Should I Get An Off-The-Track Thoroughbred? (Read Before Buying)

What To Know Before Buying an Off-The-Track Thoroughbred

When you are looking to purchase your next horse, you will likely come across an Off-the-Track Thoroughbred (“OTTB”) for sale. OTTB sales can be tempting because the horses are usually offered for cheap and have the potential to go in many different directions in terms of training. However, there are some things to know before you decide to purchase an OTTB.

Should you buy an off-the-track Thoroughbred? Off-the-Track-Thoroughbreds are former racehorses – they were bred to race, they were trained to race, and until their retirement, they have lived to race. Deciding whether an OTTB is right for you will depend on a variety of factors including your own experience level, how much time you are willing to put into re-training, and whether the OTTB you are looking at is sound and healthy.

While the initial process of purchasing an OTTB, rehabbing it for old injuries or illnesses, and training can be a long one, I’ve known many OTTBs who have gone on to excel in eventing, hunters, jumpers, and even some western disciplines. Read on for more detailed information on what to watch out for, and how to know if an OTTB is right for you.

Are YOU The Right Fit For An Off-The-Track Thoroughbred?

Before looking into whether an OTTB is a right fit for you, you should first take an honest look at yourself and determine whether you are a good fit for an OTTB. If you have a riding instructor, confide in them and discuss whether this would be a good option for you.

How Experienced A Rider Are You?

While there are exceptions to every rule, an OTTB is usually not well suited to a beginner or even intermediate rider. This horse needs to not only be re-trained to develop into a safe riding horse but will also need to be un-trained in what he has come to learn is expected from him under saddle.

You will need to decide whether you are truly experienced enough to confidently take this horse back to square one and teach him the (new) basics all over again. You will need to adjust your riding style as well, teaching him how to use leg cues and what rein contact means. In the racing world, all the horses are trained to do is run! We once had an OTTB come to the barn and initially when ridden with a group, the horse would want to try and race past all the other horses, even if we were just casually walking. Over time, the horse learned that racing wasn’t what it was meant to do anymore. If you plan on getting an OTTB, you are going to have to help the horse un-learn everything it was taught at the race track.

An OTTB should be considered a “green horse,” or a horse that is still inexperienced and not fully trained. To learn more about purchasing a green horse, visit my article What Is A Green Horse? Definition And More.

How Patient A Rider Are You?

Almost more important than your experience level is your level of patience. How much time and work are you willing to put into a Thoroughbred fresh off the track? Thoroughbreds are started under saddle by the age of 2 and are trained and exercised much differently than typical riding horses. 

A racehorse is “worked” for only around 15-20 minutes at a time, and this is mostly at a gallop. An OTTB has likely never experienced a rider hopping onto his back and wanting to walk or trot. Everything he has learned will need to be re-learned, and you (or an instructor you hire) will be the one teaching him. You will likely be doing a lot of groundwork in the beginning, preferably in a round pen or on a lunge line, until he seems to understand what is being asked of him. Once you feel he has a solid understanding on the ground, you will gradually begin working with him under saddle. But this will take time – up until now, he has had no concept of humans wanting anything from him but to go from zero to galloping in record time. 

Is The Off-The-Track Thoroughbred Healthy And Sound?

Racing Thoroughbreds retire for a number of reasons, but usually, it is due to either an injury that prohibits the horse from performing on the track or the horse is not a successful racing horse (this can be due to a more gentle or sensitive disposition, or perhaps the horse simply is not very fast). Even successful racing horses do not race late in life – these ones are typically retired and used for breeding at a relatively young age.

Vet Checks Are Especially Important

You always want to have a thorough vet check on any horse that you are considering purchasing, but this is especially crucial when considering an OTTB. Racing is hard on horses – it is hard on their feet, their legs, and their joints. If you are considering an OTTB for riding purposes and not simply as a pasture pet, you will want to make sure that the horse you have in mind is capable of riding. 

