, through cause and effect, pressure and release, can flounder.

There is nothing to say that the horse cannot adapt, but to be fair, they do need to transition in a thoughtful and purposeful manner, in order to be set up for success. We need to use what the racehorse already knows in order to teach them this new and possibly asinine way of doing things (to them, anyway).

Buff Dude, 2018 TB Makeover competitor: “What is this asinine behavior you speak of?” Photo courtesy of Clare Mansmann.

While there are, painfully, horses in need of rescue (all kinds of horses), our aim is to ensure our OTTBs dont wind up in need of rescue in the first place, and the best way to do this is education. Education of the rider and the public, sure, but much more the education of the horse.

The educated horse has a much lesser chance of ending up in a bad situation. The horse that ties at the trailer, stands at the mounting block, hacks on the buckle, lopes around a course, pops over ditches, walk/trot/canters circles both directions, does pretty well. If their owner stops stops riding for whatever reason, if their circumstances change, if the kid goes off to college, that horse can find another home, another human to teach. And if there is a known quirk, if the gelding was cut late and likes the ladies a bit much, if they prefer company or alone-time, if they like alfalfa more than grain, if they think dogs are wolves or fluffy toys, if they need pads under their shoes in the summer and think puddles are for rolling, if the horse is better suited for jumping or flat, hunting or trails, a beginner or an advanced rider, the transitional trainer can provide this information with concrete knowledge to help get that horse into the very best home for him or her.

OTTBs! OTTBs tied everywhere! Photo by Clare Mansmann, from another OTTB.

The goal of a trainer is not sales, but that of successful transitioning, to help bring out the best in a horse. But sales do need to happen, because the horse needs to find that best fit, and then the trainer needs to be able to go out and do it again, and do it again. The trainer is not receiving donations, but still taking on the risk of the unknown aspects of the horse. They are putting in the input, and turning out a horse with a viable future, one that holds value. This education takes time, not just a few weeks. In a few weeks, we can learn what the horse already knows. In a few months, we can expand upon that knowledge to produce a horse that can teach the public how talented and versatile they are.

Make It Right (not yet 4 yrs old by chronological age) on his third ride. There is a child out there somewhere, waiting to make their show dreams come true. They’re waiting on Peter.

Clare Mansmann started riding racehorses in her teens to get fit and ready for an upper level eventing career. It worked, and in the process, she fell completely in love with the breed and the sport. Together she and her husband, Tom, run Pacific Farms, Inc., where they focus their training and lessons on the fundamentals of classical riding in all disciplines, and are passionate about providing the best, most comprehensive education to the transitioning off-track Thoroughbred in order to best serve them and their futures.

 

Repping for RRP: Meet 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Trainer Clare Mansmann

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next nine months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Today, meet blogger Clare Mansmann. Check out Clare’s 2018 series, “So You Want To Get an OTTB,” here

I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve met me in the past couple of years you’re thinking, “Why is she writing for Eventing Nation? I thought she rode show hunters.”

Clare Mansmann and Noosh’s Tale at the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover. Photo by GRC Photo.

I’m not mad at you. Not much, anyway. I swear we aim to train every horse like a pre-green hunter, but that’s another post.

But I’m here for EN, repping the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), because despite my killer eq (er, my valiant efforts), my roots run deep in eventing, and my heart will always belong on cross country. I spent my Young Rider years traveling around the east coast in my F250, my Advanced horse, Sunday’s Thrill, in a little Featherlight bumper pull, and my Florida ditch dog, Charlotte, riding shotgun. Marriage, mortgage and two children later, “Jake” and Charlotte only recently passed and that same truck and trailer just helped move my family into a new house. I’m not sure it was a perfect circle, but things really do come back around.

My husband, Tom, and I are gearing up for our fourth year at the RRP’s Thoroughbred Makeover. Each year, we have gone with a horse, or two, or three, that has fallen into our laps, each one completely different from the other. Each year, one of us has wound up in the Eventing division, but after placing in Field Hunters and Ranch Work as well, Tom has a new goal of succeeding in each of the 10 disciplines offered. (Look out Polo and Barrels!)

