Choosing An OTTB

I’ve mentioned multiple times that what a horse does with its body to be fast is very different than what the horse does to collect under a rider. That means that there are significant physical differences between the two, but there are also several, very important similarities such as good hip length, well-placed LS joint, big, clean joints and straight legs.

The differences mean that not all racing bred Thoroughbreds are well-suited to carrying riders in secondary disciplines. Indeed, I’ll go on record as saying the vast majority are not well-suited, particularly for the average owner. Yet the breed is plentiful and certainly there have been many who’ve gone on to be successful in a second career. This article will discuss the major (different) traits that make (or break) an easy transition from racehorse to riding mount.

In no particular order:

Levelness Of Build – A large percentage of racing bred TB’s are downhill built. Already this is a disadvantage in riding disciplines putting more weight on the forehand and making engagement more difficult in direct relation; the more downhill, the more of a disadvantage. Remember to look at the spine, not at the withers and croup. (See blog article:  The Up And Down Of It – Levelness Of Build) A horse doesn’t have to be downhill built to be successful on the racetrack, so look for one that is close to level built.

Neck Set – There is also a large percentage of racing bred TB’s that have low set or ewe necks. Again, this is not a requirement for a racehorse but neither is it detrimental to producing speed so it’s been allowed to perpetuate in the breed. It is, however, a fault in a riding horse making engagement significantly more difficult. Necks set on low posturally (it’s a word now) want to drop at the base (lower cervical curve deepens), this in turn lifts the head, drops the withers, hollows the back and pushes the hocks into a trailing position. (See blog article: What Is The Optimal Neck Position?)

Hind Limb Angulation – A racehorse will carry a straighter (relative) hind leg, one with less angulation. That in and of itself isn’t going to prevent the horse from being a good riding mount, but if the leg is too straight (post-legged) then there’s going to be issues. 

Hind Limb Bone Ratios – The most significant ratio is femur length to tibia length. Many racehorses will possess a tibia longer than a femur. This is contrary to what we want in a riding horse, where we like the femur to be at least as long as the tibia, but hopefully longer. A longer femur means more potential for stroke length. The racehorse takes shorter, quicker, thrustier (relative) strides, whereas we want the riding horse to take longer, slower, carrying strides.

Hock And Stifle Set – Many racehorses with have high hock and stifle sets. This tends to go hand-in-hand with a downhill build, shorter femur and longer tibia. The higher the hocks and stifles, the harder it is for the horse to ‘sit’ (lower the haunch), a requirement for engagement and collection.

Feet – Racing can be hard on the feet and the TB in North America has become known to be rather flat-soled and often possesses under run heels.  The latter can often be improved.

Let’s exam three random TB’s and see which one might best be suited for a secondary career under saddle.

Horse #1


This individual is clearly downhill.  His neck set is about as low as we’d ever want to accept for a riding horse.  Certainly its musculature and posture could be significantly improved.  It’s roughly attached and some of that would also improve with correct work.  He’s quite straight through the hind leg with a higher hock and stifle set.  On the plus size he’s got really good bone, a low knee and decent hip.  The loin currently lacks depth, but that too would improve with good riding.

Horse #2


A little less downhill than our first horse, a better neck set with the neck attaching more smoothly, significantly more angulation through the hind limb, hock set higher than our first horse, but the stifle is set lower.  This horse’s knee, though, is set quite a bit higher and is tied in a bit.  Look how that high knee adds length to the cannon bone and shortens the forearm.  Not the combination you want on a riding horse.  The high knee interferes with jumping form and the short forearm interferes with lateral movement.  His hip length is just as good as our first horse, and he has a loin that is shorter, deeper and stronger, but this horse is lighter boned – the lightest substance you want to see on a racehorse.

Horse #3


Real close to being level built.  Great neck, great hip, super loin, medium back length, withers and ribcage carry back really well, super low set stifle (hock higher than ideal), phenomenal pants muscling – simply screams ‘Ride me!’- UNTIL – the legs are such a disappointment; too light of bone, a bit too straight through the knee, a bit tied in, and another high knee (not as high as horse #2, but higher than #1).  If this horse is really straight-legged with minimal offsets, deviations and rotations of bones, which we can’t see from this photo, and you don’t want to pound his legs with a lot of jumping or jumping at speed, then odds become more favorable that he can stay sound.  We can’t see his feet, but they’re likely on the small side, still, he’s the individual in this bunch that could most easily transition to a ridden discipline, followed by horse #2.  Horse #1 is still capable of being a decent mount, but will require a much more skilled rider/trainer for a riding discipline.  This horse will always naturally want to plow around on his forehand.

Now that we’ve looked at physical traits, it’s time to discuss temperament, personality and retraining the racehorse. Know that the horse that walks off the track is not the ‘real’ horse. It takes a number of months for a racehorse to ‘let down’. Many right off the track are high on concentrates, experiencing chronic pain, and haven’t seen a pasture in months (or years). They’re often underweight and certainly are carrying next to no body fat, often have been allowed to have their way with humans, or have been ‘roughed up’. All are stiff and one-sided with musculature honed for speed rather than carrying a rider effectively and efficiently.

