It was just a few weeks ago that we all sighed in disappointment when California Chrome failed to win the Triple Crown. It was a good reminder of just how tough horseracing can be.
The racing industry provides “the most exciting 60 seconds in sports” but is also a place where many great horses disappear into obscurity at young ages and fail to meet their full potential. Only a few in thousands ever see the spotlight.
At Cottonwood, we spend a lot of time retraining off-the-track Thoroughbreds as sport horses and finding them new homes. We’ve been doing this for decades with great success. The Gandomcar family has always had a knack for finding well-mannered, quiet TB athletes. Many of these have been placed with families and some have gone on to perform internationally.
Now that Tara and Erica are following in their parents’ footsteps, we look forward to matching more amazing horses with riders around the state. We choose our horses meticulously, performing our own strategic tests to ensure they have good natures, intelligent minds and strong, sound bodies.
Most of these OTTBs come to us knowing next to nothing. They’ve been trained as 2-year-olds to wear a saddle and bridle, carry a rider and run fast in a big circle. Not exactly a thorough basis for dressage, eventing or polo. But they can learn! They’re already conditioned and ready to get started, and we can take them back to basics and find their individual sport aptitudes as we work with them.
They have a naturally good work ethic and are looking for a job so we take them back to the basics of good dressage work, trail riding, proper jumping technique or polo to find the sport that best suits the horse. The great thing about what we do is that we allow the horse to shine. You can never tell if they will have the mind for dressage or the patience for a young rider until you try.
These horses surprise us daily. The ones we think won’t want to work end up working harder for us than we could’ve imagined, and the ones that maybe aren’t typical conformation for jumping often perform at amazing levels. It’s the work ethic that keeps us coming back to them. They are all amazing creatures with big hearts and a lot to offer.
Horses live roughly 30 years yet most ex-racehorses are retired by age 5. That leaves a lot of years ahead and potential that just needs to be tapped! Plus, Thoroughbreds are some of the most athletic, beautiful horses on earth and are often well suited to disciplines like dressage, eventing, polo and pleasure.
Besides putting all of that ability to use, there are other reasons why we believe this is important.
Perhaps one of the most important is that some ex-racehorses have been injured, mistreated or taught bad manners during their racing days. Often, they’re not irreparably damaged but still, initially they are not suited to most riders. They need some R&R, TLC and consistent, solid training from professionals before they can become someone’s well-loved baby.
We love seeing that process happen, and only wish we could do more! Did you know that many ex-racehorses who don’t cut it on the track are sent to slaughter? To be blunt, that means if they aren’t purchased or adopted, they could become dog food. That is a fate that these wonderful horses do not deserve. They just need a chance, and we work to give that chance to as many as possible. We believe that every horse has a perfect job and a partner, and we just have to make the right match.
We wish we had time and space to tell the stories of the off-track Thoroughbreds we’ve known! So many wonderful memories, triumphs and stories of great horsey hearts would fill a pretty long book.
Is your horse an OTTB? Then you know what we’re talking about! We love to hear stories of successful rehab and retraining—share yours here!