Tom Mansmann and Tiz Solo Vino at the 2018 TB Makeover, courtesy of Lucky Clover Photography.
Sidenote: Only Vino would just trot through a darned covered wagon for the first time like this. What the
what.

Why we are such big proponents of the RRP and the Makeover is for the people, and for the horse. We owe our careers, our riding, our knowledge, largely to the Thoroughbred, and it started well before they were off the track.

Clare at the Middleburg Training track a long, long time ago. Photo courtesy of her mom.

The on-track Thoroughbred taught me to ride. As so many of the old-format event riders, back in the day, I was sent out as a junior to gallop on the track. There’s no better place to learn to gallop and become accustomed to speed. Over and over, around and around, on everything from goofy baby horses to seasoned pros who know your exact experience level and how best to take advantage.

The on-track Thoroughbred taught me perseverance. I learned to sit quietly, with strength. I learned that you don’t move your hands on an experienced racehorse unless you want to roll, no matter how cold/tired/cramped/raw they may be. I learned to breathe.

The on-track Thoroughbred taught me humility. I learned to respect the power beneath me. I learned how small I was. I learned to laugh at myself, while others laughed more than a little, as well.

The on-track Thoroughbred taught me to partner with him, through necessity, but that can be the best way to learn.

The on-track Thoroughbred got me ready to ride around some of the heftiest courses in North America, as a teenager. Jury’s still out on whether or not that was a good idea.

Clare and Sunday’s Thrill at the Leaf Pit at Morven Park Advanced H.T., circa the Age of PolyPads. Photo by her terrified mom.

If the on-track Thoroughbred can do all of that, then maturity brings about the question: what can I do for the off-track Thoroughbred?

This year, we have not obtained all of our horses for the Makeover yet. We each have reserved two entries to the competition, because #noragrets. Tom and I discussed going out and looking for a particular kind of horse, but what we really found is that we love when they fall into our laps. We aren’t training these horses for ourselves, but educating them in such a way that they will succeed in their futures, whatever that may be. It doesn’t much matter the type, but the brain. These are nice horses.

In 2018, we participated in the first Makeover MasterClass, where four trainers drew straws to choose a not-yet restarted off-track horse, and give a demo on a first training session, in the coliseum, at the Kentucky Horse Park. We used Tom’s Makeover competitor, Tiz Solo Vino, to demonstrate the ponying of Alarming, a stunning specimen from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. We knew from that day that he would end up at our farm in Middleburg, and he did. We’re not upset.#noragretsagain

Tom Mansmann, riding Tiz Solo Vino, ponying Alarming at the 2018 TB Makeover Masterclass. Photo by Justine Howell.

Alarming and Clare Mansmann at home at Pacific Farms. Photo by Tom Mansmann.

We had such a wonderful experience with MidAtlantic, that we knew we would do it again.

When Make It Right was first posted on their page, with an honest and detailed description of a properly rehabbed, non-displaced knee fracture, we asked for x-rays and flexions. We spoke with vets and came to the conclusion that this horse is sound, flexes perfectly, is cleared for all work with no limitations, and is a total beefcake. He’s the score of the century, and his x-rays are so cool. #noragretsathird

Clare on Make It Right (Peter), along with MAHR representative Jacqui Sharp. Photo by Lynn Bowers
Pennypacker.

Next I got a call from a trainer who is friends with a friend I used to gallop with who has a horse who isn’t competitive and is ready to move on and as a non-competitive person myself, I identify with this horse and so he’s coming after the snow storm. I saw some sort of conformation picture and a short video of what I think was him galloping. He’s a bay gelding, so he’ll fit right in and no one will be the wiser. #idontknowifiragretbuthistorysaysno

Clearly, we have a few potentials to go to the Makeover, more are sure to come, and we are happy about all of them. But what is even more fun is the fact that we have five or six (I lose track) horses in training at our farm who are working towards the Makeover with their owners, not us, in the irons. We are keeping the transition process smooth and comprehensive, with the goal of bringing horse and rider together safely and positively, and we are already seeing tremendous rewards.