Make sure your vet performs a thorough vet check, including x-rays on the joints and legs. Check the feet thoroughly as well – many off-the-track thoroughbreds have low heels and because they are shoed so often they may have “shelly feet” that will require extra hoof care. Much of the soundness of the OTTB will depend on what you are wanting to do with the horse – are you wanting to show the horse? Use as a lesson horse? Or simply adopt as a pasture pet? This will of course determine what you are willing to “live with” when it comes to the horse’s health.

It’s important to keep in mind that rarely does any horse receive a perfect score on a pre-purchase exam. Horses are just like humans and each has its own health quirks. Before looking to purchase, take time to think about what you are willing to accept and maintain when it comes to your horse’s health. 

Check The Thoroughbred’s Conformation

You can tell a lot about the soundness of a horse, and the future of a horse, by his conformation. When looking at an OTTB, bring someone with you who is experienced with thoroughbreds if you are not. Check for an uphill build and sloped shoulders. Potential problems may arise in horses that have downhill builds and straight shoulders. You will also want to look at the length of the pasterns – long pasterns can lead to tendon and ligament injuries.

How vital you deem some conformation issues will also be determined by what you want to do with your OTTB. As stated earlier, if you are simply wanting to rescue an OTTB as a companion, you may not be as worried about conformation. If you are planning to use an OTTB for hunting or jumping, however, you might make your decision based on the conformation of the horse. To learn how to properly evaluate horse conformation, click here.

Potential Concerns With An Off-The-Track Thoroughbred

There are several issues that may arise if you decide to purchase an OTTB. Here are some tips for handing your OTTB in the beginning and what to expect or plan for when first introducing them to new concepts.

OTTBs are not used to long stirrups that many horseback riders ride in. When racing, the stirrups are up high, hitting the horse on a different place on their side. When you put a long stirrup down for the first time, this may surprise your OTTB. Be cautious with this and with mounting, as many jockeys are given a leg up to mount instead of putting their foot in a stirrup and pulling themselves up.

Racing horses are usually not cross-tied, and if you cross-tie your OTTB he will be in for a big surprise and may react strongly, endangering both himself and those around him. Use caution when using cross-ties, and perhaps save that for a later time, after you have developed some trust with the horse.

Racing thoroughbreds are often stalled up to 23 hours out of the day. If you bring your OTTB home and immediately turn him out, he may not know how to react. Keeping this in mind, it may be beneficial to confine him to a stall or small paddock at first, turning him out slowly and only for short periods of time. It may also help to walk him around for the first few days until he calms down – this will help him explore his new surroundings while following your calming lead.

Are There Any Benefits To Owning An Off-The-Track Thoroughbred?

For all of the potential issues you may face with an OTTB, there are many benefits to these wonderful horses as well!

Former racehorses have seen everything, and while they can still spook, they are typically much less reactive than many other horses. They are used to performing in front of a lot of people and applause, hearing loudspeakers and being around other horses, trailering, and being around trucks and other vehicles. Racehorses have seen it all, and this is a plus when it comes to these large spooky creatures that are horses.

You will also likely be able to find a gem of an OTTB for a decent price. Retired thoroughbreds are sold for very little money and sometimes given away for free. This can be a huge benefit if you have a small budget and are willing to put in the time and energy it takes in re-training. This is also a benefit if you are a trainer and looking for a re-sell project. There is a lot to be gained if you find the right retired Thoroughbred.

Thoroughbreds are also, by nature, incredibly athletic. With time, they can successfully transition to a second career of many different disciplines, both western or English. They can excel at dressage, jumping, or even roping. Get a quieter thoroughbred and you’ve got yourself a great lesson horse or trail partner. 

Is An Off-The-Track Thoroughbred The Right Fit For You?

While there are many variables to whether an OTTB is a right fit for what you are looking for, there are many wonderful retired thoroughbreds that would make an excellent horse no matter your discipline, especially if you are an experienced, patient rider.


Thoroughbreds are one of the fastest horse breeds in the world. To learn more, visit my article Top 8 Fastest Horse Breeds In The World.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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