I have been around quite a few Thoroughbreds over the years, and I have heard some pretty great stories about a lot of them. I was in Wellington FL this past weekend watching my husband compete, and I had a great conversation with one of his old friends. He was saying that back in the 80s and early 90s, most all the horses competing in show jumping were Thoroughbreds. They all had their quirks, not all of them were 100% sound, and they were hot. Heck, even Touch of Class, double gold medalist in the 1984 Olympics, cross-cantered half the time. She was perfectly fine cross-cantering up to a 5'+ oxer. You see that now and people would tell you the horse was lame. I am sure there was something wrong, but it didn't stop her at all.
This conversation got me thinking about how people these days are searching for a unicorn when they are wanting a new horse. The biggest issue I have when I show people horses at the rescue is they want the whole package. Here is a list of what people are looking for in a horse.
With my horse, I gave up calmness, a loving nature, and when I originally bought her, she wasn't sound. But in exchange, I have a horse than can compete in the 1.10 meter classes. Sure, I can't love and hug on her, and jigging is just a way of life, but I can compete. I am personally willing to give up a lot of things to have a horse jump. But that is just who I am.
We have horses at the rescue who are incredibly sweet, but don't have the talent or soundness to jump 3'. We have others that aren't so sweet, but are brave and will jump anything you put in front of them. It is really up to you on what you are looking for. With our rescues, I try to be as upfront and honest as I possibly can with people. I don't want to waste my time or your time on looking at a horse that doesn't fit your must-haves. The best thing you can know upfront, before coming to try a horse, is what are your must-haves and what you are willing to give up.
I know there are some amazing horses out there that have it all, but there is not one horse at our rescue that checks all the boxes.... but I am okay with that, they are all special and unique in their own way.
To keep your horse happy, you have to keep your horse comfortable. Having a barn full of Thoroughbreds with typically high withers, you have to make sure you keep the pressure off the withers and adequately distribute the weight across the back. If a high-end saddle is out of your price range, one of the greatest half pads you can buy is from Bruno Delgrange. It raises the saddle off the withers, evenly distributes weight on the horses back, and incorporates shock absorbing technology within the pad. It will be the last half pad you ever own. You can learn more about it by clicking here.
If you have the opportunity to buy a saddle for your Thoroughbred, we highly recommend Bruno Delgrange saddles. They fit these high withered guys very well. You can find them used on various horse websites, or even on eBay. Bruno Delgrange also sets up shop at various horse shows and you can find a great used one there, too. They have several different seat sizes, from flat to deep, and can even do complete custom saddles. Since we ride a variety of horses, we can't do a custom saddle. After much thought and research, I finally bought a saddle for the rescue. I bought a Kronos. It is totally different than anything I have ever ridden in. I chose it for a few reasons. First, it has some pretty large knee blocks on the front of the saddle. When you are riding Thoroughbreds off the track for the first time, I want to make sure I have plenty of leather keeping me in the seat. Thankfully, I haven't had anything super silly, but it is nice to know if something does happen, I have some knee blocks keeping me in the right position. Second, it is a mono flap. That means you do not have two flaps of leather between you and the horse, it is a single flap and the girth used is more like a dressage girth. You are able to feel the sides of the horse better which is better with predicting their next move. Third, it is 8 pounds lighter than regular saddles. I firmly believe 8 pounds makes a difference. I come from a show jumping background and if I can shave 8 pounds off my horse's back, I am going to do it.
A saddle is definitely an investment. It is something, if taken care of properly, will be with you for up to 20 years. We have had saddles with us for well over 20 years. We have replaced billets, knee rolls, seats, etc... But when you buy quality, it is easy to fix and maintain. I highly recommend buying the best saddle you can and make sure it fits properly and comfortably on your horse.
I am very particular about tack. Right now, we have three bridles that we use in the rescue... two bridles are Micklem Bridles and the other is just a plain bridle. Ideally, I would have a bridle for each horse so there is no resizing on the fly. Micklems are a little more difficult to resize... but I love them.
What is so different about a Micklem? It's all about the pressure points. It takes pressure off the sensitive parts of the nose while giving you more control of the horse. The bridle padding over the poll is wider than a typical bridle which helps distribute the weight better and relieve pressure. It does not prohibit the nose expanding during heavy work like a drop nose band or figure-8. The horses really love it! To help distribute the weight across the poll even more, we put a BeneFab Therapeutic Poll Pad (click on the name to order) on the bridle. This pad is super soft and cushy and increases circulation in the poll area with magnetic and ceramic therapy. It seems that a lot of horses that come into the rescue have sensitive polls, so the more we can do to make the horse comfortable, the better for the horse.