Probably the hardest part of retraining is that racehorses are taught, allowed, and encouraged to grab the bit and lean on it/pull against it.  In their secondary careers they need to learn to accept contact and yield to the slightest changes in rein pressure, learning to rebalance, slow and stop by dropping their haunches rather than throwing their weight over their point of shoulder and onto their front legs.

The other significantly tricky aspect to retrain is their inherent nature to want to race against other horses in the ring.  A good way to start the retraining process is to put them in the Dressage ring by themselves.  When enough retraining has occurred and the horse understands acceptance of contact and the half halt, and is more physically able to shift weight rearward, then slowly introduce other horses into the training arena with cooperative friends and test the new skills in this controlled environment.  Hack alone and then, again, once retraining has progressed far enough, slowly introduce other horses on the hack in a controlled manner.

Realistically, if everything goes right and the horse is relatively sound to begin with, you’re looking at a year’s time to let down, remold musculature, and retrain to a very solid Dressage training level.  This is not a process you can rush if you want what’s best for the horse.


88 thoughts on “Choosing An OTTB

  1. Love your posts! I see lots of ads for OTTBs in my area (Seattle) that taut the potential for dressage or H/J careers. At their price point it’s very likely I’ll end up looking at one once I’m financially ready to own my own horse. You’ve summed up succinctly what I’ll have to keep in mind when doing so. Saved and bookmarked!

  2. I see so many that ‘m excited about, until i see their legs. The lack of bone on a horse of good substance otherwise really gets to me.

    • Having retrained that type of horse before, I’m completely over it. The downhill build, combined with the straight hind leg and lower set neck is a real bugger to ride to the horse’s benefit and it’s a 24/7 task. If you let up for just a little bit, the horse’s conformation quickly takes over and the horse reverts right back to being all over its forehand and hollow. Horse #1 is not for your average owner/rider/trainer.

      • I know that you are trying to retrain my eye, but I am always looking at a horse from the point of view, is this a trail horse. Frankly, much as I admire thoroughbreds, I rode a few as a kid, they were huge, kind of gangly, and a bit lazy, so from that experience they are not my breed of choice. That first horse would need to be ridden “Forward Freely”. Then he’d do just fine.

        • He’s been ridden freely forward much of his life and he’s spent that whole time on his forehand with his base of neck dropped, his wither dropped, his back hollow and his hocks trailing.

          Trail riding is a mount discipline and requires the same traits as any other ridden discipline horse. They aren’t exceptions to equine biomechanical rules.

  3. Another negative is feeding them. I board an OTTB mare, 9 months off the track, and she eats triple what my others do. She’s still not at a weight I’m happy with. She needed 30 days of Ulcergard to get her gut in working order again, we were nearly begging her to eat and though her appetite is good, the weight doesn’t go on.

    She is case in point of a tight, nervous, heavy on the bit horse as Mercedes stated. It is going to take a long time time to make a reasonable riding horse out of her – but we knew this and we’re very committed. She was completely detached from humans when we took her home and had no idea that people could communicate with her. Her personality has since evolved into a pocket-pony that will stand half asleep on the cross-ties to be groomed or massaged. It’s so important to open the line of communication with OTTB’s. They are merely machines, their lives are about money at the track and they are certainly not viewed as a companion of any sort.

    On the plus side, OTTB’s have seen a lot in their careers. She is certainly less spooky than most young horses and is now handled like a horse – she ties and clips and after EIGHT months, we can now touch and clip her ears! Certainly not a horse for the faint of heart but it’s a good feeling to save one from the thankless life these horses live.

    • Sometimes a food allergy can prevent a horse from being able to utilize fat. Try no grain at all and just a hay cube/hay pellet/hay crunch or a grain with a rarer base; barley, rice. Soy is often an allergen and I’ve known oats to be and beet pulp.

      • Hey, can this be true? I’d like some kind of follow up on this. (Not for myself, my horse is a pretty easy keeper.)

        • yes it is true, a natural diet of grass hay and of course, good grass if it grows in your area, is frequently better than grain based diets for putting weight on. Many horses have trouble with some product in the grain, or something even like the molasses. Ulcers are common in high performance horses and are made worse by high grain diets. There are tons of research papers out there. You can sign up on line for the Horse, the magazine of the equine vets association, it usually has lots of science based articles on diet, etc. It also helps to get a very basic nutrition book that sets amounts by weight for hay/forage versus grains, etc, of protein, calories, etc. Having hay tested if you have a horse not doing well can also show mineral imbalances that are blocking proper absorption of nutrients, etc. Too much calcium, from supplements, legume hays, some grains, can block absorption of magnesium, leading to insulin resistance, tendency towards founder. With a little background reading, many adjustments, usually towards a simpler diet in the end, can be made that keep horses feeling better and at the proper weight.

        • Yes it’s true. I have a Stbd gelding that’s allergic to oats. Not only did it cause him to struggle with his weight, but it also manifested with a number of heavie symptoms. Switched over to a corn based grain and the heavie symptoms went away and he gained weight easily on 50% less hay.

          It can also work the other way and the inability to utilize fat can cause the horse to gain and hold the fat.

          I know of a TB that was also allergic to oats that manifested as seizures. Again, switching to corn – just crushed – resolved that.

          I’ve come across several horses allergic to beet pulp. Those individuals are typically bloated and muscle sore. Etc. etc.