OTTBs! OTTBs everywhere! Photo by Tom Mansmann.

Brigand Moon stealing treats from small children. Photo by Allison Howell. Photobomb: Dimple.

It doesn’t matter if the horse seems destined to be a hunter, they will go cross-country. If they want to event, they’ll go to hunter shows. If they live for fox hunting, they’ll be in a dressage ring. They will see chickens and cattle, ride western and english, bareback and backwards, bridle and bridleless. Every week they will be fed treats by a gaggle of children riding bikes and scooters through the barn. They’ll get muddy and they’ll be bathed. They will eat the best alfalfa and have the best shoeing job around. They will pull shoes. They will trailer and they will tie. Everywhere. They will be scruffy and weedy. They will shed and begin to glow. They will make mistakes and learn. We will make mistakes and learn. It’s all allowed.

Working with these horses has given us an opportunity to grow, and to meet an incredible community of people, and also to give back to the horses who give their all. But no matter how much we give them, they continue to return the favor tenfold. We’ll never catch up, but we will keep trying.

I hope you’ll follow along on our journey to the Makeover with, quite honestly, a plethora of nice horses. There is so much discovery on the way. And if the on-track Thoroughbred could do all it did for me, including marriage and family (needs its own post), just think what the OFF-track Thoroughbred can do.

So You Want to Get an OTTB, Part III: Creating a Lasting Relationship

You’ve done your research, bought your first OTTB and put a solid foundation of exposure and ground work on your horse: how do you move forward now in training? Clare Mansmann takes the OTTB relationship to its next level. Missed our earlier installments? Review Part I: Swipe Right or Left and Part II: The First Few Dates to catch up!

Thank goodness those first awkward dates are out of the way. I, personally, can only be on my best behavior for so long. Let’s get down the fun stuff where you can eat what you want, snort when you laugh, and start telling the truth about your crazy family.

Once the initial evaluation, ground work, and early riding feels settled, and you’ve gotten to know each other a bit more, you’re ready to begin moving forward with training. This early stage is absolutely not discipline specific. Despite our eventing background, the horses that come to us have no obligation to event, or even to jump. We are laying the foundation for a riding career, and the basics are the same. Each one of our horses will wear a western saddle and a loping hackamore and not necessarily at the same time. You should beg, borrow, and steal from every style of riding. We sure do!

Eve, age 5, in a loping hackamore. All photos courtesy of Clare Mansmann

A Healthy Relationship Starts with You

Before committing to anything worth doing, take a picture of yourself riding, draw a circle around it, and begin working on anything in that circle that needs fixing. Ask your trainer for help dissecting the position, fitness, and even emotional aspects of your riding. How is your posture? Is your leg too far forward? Too far back? Are you able to keep a straight line from elbow, to wrist, to the horse’s mouth (hint: this means your elbows should never be straight)? Are you reading books by Museler, de Némethy, Wofford, Dorrance, Podhajsky, and the like? Are you ready to assume responsibility for your horse’s training and any mistakes that can and will occur, and not blame the horse? Can you comfortably and correctly sustain a trot and canter for at least five minutes with no stirrups and a loop in the rein?

The education of the horseman never stops and never fades and is never isolated.

Not Just Tindering

We are working to create a long-term connection, not just a summer fling. For the next year, and even two, your OTTB will be going through all types of growth, musculature changes, changes in their feet, diet changes, and mental changes. Record everything you can because you will be amazed when you look back. Don’t worry if you see other horses moving at a faster pace. That horse is not yours and their time frame isn’t either.