For the most part, Thoroughbreds have sensitive mouths. Right now, we have a Happy Mouth French Link D-ring, a Copper French Link D-ring, and a Hard Rubber French Link Loose Ring. We have a horse in the rescue right now that has an old scar on the side of his mouth. Who knows how it got there, but I don't want to irritate him with anything hard. He uses the Happy Mouth, but I feel like I can find something better for him. His mouth is like butter. So I did some searching and found a Loose Ring Flexible Mullen Bit by Bombers Bits. It has a stainless steel chain on the inside covered with flexible PVC. It is great for young horses or horses with sensitive mouths since it is so soft and forgiving. It is also good for horses that chew or grind their teeth or are sensitive to metals. I am super excited to try it! I also bought a Soft Rubber Mullen Mouth to try as well. It has no metal running through it and is also very flexible. I will keep you posted to see how he does with his new bit.
We really work with the horse to make sure they are happy. From our saddles (another post, I promise), to the saddle pads, to the girths, to the bridles. We want to give our Thoroughbreds every opportunity to succeed in their new job.
It's cold... and I feel like I can never get a horse clean in this kind of weather. No matter how much I curry or how much I brush, there is dander and dirt that won't vacate itself from the horse's coat. I wanted to buy an Electro Groom, but they are super expensive... like over $600 super expensive. I can't justify purchasing a $600 vacuum for THR... we just can't afford it. That's close to 170 bales of hay!
So I went to Home Depot and did some searching. I found a few vacuums that bragged about being more quiet than the rest. I settled on this one: Ridgid 16 gallon 6.5HP Stainless Steel Vacuum with the Industrial Hose. I really didn't know what to expect with the sound of the vacuum, or its sucking power, or if the horses would like it. I took a chance, that's for sure! But Home Depot is great with returns and at $179, I knew I couldn't go wrong. I set it up yesterday and tested it out today! First, I tried one of the vacuum attachments that was sold with the vacuum. It didn't work well. It grabbed at their skin too tight and made the horse nervous. It really didn't do a good job of picking out the dander. Then, I tried an attachment with a brush end. It didn't get deep enough to the skin to get the dander off either. Finally, I duct taped one of the barn's Electro Groom chrome attachments to the end of the hose and tried it. It worked perfectly! You can buy it here: Inside Fit Replacement Nozzle.
I'll have to say, I am really pleased with the results. I was able to get off the dust and dander on their coats and the horses really seem to love being vacuumed. I was apprehensive about vacuuming the more thin-skinned Thoroughbreds, but they loved it too!
Check out the video I did below!
We currently have five rescues that are stalled and one that is on full turnout. What does a day look like for them? Read more to find out!
Since we are short on paddock space, our stalled rescues go out at night. It isn't ideal during the winter, but we don't have enough paddocks for turnout during the day. They come into their stalls by 7:00AM. They are fed their breakfast which consists of Tribute Kalm Ultra and various supplements supplied by FarmVet. They are given a flake of grass hay to munch on and their water buckets are filled.
After their food has been digested, we take them out and groom them. We curry and brush their bodies, comb their manes, and apply turpentine to the bottoms of their hooves, Keretex Hoof Hardener to the outside of their hooves, and a hoof conditioner to the coronary band. We then ride them based on their needs. We ride our horses 4 to 6 days a week. We try to put as much training on them as possible before they are adopted out. After they are ridden, we groom them again. Finally, we put them on the vibrating floor. They love this. They stand on it for upwards of 30 minutes. It really helps their muscles relax after work. If they jump, we will put ice on their front legs while they sit on the Vitafloor.
By 12:00PM, they are back in their stalls. They each get a large flake of alfalfa for lunch. We clean their stalls and make sure their waters are full. By 3:00PM, it is time for their afternoon feeding. We give the same amount of grain but a different set of supplements based on their needs. We blanket them according to the temperature it is going to be at night before they head back outside.
By 4:00PM they are turned out. At night check, we throw them 3 flakes of grass hay and one flake of alfalfa each outside. Since there is not much grass, you really have to supplement with hay. We want to make sure our horses are staying fat throughout the winter because fat means energy and warmth.
For the outdoor horses, we feed them grain only once per day. We give them hay and alfalfa in the morning and also at night check. We typically bring them in once or twice a week. We check their hooves and make sure their legs look good and they are maintaining weight.
This is what winter looks like at The Horse Rescue. Comment below on how your winter looks!
I have seen some pretty amazing things accomplished with acupuncture. I use it regularly on my personal show horses as a way to address any potential issues before they become problems.
