Prior to August 23, 2018, the day that my own off-track Thoroughbred stepped off the trailer, I had zero experience in retraining an ex-racehorse. Sure I’d worked plenty of other broke horses, but never a horse fresh off the track just 3 weeks out from the last race of his career.
And yet here I am, months later, having done nearly all of the training myself, still standing. Actually… riding. With repeated success.
Despite my inexperience, I also made an incredible effort to educate myself as quickly as possible. I read a bunch of books and watched hours of schooling online all before my own “Sure Prize” arrived at our farm. Since then I’ve seen a lot of people ask for recommendations on reading materials, articles, books, or training videos. Things like, “So whose method works best?” or “Oh, they just got a good, calm, horse. They got lucky.”
While I’ll never argue that there’s no such thing as luck, I will always be an advocate of the fact that you make your own luck when it comes to horses. You set yourself and your horse up for success or failure, not the other way around.
And that’s where these resources can be incredibly valuable for the inexperienced like me – helping to set yourself and your horse up for success by educating yourself and then your horse!
So, to help my fellow ex-racehorse retraining greenies, I thought I’d give y’all a little insight as to which I’ve found to be the most helpful OTTB training books and videos so far.
10. Second-Chance Horses: Inspiring Stories of Ex-Racehorses Succeeding in New Careers, Staff at Blood-Horse
Alright, I know this book isn’t exactly training related BUT… if you need some chicken soup for the soul style inspiration as to what OTTBs are capable of, this is a great place to start. There’s stories of ex-racehorses going on to serve productive second careers as part of mounted police units, equine therapy programs, and even returning to the track as lead pony horses (here’s looking at you Funny Cide). It’s a great read for anyone in need of inspiration about the versatility of the breed.
This book is available on Amazon in Hardcover and on Kindle.
This is probably the third or fourth book I’ve read by Cherry Hill and what I really appreciate about her writing style is that she explains everything in ways that the greenest of greenies can understand. It’s a simple, straightforward explanation of literally over one hundred exercises anyone and any horse should be able to do on the ground. Being that the ground is one of the best places to start with any ex-racehorse retraining program, having a good understanding of these exercises and the ability to recall them quickly and put them to work with your OTTB (or truly any horse you’re unfamiliar with) is an excellent way of improving communication and developing your relationship.
This book is available on Amazon in spiral-bound or Kindle.
8. Parelli Natural Horsemanship Levels 1-3, Pat Parelli (Video)
While Pat Parelli has a reputation for his expertise with natural horsemanship, the tools he teaches are truthfully effective tools that can be applied to any discipline you can think of from dressage to the trails. Unfortunately a lot of this material is available only on DVD but thanks to the wonderful world of YouTube there’s also quite a few tips and tricks available for free online. This includes some good basics and essential skills for handling OTTBs, like leading, standing to be groomed, along with his basic “7 games” that are Great for learning the basics of respect and reacting to pressure.
You can watch a Parelli Level 1 playlist on YouTube here.
7. An Overview of Starting a Colt, Clinton Anderson (Video)
Yes, another natural horseman and some of you might be wondering why I have a colt starting video listed as among the most helpful tools for retraining OTTBs. The reality is simple — if you treat an OTTB like you’re starting a colt, you’re giving that horse the benefit of every doubt and building a strong, solid foundation for the both of you. Chances are your OTTB has had some practice with a saddle and things flopping along at speed, but the basics provided in this video series apply equally as well to ex-racehorses.
You can watch a 55 minute episode of this on YouTube here.
This is perhaps one of the most frequently recommended books I’ve come across in terms of helping understand and retrain an OTTB. It’s by far one of the better descriptions of what, in general, life is like for a Thoroughbred at the track and how that will inevitably influence their temperament, routine, work ethic, etc. This book is particularly great for understanding the lifestyle at the track, what you can expect to look for when you’re shopping for an OTTB, and how to start their new career off on the right foot.
This book is available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.
