I was reading a thing today asking people to share their OTTB success stories for a chance to win some prizes & have that story published on a bigger platform than many of our own Instagram pages. The people doing the “contest” posted some pieces of stories as examples. The common thread was some kind of gross mismanagement of the animal somewhere in their life. I see this a lot, but seeing a few layed out together really bugged me. The notion that we’re the one special person, chosen by our own personal steeds, that can tame them, make them well or both. I call it a “black stallion complex”, and it’s bullshit. There are plenty of quirky horses out there to be sure. OTTB’s have their share. But by and large the breed has been bred and developed to not only be athletic, but biddable. It’s no wonder many many many go on to successful second, third & fourth careers. OTTB’s are usually cheap, so anyone who ever had a poster of a unicorn can probably get one. However, what these people don’t realize is that the $600 horse they just bought is going to have a care bill (feed, hay, shoes, vet, for the love of everything – lessons) for equal or greater that amount every month. So then they get skinny or mishandled or both. Then we get these “wonderful underdog stories!” about a horse that should have NEVER had that middle bit happen. Ever.
Let me tell you how it should go. How it does go for many more than it doesn’t. Let me tell you the reasonably boring story that will never win a thousand dollar supplement package or a weekend working with an Olympian at a deeply discounted price because we did it right. The story that more share than don’t in its generalities.
I am small time. I’ve always had a good head for a horse. Even a difficult, quirky one & I’ll put in the time. The time over my husband, over vacations, over everything. I’ve gotten to ride some really top horses with excellent instruction through a former employer, and previous to that it was with the help of pony club and parents. What I (and so many other capable trainers) lack is the funding to keep this up without those assistances. I personally think my biggest problem is keeping my projects on the feed bill too long. Most are not ready to be “flipped” in 3-6 months. Physically & lots of times mentally. But that’s another rant for another day.
Funding. For the horse in this story, I got a backer. He said, “go buy a couple things & we’ll sell them in a while.” I had seen a girl post some really nice stock on one of the Facebook OTTB pages a few times, so I messaged her. Gave her my budget – to include shipping – and asked what she had. She sent me back 3 nice prospects. I already had two smallish, flashy mares (15.2 chestnut w/chrome & 14.2 POA) for this client, so I went for the big bay gelding. Crackindovehunt had raced 6 times and came in dead last in every one. Retired sound with clean, tight legs. Sara arranged shipping. We wired her money & JP, as he became known, arrived 2 days later. He came off the trailer calm, but alert. He had good weight, he was well hydrated, his feet looked good. No sob story here. He’d obviously been well looked sfter & shipped with care. He spent his whole 3 y/o year hacking trails on my clients quail plantation, going on hound walk & some local shows at which he walked calmly around on a loose rain. He continued to be well cared for and I had eyes on the ground a couple days a month from a former Rolex competitor (circa early 80`s). About a year later, client sold the farm & JP came to my place. He fox hunted some in 2nd /3rd flight through is 4 y/o year. He started tiny (2’6 ish) jumps & some dressage which I had help with from a Pony Club A Level examiner & Prix St. George rider. JP turned 5, which is when I usually start asking them for “real” work, but I got pregnant. A friend of mine has competed through 2* & fox hunts as well, so with my clients permission I sent JP to her. I stayed on as JPs agent. JP has just turned 6. He has started competing Training level, schools preliminary & intermediate, had lessons with Lucinda Green & Becky Holder, fox hunts & is regularly ridden by a 13 y/o girl who adores him.
Literally the worst thing to happen in this horses life was a bad case of rain rot one spring & he once had a hot nail. I will never win any assistance with this story. Assistance I would use for my personal horses that have similar quality care and have also had little to no hardship in their lives. 2 mares & a gelding that leave me running a tab at the feed store until clients pay or $12 in my checking account. Horses I would love to have a little more xc schooling or high level instruction with.
This story is not unique. Many many good trainers & owners on and off the track sacrifice to make sure these horses never have a come-from-behind story that will make the news or a highlight reel. These people, these workhorses, rarely if ever get any recognition or prizes for doing a good job in a tough industry over and over again.