I use acupuncture on the rescue horses for a couple of reasons. The first big reason is muscular stiffness. When these horses come off the track, their muscles are incredibly tight. They have a tendency to track better one way than the other because of under/over developed muscles when they are exercised on the track. I have seen Thoroughbreds canter perfectly with their head completely bent to the side since that is how they were exercised. To get a horse to move slower at the track, exercise riders bend their head's to the side. Could you imagine running that way? Their has to be pain and stiffness associated with such an unnatural movement. Acupuncture allows those muscles to relax. It also allows the energy to flow properly throughout the body. When the horse feels more relaxed, they are more open to learning and are able to move more freely when asked.
The second reason I use acupuncture is behavior. A lot of times, if a horse has a sour attitude, it is because their energy is not flowing properly. In the case of Louisa, she was incredibly grumpy when she first came to us. Her first acupuncture session resulted in her bulldozing us down and a twitch on her nose to quickly finish up her session. After her energy pathways opened up and we put her on a Liver Happy Chinese supplement, her attitude completely changed. During her second acupuncture session, she was like a different horse. She stood relaxed, chewing, and a hind hoof cocked. The acupuncturist thought it was a different horse. I'm just happy she came back to work on her!
A lot of people think acupuncture is used when there is a problem. I don't view it that way... I view it as a way to prevent problems and to make the horse even better. I highly recommend it to anyone who owns and actively rides/competes a horse.
Check out the video below to learn more!
We do more than rescue and rehome horses off the track... and that is what makes us different. So, what exactly is our process from racehorse to adoptable horse? Here is a brief overview of what we do and why we have so much success with placing horses.
When a horse comes off the track, they need time to relax. We give our horses at least 60 days off to recover from the stresses of the track. We call this time "active recovery." We still groom them, handle them, and administer therapy, but we do not ride them. We look at any preliminary issues they may have. We have a vet do flex tests, x-rays, and ultrasounds if needed. If there is an issue, we focus on repairing that issue during active recovery.
After they have received adequate downtime and have been cleared for exercise, we start them into gentle work. We only walk/trot for the first 30 days. Here they learn the basics... how to move off your leg, how to stretch into the bridle, and that contact with your leg does not necessarily mean to move forward. Also, we ride them in groups. This can be stressful in the beginning for a lot of Thoroughbreds. The immediate reaction when a horse canters past them is to move forward. We teach them how to maintain the same pace no matter what the horse next to them is doing. We also take them on trail rides to get them use to more than just riding in a ring.
During the first 30 days of riding, we look closely at how they are tracking. We want to make sure they are tracking evenly and comfortably... both moving in straight lines and doing figure-8s. Our goal is for the horse to be 100% sound before moving forward with more extensive work. We also want to make sure the horse is safe to ride, and to figure out what type of rider the horse needs. Some horses need more confident riders, while others are good with intermediate riders. If a horse has quirks... we let the potential adopter know as we want both horse and rider to be happy.
We work our horses 4 to 6 days a week. We jump them twice a week, mainly through gymnastics. We want them to learn the mechanics of jumping before we even concern ourselves with jumping big.
By the time the horse is in full work, they are up for adoption. Adoption fees are based on age, talent, past injuries, and experience. Some of our horses are given away due to the extent of their injuries, but most are adopted out at various fees. 100% of the adoption fee goes back to THR to help other horses in need. We are completely run by volunteers and we have no overhead. This allows us to solely focus on the horse.
We are proud to be able to offer horses a second chance at a new career, and give people the confidence to adopt a horse who is sound, healthy, and safe.
Like people, all horses have unique personalities. Some horses are naturally happy and nicker to you when you walk in the barn, and some... well, are not. Louisa is that girl. She is not a cuddle bug and she is perfectly fine with very little love and affection... unless you have treats. But I'm okay with that. I know I'm not going to change her, so I have to accept her for who she is and get all my hugging and loving from someone else.
When you have a horse that is a touch more ornery than the rest, here are some tips with how to handle them and their not so sunny disposition. First thing I do is get the horse acupunctured. More often than not, the horse's energy is not flowing correctly, and that makes them a little grumpier than the usual horse. Once you get their energy flowing properly, you will have a much more pleasant horse. Louisa had a Liver Qi stagnation. Her energy wasn't flowing like it should. We put in two acupuncture needles in her hind legs and she immediately felt relief... her energy is flowing again. We also put an acupuncture staple in her forehead which helps calm sensitive horses.
When working with Louisa, she is very sensitive near her hind end. I believe this is a learned behavior as she has "learned" that she can control a human with a swish of the tail and a hike of the hind leg. This behavior needs to be ignored. Do not feed into the behavior by punishing the horse excessively. Now, if the horse tries to kick you, a quick rebuttal with your hand will let them know that is not acceptable, but you do not need to do anything more than that. The bigger you make the issue, the more the horse will start to shut down or behave even worse.