      • She’s on her 4th type of grain to date. I started her on Carb Guard to drop starches as much as possible; it’s a 12/8/25 feed, soy, alfalfa, beet, corn are the first 4 ingredients. This wasn’t doing it so my vet recommended a senior feed – tried two of those, she woudn’t finish them, so back to carb guard / Omegatin / alfalfa cubes. Fast forward 6 months, still no weight gain, I recently switched her to Dynasty Pro Pellet 14/6/9 – first four are wheat middlings, corn, soy, molasses, alfalfa. No change in demeanor with the added carbs, also no weight change! So, we’ve ruled out beet pulp as an allergen. She’s a poor hay eater, prefers the ower fat (1.5%) fat 1st cut hay to the 3.5% fat second cutting. She will consume 2 flakes, tops per feeding. I try to graze her but we just had the hottest July in history and the added bugs drive her insane.

        I have to say though, everything I read states corn based feeds are the worst choice to feed horses based on the high carb content and oats aren’t much better I’ve considered adding corn to the diet, I used to every winter for all of them years ago and never had an issue with founder, colic, anything. So I wonder if corn and oats are as bad to horses as donuts and cheese are to us.

        • is she actually ribby, lacking fat in any of the fat padded areas:

          Not that you don’t know, but I don’t know exactly how thin and in what ways to discuss this.

          Also check your water for heavy metals, minerals, etc, again, there can be things in feed/hay/water that aren’t meant to be there and influence absorption of food stuffs.

          I have a tb/qh cross that really doesn’t care much for hay either, but will eat senior, likes it even better with some sea salt added. He has to be supplemented in the winter, holds weight well in summer on grass.

          Another possibility, a horse with tight muscling, a leg mover, etc develops thin stringy tight muscle that causes the appearance of thinness in strategic areas, the gluteals, the flank, wasp waist, spine shows without looking particularly boney, hollow neck.

          • The hay tested well, no high calcium anywhere in her feed, even dropped the alfalfa cubes, and my water is very soft (low mineral content). She’s race weight still – hips stick out, ribs visible, LS area bulges. She looks healthy but too thin for my liking – maybe a 3.5 pushing 4, tops. Leg mover, tight body, wasp waist, active mouth, super short strided. No pain reflexes we can find anywhere but adores hamstring massage. Extremely athletic mare, can rollback and slide with her spider legs like a QH. She loves to play hard. Went to her first dressage clinic this past weekend (day after a schooling show where horses cantering by elicited leaps above the ground, wasn’t pretty) and was pushed, pushed, pushed and started to lengthen and flatten her leg movement towards the end. (hocks traveled forward /back instead of up / down like a pogo stick). She’s high maintenance but intriguing as well. I so wish I could get 75# on her though. Very frustrating.

    • Amen to the feeding of TBs. My wife ran a riding school with 40 horses. I could fatten 3 Morgans for what kept one thoroughbred barely maintained. I remember one winter where “Slim” the jump-training horse went through a single large round bale in 4 days. I just watched in disbelief.
      The OTTBs were interesting to work on. They were kind of like NASCAR drivers-they only wanted to turn to the left. 🙂

      • My OTTB had teeth issues that caused problems with weight gain. Dont have her teeth floated! Get an equine dental specialist in there to help her re-balance her jaw. It made all the difference in my girl.

    • Instead of grain try micronised linseed or add linseed oil to the diet – is wonderful for adding weight and doesn’t damage the feet the way lots of grain will. Plus you feed in mugs rather than scoops so they don’t have to have massive appetites to get the weight on.
      The big problem with grains is (aside from the feet issues they cause) that you can only feed so much at a time before it all goes through to the hindgut and isn’t properly absorbed so is essentially wasted while cause nasty side effects.

    • I always wonder, though — how skinny are they, really? They’re pretty high metabolism athletes. You wouldn’t look at a marathon runner and say, “Whoa – I can see your ribs!! Quick, eat this Twinkie!!”, why do we worry so much about young athletic horses. My feeling (very generally, of course, and provided that there aren’t any health issues), is that if a horse has free access to quality food, well, that’s the weight that they’re comfortable at. I really think we worry too much sometimes. Feeding a bunch of processed food, often made from very poor or questionable quality waste ingredients, really is like feeding Twinkies to a skinny kid to fatten them up.

      And it suuuuure shows up in their feet 😉

      • Well, what do you think those TB’s are being fed? A bunch of processed food, often made form very poor or questionable quality waste ingredients. They certainly aren’t spending their days turned out in pastures, grazing during their down time. And yes, sure does show up in their feet.

      • I had the same thought about the fetlocks, but I’ve seen rounding like that in perfectly sound thoroughbreds, so I might be willing to take a gamble on them. I also want to mention the muscling that goes on in racehorses. I’ve been told that they rather pull themselves along at the gallop, and I see some pretty crazy shoulder muscling in some of them that makes them look a bit grotesque.

        • Yes, they do pull themselves along on their forehands. That makes for narrow, pigeon breasts, extra bulk over the shoulders and neck muscling like we see in horse #1.

  4. I would like to add a horse to our conversation. Again, sorry I cannot give a direct link. But for those who can, check out CL, Inland Empire, farm and garden.

