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When most people think of Thoroughbreds – or more specifically ex-racehorses – they usually conjure up images of highly strung, crazy animals with a penchant for galloping everywhere at 100mph and repeatedly injuring themselves. Whether these ideas come from their own personal experiences or from the horror stories that they’ve heard from other people, I think it’s fair to say that ex-racers generally have a bad reputation amongst a fair chunk of the equestrian community. Having said that, I have noticed that this view is changing recently, as more people get better acquainted with these horses and find out for themselves how versatile, talented and loving the right one can be once they take the time to understand them.
As someone whose ex-racer experience extends only to riding one once at pony camp, I have never been experienced or qualified enough to truly form my own opinion on them, so I have always just sat back and quietly observed the differing opinions. However, I will humbly admit that, when I was searching for horses to buy before I got Mini, my “wanted” advert contained the words “no TB’s” for no reason other than I had seen it come up in so many similar adverts that I assumed it must apply to me too. Now, after spending the summer loaning two of the most kind, willing and fun horses I’ve ever met, I see how wrong I was to write off the breed without knowing anything about them, and I’m here to tell you why…
It all began in May when Mini had some soundness issues and I wasn’t sure if he’d be happy or able to continue jumping (it turns out he’s absolutely fine now – I swear that horse is indestructible and can come back from anything!) Not wanting to put pressure on Mini, I put out a post on a local horsey Facebook group asking if anyone had a horse I could loan or share, and I received a message from a lovely lady offering her two ex-racers for loan – Jake and Tarra (they come as a package deal!)
Without over thinking it, I went to meet them. I would consider myself an experienced rider in general, but I was far from experienced with ex-racehorses, and Jake was 16.2hh – I’d never properly ridden anything that big before, so I was ready for a whole new and unfamiliar experience! When I first met them, I was struck by how gentle and loving they were to be around on the ground, which is something that has always been massively important for me so that I can feel confident riding them. When I did ride them, I instantly fell in love with Jake’s rocking horse canter and Tarra’s energy and, even though I was probably a bit out of my depth, I couldn’t wait to get started and get to know them better.
Fast forward about 4 months and those two horses have taught me so much in such a short time and I’ve definitely become a much better, more knowledgeable and proactive rider than I was before. They both presented their own challenges, that’s for sure, but they never made me feel scared. Nervous at times? Sure, but never scared and wanting to dismount – the fun always outweighed the nerves and I always wanted to get back on the next day.
Jake likes to go sideways when he gets excited and I’m still working on the strength and confidence that I need to work him through it, but I think we’ve come far together already and had lots of laughs at his wonky antics along the way – the most precious memory with him to date was when we made it round the showjumps and the cross country jumps at our first ODE together and the cheering from the people around me made me absolutely burst with happiness.
Jake teaches me every day to believe in myself, because I need to if I want to get the best out of him, and I’m getting there. His flatwork and jumping are excellent and he’s really forgiving with me if I make mistakes, but he also still needs to be ridden properly and won’t let me just be a passenger – so he’s the perfect gentle giant for me to learn with.
I had a slightly slower start with Tarra than I did with Jake, as her athletic and bouncy strides would initially aggravate my back pain that I was still recovering from. However, once I started to ride her more, I realised how fun she actually is to ride! I would describe her as being quite reactive and sharp, so you really have to constantly be aware of your riding to make sure you’re doing everything right (which I still struggle with a bit and we sometimes end up cantering when we’re supposed to be trotting), but she is also incredibly talented and willing to please, and she has the most effortless jump on her! Every time I ride her, I feel so lucky because she really is very rewarding to ride when you get it right and everything flows nicely, but there’s always a challenge to work at to keep me focused.
Whilst I wouldn’t say that the two of them are novice rides, they are most definitely not the crazy, out of control maniacs that people have told me Thoroughbreds are. In fact, Tarra and Jake are significantly more chilled out and unflappable whilst out and about than any of my ponies… a pheasant literally flew out of the bushes inches in front of Jake’s face once while I was riding him and he did not flinch!
I definitely cannot speak for all ex-racehorses and I’m still only beginning to understand and fully get to know the Thoroughbred breed, but I do know how much enjoyment Jake and Tarra have given me already, and I’m so grateful to their owner for giving me the opportunity to loan them and being patient with me whilst I learn!
I would urge anyone reading this, who might also have written off ex-racehorses without much prior knowledge of them, to reconsider them and not exclude them from your search criteria next time you’re looking for a horse. If you’re fairly experienced and (mostly) confident like me, you might just fall in love with them too, once you find the right one. I can safely say that I’m a true Thoroughbred fan now and that my next horse will most certainly be an ex-racer – I’ve just completely fallen in love with their caring, inquisitive, excitable, gentle nature and I no longer have the preconceptions that others do when I think of Thoroughbreds.