Picking Prospects May 2024

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 column; this time, we’re featuring two adult amateurs.

Our Trainers

Haley Castleberry
2023 Thoroughbred Makeover Competitive Trail Champion with Adios Dee Dee

Haley Castleberry has been riding since the age of six and credits a supportive family and great trainers with helping her on her way. She never had a large budget for horses, so rode primarily Thoroughbreds throughout her life, restarting and selling horses as an adult to balance life circumstances and raising a family. While primarily a hunter/jumper rider, she focused on Competitive Trail with Adios Dee Dee along with Show Jumper for the 2023 Thoroughbred Makeover to make a well-rounded horse, and won the discipline.

Melissa Meitzen
2023 Thoroughbred Makeover Highest Placed Broodmare in Barrel Racing with Ballerina Boogie

Melissa Meitzen first experienced the Thoroughbred Makeover in 2021 and has been a veteran trainer ever since, preparing her Thoroughbreds for Barrel Racing with a well-rounded base in other disciplines as well including Ranch Work and Competitive Trail. She has been riding in a mounted patrol since 2022, using her Thoroughbreds on the job and exposing them to a variety of obstacles and situations. She has experience in colt starting and ground work.

Choosing a Horse

While both Castleberry and Meitzen are adult amateurs, they each keep resale value of prospects in mind when they’re horse shopping. “Life happens, and sometimes the ‘forever’ horse has to get sold,” describes Castleberry. Meitzen keeps a one to two year resale timeline in mind. That said, both trainers are still selecting horses that they personally will enjoy working with and have the conformation and appearance to match their desired goals.

For Castleberry, that means an overall balanced conformation with good angles to the hooves. “It can take some digging to find the right one,” she details. “I usually sourse horses through social media or trust friends.” She tends to want to see a conformation photo from each side of the horse, and if there are videos available, a walk and jog in-hand. “Overall, I’m, looking for a smooth, athletic horse. I like one that’s friendly too.”

Meizten similarly wants to see personality and a good attitude in her prospects. “I really don’t care if the horse holds a track recored if they’re not agreeable to work with on the ground or under saddle,” she describes. “I like a horse that is a bit more sensitive, but not something that will end up in the next county over if I add leg.” As far as conformation goes, Meitzen likes a horse with good bone and a good, larger foot with shorter pasterns, and when she’s specifically sourcing a horse for barrel racing, she likes to see a sprinter. She’s sourced horses through “just about every avenue,” including adoption organizations, social media listings, through friends, and through particular resellers.

Meet the Prospects

Our model horses all come from Thoroughbred Athletes, which was founded in 2011 and was the first all-Thoroughbred retraining center in Oklahoma. Founded by Lynn Sullivan, formerly a racehorse trainer, Thoroughbred Athletes not only transitions and adopts out retired racers but also works with the juvenile system and the local Job Corps Center to help at-risk youth develop the critical skills that come from working with horses.

Thoroughbred Athletes specializes in the most at-risk horses, and considers education an important aspect of its work especially in regards to nutrition and problem solving to prevent horses from entering at-risk situations. Any horse that is a registered Thoroughbred can enter the Thoroughbred Athletes program; the organization thoroughly vets its horses and completes any necessary surgery or rehabilitation from injury.

Adopters, who are screened through an application and references and are required to work with a trainer if this is their first Thoroughbred, are not restricted from the resale of horses adopted through the program; however, all horses are offered a lifetime safe landing through Thoroughbred Athletes and thus the organization must be notified if a horse changes hands.

While these three horses might no longer be available for adoption when this article is published, Thoroughbred Athletes has plenty of prospects available at thoroughbred-athletes.com.

Horse 1: Data Cat (Data Link – Cat Be Nimble, by Tale of the Cat)

Horse 2: Okie Heater (Latent Heat – Okie Spirit, by Cavvy)

Horse 3: E.F. Won (Da Stoops – Chicken Noodle, by Curlin)

Castleberry’s Picks:

Horse 1: This horse looks the most balanced overall to me. I like his length of neck, though it is a little low set. He has a big shoulder with good angles that will allow him to lift that front end over the jumps. He also seems to have a nice eye.

Horse 2: This horse currently looks a little higher in the croup than the withers, but time will likely allow that front end to catch up. He has a nice shoulder and a well-set neck that suggests he could be a good mover. His back is a bit long, but that can also be a good indicator of scope over fences.

Horse 3: This horse is fairly high in the croup currently, and that may make it harder for him to be lighter on his front end. Not impossible though: he likely going to grow more. His neck appears shorter than the other two, but part of that could be how he’s set up. He has a big hip that will provide a lot of power and push which is what a good jumper needs. His legs appear clean too.

Meitzen’s Picks:

Horse 1: On first look, I really love this gelding. He’s fairly balanced in shoulder and hip size, and his proportions don’t make your eye focus on one particular part of him when you look at him as a whole. He has nice shorter pasterns and what look like good feet. I also really like that he has some slope to his croup; I find these horses have an easier time getting their hind end under them to sit and make barrel turns, or keep propulsion through their lead changes on the poles. While he has a slightly higher set wither, his neck ties in nicely. This horse has a soft face, and I think overall he would be well suited to do a range of disciplines.

Horse 3: This gelding has a slightly shorter neck than Horse 1, but again I really do like the look of this horse as a whole. He’s slightly downhill which could make fitting a western saddle a bit of a challenge, but again this horse has a lot of similar qualities to Horse 1. He has a nice large hip, and even though his past turns are a little bit longer he has a good angle to them. His neck ties in a little bit higher, but I don’t think this horse would have an issue performing a variety of tasks. I also really like how deep in the heart girth this horse is.

Horse 2: This horse appears to be newer off the track compared to the other two but again has qualities that I really like. He’s a little bit weaker in his top line and flatter in his croup, but I love how he has a shorter pastern and appears balanced in his shoulder and his hip. To me, this gelding is more of an “English” type horse. I think with some let down time and some body work focusing on developing this horse’s top line, he could make someone an excellent prospect.