Between aftercare organizations, reselling agents, horses already in training for a second career and horses coming directly off the track, there’s an overwhelming array of options, and it’s difficult to know which way to acquire a Thoroughbred is the best way: as with many such questions in the horse industry, that answer depends on a lot of factors. In this guide, we hope to help you get started and connect with the perfect horse for you.
Before we dive in, make sure you’re familiar with the concept of aftercare and the four branches that support the aftercare industry.
When you’re ready to start shopping for off-track prospects, ask yourself a few honest questions:
1. What are your goals with your off-track Thoroughbred?
Are you looking for a show partner, a trail companion, or a pasture pet that won’t be ridden? Do you want a post-racing “blank slate” or a horse that’s had some second-career training?
2. What experience do you have with transitioning a horse directly off the track?
A horse that raced yesterday will likely have a different energy level than a horse that has been turned out for the past month; both of those horses will be different from a horse that has been in a professional restarting program for 30 days. What level of experience do you and/or your boarding barn trainer and staff have with transitioning Thoroughbreds directly off the track? The first weeks off the track can be one of the biggest transitions of a Thoroughbred’s life: not everyone is comfortable with that responsibility, and that’s okay! Assess yourself and your experience level honestly to avoid trouble later.
3. What level of training are you comfortable with?
On the market, you’ll find off-track Thoroughbreds who are finished horses with show records, horses who are still on the track’s backside and recently raced, and everything in between. Just like with your experience level with transitioning a horse off the track, assess yourself and your riding experience honestly, and take into consideration if you’ll be working with a trainer or forging ahead on your own. There are Thoroughbreds for every experience level as long as you’re honest with what you’re looking for, and there are trainers with experience retraining Thoroughbreds for careers after racing throughout the country who are available as a resource for when you run into challenges.
Now that you have an idea of your goals and ideal level of transition and training, let’s start horse shopping! Typically, it’s no longer possible for private buyers to just show up at the backside of the racetrack with a horse trailer and start walking the barns looking at horses for sale. With the ease and instant connection of the internet and social media, a lot of Thoroughbred shopping is now done on a smartphone or personal computer, but there are still opportunities to see horses in person as well.
Adopting through aftercare organizations: To find an aftercare organization near you, we recommend using the lists of Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA)-accredited organizations or the Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) grantees. These are by no means all-inclusive lists of organizations, but the accreditation and grant applications processes for the TAA and TCA indicate that the organizations meet the TAA’s or TCA’s thorough set of standards.
Look outside your region too — some aftercare organizations will adopt horses out of state, and some may be able to assist in lining up a reputable shipper or even providing a shipping grant to cover transportation costs. Aftercare organizations can match you with a horse that perfectly matches your desired transition or retraining level.
Browsing Facebook groups and listing services: While it can be a lot of work to click through post after post in some of the larger Thoroughbred/OTTB sales groups on Facebook, social media is still a great place to find horses quickly. You can also post an “in search of” ad if you’re looking for something very specific (be prepared to filter a lot of responses). You’ll find Thoroughbreds at all stages of transition and retraining from those still on the track to experienced show horses ready for a new partner. Don’t rule out listing websites or apps, either! These typically include filterable searches that help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
End-of-meet showcases: Some tracks, such as Delaware Park in Stanton, DE or Presque Isle Downs in Erie, PA, offer end-of-meet showcase events through aftercare organizations such as CANTER. These events give horse buyers the opportunity to visit with horses in the barn, speak to racing connections, watch horses walk and jog in-hand, and sometimes vet horses with pre-purchase exams on-site in one day. These showcase events are suited well to buyers looking for prospects direct off the track, who have experience letting down horses and are ready to take a horse home the same day.
Thoroughbred sport horse sales: As part of the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, the Retired Racehorse Project hosts the Makeover Marketplace, which allows Makeover trainers to market their horses for sale during the event. It’s a unique opportunity to watch horses perform in the competition arena in a big show environment, plus trial-ride in a designated arena and vet horses right on-site from among a hundred prospects. Learn more about the Marketplace and start planning your trip now. This is a great place to purchase a horse who is ready to show and already well-transitioned to a second career.