    8 year old 17.1 h Bay Thoroughbred Gelding – $800 (Apple Valley, CA)


      I think that link would work. The pictures of him moving are not too bad, but the picture of him standing emphasize why no horse should be left to natural or ridden too hollow. I don’t work to train riders or rehabilitate horses as Mercedes does, so I take the hobbyist’s project for a lifetime approach, so I am more open to a project horse, other than my cutting mare, that’s all I’ve ever owned. It sounds like this horse will give his all, loves his people, and has a good mind. For a TB he has lovely deep muscle deep into his rear leg, unusual, compare to the the way the other OTTB’s in the original blog tend to tie in high near the stifle. The hip is good, this muscle is good for a horse to be able to carry himself. His back is tight, locked down, withers overly prominent (though I would think he has naturally high and deep withers as well) and his neck is a mess. Nevertheless, he has nice movement, mostly because of that great hip and the rest can be improved. He’d make a good trail mount (except for being too tall no end to the spider webs and branches you’d encounter) and could do more athletic work.

      The locked down back must be addressed for long term soundess, that guy deserves the help.

      • Yea, I like this guy, he reminds me of the horses I rode back when, huge, really sweet and you could do just about anything with them. But I thought that he showed the “crazy shoulder muscles” that runlittlefox was talking about.

    • He’s a project horse and not for the average owner. Doesn’t mean he can’t be a good mount. I suspect his *willingness* is because he’s in chronic pain and he’s simply *shut off*. He gives off the impression he’s an internalizer, but get him well and he’ll show you a whole other side to himself.

      His back and loin are, as jrga said, locked down. Really locked down. That’s months of work alone to fix, IF, he hasn’t calcified. He’s a total leg mover in this condition and if it weren’t for his legginess he’d take itty, bitty steps.

      The neck and front end muscling are also a mess. The overhead shot of his head and neck show just a small indication of the problems as you can see the differences between his left and right sides. He’s got a cervical vertebrae out, halfway down the right side of his neck. And look at where his neck attaches in this overhead picture. Look at the difference from side to side in the muscling. The second overhead shot with his head turned shows how he’s locked between virtually every cervical vertebrae.

      I would not advise the purchase of such a horse for your average owner unless they had someone to guide them through a several month long rehabilitation and therapy program for this horse and were willing spend at least his purchase price over again on such. Even then, this is a horse that’ll require above average riding and training to continue health progression and prevent him from returning to this horrid condition. I don’t think people realize the kind of pain this horse is in on a day to day basis, and how that affects the horse not just on a physical level, but also on a mental and emotional one.

      • Yes, but at 8 don’t you think that my plan of taking a horse like this, doing lots of trail, varied terrain, up and down hill, narrow twisty trail, etc. would greatly improve this horse?

        • No, this is a horse that needs way more than riding on varied terrain. Yes, hill work can be good, riding in something other than straight lines is good, it doesn’t all have to be done in a dressage ring to be good. But it has to be conscientious and address his needs specifically. He needs a comprehensive rehabilitation package of body work and retraining to carry himself correctly. Good riding can fix a horse, but you have to dedicate yourself to understanding, straightness, flexion, lifting the spine, bend and engagement. You can stay at a walk and address all those things. But you can’t leave this guy to fend for himself and hope for the best. If you are willing to do more than you suggested in the last thread on necks, it could be great.

          • Oh no, not me! I’m a very average rider. I’m just trying to readjust my way of thinking – that race type horses should be ridden forward and not worked to much on collection, because they are not built for it. Or in other words, a horse like this and our #1 horse will have a much different type of collection than a riding horse.

          • no, it is that a poorly formed horse, one that has issues already because of racing, needs to be ridden even better, with more emphasis on ‘collection’ than a horse with good conformation, because they need help to retrain their bodies for the stress of a rider’s weight. You aren’t looking to make a dressage horse out of them, all those pictures, all that conversation about horses in various breeds and disciplines, was intended to show that all horses need to lift their spines, stretch their top lines, bring their hind legs under them and lighten the forehand. It is about building the muscles and way of going that helps a horse bear weight on its back, which it is not designed to do by nature, without becoming unsound. Collection is a continuum. And again, you save leg joints by correctly asking the horse to round up by lifting the spine and freeing the legs from pulling, and allowing them to move correctly. The conformation lessons still have a long way to go yet, maybe this will beome more clear once legs are discussed and muscles are added into the picture.

            Most horses can be taught these things to the point where they are able to remain sound without undue stress on their bodies even if they are never going to be ridden in ‘collection’ as people think of it, ie, an Olympic dressage horse. And when we talk about sound, we aren’t talking about no broken bones, no huge deformities, but sound as in flexible, without calcifications, microtears in the back ligaments, feeling good, looking young for their age, even if they weren’t built so great. Sound until pushing 30, barring other kinds of illnesses, but sound in their skeleton and feet with good muscle tone.

            One young lady took her 20 something horse and turned him into a competitive low level dressage horse, totally rebuilt him, after learning about biomechanically correct work. He looked better and moved better at 26 then he did at 12.

