spiritIn the fall of 1996 I picked up four race horses from Delaware Park. The next spring they were all eventing, and by the fall of 1997 three of them were going preliminary and qualified for a CCI*. Only two could go, both did it easily, and the third went around his first CCI* the next spring.. Needless to say, all three were sold soon thereafter. The fourth horse evented training level and then took me to the A jumper shows in the 4'0" - 4'3" preliminary division before he was sold. 

How was that possible? I start my homebreds at age 3 and am lucky to have them going training level when they're five. These horses were all uneducated four and five year-olds when I bought them at the track. 

The answer, I believe, lies in the foundation that horses get on the track. Here is some of what you get from the start, but don't really have to pay for:

  • Stretching

    They have been ridden daily and are quite willing to go forward, so they rarely buck or rear. Instead, they GO, which I most definitely prefer. Somebody already spent a lot of money getting them broke, and most of the farms that start race horses do a pretty good job. 

  • They already have developed into athletes. They have a kind of strength and confidence that unraced four, five and six year olds rarely display. Carrying a rider around a preliminary cross country course is no big deal physically for a horse that has raced. 

  • Their soundness is proven. Studies have shown that bone density and ligament strength is greater in young horses that have been stressed to a limited degree. If they have stayed sound through a racing career, they are, in my experience, more likely to stay sound as sport horses than a young horse that has never done hard work. 

  • They have been desensitized. That seems ludicrous to say of animals that are so fit and wired for flight that many of them jig everywhere they go, but consider the chaos of the paddock before they run, of the start gate, of the morning workouts on a crowded track. They have also been poked, prodded, wrapped, groomed, bathed, and shipped until they actually take comfort in all of it.

  • They have detailed race records and the names of past owners. This shows whether they were laid off for long periods or were sound enough to maintain a regular schedule. It explains the decision to retire the horse. You know the history. If you buy a horse directly from the track you can see for yourself his physical and emotional condition under stress.