The most important factor to remember is the concept of Forward. With a capital F. Forward does not mean fast; it is the willingness and responsiveness to moving off the aids. The racehorse has been trained in the concept of forward from day one, and everything we do builds on this. This is why we ride for quite a while with a nice loop in the reins, despite external pressures to make the picture sooner.

Eve, working on the lunge.

We have a very strategic purpose, despite seeing constant contact, straight arms, and rein fussing in so many riding videos. These horses are learning a new balance. They’ve been taught to ride flat and low. They lean and flatten into bit pressure, even the ones that seem to hold themselves away from the bit. They’re supposed to: that is how they are asked to increase speed and breeze. We want them to learn a whole new way of doing things, so we are going to ride forward from the leg in every way possible without rein interference.

Sounds pretty classical, right? This isn’t a new theory. We systematically teach the horse to carry themselves in the smaller space of the arena, over the terrain outside the arena, and over fences where the horse surely needs to learn to care for themselves without the rider interfering. If the rider does not hold their own independent balance and hands, they are negatively affecting the horse from creating a poor posture and muscle development to actual nervousness from the horse as they worry about the balance. They cannot do this if we are putting pressure on their front end with our hands, upper body, or both.

Contact, frame, connection, and especially stretch come first from riding forward off the leg, the energy comes over the horse’s back, through the rider, and then cycles back into the hind legs and up around again. The rider, with independent aids, helps to cycle that energy created from the leg to, first, their upper body and balance, and later through the rein connection. If you go straight to rein connection, the horse has missed an important developmental step, and so has the rider. Again, some horses progress through this quite quickly, and some take more time. A good trainer will help guide you and teach you the feel.

 

You have to be kidding me with how good this horse is. About every week I sent a video to Stoney Hill Stables just so Trista and I can talk about how Right we were!! ????????????????????????
#tizsolovino #tbmakeover #ottb #vinocanjump #frenchiecandrive #perfect

Posted by Pacific Farms Incorporated on Saturday, May 5, 2018

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Another important part of a healthy relationship is variety. We all need a little spice in our lives. We start each day with a little ground work to make sure all parts of moving in the right direction. Then some days we work in the ring, moving off the leg forwards, backwards, and sideways. Some days we go for a simple hack on the buckle. Some days we trot up and down hills. There are poles, barrels, jumps, water, ditches, tarps, bareback and backwards. They’ve already done everything on a rope without the rider, so adding the rider should be a simple next step, but if you’re unsure, have your trainer perform the tasks on your horse first before you give it a try. Also, a neck strap is never a bad idea.

Joey Pots and Pans at age 3

Seeing Other People

It should be noted that I do not condone this behavior in humans — but in horses, I am hugely supportive. Horses need to be ridden by more than one person in their training. Humans need to ride other horses in their training. Others will feel holes in your horse that you can’t because they are already your holes. You can correct these in yourself with off-horse exercises and learning from experienced school horses, and another rider or trainer on your horse can help you identify them, and then help correct them in your horse. Seeing another rider on your horse can give you confidence in the horse’s abilities, and therefore increase your confidence in yourself. There’s no room for jealousy in horses.

Remember that this is just the beginning of years of fun and enjoyment together. There will be highs and lows, and everybody has a different journey, but be sure to always evaluate, stay in the present, stay humble, and make every day just a little bit better than it started. It adds up.

Eve and Clare.

Clare Mansmann started riding racehorses in her teens to get fit and ready for an upper level eventing career. It worked, and in the process, she fell completely in love with the breed and the sport. Together she and her husband, Tom, run Pacific Farms, Inc., where they focus their training and lessons on the fundamentals of classical riding in all disciplines, and are passionate about providing the best, most comprehensive education to the transitioning off-track Thoroughbred in order to best serve them and their futures.

Clare and Tom with Noosh’s Tale at the 2017 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.