Louisa came to us thinking that kicking out when we were working on her hind legs was acceptable. By ignoring the negative behavior (and rewarding positive), and only delivering a quick reprimand if the behavior becomes dangerous, we are now able to easily pick out her hooves, bathe her hind legs, and even towel dry her hind legs with ease.
Louisa also gives you a grumpy face when you walk in front of her (very typical of Thoroughbreds). Again, the best thing you can do is ignore her. I walk past her and do not give her any attention when she gives me a grumpy face. If she gives me a pleasant face, she is rewarded with a small treat. Horses work much better by reinforcing positive behavior than punishing negative behavior. Punishing negative behavior shuts the horse down to learning. We want our horses happy and willing to please.
With daily grooming and riding, Louisa is making her way to being a great horse to work with. She is testing us less and less and seems to enjoy doing the right thing. We are very pleased with her progress!
45 Days Later.
Can we just say "wow?" At the start of this trial, Ghostly Spaniard had a dull coat, no top line, and did not want to put on weight. He looked lethargic and sad. I told our feed rep at Tribute Equine Nutrition my dilemma and he immediately went to work on a plan.
The plan he developed was simple:
We followed this plan for the 45 days but reduced the hay since he is turned out so much. We did provide up to 3 flakes of alfalfa a day while he was in his stall. We also put him on a Tough as Nails hoof supplement since his feet coming off the track were not in the best condition.
We also started riding him to help build his top line. He felt so good he started running around in his pasture, and we knew then we needed to get on him and get him working. He loves work, and is very happy every time you take him out for a ride.
I really cannot believe it is the same horse. He is happy, has a spark in his eye, and is a complete sweetheart. If you are interested in adopting Ghostly Spaniard, please follow this link: http://www.thehorserescue.org/ghostly-spaniard.html
A special "Thank You" to Ray Compton over at Tribute Equine Nutrition. We cannot thank you enough for your generosity and the passion you have to help these horses! You have a customer for life! If you want to learn more about Tribute Feeds, click here.
Ghostly Spaniard (Barn Name: Cortez) came to us in rough shape. He was underweight, beaten up by the racetrack (osselet on his front right ankle and an atrophied hind gluteus muscle), and had a severe case of rain rot.
The rain rot was an easy fix... daily baths with anti-fungal shampoo, like Micro-Tek Medicated Shampoo, and a daily application of Banixx.
After we healed his skin infection and put a little weight on him, he was adopted out quickly. He has a great personality and looks like a jumper. Unfortunately, the person who adopted him out said he was lame and did not think she could make him sound. I will not give up on a horse so quickly. I knew with a little TLC and time, he was going to make a great horse. I took him back and devised a plan.
We turned Cortez out for approximately 45 days. He needed this time for his body to repair itself naturally. He stood on the Vita-floor three days a week and wore Veredus Magnetic boots when he was in the stall. While being outside, he did drop weight, so we started him on a half day stall/half day turnout program. We increased his feed and added a weight gain supplement. He is currently eating Tribute Kalm Ultra and Tribute Essential K.
After adequate time off, we started riding him but he still seemed a little ouchy. We decided to give him an injection of Osphos. Osphos is a drug that has been proven to help with the bone remodeling process. It was intended for the navicular bone, but can be used for other applications. We decided with the osselet on the ankle that it might need help with the bone remodeling process. It was a shot in the dark, but it was a shot we were willing to take.
He is also on a daily regime of Equioxx. With 42 starts under his belt, Cortez is bound to have some arthritis. Equioxx is an inexpensive and effective way to control the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. I recommend Equioxx for most Thoroughbreds who spent long careers on the track.
Cortez has a shallow soles (very typical in Thoroughbreds) so he is currently in front shoes. Next rotation, we will put shoes all around. With the increased work, and wanting to take him on trails and potential fox hunts, having 4 shoes is necessary.
The last thing we did was take radiographs of his hocks and stifles. We wanted to make sure that he did not have any issues under the surface that could be affecting his performance. We did not see any issues with the x-rays, but we decided to inject his right hock to see if that made any improvement to his gate.
Cortez's rehab hasn't been easy, but everything we have done for him is basic maintenance we would do for any sport horse. We believe in injecting joints when necessary, utilizing alternative therapies (chiropractic, acupuncture, magnetic) and providing proper supplementation to aid in the overall health of the horse. We will do whatever it takes to make sure our horses are given the best chance at a new career... and we are pleased to say Cortez is sound and is ready to work.