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.