Discussion Boards

Discussion Board: Starting OTTBs (& Horses in General)

When I got P in May of 2014, he’d been off the track for about 10 months, mostly just hanging out, which was appealing to me. Even though as a kid I’d never even heard of horses coming off the track and being “let down” in a field, as I did my research prior to purchasing my very first OTTB at the golden age of 28, I read over and over that this let down period was vital. That it was the ONLY WAY for a horse coming off the track to not be fried. Now P had had some rides here and there, and I was told he was good about things like cross-tying, leading, mounting, etc, so he wasn’t feral or anything, but he’d mostly been sitting. I was very lucky though to get him through the seller that I did, because P was definitely a VERY easy re-start, considering he had just turned 4 when I got him, and I was an out-of-practice ammy with a new baby and not as much confidence as I thought I had.

Constantly hovering in the fetal position while using my reins for balance. That’s how I rolled.

So everything about restarting P was super slow. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. I didn’t even canter him until September- FOUR months after buying him.

Look at that excellent equitation…said no one ever.

He didn’t pop over a single jump until November.

Chicken wings are cool, right?

Didn’t venture off the property for anything until February 2015, when he went to his first dressage show.

How cute is baby P’s face, though

His first jumper show was in August 2015.

Look at P’s position and not mine, please and thank you. Obvi this way Pre-Trainer B

And his first HT, and first time seeing XC, was in September 2015. So a full 16 months after purchasing him.

30 seconds after this picture was snapped, we were eliminated because SOMEONE wouldn’t even go past the water.

And then, as anyone who’s followed us for awhile knows, things went downhill thanks to my inexperience in finding a suitable trainer and blindly trusting resumes and internet reviews. But as you can see, I took things super slow and easy with P. Partly because of his age when I bought him, but mostly because of me. No one can say I ever rushed the horse.

Me & P 4eva

My experience with Leo so far has been the complete opposite of P in every single way. He was handpicked by Trainer B off of a 1:00 free video and a 2:00 first-ride video, then I brought him home on May 25th- a mere 15 days after his last race. He’d had ZERO let down, as he traveled from TX to KY, then to DE, then to NC, where I hopped on him for the first time 4 days later. And he’s been going ever since.


For the first month I had him I didn’t have much time for him, as P’s eye ulcer was still raging and requiring most of my attention. But I still managed to get on him on May 29th, take him to Trainer B’s for his first field trip on June 1st, show him his first XC course (including popping over a log and going through water) on June 15th, canter him on June 19th and jump his first x-rail on June 30th. So basically what took me a year and a half with P, Leo and I have done in less than 2 months. Leo’s been off the property a total of 8 times, has been to 2 shows, had a pro ride by Trainer B, gone through 3 different water complexes, jumped in the XC field, gone over his first ditch, and “jumped” through a 2-stride….and it feels REALLY good.

Hacks around the farm are becoming routine for him in between the harder work sessions. Look at those dapples!

The reason I bring this up is because I’ve gotten some not-so-nice comments from a few horsey acquaintances (no one in the blogosphere) that I’m going WAY too fast with Leo. It’s been not-so-subtly insinuated that he’s *definitely* going to be ruined and that *clearly* I’m just impatient because of the year P has had off. And I’ve got to say, I’m a bit confused. Because, uh, look at him.


I’d be lying if I said hearing the criticism didn’t bother me a little, as no one wants to hear those types of things, but it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it would have a few years ago, because MAN, have things radically changed in the last 5 years.

This is me sitting on a horse that ran his last race 19 days prior. This is called newfound confidence, folks

For starters, I’ve known Trainer B for 2 years now and you simply will not find a better horseman or horsewoman out there. And I’m not just talking about riding- everything he does in regards to training, teaching and horsecare is at the highest level. His horses are all not only impecccably taken care of, it’s obvious they are genuinely happy to do what he asks. So when he does something like bring us out to the XC field and says to trot Leo over some sand and a couple of rails, I just do it. And I’d say considering Leo’s nonchalance about the whole thing, I’m pretty sure Trainer B’s timing was just fine. If it’s between his advice vs a rando or two that have a few backyard horses, it’s not really hard to figure out who to trust more, #sorrynotsorry.


The other thing that’s majorly changed is my own skill. When I started re-riding as an adult, I was genuinely surprised that I was no longer the confident kid who’d get on anything. And while it took me a LONG time to get out of my own way, the journey’s been worth it. When I came back to riding, trotting was a big deal for me- I always looked like I was going to pass out because I was concentrating so hard. Cantering was something that took awhile for me to be comfortable with. I still get nervous, but the reason has changed from feeling like I wasn’t good enough to hang on should things go wrong, to I just don’t want to screw up the horse.

