The Plight of the Less Than Perfect Horse

Sue Smith recently brought us a three-part series on selecting your next OTTB (Read Parts One, Two, and Three), and she’s kindly offered another article on common reasons why OTTBs are often overlooked when shopping at the track. Many thanks to Sue for sharing her insight, and thank you for reading.

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar at Fair Hill CCI3* in 2013. Photo by Alec Thayer.

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar at Fair Hill CCI3* in 2013. Photo by Alec Thayer.

Every week I go through the same ups and downs. I meet a horse to be listed with a cute personality, nice build, and everything is going right until I look below the belly. Two key things that I know are going to impact how easy it will be to find that horse a good home are a) Sex and b) Blemishes/Injuries. And while this may be an unpopular posting, some things need to be said.

Mares are people, too! I’m not doubting that there are legitimate reasons not to buy mares, but I implore you to keep an open mind. Horses are individuals; their sex is part of their make up, but to categorize prospects based on whether or not they have a penis is a bit absurd.

Mares can be just as athletic as geldings; they can be just as kind, quiet, powerful, etc. If you are going to stereotype mares as being “more difficult” then geldings, I challenge you to bring up your skill set to be able to handle a horse who tells you when you are being abrupt or rude in the tack. Become the type of horseman who has the level of finesse required to handle a variety of horses, not just a dumbed down version of one.

Colts are one inexpensive procedure away from becoming geldings. End of story. Within thirty to sixty days of castration, a horse’s testosterone level reduces to that of the average gelding. Further, there is research that shows the age at castration and sexual experience have no bearing on the behavioral outcome, meaning it generally doesn’t matter if a horse is gelded at six months or six years.  It’s just important that he’s gelded!

We see a high number of colts at the racetrack and our personal experience is that the majority are well-handled gentlemen who should make fantastic geldings. I would also like to emphasize that at CANTER PA, we do assist with the cost of castration, as we feel this is a key issue in making these horses more suitable for pleasure and sport careers.

Lastly, racing is a demanding sport. On a weekly basis we see a complete range of physical issues and injuries from superficial blemishes to significant chips and fractures that may require surgery and/or will greatly affect their riding careers.

We are as honest as we can be when representing these horses, we want people to have as much information possible before deciding on a prospect, yet there is always that sinking feeling before I include one of these issues in an ad. Even saying something as minor as pin-fire marks, body soreness or minute ankle rounding affects the likelihood of placing these horses.

Many horses retiring from racing simply need a little down time, a few weeks or a few months. To say that a horse isn’t going to get a shot at a new career simply because someone doesn’t want to wait sixty days to begin riding is sad. Sad for the horse and sad for the rider who misses out on a lovey horse for a very solvable issue.

Think of all the other skills you could develop with the horse that do not involve sitting on the his back; to be a competitive show horse he or she needs to be able to load on the trailer, lunge, learn ground manners and simply transition to a new lifestyle. These skills will make for a well-rounded, confident partner.

The disappointing reality is if we do not change how we view those horses who do not fit in a pretty little box – horses who are not the trendy color, height or sex or those who may have blemishes or injuries – the kindest solution for many is going to be euthanasia. I understand the train of thought that as a serious rider I need a physically “perfect” horse, but can’t we change the definition of “perfect”?

Can we instead look for an ideal match for your personality and discipline, and look at a horse’s heart above the trivial details? When you go in search of your next prospect, keep an open mind. You might be excited by what you find.

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