In this series, the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is partnering with Athletux to critique your off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) eventing prospects. Professional riders and trainers will share their insights into each OTTB's pedigree, racing history, and conformation. Would you like to have your off-the-track Thoroughbred featured in the next edition of OTTB Critique presented by Athletux? We are looking for our next horse! Email your tips to [email protected].
"If eventers could rearrange the alphabet, they would put OTTB and I together."
Horrible jokes aside, it’s no secret that many of the attributes necessary for Thoroughbreds on the track are also desirable for event riders looking for their next mounts. Horses bred for life on the track are going to be naturally suited for the rigors of eventing, and their popularity within the discipline is only growing.
If you are one of the many people thinking about giving an off-the-track Thoroughbred a second career, you might just find yourself wondering “What should I be looking for in my next partner?” We’ve enlisted the help of four-star event rider Mackenna Shea to show us her prospect-purchasing thought process by critiquing an off-the-track Thoroughbred.
California Girl, who raced as Jackie G (Partner's Hero x Monette), is a 2007 mare owned by Jennifer Cobb. She came off the track in October of 2015 and enjoyed some time off before being purchased by Cobb last December. In their year together, California Girl and Cobb have had some great successes and are currently competing at the Beginner Novice level.
"In general, I really like this horse's conformation.” Shea shared. “I think she’s stood up a little funny but if she took a step forward you would see that she’s quite well-balanced. Her shoulder angle and how her neck ties into the shoulder are good, and she’s compact in the way I like my horses.”
Eileen Darland Photo.
Shea added that, in general, she likes a short back on a horse, and that one of the most important things to look at on your prospect are the pasterns. “I always look at the pastern on these horses. Anything too long and you can have problems down the road.” They say "No hoof, no horse," and Shea agrees. “I check the hooves thoroughly too, the horses have to be able to stand up to the demands of the sport. At minimum, I get radiographs of their hooves, hocks, and fetlocks. Depending on what I’m looking for the prospect to do, I’ll get more images.”
Does California girl pass Shea’s initial test? “She looks like she’s got good feet, and her pasterns look good. Conformationally, I like her quite a bit, but the most important thing for me is always their brains. Are they a horse that’s willing to learn? Is it the type of horse I can do a dressage test on, but more importantly, gallop a big cross-country course?”
Temperament is tough to see without checking the horse out in person, but there are certain red flags you can see in photo and video. Lots of tail swishing and ear pinning could be a sign that the horse isn’t thrilled about his new job, and a horse that’s barely going forward might lack the internal motivation it takes to go cross-country.
“The trotting photo looks nice. She’s got a relaxed, but still listening look, and she’s very straight. It looks like she would track up nicely, and she’s taking the contact in a really nice way.” Looking for this sort of natural ability is important when choosing your Thoroughbred partner. They might not be physically able to carry themselves in a dressage frame when they’re muscled for racing, but if they’re able to go straight and track up, they have a good foundation for what it takes to be an event horse.
Eileen Darland Photo.
Jumping is a significant part of an event horse's job description, and it’s easy to get caught up with a prospect's form when looking for a new horse. “Form is important, but there are lots of jumping exercises you can do to help a horse that isn’t the most natural in the air. This horse, for example, looks a bit green and like she’s not quite sure what to do with her front end. It’s nothing certain jumping exercises can’t fix. I like to trot lots of fences with my young horses, it gives them time to make a shape over the fences. Especially if it’s a horse that gets rushy, trotting can be super beneficial. She looks like she might have gotten a little rushed here and get too close to the base, which keeps her from getting super tight with her front end.”
What are some things not to stress yourself out about? “I’m not one to get too involved in their breeding. If I was to see a horse with bloodlines that have produced eventers in the past I would be more keen to have a closer look, but it’s not a deal breaker for me if they don’t.”
Overall, Shea thought California Girl would make a lovely event prospect, but reiterates that for her, “The brain is the number one thing. Good conformation is important, but if they’re not willing to learn it’s not going to be the right sport for them.”
Mackenna Shea has successfully competed through the four-star level and is the Assistant Trainer/Rider at Next Level Eventing in Temecula, California. Learn more about Shea on her blog and on the Next Level Eventing website.
Would you like to have your off-the-track Thoroughbred featured in the next edition of OTTB Critique presented by Athletux? We are looking for our next horse! Email your tips to [email protected].