Social media, as well as the new and improved RRP Horse Listings, have enabled potential OTTB owners to review a large number of retiring Thoroughbred racehorse listings at any time. Newcomers to the breed might find it challenging to consider a prospect right off the track and decide if it’s a match for their desired purpose.
In this column veteran Thoroughbred Makeover trainers share their strategies for assessing and selecting prospects based only on conformation photos. We feature trainers from two disciplines in each issue.
2023 Thoroughbred Makeover Show Jumper Champion with Limonata
Based in Pottstown, PA, Claudia Dollinger has been in the hunter/jumper industry for almost 20 years. While she rode OTTBs when younger, it wasn’t until she was about 17 that she became invested in the Thoroughbred industry and aftercare, including a position at Vintage Thoroughbreds rehabbing injured horses, raising young horses and foaling out broodmares eventually working up to be barn manager. She launched her own boarding and training facility in 2020 and has worked with several OTTBs since. She’s also continued her horse showing career throughout, including ribbons at Pony Finals, the Devon Horse Show and rated circuits in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
2023 Thoroughbred Makeover Eventing Champion with Smokeonthehorizon
Based in Lexington, KY, Jhett Jenkins began her riding career young, first in local pony club and then moving to a local eventing barn. After graduating high school, she moved east to chase her dream of riding professionally, riding whatever horses she could get her hands on including lots of off-track Thoroughbreds, where she gained an appreciation for their work ethic as a breed. She moved to Kentucky a few years ago, now working under the guidance of experienced OTTB trainer Jenn O’Neill. Her favorite part of the job is producing young horses and watching them learn and grow.
Choosing a Horse
Through their professional networks, both Dollinger and Jenkins have developed relationships with racing connections that will reach out when they have horses looking for a new career. Dollinger has sourced several horses through David Boyer, based at Penn National, including her 2023 Show Jumper winner Limonata, and has also utilized CANTER and its network of organizations. In addition to her own network of connections, Jenkins will browse through online listings via Facebook group, and sometimes scouts in-person at Keeneland as well.
Jenkins likes to ride various types of horses, so does not always hold to particular “rules” on conformation, but if she’s shopping for herself, she usually likes a smaller horse — nothing bigger than 16 hands. “I prefer short backed and compact,” she describes. “I tend to look into conformation more than movement right away, since a lot of horses come off the track really tight and fit. Usually some downtime and stretching can resolve that.” While she sees behavior in-hand as a helpful indicator of a horse’s disposition, she also respects that many horses will change with a change in lifestyle. She takes all comers as far as bloodlines, but has a particular soft spot for offspring of Kitten’s Joy.
Dollinger takes a good look at the jog video to make her assessment, but takes what she sees with a grain of salt: “At the track, horses are usually tight behind and not used to being asked to jog like a hunter breeding horse. They aren’t going to move like the amazing show hunter that you might be looking for. So instead I look for even steps behind with the horse comfortably pushing off both hinds. I also look at how the horse swings through their back — does it show any lift or flow? I love to see a horse swing through its back.” She describes that watching a large quantity of jog videos has helped her get more and more confident at making decisions on her own, though she also sends videos to her vet when she’s interested in a particular horse for her professional insight as well. Dollinger takes conformation into consideration as well, looking at photos for apparent imbalances including being over the knee, general straightness of the legs, or horses who look uphill or downhill.
Meet the Prospects
Our model horses all come from New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, which has nine facilities and in six states. Racing connections donate horses to New Vocations at the end of the horses’ racing careers, either directly of through programs such as NYTHA’s Take the Lead or Maryland’s Beyond the Wire. Connections complete and submit a horse application form and send all available veterinary records and information for New Vocations to determine if the horse is a good fit for its program.
New Vocations prides itself on its ability to provide long- and short-term veterinarian-supervised rehabilitation services for horses after injury or surgery and before they begin their retraining. This process includes veterinary evaluation at the time of donation for horses with less robust veterinary histories or those with clinical signs not noted in histories, as well as continued rechecks throughout the veterinarian-prescribed rehab protocol. Once horses return to soundness, they start basic transitional training when mentally and physically ready.
New Vocations relies on donations, fundraisers, grants and other financial gifts to carry out its mission to rehab, retrain and rehome retiring racehorses.
While these three horses might no longer be available for adoption when this article publishes, New Vocations has plenty of prospects available for adoption at newvocations.org.
Horse 1: I absolutely love the look of this horse. This is one that I would immediately look into after seeing this conformation shot because he is so evenly balanced. He follows the “rule of the thirds” and would break down into three even sections. His hind end makes a nice equilateral triangle from hip to end of the haunches to the stifle which is truly the ideal. The hind end being balanced and strong is very important to me when looking for a strong jumper. His muscle tone is nice as is, but with more work he would fill out and be truly breathtaking. He has a nice set shoulder which would allow him to snap his knees up for jumping. Altogether, I would place this horse as my number one pick as a hunter or jumper prospect.
Horse 3: This horse looks decently balanced. He is a little short in his neck but I don’t tend to mind too much — that can make a handier and compact ride. With current Thoroughbred breeding this shorter neck seems to be more and more popular. However he might need to be taught to use his neck correctly since it appears that there is more muscling on the underside of his neck and not enough on the top side. I see this mostly in horses that carry themselves higher-headed or just generally don’t go onto the bit correctly yet. His hind end looks very powerful to me and the angles are all even. With some more weight and muscling, this horse looks like he would be a powerhouse and one that I would be truly interested in as an eventing or jumper prospect.
Horse 2: This horse has an absolutely adorable head and a nice look to his eye. I’d say he’s a little on the more compact side — slightly short necked and short in the haunches as well. I dont mind them being short/compact because it makes for a handier ride. He’s a little upright on his hind pasterns which may make for a shockier ride. His shoulder angle is a bit further back than I would prefer so he would need more help learning to bring up his front end. I would not be surprised if he rode a bit high-headed and needed to learn to relax into the bit. If I came across his ad, I would check to see his age. If he’s only two or three, he might still have some growing and filling out to do. This one I would skip over as a hunter prospect but as a jumper or eventer he might do better.
Horse 3: This horse is stunning, wow! I love his build. His neck comes beautifully out of his shoulder, he has an uphill build, and a gorgeous shoulder. I just love the overall look of this horse. The only thing I don’t love is the pasterns, they are on the long side and a tad upright. But what a gorgeous prospect.
Horse 2: I love the look of this one. This horse has a shorter back and a little more compact build than the other two, and I prefer that. His shoulder is a bit small and upright, but I like where the neck comes out. I love the hind end on this one: it’s built really nice and naturally puts the horse up underneath itself. A really lovely horse overall!
Horse 1: The coat and body condition is beautiful — so shiny and filled out. I love when prospects start this way; it gives you a great base to work with. This one is built a little bit downhill — not drastically, but that will change the way he goes. The angle on the shoulder is a little bit upright, but not drastically so. The front feet match and are also a touch upright. That wouldn’t deter me, I just like the other two a bit better.
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