Social media, as well as the new and improved RRP Horse Listings, has 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.
■ Cameron Sadler
2022 Thoroughbred Makeover Field Hunter winner with Mike Mike
Sadler has worked with off-track Thoroughbreds since she was in her teens and has always preferred the breed whether she was showing, foxhunting or eventing. Since 2003 Sadler has been a Master of Foxhounds based in North Carolina and primarily hunts with Thoroughbreds. She is regularly a Top 5 finisher in Field Hunter at the Makeover and also typically cross-enters into Show Jumper or Eventing.
■ Holly Zecchin
2022 Thoroughbred Makeover Dressage winner with Buckeye Warrior
Zecchin has spent most of her lifelong equestrian career competing in eventing and foxhunting, with most of her horses being Thoroughbreds. A multiyear Makeover veteran, Zecchin has finished in the Top 5 in Dressage and Field Hunter. She has recently begun working in the Western Dressage discipline and finds the Thoroughbreds are well suited to that field, as well. She won the 2022 Dressage division in Western tack with Buckeye Warrior.
Choosing a Horse
Both Cameron Sadler, of Southern Pines, North Carolina, and Holly Zecchin, of Metamora, Michigan, prefer to choose prospects based on temperament and personality. “The most important quality I look for is a quiet but curious temperament,” says Zecchin, who not only shops for herself but also guides students acquiring their own horses. Sadler’s job as Master of Foxhounds, as well as her husband’s role as a huntsman, means she too is looking for a good-minded horse. “Specifically, we’re looking for a horse that is kind and calm in chaos, as well as being sound and athletic.”
Zecchin studies a prospect’s gaits, preferably turned loose or at least on the longe line. “The trot should have some natural cadence and suspension, and the canter should have a tendency for uphill balance.” Sadler’s emphasis is on sound and comfortable movement because she is often in the saddle for four-hour stretches while hunting.
Conformationally, both Sadler and Zecchin have a few boxes they like to check. “I always look for a kind eye,” says Sadler. “I want to see a sloping shoulder and strong, sturdy legs for jumping.” Ideally, she seeks a horse with a hunter’s headset and the poll naturally at or just above the withers. Zecchin likes to see balanced overall proportions and correct, straight legs and also notes the muscling in a horse’s croup and loins. “The muscling, or lack thereof, can be indicative of overall soundness in a horse’s hindquarters.”
Sadler has built a personal network over the years through which she sources many of her horses. “I am thankful that within my network I will sometimes get a call from a friend or contact who has my type of horse available,” she says. Her second most common place to get prospects is through a combination of online listings and adoption organizations. Zecchin also favors adoption organizations, having had success with New Vocations and Turning For Home.
Additionally, Sadler has a few favorite bloodlines she seeks out: “I am a fan of Smart Strike, Honor Code, Kitten’s Joy and A.P. Indy.”
Meet the Prospects
Our model horses all come from Win Place Home, in Canyon Country, California. Win Place Home was founded in 2015 by CJ Wilson, who had worked on the racetrack for 10 years as both an assistant trainer and a vet tech. Regularly offered horses to help retire, Wilson spent five years planning and preparing to open Win Place Home as a charitable aftercare organization that took in its first horse in February 2016. Since opening, Win Place Home has successfully adopted out 78 horses and has 20 horses in the barn for retraining.
Win Place Home takes in horses it has the means to support for a year and gives them solid foundations before listing them for adoption. The organization also rehabilitates injured horses before retraining. All three of these horses are available for adoption and eligible for the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover. While they might no longer be available at press time, Win Place Home has plenty of prospects looking for their next partners.
Horse 3: The head and neck position on this horse make him appear calm and easygoing, and his eye appears kind. He has a strong and substantial shoulder; he’s a little longer-bodied than Horse 2 but is still nicely proportioned with a pretty nice, long neck. I get the impression he could be great as a field hunter.
Horse 2: This horse’s uphill build seems like it would work nicely for eventing and dressage. He’s very nicely short-coupled with a good angle on his hind end, which should help him over fences. Overall, I get the impression that this one might be a bit keen, which might also make him a bit excitable in the hunt field.
Horse 1: This horse has a beautiful color, which also indicates to me that this horse is quite young — so not as mature-looking as the other two. She does have a calm eye and a nice head, and I think she has a strong hind end. Once this horse fills in and matures a bit more, I think she will be quite nice — the other two just leave a stronger impression on me right now.
Horse 2: It’s hard to get a sense of the shape of this horse’s head since his mouth is open, but he looks inquisitive and alert. His length of neck is balanced with his body, and its shape is appropriate for a young horse. I really like his shoulder and the way his neck attaches. He seems compact with a proportional length of back. He might be a bit tied in below the knees on the front legs, but that might also be from the camera position. I like the way he stands over his hind legs, which appear to have correct stifle and hock angles.
Horse 1: This horse has a pleasant, kind expression. Her neck looks fairly short and underdeveloped, although that might be from her positioning for the camera. This horse appears to have nice flat knees and fairly short cannon bones in her front legs, which I like to see. Her front hooves point straight ahead, so she likely doesn’t toe in or out. She’s standing a bit awkwardly for this photo but looks a bit camped out in her hind legs, and her back also looks rather long. I do like the musculature over her back and through her croup. Her hindquarters are obviously very powerful and have been working correctly to propel her through life.
Horse 3: This horse has a classic shape to his head, and large ears that I love. And what a lovely neck. At first glance he was my favorite because of his beautiful shoulder and lots of bone. He appears to toe out a bit on the left front, but the joints look clean and tight. I wouldn’t discount him for anything on his front end. He does seem to have some lack of muscling through his loins and hindquarters. This might also be due to the photo angle, but his hind leg angles look a little on the straight side, and he’s standing with his hind hooves camped out behind. He might have a bit of a long back, but that might also be an illusion due to having bony lumbar vertebrae.