        • No. That’s not enough. The cycle of body abuse has to be broken and that requires several months of therapy and rehab BEFORE doing lots of trail, varied terrain, etc… And then, there’s more work to be done for this horse for the remainder of his life. He’s a LIFETIME project, as his horse #1. That means until the day he dies he requires more than what you describe, and that’s assuming permanent damage hasn’t already been done.

          I’m not sure how else to explain it other than perhaps using a human example. Imagine you had chronic lower back pain and your doctor told you that to fix it you had to carry a 20lb backpack and go hiking, and that was how you were going get better. You’d tell him/her he was nuts, but that’s what you’re suggesting for this horse.

          Then let’s say you find another doctor and he finds the reason for your back pain is an abnormal curvature in your spine that’s caused some vertebrae degradation and the muscles to spasm. He suggests chiropractic, massage therapy, maybe injections and a comprehensive program of swimming and yoga. You start to feel better, but it becomes apparent that your spine can’t be straightened, that you’ll have to continue doing stretching and exercises etc… to remain ‘sound’. That’s what this horse requires and why I’ve gone to the trouble of doing this blog.

          I’d love to see this horse get a good home, but it’s not enough to feed and love on him. He needs much more, otherwise you simply prolong a painful life.

          • OK, according to my calculations, lets take the average riders weight at 150, the average horse weight at 1200. So if I had to carry a 20lb. backpack, the horse would be carrying 160lb. But there is a huge difference between a backpack that doesn’t move and carrying a 20lb. child on my shoulders, one who is staying balanced with me as I hike, and using their body in harmony with mine. And staying with thoroughbreds, they are not built for carrying a lot of weight. A horse is a living creature, and able to repair itself if moving naturally. Not that I’m discounting any proper measures to help the horse. But as a horseman (not necessarily the best rider) I believe that I can tell the difference between a horse that is moving because he has to, and one that is moving because he wants to.

          • You’re going to argue over the weight of the backpack (a number I just pulled out of thin air) and compare it to rider weight, static or moving, when the point all along was that this horse is in serious pain?

            TBs are not special in terms of biomechanical rules. A Draft horse is not better designed to carry weight (backpack or rider) than a TB, or a QH, or a Shetland. ALL horses, every last one of them, are built the same in terms of design to carry weight (which is poor) and how they must move to protect themselves against weight. ALL horses.

            Yes, horses can heal themselves quite well in movement. You’re missing the point. The horse in question can NOT heal the current damage by simple movement and that’s why your plan of trails and hillwork will NOT work. I’m telling you that based on years of experience fixing horses just like this. If the horse in question could fix what is currently wrong with him by simply moving, he wouldn’t be in his current condition in the first place. His body has been pushed beyond that general place of movement will heal. On top of that, his conformation does him no favors and not only is it partly responsible for putting him ‘there’, it’s also partly responsible for keeping him ‘there’.

          • Being an arena girl and an avid trail rider, I fully believe each benefits the other. We did nothing but trail riding with the OTTB over the winter for her mind and she surprised me with her ability to navigate things. That said, she is really stiff and a prolonged trail ride in a stiff frame wouldn’t be conducive to her unlearning stiffness. I regularly ask for bend and suppleness on trail rides in small inrements and find the horses using bend on their own to help themselves. A stiff horse cannot navigate steep inclines at all and will always try to trot/run through it.

  5. as an owner of a OTTB, i can’t argue with any of the precautions stated, but wanted to add a counterpoint that there are quite a few out there that are sweet, mellow, polite easy keepers. I have one of those, although he goes “thoroughbred” on me when i take him off the farm to shows and his andrenalin kicks in. My guy is 17H, big boned and gets about 20lbs of grass a day in good weather, not bad for his size i think. the best thing to do is find a mentor or trainer to help you choos the best fit before you fall in love and bring home the wrong fit.


    This is the progression of our OTTB project from track, to 2 months in work, to recent dressage clinic. (9 months) She looks heavier in the riding pics than she is. She’s still very tight but improved noticeably in her 60 minute clinic. I think her owner learned much of what needs to be done to get lengthening but what else might be beneficial? I want to start hill work on trails, long, steep inclines where she needs to work hard enough to push, not pogo.

  7. This is the progression from track, to 2 months under saddle, to recent dressage clinic. She is not as heavy as she looks under tack. There was significant improvement in her lengthening in the hour clinic – though this pic shows how tight she wants to be. Her owner has a better handle on how to push for the stride (and outside rein!). I want to take them on regular trail rides on steep, long inclines, see if this will encourage more push and less up/down. Any other suggestions are welcome as are obvious skeletal flaws that are contributing to the shortness.

    • Use the canter (the better gait) to improve the trot. Groundpoles and cavelletti set slightly long for her. More transitions WITHIN gaits and between gaits. Then do what jrga wrote out in detail for the other horse. It’s not one exercise that’s going to fix it, but a series of exercise designed to supple, straighten and engage her.

      IE. 20 meter circle, leg yield to long side, straighten, then shoulder-fore, then across the short diagonal to straighten and into a lengthened gait, back onto 20m circle, then spiral into 10m and spiral out, then stretchy circle, leg yield back to wall, shoulder-fore into short side corner, change direction, lengthen across the short side, transition to halt at wall, rein back, walk on, 1/4 turns for square circle, blah, blah, blah….