And this would’ve seen me immediately pull up and probably not canter again for awhile.

Now obviously there’s more than one way to skin a cat (such a disgusting saying…), and every horse is different, but I’m interested in others’ experiences. So for those that have started or-restarted a horse, or introduced new disciplines (not just OTTBs), what was your experience like? If you haven’t ever done those things, would you ever? Why or why not?

13 thoughts on “Discussion Board: Starting OTTBs (& Horses in General)”

  1. First off, I think what you’re doing with Leo is fine and he doesn’t seem stressed. And, I trust that if he looks like he needs time off, you’d give it too him (or if he needed you to back off, slow down, all of that. But you’re exposing him to stuff, not running him into the ground, there is a difference!)…

    That said, I don’t think there is a right answer. Some horses DO need time off post track life. And this is fine. Others are fine transitioning right into post track life and this is OK too. Different horses need different things and it’s not necessarily a one size fits all equation. Subi was turned out for almost a year post track and, I think for him, knowing him now, it was probably a good think. He stresses and worries and he got to just be a horse. But, he’s not every horse. The biggest thing is to read the horse in front of you and make decisions based on that. I have no idea what I’ll end up doing if I end up with another ottb… Time and the horse will tell.

    Seriously, why is everyone so judgmental these days? Drives me insane! Just live life and give advice when asked… It’s everywhere! Yes, I’m providing my opinion, but at least you asked…


  2. Ugh….
    I agree with Sarah. Every horse is different. I’d say some need that let down, some may need a short let down, and others are just fine keep on keeping on. While I haven’t re-started a TB, the horses I did start all showed this. A few you could just systematically go through the steps in a forward “timeline” and they were fine. There were others that were pushed way too fast and you had to back off and focus on one thing at a time. I was actually telling my mom this the other day regarding Kahlua. She’s been reading articles and whatnot and “this is the ONLY WAY gentle a burro” and uh… yeah lol. There is never just one way.
    I’ve really been considering getting an OTTB as my next horse. I love reading about them from everyone’s blogs, so yeah I’d certainly consider re-starting an OTTB. But I still love my QHs, so I’m considering also an appendix QH. Who knows lol.
    But yeah. Leo looks so, so, so, SO stressed lol. LOVE that picture of him and your son! And also love the addition of his photo to your banner with P!


  3. It hadn’t occurred to me that someone would think the pace was too fast for leo. You’re not jumping 3ft courses or asking for a great deal of collection… he’s just going out and doing floppy baby things and learning wut r legs. It’s so dependent on the horse, I have no doubt if he started getting fried or really body sore you’d tone it down. But as long as he’s mentally and physically okay uh… carry on??

    The let down can be super critical if you have a horse that’s malnourished, super body sore, coping with shitty feet, or had mental issues on the track. They do have a habit of letting you know that, though.


  4. Honestly every horse is different, they all move at their own pace and what one horse can handle another will not. Carlos the first horse I personally owned (but not the first off the track or green bean I ever rode) We were cross rails to 3′ in 3 months time. Went to horse shows like twice a month but did he want to go in a frame? No. Did he want to do lead changes? No! Did he even want to slow down? No!! With my next one Ramone, the lead change was there from day 1, but bending and collection were hard and sometimes jumping and getting out of his own way. Dante is a lot lighter on his feet, traveling in an uphill manner was ingrained, more supple and the lead change was also easier but not as easy as Ramone – but he is naturally more suspicious than the other two were. So you will hit a snag eventually, we all do, and it’s never the same thing twice!

    Growing up we never let horses down from the track and I don’t know if I would since it’s not the program I grew up in and none of our horses were ever burned out/fried (though I’m not ruling out that one day I might meet that horse that needs it) You just take it day to day.


  5. i’m sorry you’ve gotten criticism already. stuff like that bugs me too, even tho i know i should let it roll off my back. it’s tough, right? we all want to do the best by our horses and it can be hurtful when folks suggest anything other than that.

    that’s horse people, tho. everyone has their own opinions and ideas on THE WAY, on HOW IT SHOULD BE, etc. from what i can tell, tho, there are many many MANY “right” ways of going about things with horses, and honestly not too many truly “wrong” ways.

    i don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting a horse down after the track, especially if they are physically and/or emotionally showing signs that they need it. i also don’t think there’s anything wrong with making a smooth transition from one line of work to the next. that’s basically what i did with charlie and it all seemed to make sense to him.

    so long as you’re both healthy, happy and having fun, does it even really matter? i just tell myself that if i focus on running my own race rather than anybody else’s, i’ll always win haha. Leo looks like such a cool horse and seems to really be settling in super well with your program. can’t wait to see how he develops!


