Thoroughbreds can get a bad rap. They are delicate, nervous, spirited…..and off track thoroughbreds? Forget it! So why then, are they so popular with equestrians?
I confess I used to be on of “those” people. I said I would never want a thoroughbred because I thought the breed would be too much for me to handle. Funnily enough, the schoolmaster I started back on at the age of 32 was a thoroughbred. (You can hear all about THAT in Confessions of a Timid Rider: My Middle-Aged Equestrian Reinvention). So I thought to myself, this is just a fluke. After all, Jupiter was on the older side. As a “timid” rider I promised myself I would stick with the sensible quarter horse and stay in my comfort zone.
After several years of riding again as an adult, I became a working student. I worked on the ground with a lot of thoroughbreds and other breeds doing turnout, feeding, etc. My favorite horse to spend time with while working came to our barn as a retired racehorse. Earthly Delights is Kentucky bred and was retired from racing after he had surgery to remove a bone chip in his knee at 3 years old. He spent about 6 months in rehabilitation and then came to our barn to be restarted as a hunter/ jumper.
For the last year, I’ve been riding Delight regularly. I was very nervous at first but ultimately excited. After all, I knew this horse well. But I had this misconception of riding a young OTTB (off-track thoroughbred). My trainer/therapist reminded me of that and assured me he is the same on the ground as he is under saddle. We have had our ups and downs, sure. But he is steady and patient (mostly), even when I'm going through a funk.
Earthly Delights has so much personality and while he knows his own mind, he is forgiving and smart. His biggest foible is that he is totally grouchy while saddling, but once he's tacked up he's a puppy dog. I love that I can ride him on the trails, jump him in the ring, and then watch him play with my daughters. He is very careful, he's just a grump. I’m in love with Delight and officially a convert to OTTBs. His owner told me the other day that he likes me! This is the biggest compliment because he only likes 2 people. I thought it was unrequited love, but apparently I have a chance.
So I was curious what other OTTB owners and riders love most about their horses. I posted a request on the Facebook group OTTB Connect and asked for their favorite traits.
Here are some of my favorite responses
"His eagerness to do anything I ask of him- even if it's new and scary. He's a smart boy and would do anything I ask!"
“Smart and brave. Both have saved my bacon so many times. Quirkiness and attitude a plus.”
“Their heart - my thoroughbreds never say no, they always try to do what I ask of them.”
“Their heart, willingness to give 200% quirky quirky personalities lmao! And of course their beauty and strength.”
“Work ethic, strong connections, versatile.”
“Their huge hearts! I love that they will keep trying and trying. I also love their competitiveness and Their stamina. Its fun that they love their work.”
The responses were fast and furious, including amazing photos. OTTBS and thoroughbreds are often misjudged. One thing that really stands out to me is their heart. Many people find that it is their desire to form a connection with their human, and always try that is most loved. But let’s not forget those quirky personalities!
I know that Earthly Delights is a sassy, funny boy who makes me laugh. Hard to forget too is that he’s absolutely stunning to look at. He’s turning 6 in April and is showing me some of his adolescent high jinks. He reminds me so much of my kids that way, but when I tell him no he listens better than my daughters.
My trainer knows that I want to steal Delight away, now if I could only get my husband to finance it…….my 40th birthday IS coming up this fall. Hint hint. There is always wishful thinking.
So forget the reputation of OTTBs that you think you’ve heard. Give one a chance. Just like with any breed of animal, keep in mind some personalities need a more experienced “person”. That being said there is a reason thoroughbreds and OTTBs are so popular, and it’s not just for their athleticism. Thoroughbreds are smart, willing, versatile, and love bonding with their human.
Do you have an OTTB? what is your favorite thing about your horse?
About the writer: Heather Wallace of Monmouth County, New Jersey is a certified equine and canine sports massage therapist, co-owner of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC, and equestrian & canine blogger at Bridle & Bone. She is an adult amateur equestrian and has two rescue dogs, Gonzo and Beau.