        • bend the shoulders inside the track but ask the rear to move straight relative to the track, a four track movement, as opposed to a three track movement such as shoulder in. Jane Savoie says it is a 15 degree offset (shoulder in would be a complete bend to a ten meter circle with the shoulder in 30 degrees to the track). Arthur Kottas (former chief rider at Spanish riding school) calls it one shoe further in, about four inches off the track. As with shoulder-in, it requires more weight to be taken by the inside hind, more stretch through the outside of the horse and begins to ask for lateral movement in the forequarter, loosening and improving the muscling of the shoulder, and chest and freeing the elbows. Very good for a horse that has pulled itself around using the front legs. Actually very good for any horse. The rider has to ride their hips forward to keep the rear of the horse moving straight down the track, create correct bend of the torso to get the shoulders in, but not overbend the neck which gives a false sense of the work the horse is actually doing.

          • To be sure my comprehension is right, footfalls to the right, from rail to ring center would be: left hind, right hind, left fore, right fore? Where shoulder in would be left hind, right hind/left front, then right front?

          • You can ride a 15m circle and then one stride before you hit the wall, keep the 15m bend and ride straight (with your hips) down the wall. (Keep your shoulders turned slightly, as if you want to continue to ride the 15m circle – if you point them forward the horse’s shoulders will follow and no shoulder-fore.) Just go two strides then go across the short diagonal to straighten. If you’re actually doing the 15m circle correctly; horse is on the outside rein with the correct bend through the ribcage and therefore is straight on the arc of the circle, inside hind has increased articulation and weight, then you should have no issues riding a couple of strides down the long side out of the 15m circle.

      • Hi there! Can you tell me how you are determining a low neck set? Is it based on the point of shoulder in relation to where the base if the neck ties into the chest? I’m looking at Horse #1 and not seeing a really low neck set. At least not anything that would really cause problems for the average riding horse. Or is it just his lower neck set along with his other conformational “problems” (ie downhill build) ?
        I just LOVE this blog! Thank you Mercedes and all who contribute!

        • Thanks jrga… . I have read that thread. Seems like I must still be missing something. Without rereading it, levelness of build is described but not necessarily low neck set. Ok… wait… Things may have just clicked. So, a ewe necked horse will never be of a level or uphill build because the lower curve of the neck is always shallow and low. Therefore, a downhill horse (like horse #1) will always have a lower neck set since we measure levelness of build from the ls joint to the base of neck. Am I on the right track?

          • yes, the neck is low or high relative to the LS joint, that is the most important measurement, because if a horse is meant for riding as opposed to racing or plowing, he needs to have a level or uphill spine, or at least a spine that can become level when ridden properly. The closer to level you start, the easier it is for the horse.

    • what you want to do is medium inclines with good footing (remembering my idea of medium is defined by foothills of mountains, not flat ground, so real hills are involved but nothing truly steep), and have the owner ask for absolute straightness going up and down hill, meaning each rear foot steps up and under evenly, no crabbing or evasions or shorter steps, and the horse keeps its head, neck straight without bracing. Remember this is hard and tiring, three or four good strides and then rest or walk along the hill instead of up, and build up the horse over time to long hills. It is better to quit while the horse is still energetic and cooperative than to have three good strides strides followed by ten bad ones because the horse is too tired. Horses don’t have to work that hard, they have to work well and then take a break and stretch and then repeat.

      • Had to LOL a bit….we’re not sure IF this horse ever stops being energetic! I like hill work as I used to board near a State park and ride up almost daily. Not only good for the physical being of the horse but also cools down a hot, chargey type of horse. The uphill is easiest, downhill is where they want to fall apart onto the forehand. My retired reiner spent a good portion of her 5th year learning to walk on the hills (she’s a jigger) and it worked wonderfully.

        • energetic or frenetic? Could be where her calories go too, to busy stressing over things that she doesn’t eat, has to get back to worrying, pacing, checking out her surroundings, etc.

          Shoulder fore can be ridden in all gaits , so the pattern of footfalls stays the same for the gait you are riding. But the inside front is now going to hit the ground to the outside of the inside hind and the outside front is going to hit the ground between the inside hind and outside hind, which are going to stay on the original track, don’t know if this will work, but something like this placement of feet with horse moving straight forward along the track:

          ^ ^ X
          X wall
          ^ ^ X

          • didn’t work. it deleted all the blank spaces
            shoulder fore
            —– ^—^

            shoulder in
            —– ^—^

          • Both energetic and frenetic though better than she was. Grain is going down pretty well, all gone in 45 minutes or so – 6 lbs. Hay is pick, pick and she cleans up more at night when all is quiet. She has a paddock off her stall so she’s never not able to move at will.
            Got it on the shoulder fore, thought it was:

          • blondemare

            I would look at her diet again, six pounds of grain, even letting it sit with her, is a lot of grain for one feeding. All things are suggestions, but dry forage (hay or substitute) should be more than 50% of the diet, if you are giving her six pounds of grain she should be eating in excess of 12 pounds of hay per day. If you think she needs that much grain, then maybe more small meals if manageable for you and the owner.

            An article from AAEP on how high grain diets can actually inhibit absorption:


            further it can increase acid, not good for a horse with a history of ulcers.