  6. I’ve restarted a lot and the only trend across the board is that is that none of them were the same or needed the same things. Some need layoff time to let their minds and bodies heal. Others shrivel up and die if you just chuck them out in a field and leave them alone. Some just “get” the sporthorse life really quickly and progress fast, while others take a while to catch on. There is no ONE right path, at all. Not only do the horses vary, the rider is a big factor too, as you’ve pointed out. Anyone who thinks there’s only one right method clearly has not done it enough. 😉


  7. Yeah…no input of let down here as I have zero experience. Just wanted to say screw the nay sayers. Leo is your horse and people need to learn to STFU. If he was lame, extremely stressed or stick thin then maybe say something? I don’t know. I tend to keep my opinions to myself. keep on keeping on and listening to those you trust and you’ll be just fine


  8. So, I think the fact that you’re thinking about this, means you’ve got Leo’s best interest in mind and that’s obviously what’s most important and shows what a great horsewoman you are!
    And I agree with everyone thus far- horses are individuals!
    I’m just starting my first green bean but I’ve taken on project horses before. And here are two things I’ve noticed. 1) I think horses do really well without a let down period until the going gets tough. So, if you keep it stress free for a while, they do great. But move them along too quickly, and you start to see issues when things become challenging for them. This is especially true for horses who don’t get a great basis to their training and keep being asked to move up the levels as they have scope and heart.
    Secondly? It’s interesting to me that people can stress the importance of throwing your green horse out for a month or two after starting work, but we don’t necessarily advocate the same for the OTTB, even though they are usually 3-4 years old as well when they get them.
    I think June benefited from 3 months off as a 3 year old, but honestly I have no idea what things would be like had we not done that.
    So, I don’t know the right answer. I just think there probably isn’t a formula. And we as horse people need to remember to always advocate for our horses, just like you’re doing!


  9. Stupid internet warriors. Do whatever you and your trainer want. I’d trust B too (he’s probably my favorite clinician I’ve ridden with). Every horse is different. Not an OTTB, but I brought Levi home from the prison and literally trailered him out by myself like 3 days later to go on a trail ride. I think he went to his first show less than a month after being home (he did w/t over poles classes). Eugene, on the other hand, came back from the prison and went to a trainer for 2 months and then we very carefully introduced him to the outside world. Different horses need different things. You do you.


  10. I think you’re doing fantastic with Leo! Agree with all the other comments – each horse is different. You’ll know from my blog Bridget has taken YEARS to get where normally I’d get in a few months with the other horses I’ve had, and despite the super slow timeline and breaking everything into tiny pieces, she’s also the first where I know I pushed too hard at times.and made a little sour.
    I think as long as your horses are healthy and showing up interested and happy to try you’re golden!


  11. Every horse and every rider is different, i people who aren’t involved are going to have opinions no matter what. If you’re not going too fast, you’re going to slow. Blah, blah blah. I think what you are doing is what every young horse needs, exposure in a calm, consistent manner. I spent 12 months doing the same with Henry.

    as for letting a horse down after racing I think it depends on the individual. I got Henry 6 weeks off the track. He hadn’t been let down at all, just transitioned to being a riding horse a little bit. With me he didn’t have time off, just a week here or there when I didn’t have time for him. It worked for us and he is happy being worked.

    I think the key is to go with what works for you and the horse really!


  12. Came here to echo sentiments that every horse is an individual. Some of them transition quite quickly, and happily, while others require some amount of patience and time. There is nothing wrong with either.


  13. Opinions are like arseholes… everyone has got one.

    At the end of the day, I have never understood why people are so desperate to cling to one set method or ideology. They inevitably cookie cutter a horse in to suit their way of thinking or discard any that don’t fit the mold and label them “difficult” or “troubled”.

    You have the horse in front of you that you have. You do with him what you’re both ready to tackle.

    If that means letting down, super. If that means taking him XC schooling, super. If your horse likes to be kept busy, great. If he responds better to being trained every other day, awesome.

    You’re doing great. Leo is looking amazing.

    Screw what they say. I, for one, am just jealous of your beautiful new boy!


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