Whether you’re buying or adopting (and if you’re looking for a suitable riding horse, don’t let the heartstring reflex color your decision to be smart and cost-effective with your investment – bad horses cost as much to feed as the good ones and often those donated are discarded for good reason), you can hedge your bet on finding a likely safe, sound and solid mount by understanding a bit about the racehorse life.
Look at the racing record
If you have a horse’s name, you can easily contact the Jockey Club (http://www.jockeyclub.com). They’ll send you to (http://www.equineline.com). Some of these reports are free, others they charge for, but most of the gals at the Jockey Club are wonderful to deal with and will do what they can to help you find what you need if you call them at (800) 333-1778. With the horse’s tattoo number (look under the top lip) use The Jockey Club’s free Tattoo Identification Services at the Registry homepage (registry.jockeyclub.com). With the horse’s name go to http://www.pedigreequery.com and get a free pedigree report going back five generations.
Was the horse a dog (having run for bottom claimers and never managed to log a win)? This usually bodes well for soundness (he doesn’t try too hard to hurt himself), but not so well on the heart or talent front – at least as far as racing is concerned (if you’re looking for a high level competitor, this may not be a good horse for you).
Does the race record indicate a lightly raced horse at the allowance level? Could be good, or bad. If you see major gaps in his racing appearances and/or a very short career, you’re likely dealing with a horse that has had major soundness issues (or bleeding problems).
Look at the breeding
With the horse’s name you can go to http://www.pedigreequery.com and get a free pedigree report going back five generations. Even if you don’t know progeny lines, you can look for black type (indicating stakes placed) and earnings. This usually translates to heart in the line, which bodes well for intended performance horses. We’ve had great success crossing TB mares from the Northern Dancer and Key To The Mint lines with Irish Draughts for anticipated standout jumpers.
Ask around and find out what studs tend to carry the crazy gene through to their foals. Since he’s dead now, I’ll freely mention Scarlet Ibis as a notorious NY producer of nuts. Many TB studs are very consistent on this front and it’s worth learning which ones to avoid. Trying to reach a horse that has trouble in their blood is extremely difficult, and often not worth the futile effort.
Learn to read the horse
Eyes are so telling. Watch a horse’s eye and see how he reacts to you, requests and new situations. Fear is something more experienced equestrians can resolve, but not a good match for a novice (you need to me unflappable and extremely confident with such horses as a tentative or insecure handler/rider will escalate the horse’s concern). Mean horses can be dangerous and the challenges are often compounded by a sour nature. If you’ve seen a mean eye once, you’ll never forget the look. It’s best to try to find a horse with a calm and quiet eye that tells you he’s willing to work with you.
Look at the legs
For the A level shows, ankles, tendons and other eyesore issues will cost you (particularly on the selling price). If you’re a fun-loving amateur, though, ocelots are ugly but fine once they are set. Some of the nastiest looking tendons are a non-issue (see if you can find out when he bowed and what happened after that with his racing performance to help you determine how much of a factor this may be) and the slightest looking ones can be career ending. Crooked horses tend to have bigger issues than those that are correct. Knees and hocks are often forgotten areas that can have a huge impact on your intended career with a horse. Watch the horse move. See if there are areas, particularly on the lower legs, where rubbing has occurred. If you don’t understand conformation ideals, bring someone along who does to comment on how problems may undermine your goals.
OK, this is getting rather long for a quick tips feature, and there’s so much more to consider in assessing an off-the-track Thoroughbred, but hopefully, this has given you some resources and ideas to get started in formulating a savvy approach to assessing your possible future partner.