Riches To Ribbons: Mythbusters

The purpose of this blog was to invite you all along on the journey I take each year retraining a horse for the Thoroughbred Makeover. It’s supposed to be entertaining, but hopefully, it’s also educational. Many of you reading this are horse people and hopefully OTTB fans. I hope I’ve gained some readers who either don’t know much about horses and just read this because we’ve crossed paths at some point OR are a horse person but a Thoroughbred skeptic. In any case, I thought I’d write with the sole purpose of busting some myths that surround the off the track Thoroughbred, racing and the Makeover. I’d like to think that in this age of information, these myths would dissipate, but alas, they still exist. Here goes.

Myth- All ex-racehorses are rescues.

Don’t get me wrong, ex-racehorses can end up in auction pens, along with a sad array of other horses from backyards to show rings, but perhaps not as much as you’re led to believe. Since the inception of RRP, you see less and less racehorses ending up in auction pens straight off the track. Why is this? Because the demand for the retiring racehorse has increased largely in part to RRP. The increased demand has made it easier for track trainers and owners to retire their horses to a responsible home. Also, the fact that racehorses are given a tattoo at the track makes them very traceable. Generally, track trainers don’t send their horses off to slaughter because of how easily that can come back around to them. If you do your homework, you’ll actually find that many of the OTTBs that end up in the auction pen wind up there because of an irresponsible owner once or twice removed from the track.

Myth- All racehorses are treated poorly.

You see this a lot from the anti-racing crowd. Let me give you a little food for thought. On average, a horse weighs around 1,000 lbs. You can not force an animal that large to do anything it does not want, including running fast enough to make it to the races. Another thing to consider is how much money these owners invest in their equine athlete. They invest this money to hopefully make more. An athlete can not perform if it has improper nutrition and care. It’s simply illogical to think the masses would set out to give their racehorse poor care. Some owners and trainers may not be known to get in the stall and snuggle with their racehorse the way you snuggle with 14HH Fluffles out in your backyard, but look into what the grooms are doing. Behind the scenes, the grooms and exercise riders are caring for, grooming and loving on those equines who’ve been entrusted to them. It is pretty common in the rehoming business to hear from horse’s old grooms and exercise riders, wanting to know how their old friends are doing.

2018 Makeover Grad Tiz That with his new owner Caroline Taylor and his track connections. Photo courtesy of Amanda Cousins. 

Myth- All racehorses are raced until they breakdown.

I’ll give a simple statistic. Since 2016 I’ve restarted 6 horses from the track. Only one of those horses appeared to have had an injury that occurred from training or racing practices. I say the word appeared because I don’t have x-rays from before the horse started its career on the track. So to be fair, I can’t definitively say the horse was run down. Also, the injury in question only limited this horse to non-jumping careers, so it certainly wasn’t a pasture puff outcome. I think that statistic speaks for itself. But if it doesn’t, did you know that tracks actually have rules against over racing? Tracks have problematic and poor performance lists. A horse can end up on the problematic list for various reasons like going through the rail, wheeling, posting up and gate problems. Horses are not removed from the problematic list, though through morning work gates can re-obtain their gate card. The poor performance list is exactly what it sounds like. If stewards feel that a horse is performing poorly, they make their way onto this list. The horse can only return to racing if the trainer presents their case to the steward and can show improvement in morning work outs.

Myth- Ex racehorses are hot and flighty.

Well, they sure can be, as all breeds can. With most things, it comes down to the training. It’s easier to blame the breed than it is to blame subpar training that creates or exacerbates a problem. Some horses come off the track hot and remain that way if an educated trainer doesn’t get their hands on them first. The Thoroughbreds that I’ve encountered the last 30 years that have been hot were all made that way by poor training, not experiences they had on the track or because of some genetic anomaly.

Ashley Francese with her ’19 Makeover entry, disproving that crazy stereotype. Photo by Amanda Dieterich-Ward

Myth- The Thoroughbred Makeover doesn’t allow for “let down” time.

I’ll start off with saying, go read the rule book. For those of you who may not know what let downtime is; us horse people consider it the time between the track and the start of their retraining. Some horses do sustain injuries that end their racing careers and need time to rehab before retraining. Other horses are very young and need time in a field to grow physically and mentally. To be eligible for the Makeover in 2019 a horse must have raced or had a published work (a breeze that is registered by a track) on or after July 1, 2017. So to break this down further, if my horse raced on July 1, 2017, and received an injury in that race, he has from July 1, 2017, to December 1, 2018, when trainers can start prepping their horses for the Makeover. That is 16 months of potential rehab. Of course, trainers can and will obtain their horses well into 2019 (read the rules), but injured horses, or horses that need extra time for whatever reason, or even horses who have humans who grow humans, have more than adequate time to rehab (or let their riders give birth) and still compete at the Makeover.

In a world where there is so much knowledge at our fingertips, I challenge you to dig into learning about racing and the wonderful people and horses who are apart of it. I challenge you to read the mission statement and rules for the Retired Racehorse Project and the Makeover. Don’t take my words for it, go out and do friends!