So You Want to Get an OTTB, Part II: The First Few Dates

Retraining your OTTB for a second career after racing can be a rewarding process (plus a lot of hard work). Clare Mansmann details exactly what your OTTB might already know (spoiler: a lot!), and what holes in his experience you should expect. Missed out on Part I? Click here for “So You Want to Get An OTTB, Part I: Swipe Right or Left.”

Buff Dude, standing tied at the trailer. All photos by Clare Mansmann.

You’ve swiped. You’re ready. You’ve texted, messaged, had a phone chat or two (hopefully more). Maybe you even met for coffee or lunch. You seem to be on the same page and the attraction is ripe for building upon. The first date is set and it is tremendously exciting.

But then, you realize that you may not know enough about your date. You want more background, to find their past experiences, their likes and dislikes. You feel over your head.

You begin searching social media and the inter-webs. You know you do.

To use some technical racetrack terminology, whoa back, jock. Whoa back. There’s a better plan.

Background Checks/Question the Ex: What Does Your OTTB Know?

Your new OTTB is not some unknown specimen. Just ask your trainer! (Because you have your qualified trainer, right?) Most racehorses have fairly similar histories, enough that we can build upon what we know they know. So, what are some things that they know?

Forward. They know how to go forward, and we will be using this knowledge to our advantage for a good while to come.

They’re more than just broke to ride! That’s a huge plus. They can walk and trot, canter and gallop on both leads (not just one, contrary to belief). They already know how to do flying lead changes. They have to do that daily on the track. Some of these horses come highly educated already. My boss on the track loved having event riders work for him. We would go out and do flatwork and even pop the horses through gymnastics, and this trainer is not an isolated case. Many trainers see the value in cross-training and you will see those horses advance through this transitional period very quickly and easily.

Of course, an off-track horse will typically pony very well.

They load in gates and stand. Does your show horse do that?

They have trailered and traveled, and some have even been on airplanes. They tie (though typically in the stall), they lead, they are groomed better than pretty much any of us will ever groom our horses. They’ve had farrier work and dental work (though historically, you are going to need to update these to a different set of standards) and veterinary work. They’ve seen larger crowds than they’ll see at your local show, jumbo-trons, umbrellas, strollers, golf carts, tractors, mud, dirt, and turf. They’ve been bathed, bandaged, and booted. They’ve been ridden by tens of, if not a hundred, different people. These are cultured creatures!

When an off-track horse first comes to us, we produce a plan for the horse’s transitional training based on these factors. The racehorse was taught to race. It’s our job to teach them what is expected next.

Four-year-old Hill Four Eleven

Outfit Prep and Manis/Pedis: Dentist and Farrier

Right away, get a great dentist out, because the typical OTTB needs more thorough floating than is done on the track. Don’t wait on this. Then, make a plan with your excellent farrier. If the horse has racing plates on, it is nice to remove those for at least a month, if they can tolerate it, because they tend to stress the tendons and a break is a good plan. If the horse cannot tolerate being barefoot at first, don’t worry about it. Just begin the rebalancing process. Also, dress for success and make sure you have a well-fitting saddle for your horse and your self.

Just Drinks: Basic Ground Work

We begin the ground training straight away, even if they need layup. First we tie them in a stall, because we know they are comfortable with that, then we will cross-tie them, and we will progress to tying to the fence in the arena while horses work around them, to trees, to the side of the trailer. They can have a hay net full of alfalfa if they’re nervous and that’s a great chance to get an easy snack pack in if you’re trying to up their weight. We load them on the trailer and go on low pressure field trips where they hop off and do a whole lot of nothing, so that they don’t think every trailer ride means a race.

Eve, patiently waiting for her turn

Be Sure to Wait Three Days Before Calling: More Ground Work

When they’re ready to begin under saddle work, we first work them on the ground with our rope halters, teaching them to move away from pressure from both directions. They learn the footwork, how to back up easily, how to move their front around their back and their back around their front. You’ll need help from your qualified trainer if you’re not familiar with this type of work. When they’re driving from the ground easily both directions and leading well, we will start taking them out with the pony horse. The trick here is that we pony them from their off-side, which is not done at the track. That is how we marry the new with the old. We pony them everywhere: in the ring, down the road, over creeks, ditches, small jumps, through gates — we’ve even taken some out walking with hounds and to schooling shows.