5. Equine Fitness: A Conditioning Program of Exercises & Routines for Your Horse, Jec Aristotle Ballou
Another book that’s not written specifically for the Thoroughbred but can be incredibly helpful in learning how to develop a program for maintaining the conditioning and fitness of any horse. It’s easy to read, easy to understand, and an essential component of understanding the physiology at work whether you’re lunging on the ground or in the saddle.
You can find this book on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
4. Retired Racehorse Thoroughbred Training Project, Eric Dierks (Video)
One of the top comments on this video series is a pretty great one. “This guy is like the Bob Ross of horse training.” It’s super true, not just because of his demeanor but also because the guy has a way of making everything seem really easy and relaxed. This particular video series is broken into two parts that are a little over 30 minutes in length each, during which he starts out on the ground doing a little working in hand and lunging and then continuing on to work at a walk and trot during part one, focusing on responsiveness and collection. It’s a great series to watch when you’re already well into some riding work even though it’s not the greatest comprehensive training tool. It’s still an absolutely necessary concept to learn and understand for anyone starting to work and OTTB or ex-racehorse under saddle.
Watch the the first part of this video on YouTube here.
George Morris is perhaps one of the most well-known, world-renowned horse trainers of the 20th and 21st centuries. A former Olympian, George Morris has put together one of the most definitive, helpful guides for riders maybe of all time. If you need a reference on how to improve your riding, this is it. Start here. Even if you’re planning on only riding western and hacking around the trails, read this book. This book will help educate readers in everything from proper seat and leg position, to providing exercises to improve the use of aids, addressing potential problems with bolding, bucking, etc., and all the way up to pacing, bending, and culminating in jumping. To say this book is comprehensive is probably an understatement but in terms of being helpful for training Thoroughbreds, one of the critical starting points is to review your own riding skills and abilities. This book will help you get in touch with that and in turn, help your ex-racehorse by providing clear, tested methods of communication and training.
Available on Amazon in hardcover and also on Kindle.
There’s a reason this is one of the most commonly recommended books for helping with training an OTTB. Beyond the Track has been called “OTTB Training for Dummies” and “OTTB Training A-Z” because it’s a seriously detailed book around everything covered by New Track, New Life and then some. I’d honestly consider this one of the Bibles of owning an off-track Thoroughbred because it is so comprehensive, including some information about common lameness and health issues, all the way up to building a program beginning with lunging and working up to side reins and eventually riding. There’s tons of pictures and graphics to help you understand the world of Thoroughbreds and ex-racehorses, all written in a way that any beginner could understand. If there’s one book I’d recommend for any new off-track Thoroughbred owner it would be this.
This book is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
1. Scott Purdum, Training an Off the Track Thoroughbred (Video)
Of all the videos and all the books I’ve read on this subject, Scott Purdum’s eight part video series on training an off the track Thoroughbred is the most comprehensive overview of how to retrain an OTTB beginning on day 1. Over the course of the eight part series, Scott Purdum is incredibly up front about the length and number of training sessions so you can kind of see the good, the bad, and the ugly. No gimmicks, no bs. Just straightforward how-to-deal with this situation, all starting in the first episode that begins the first day the OTTB is at his farm. I’ve also seen Scott Purdum’s demos at a couple of expos in the Northeast and if I’m being truly honest, good horsemen all have one thing in common – calm, assertive leadership combined with firm discipline that’s applied only when necessary and released as quickly as possible. It’s one of the things that’s most apparent when you watch all eight parts of this series and it’s largely what you’ll learn by watching and repeating the exercises he does with his OTTB. Nothing is so advanced that a beginner couldn’t watch and try to attempt it themselves, which is why I found this series to be so compelling in the first place. He takes what the horse gives him and makes it work without attitude or judgment, just calm, assertive correction and release. It’s proof that this kind of retraining doesn’t need to take months with some consistent, effective effort. It’s also really incredible thing to watch these episodes one after the other and see the relationship and training evolve. Highly recommend watching all of this series for anyone needing help retraining their OTTB.
You can watch all eight parts of this series on YouTube here.
Did I miss your favorite OTTB training book or video? Let me know in the comments below!