          • I’m completely with you on the theory of correct feeding. The rest eat between 1 and 3 # of grain and 10 # of hay per feeding and have a nice layer of fat. I would love to increase her hay and lower grain intake…if she ate hay like a normal horse. She will leave hay and not eat, I don’t feel like I have much of an option….this is why I wanted to keep her on Carb Guard as it’s 25% fiber. It is cooling off so grazing will be introduced again with fingers crossed.

          • if the owner wants to experiment, cut down the grain about two to three pounds a feeding, try using a processed hay product of some sort, weight it perhaps, try the english method and use a good stout beer. The grain itself can cause her not to gain weight.

          • Stout?? This I have to hear!

            I’ve had her on hay cubes, when her appetite was down I fed alfalfa cubes, soaked then dry. I wanted the calcium for her stomach then when she started eating, I went to an alfalfa based grain. My 2nd vet tells me to stop fretting, says she’s a TB, young, recently off the track and won’t gain weight until she matures. I have free rein to feed her at will but I have to say that reducing her caloric intake gives me a bit of the willies. I wish I had her problems….those were the days.

      • I’ve been using this technique to help my horse engage. But as they say, what goes up must come down-might you have any thoughts on what going downhill does to the horse’s body? Are there exercises I can do on a downhill slope that will improve my horse’s strength? Or, alternatively, how do I make sure she’s not “undoing” the good work I got from her going uphill?

        • Start the same way downhill as you would uphill – that is with a subtle decline and progressing slowly in steepness. As well, you start in walk and work your way to trot and canter once you’ve mastered walking a steeper grade with engagement.

          I often moved my dressage ring around my property. I’d pick spots that were mostly level, but invariably one long and one short side would be slight upgrades and the other long and short side would be slight downgrades – depending, of course, on which rein I was on. 🙂 The difference in elevation couldn’t have been more than a foot or two over the distance of a long side and you’d think that wouldn’t be that big a deal, but it is. The horses would do well, increasing their engagement going up and then the weak or green ones would fall apart on the downgrade, losing their balance and speeding up. Once they’d mastered the ring, I’d move it and start all over again. 🙂

          Now, many people won’t have the luxury of 100 acres of variable land to do what I did, but the principles remain the same whether you’re in a portable ring or you’re out on a hack. Pick and choose your terrain thoughtfully and use it to your advantage.

          People often try and ‘hold’ their horses going downhill, thinking that pulling on those reins will prevent the horse from getting a head of steam like a snowball. That’s the worse thing you can do and unbalances the horse and causes exactly that which you’re trying to avoid.

          The horse has to be given its head. It has to swing through its lower back. It has to take big steps behind and step under and toward center body. That takes a lot of muscle strength.

          Think of it this way…a good sliding stop is when the horse comes way under itself and drops its haunch, sliding on back feet with the hocks just inches from the ground, while the front legs ‘walk’. That’s what you want to happen on downgrades…but of course relative to the degree of downgrade. The horse’s base of neck is raised, it’s neck stretched to its fullest and arched, the throat open and the head dropped in a relaxed manner from the poll.

          A bad sliding is when the haunch sticks up in the air, the horse’s head is up, its base of neck is dropped and rather than sliding on those back feet, the horse bunny hops every couple of feet because it tries to stop its momentum with its front end.

          So, walk down those slopes for now and resist the urge to pull back on your horse to slow it down. Resist the urge to lean way back (unless you’re doing Man From Snowy River), which will block your horse’s ability to come under and swing in its lower back. Ride your horse *forward* down that slope. Look up, keep your chest up and open and be deliberate with your aids. Give with your hands and know that the moment your horse takes an engaged step, he/she will be able to slow their momentum with their haunch. If horse and rider are struggling, the downgrade is too much, pick less slope.

          Invariably, horse and rider progress more quickly uphill than they do downhill. Even people who hike will tell you it’s easier to go up then it is to come down, so be patient.

    • Quite straight behind, would like to see more substance particularly behind, feet are unbalanced particularly the fronts, loin longish, knees higher than ideal, hocks higher than ideal.

      The biggest issue from a riding perspective will be the straightness of the hind legs. She’s got a good hip, a strong loin coupling, and is pretty close to level. The neck can be improved, the loin deepened and the feet fixed. Overall, a good amount of potential as a riding mount.

      • Her LS joint is well placed, but given its placement, she seems to lack the broad muscling across the loin she ought to have, maybe it is partly her youth, partly racing, but also maybe an indication of some long term strain. I don’t think it has caused any bony damage (the kind you are talking about with the big bay gelding discussed with trailrider) but I also think she has some issues to be addressed there.

        My youngster was much the same way, in part because of some issues in one rear foot, he did not use himself evenly at all and tended to hollow a lot. Much massage, much work on the ground after getting the foot issue under control, working at lifting the neck and belly, and he is broadening out, as well as putting on more adult proportion of muscle to bone, plus a little fat, it has rained about 20 inches this summer, I feel like I live in the Pacific Northwest, and the grass grows faster than you can bush hog. But that was a mere two years investment of time. Of course, I don’t work at it as hard as I used to, I’m getting too old.

        • Her muscling is quite tight throughout her body. She’s got to be stiffer than an ironing board and her haunch muscling stops real abruptly at the loin. I agree, something going on in the loin, probably behind it and lower as well. Her front feet are awful.

