By Sally O’Dwyer
Who knew this horse would become a great love of mine? Small and copper, George doesn’t have much chrome, just a half sock and a white blaze that wanders off to the left side of his face that looks like it was painted on by a drunken god. His upper lip sports a faded tattoo. His racing career was short and unremarkable.
I met George at a polo barn in Virginia. A friend had seen him and declared him “too nice for polo.” I was looking for a dressage horse, and with my limited budget, my search was not going well. I was lost in a protracted quest. A friend suggested I consider a Thoroughbred. I thought this was a crazy idea, thinking that the “hot blooded” Off the Track (OTTB) Thoroughbreds are trained to race and probably bolt whenever they get the chance. After dogged insistence by my friend that I was woefully misinformed, I thought, what do I have to lose? And since George was recommended, I went to look.
Diamonds in the rough. Upon meeting George, I was unimpressed. Standing there among the 90 other horses or so that were in the polo barn, George was unremarkable, forlorn, and scrawny. His mane was roached, polo pony style. However, the barn manager said I could take him on trial for a couple of months. With this generous offer, along with my friend’s assurance that this was a brilliant, no-brainer of an idea, we loaded him up and took him home.
Great for amateurs. When we got home, I was uneasy about George. I waited for him to take off or do something nutso because, after all, he was an ex-racehorse. But he never did. I was so wrong! George, and turns out most other Thoroughbreds, are both sensitive and good-natured. Thoroughbreds love to please and have great work ethics. They are uncomplicated, have great brains, and are quick learners. They are not argumentative or stubborn. Once they understand what you are asking of them, they are happy to oblige. They are inclined to be more “Go” than “Whoa” and respond to the softest of aids. George does have a laughable spook. I call George “my comfy slippers” because when I am on him, I have no worries.
Transitioning from the track is often difficult. George led a hard knock life before becoming a dressage horse. Life is tough at the track, so be sure to get a thorough vetting, including X-rays, when buying any horse. OTTB’s need time to let down from the track and training to transition to their new job. Kimberly Godwin Clark wrote a great book about this titled—New Track, New Life. (For more about Kimberly, check out her exclusive YourDressage article “For the Love of the Thoroughbred”)
I am glad I took a chance on an OTTB. He is not the fanciest nor does he have big moves. I love riding and learning on him, and I would not trade him for anything. George taught me that the connection you have with your horse is all that really matters. And, together, George and I earned a USDF Bronze Medal.
Consider a Thoroughbred. To me, George is priceless, but in truth, Thoroughbreds are easy on the budget, and you can help them out by giving them a new job. You never know where, or when you are going to meet your heart horse. And that, my friend, might well be a Thoroughbred.