Tips for Ex-Racehorse Shopping Online

Is a retired racing Thoroughbred you find while surfing the Web a good choice for you? Here are some things to think about and places to look.
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Is a retired racing Thoroughbred you find while surfing the Web a good choice for you? Here are some things to think about and places to look.

Buying or adopting an ex-racehorse off the Internet can look almost as easy (and just as tempting) as shopping online for a new pair of breeches. But, although candidates are offered at tempting prices--typically $1000 to $5000--the process is neither as easy nor as inexpensive as it first appears.

Off-the-track Thoroughbreds need to unlearn much of their racehorse training to start a new career as a sport horse. | Photo by Kate Lindon

Off-the-track Thoroughbreds need to unlearn much of their racehorse training to start a new career as a sport horse. | Photo by Kate Lindon

Are You Ready for a Racehorse?
"Horses coming straight off the track are not for first-time owners or beginning riders," says Jo Anne Normile, founder of CANTER, a nonprofit organization that posts Net listings for Thoroughbreds in 11 states. "These young horses have seen and heard everything but they don't know 'whoa' and they don't know how to make a figure-eight with a rider on their backs."

Most of the horses available through such sites have only had race training. That means they...

  • usually don't stand still for mounting. Jockeys and exercise riders are boosted into the saddle at a walk.
  • are taught to be competitive. To them, riding in a group means galloping at 38 mph and trying to get in front of everyone else. Until a racehorse has been fully retrained (a process that usually takes at least six months), he's likely to be excitable in group situations.
  • are taught to lean on the bit when they run--and understand pulling on the reins to mean "go faster."
  • aren't taught to stop or turn quickly. At the track, fast stops at high speed make for injuries.
  • have raced to the left--and so are probably unbalanced to the right, particularly in small circles.
  • are largely unfamiliar with leg aids. (Jockeys' knees are up by the withers.)

A racehorse just off the track will probably need three months or more to back off from extreme fitness and readjust his system from the high-energy grain regimen (plus any drugs he may have been on). Normal non-racing barn routine and daily turnout will be new experiences that need to be introduced gradually.

Additional challenges will be the mechanics of looking at and trying out horses in the track environment and, if you decide to buy a horse there, dealing with soundness issues typical of ex-racehorses.

Where to Look
Still interested? There are a number of Web sites specializing in ex-racehorse sales and adoptions, and they are not all the same. For example, you'll find:

  • For-profit sites, such as Mix 'n Match, that arrange meetings between buyers and sellers and take a commission on sales. They may offer prospects still on the track and others that have come off the track and have already started retaining. (Usually the off-the-track horses can be ridden.)
  • Nonprofit sites such as CANTER, which give trainers a forum to advertise their stock. Most horses listed are still at the track, but trainers may advertise horses "on the farm"; the site itself has for resale "on-the-farm" horses that were donated to it for fundraising.
  • Nonprofit sites that accept donated (in many cases injured) horses from owners and trainers for "adoption" to new homes. Adoption sites usually charge a fee-typically between $500 and $2500-per horse; many require adopters to sign a contract restricting future use and sale of the horse. Examples include ReRun, United Pegasus Foundation and the American Standardbred Adoption Program.

For links to other Thoroughbred and Standardbred adoption and sales nationwide, or for more information about bringing an ex-racehorse home, go to www.exracers.com.

Excerpted from "Online, Off-the-Track Horse Hunting" in the January 2003 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.