OTTB Eve being ponied off of OTTB Nitro

The Dinner Date: First Post-Track Ride

When this is all looking safe and steady, we put the rider on. This could happen on day one, or day thirty, depending on the horse and the weather. Extra ponying never hurts and they learn as much, albeit differently, from standing with the pony while we teach a lesson as they do working through a jump grid.

Once the rider is up, we head around the ring to walk, trot, and canter both directions, and perhaps pop over a few jumps, with a nice big loop in the reins and a strong upper body from the rider. You will find that the ground work translates very well to how your OTTB goes, stops, steers, and even picks up both leads. Where there are inconsistencies, there are ways to help the mind and body with continued ground work, and it’s a great idea to continue the work even when you are working under saddle.

Now, some people skip these steps and do just fine. Some horses have a more comprehensive foundation than others. The reason we work through these steps is because we want to find any holes in that foundation and make sure we fill them right away, because if we don’t, they will turn up in some way in the future. We want to set these horses up for the greatest success in a long-term relationship.

Buff Dude and Joey Pots and Pans.

Clare Mansmann started riding racehorses in her teens to get fit and ready for an upper level eventing career. It worked, and in the process, she fell completely in love with the breed and the sport. Together she and her husband, Tom, run Pacific Farms, Inc., where they focus their training and lessons on the fundamentals of classical riding in all disciplines, and are passionate about providing the best, most comprehensive education to the transitioning off-track Thoroughbred in order to best serve them and their futures.

Clare and Tom with Noosh’s Tale at the 2017 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.

So You Want to Get An OTTB, Part I: Swipe Right or Left

Off-track Thoroughbreds are becoming increasingly popular as versatile sporthorse projects that are often fairly inexpensive — but finding the perfect partner can be intimidating. Clare Mansmann, an OTTB professional, brings us a new series to help you get started! As seen on Horse Nation

Finding a horse is not unlike entering the dating scene (except it is a bit more fun, because horses). Before online dating took off, the steps were rather simple, albeit on the risky side: you saw someone you liked, you got your friends to attract attention, you gave your phone number, waited maybe three days, and went on a date while said friends knew your timing, location, and outfit choices. Pretty much everything after that was a bit of a gamble and the odds were not in your favor.

But today, we have tremendous resources and information at our fingertips. There are filters and algorithms and free background checks. You can apply the same standards of modern dating to decide if an OTTB is the right horse for you, which one is THE one, and the best way to get started on your search.

Clare and five-year-old Tiz Solo Vino, day one off the track. All photos courtesy of Clare Mansmann.

Start with this food for thought:

What are your goals for the relationship?

Goals are wonderful, but you can’t rely on one horse to necessarily fulfill them all. Consider breaking them into steps and begin with step one.

What attributes are most attractive to you?

Pretty is as pretty does. Look at suitability before worrying about size, color, gender and even worrying too much about conformation.

What are your hard limits and what can you be flexible about?

Properly rehabbed injuries are not future killers. We have seen tendon injuries, chips, soft feet — even old fractures heal well and strong and may not limit horses for even significant athletic careers.

What are your own experiences, strengths, and weaknesses?

You may want to date the Navy pilot who enjoys mountain climbing, para-sailing, and triathlons, but the reality is that you’re afraid of heights, don’t like the ocean, and don’t enjoy long walks … not even a little bit. Choose wisely and realistically. You don’t have to marry everyone you date and opposites only kind of attract. You do need some common ground.

Will your horse be coming home, to a trainer, or to a boarding barn?

