April's Lessons: Life with an Ex-Racehorse

I grew up with horses. Thex-racehorseey have always been a part of my life. As a small child, I rode western because it's what my parents did, and it's all I knew. I was familiar with quarter horses, appaloosas, arabians and Tennessee walkers. My father was in the army so we moved every three or four years. I rode whatever horses were around. I was ten when we moved to Oahu, Hawaii and my world changed forever. It was there that I discovered English riding, more specifically the sport of eventing. The horses I rode in Hawaii were a motley bunch-- bored school horses with questionable heritage and a surly attitude, but they jumped!

When my father was re-assigned to Georgia we set out to find me a suitable eventing horse. We looked at everything but the "right" horse was nowhere to be found. I didn't have a trainer and we were new in town, so we didn't really know anyone. I was getting discouraged. Finally, a lady we met in a local tack store suggested that we contact the local thoroughbred rescue and see what they had to offer.

It was love at first sight! She was an absolute giant of a chestnut mare with a beautiful mane and no tail to speak of. Apparently her stall mate, a goat, had eaten her tail in a fit of bad goat manners. In the fashion perfected by teenage girls, I decided that I must have that horse. Of course, first I had to ride her. This proved to be a bit more of a challenge than I expected. I was a good rider. I was experienced, calm, strong, and capable. What could go wrong? Well, April was an off the track thoroughbred (OTTB), a fancy name for a retired racehorse, and they are a bit different.

Typically, you would pull back on the reins and the horse would stop. On a former race horse, the harder you pull back the faster the horse runs. To say it was a wild ride would be an understatement! I was hooked.

Off the track thoroughbreds are an experience you cannot find from any other horse. These are horses that have already had a career on the race track. They were taught to run. That is all they know, and all too often when they are no longer winning races their story is over.

Fortunately, there are people out there that are experts at teaching these horses how to be good equine citizens, off the race track. April taught me how to really ride a horse, how to be involved with the horse and not just be a glorified passenger. I won my first show on her. She will always have a place in my heart. The folks at the rescue saved her and she taught me what it meant to be an equestrian.

If you are a horse person, and have room in your home and heart, consider giving an OTTB a second chance at life. If you aren't a horse person, consider supporting your local race horse rescue and retirement rescue group. Either way, you won't regret it. I sure don't.

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