Breaking The Stigma: Race Horses Coming Off The Track
When you hear racehorse the first thing you think off the cuff is speed, but is that reality? The stigma is that they are "out-of-control," "hot-headed," and "only have one gear." But is that true?
My name is Michelle Fleming and I'm this week's guest blogger for GoHorse.com. I'm 26 years old and living in Oklahoma. I have managed a racehorse breeding facility, Wright Farms, for the past 6 years, that breeds Paint and Quarter horses for the racing industry. I am also a barrel racer, photographer, and a part-time administrative assistant in a general construction office. I manage 5 different Facebook pages and I'm proudly part of the APHA Racing Committee. Most importantly, a mother of one sweet little boy.
I currently have two 3-year-old off the track horses in training. I want to help educate you on buying an off the track race horse. My personal experience will help you transition them from the track to their new job, easier. There are a lot and I mean a lot of great horses out there for sale. When you’re shopping for your next prospect what is most important to you? Conformation? Breeding? Color? Personality? The training they may already have? I personally look at conformation and personality. Confirmation is a given, I want a horse that is well balanced with good bone. I want him to last with as little maintenance as possible. Looking for one with personality sounds silly, but I love a horse that is confident with himself. One that knows he can do his job and do it well. When I am looking for my next horse I go to our racehorse trainers’ barn because I probably have a horse I like in mind, but I also go because I know I can get an extremely well-bred horse that’s been handled for a lesser price tag.
I always hear “those crazy racehorses” or “they’re all lame”. That’s absolutely not true for MOST! I sell a lot of horses just over Facebook and the phone. Don’t completely rely on pictures of the horses and how beautiful and fit they are. Fitting a racehorse can take a lot of feed, hay, and supplements. Unless you feed them like a racehorse trainer, most likely they won’t stay looking that fit. Ask for video and don’t be surprised if you get one of them bucking and playing on the walker or in the round pen. I love those videos. It shows the horse feels good and most likely doesn’t have a lameness issue and wasn’t given a sedative for the video. When buying a racehorse here are some tips that will help you in the long run:
Ask the trainer questions about the horse, but don't be vague.
Trainers are often super busy and if you ask a vague question, you will likely get a vague answer. Ask them things like “does the horse buck when saddled in the paddock?”, “Does he settle in well after being hauled?”, “Does he crib?”, “Has he ever been sore or had any time off?”
Get a vet check, and make sure the horse is healthy.
Usually, there is a vet already going to the training barn, so you don’t have to worry about having the horse hauled somewhere if you aren’t in the area.
Look up their race records.
This is very easy to do and you can see their speed index, starts, money earned, charts, etc. I use Equibase when I am looking up information. I am always asked the question, “why are you selling it?” One thing to remember is that most owners and trainers are in the racehorse business. They aren’t in the business of training a barrel horse or getting one broke. When they decide to sell it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong with the horse.
Don’t shy away from the price tag and don’t be afraid to make an offer!
We price our horses a little higher because if we price them to cheap people think there is something wrong with them. We will usually take a reasonable offer.
I want to discuss the term “Track Broke Only”. I use this term a lot when I sell a horse and I always get asked what it means. Track Broke Only means the horse is broke to flat tack, a jockey, a pony horse, the gates and to run 350 yards (in most cases). When I explain this to people it usually turns them away from the horse because you know those “crazy racehorses”. It absolutely does not mean that when you put a stock (western) saddle on them they are going to blow up and be a bronc. I would say that 80% of the horses I bring home don’t buck in a stock saddle and I can climb right on after lunging them. Most will stand tied and stand for a farrier, no problem. Something to always take into consideration is that racehorses are trained to run through the bit. I like to start them in a halter and teach them to move off leg pressure instead of running through my hands. Starting them in a halter lets them sort of forget about the bit and what it meant in their old job. A racehorses life is go, go, go, they don’t know what standstill is, even if they will stand tied they may pace or paw. They don’t know what it means to walk in a straight circle around the round pen. Most don’t even know how to walk off with someone on them without being next to a pony horse. Start with small circles and make them bigger with each circle.
I hope this helps you consider buying an off the track horse or helps you in the starting process if you have already purchased one and are feeling a little stuck. Always keep in mind what they did at the race track and use that in your training to make the transition easier for you both. Buying a horse off the track is really something you should consider. They are great for all disciplines and already have a concept of what it means to have a job and be handled every day. With training and time, I know they will take you to the pay window.
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