If you’re reading this in order to educate yourself, you need a qualified trainer. Even trainers need trainers. If you think you don’t need a trainer, then you really really need a trainer. Websites such as www.retiredracehorseproject.org can assist in finding said trainer.

Do you have a trainer experienced with off-track horses?

There are a lot of great trainers out there, and while the OTTB is not a mythical creature and is not unlike any other horse, they are intelligent, active individuals, and a trainer sensitive to their needs and experienced in knowledge of their first career with be a definite asset.

Tiz Solo Vino, two weeks off track.

What is your budget not only for purchase/adoption price, but for continued education and care?

This question is a bit loaded and relates to whether you are ready for a fresh off-the-track prospect or one that has had the initial transitioning done. I have had beginner riders ask if an OTTB is the right way to go, and my answer is always the same: there is nothing wrong with any type of horse as long as that horse is appropriate for the rider. The OTTB factor isn’t a part of the suitability. It’s individual.

Should a green rider get a green horse? With a qualified trainer assisting until the pair is ready, there really is no problem with this. Should the horse come off the track and head to an inexperienced rider’s backyard? No. That is not good horsemanship. And it all comes back to reasonable, common-sense horsemanship. The OTTB can be a wonderful and affordable option in that initial purchase price, but know that you have acquired a green horse that needs training. So you trade that initial price for time and training. This is not to turn you off. That process can create a bond like no other.

Also, there is a bit of a stigma that these horses need to be rescued, and this is simply not always the case. Are there OTTBs in rescue situations? Of course. And there are other types of horses in the same situations. We are all helping to get those horses into the best hands and lives. But there is a deeper root to that problem and that is what we need to (and are working to) provide an avenue to ensure these horses don’t end up in the wrong pipeline in the first place.

Please do not think that by purchasing a horse from a trainer who has already transitioned a horse that you are not doing a service to the industry. Professional trainers are regularly adopting or pulling horses straight from the track, giving them a beautiful transition, and are very much in need of matching those horses with their perfect human before being able to repeat the process and help the horses and the industry. Groups like the Retired Racehorse Project have links to trainers and organizations who specialize in finding and starting these fabulous horses and their work is well worth taking advantage of.

Tiz Solo Vino, one month off the track.

Should you vet your prospect?

Sure! Purchase price does not negate gathering information — but use your vetting as just that. There is no such thing as pass or fail, but simply that gathering of information to decide if the horse is physically capable of your goals and what management would be necessary. A “good” vetting does not guarantee your horse will reach your goals, and a “bad” vetting does not necessarily rule those goals out. You’re evaluating and keeping the data to help make decisions, but in the end, the decision and commitment are yours to make as to if this is the horse for you and if you are willing to see it through.

Now that you have this plan in mind, you can get started scanning the interwebs and reputable sources. Going straight to the track is possible, but not recommended without connections and assistance. Utilizing non-profit aftercare organizations or intermediaries who are experienced and have extensive connections in finding appropriate horses and evaluating the prospects are the way to go. If you see someone with an OTTB you like, ask them how they found him or her. Get references of the sources and recommendations. Again, the Retired Racehorse Project website has an entire directory of non-profits, farms and trainers, and racetrack contacts.

Always remember that you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) go it alone. To be set up for success, both you and the horse need help and direction as you find each other and undertake this journey together. If you’re willing to put in the time, and you have the adequate training opportunities, you can work together to become the dream team you envision.

Step back, look at your options, get great advice, heed said advice, and only then should you get ready to swipe right.

Go riding!

Clare Mansmann started riding racehorses in her teens to get fit and ready for an upper level eventing career. It worked, and in the process, she fell completely in love with the breed and the sport. Together she and her husband, Tom, run Pacific Farms, Inc., where they focus their training and lessons on the fundamentals of classical riding in all disciplines, and are passionate about providing the best, most comprehensive education to the transitioning off-track Thoroughbred in order to best serve them and their futures.

Clare and Tom with Noosh’s Tale at the 2017 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.