          Yep, she’s fixable. Probably would make a racehorse if she was fixed. She’s got to be a tight, tight mover.

          • A little love would go a long way – I still think the worst thing done constantly to these horses is lack of freedom. A strain, even a mild one, can get a lot worse just hanging in a stall 23/7. It’s like they’re either eating, sleeping, or on the track being led poorly, ponied poorly, ridden poorly and whacked to do it better. Movement helps mild ailments, helps prevent them from becoming chronic. I like this mare, she’s young and has some nice qualities. I wouldn’t pay $2000 for her, more like $700. Good thing I already have too many horses, I’d gamble on this one. She’s not too far up the road….

    • she doesn’t seem to have any special issues, she is downhill, light of bone, typical tb feet, a little long in the tibia, but at four may grow a little more in the hip to increase total femur length, shows the tight muscling of the back typical of a track horse, not as smooth an ls joint and a little narrow through the loin, point of shoulder not bad, but angle not particularly open to give big scopey movement. She will lengthen through the back a little, grow her neck a little, grow more withers since she’s only four, her body will account for slightly more of her total height than it does now. She does not look tied in , ie, circumference of cannon right below knee and right above the fetlock look about the same, that is good.

      • Thanks for the replies! I wouldn’t pay 2k either but I did like the look of her. I did notice the crappy feet and higher knees and hocks but that was all I could tell. My eye definitely needs work I guess!

    • It’s fortunate he has such a good neck, but his withers don’t carry back far enough and they drop off too abruptly so the ligaments can’t hold the back and ribcage up enough. The ribcage also doesn’t carry back far enough…we can easily see his last rib and how far it is from the point of hip…long loin. This one’s very likely to progress to a swayback. It’s really too bad, because he as some really good features.

    • What about his muscling baffles you?

      Overly bulky muscle means it’s over used, think body builder but without attention paid to each individual muscle to make all equal.

      Flat, angular muscling is also from over use but in a different way, causing the muscle to shorten, become super tight due to being constantly in some state of contraction and thin.

      The former muscle often feels hard and lumpy, and the skin has a parchment paper feel to it (brittle, crackly). Horses tend to really like deep massage in these areas…it hurts, but it’s that good kind of hurt that makes you want it harder.

      The latter often has knots in it, the tonus is off the charts, and there can be hots spots or cold spots. Forcibly contracting it and/or stretching it causes various degrees of reactions from horses depending on the horse’s nature; some horses will grin and bear it, merely grunting, raising their heads or swishing their tails, while others will pin ears, bite at the air, threaten to cow kick etc… Still others can’t help themselves and the pain is too great and will violently react. The latter is rare, but I have had it happen. I once was doing a back and hip stretch on a pony (from behind) and she reacted with a violent double barreling of her back legs. Fortunately, the stretch causes the person to step back and the horse to step forward, so she missed me.

      • His loin looks decently muscled, not flat and doesn’t look extremely tight until I reassembled him where the downward pull is very apparent. I wouldn’t expect such roundness…I’d expect something similar to horse #1 in this post.

        • We know the loin is not well muscled because it lacks depth (also due in part to its length). He’s quite tight in the original picture…see the dark shading along the whole line of the loin? If he was full and double-backed (the ultimate goal) that shading would be different. As it stands, the shading indicates the muscle is flat and angular, rather than full and round.

          High, round points reflect light. Flat, hollow points absorb light.

  8. “Even to the casual observer, it’s clear the modern American thoroughbred isn’t what it used to be. Durable types capable of reaching the starting gate twenty plus times are the exception, not the rule and industry headlines constantly remind us of the resulting carnage.

    At a time when the sport continues to constrict and struggles to attract new owners, the status quo is no longer acceptable. Unfortunately, the industry has done little to address the problem, or at least the real problem: genetics.

    We can install as many artificial surfaces as we want, implement as as many pre-race vet exams as we want, and have as many roundtable conferences as we want… but until we address the genetic component, fragile horses will continue to plague the industry and drive investors away in droves. After all, if the original product is flawed, shouldn’t that be the focus, rather than applying band-aid remedies after the fact?” American Thoroughbred Review This stallion, sire of Verrazano who ran 5 grades stakes this year, bombed in the derby on a wet track, but won every other, is graded an “A” by ATR. Verrazano was on fire closing in the Haskell, worth the watch. So, here’s a stallion (More Than Ready) known for passing on durability that also can produce a top performer. There are stallions out there with not only decent conformation but rugged runners yet books to Unbridled’s Song (and others) known for throwing weakness, still remain full. People don’t care if horses break down, they’ll take that gamble vying for the winner’s circle, blinders on. I don’t get it.

    • He has the usual big hip, and lots of length to his humerus bone. His feet look to be a good size and he’s got some heel on him. In terms of difficulties for riding purposes, he’s post-legged behind, longish through the loin (ls joint looks to be placed a bit behind his point of hip), downhill built and his neck is set on lower than ideal, but structured okay. He lacks depth through the loin and is pigeon-breasted, but those can be improved. I would check his sacrum for a past injury. The biggest problem is the post-leggedness and that’s significant. One of the hardest traits to deal with.

Leave a Reply to blondemare Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s