In this series, the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is partnering with Athletux to critique your off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) eventing prospects. Professional riders and trainers will share their insights into each OTTB's pedigree, racing history, and conformation. Would you like to have your off-the-track Thoroughbred featured in the next edition of OTTB Critique presented by Athletux? We are looking for our next horse! Email your tips to [email protected].
Thoroughbreds are a natural partner for eventing riders. They’re bred to sustain the rigors of track, be speedy, and competitive, and for many horses a second career in the cross-country field is a great opportunity to use those natural abilities for years after life on the track. Eventers across the country are hoping to find the perfect equine partner under the tree this Christmas, and if you’re one of them you might be finding yourself wondering what to look for in your search for an off-the-track-Thoroughbred to call your own. We’ve enlisted international event rider Olivia Loiacono to show us her prospect-purchasing thought process by critiquing an off-the-track Thoroughbred.
Meet Wild N Free (Stormin Fever x Wild Whirl), a track-trained but never raced 2013 gelding owned by Kristin Maloney. “Freebie” is only 4 years old and has successfully competed in the Intro division.
“Overall I like the look of this horse.” Loiacono says. “At first glance it appears to have a nice uphill and balanced build.” A good confirmation shot can give a prospective buyer a good idea of what a horse might be suited for and whether they’ll be able to hold up to the stressors of eventing. The ideal slope in the pastern allows a smooth stride and not too much concussion, but too much slope could cause too much strain on soft tissue throughout the leg (tendons/ligaments), and I feel this horse's pasterns have a nice slope.”
Another important angle to check is that of the shoulder. “The ideal slope in the shoulder will provide for a smooth stride and good ability for the horse to lift quickly and efficiently over fences.” She notes, “On this horse the shoulders and pasterns have a nice angle and match which is great.”
Photo courtesy of Kristin Maloney.
Moving on from the big picture and the angles of the horse, Loiacono focuses in on specifics in his legs and through his back. “From the side it appears that the horse has nice alignment throughout the leg and the cannon bone length looks decent. I don't like a cannon that is too long as it can be another additive of stress on tendons. He’s not over or behind at the knee, both of which can cause movement issues and lead to unsoundness depending on the severity.”
Critiquing Freebie’s back Loiacono says, “The first two thirds of the back is nice, then we see that the horse has a bit of a high croup, which places a little extra strain on the back third of the horse's back/loin area. This could change a bit in time as the horse is still only a 4-year-old, so ideally the horse will continue to grow up front and the horse will appear less angular through the hind end/croup.”
Loiacono stresses that when looking at young horses, the more information at your disposal, the better. “If you can see a few photos throughout the horse's younger years it really helps to make an educated guess on how the horse's balance will finish out. If they have always been high behind they may stay that way, but if they tend to teeter/totter in balance you may be looking at a horse in their awkward stage.”
“Muscularly, this horse is really well built up front and across the topline, but he is a little bit slower to develop/underdeveloped behind. Again, this is something that could improve with some time and work.” Loiacono also noted his hooves, “From what I can tell in this photo this horse has very good feet. Ideally they are all of similar shape, no hoof having majorly low heels or clubbed. Thoroughbreds can have rough feet, so this is especially important to look for.”
Photo courtesy of Kristin Maloney.
While it can be difficult to tell much about a horse's jump from a single photo, Loiacono is impressed with Freebie’s efforts. “He shows a nice even push off the hind leg and comes up through the shoulder and front end very well. In time I assume that this horse would learn to use his neck better over the fences, as he has a good one.” For Loiacono, a good attitude is more important than style with a young horse.
Conformation may be an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the only important aspect in horse shopping. “When you go see an OTTB you might not be able to ride them,” she advises. “But play with them in their stall, walk them around the stables. There are a lot of things you can tell about a horse just in doing ground work with them. A horse's mind is extremely important, they need to be teachable and willing, or all the conformation points and talent is wasted.”
So, does Freebie pass Loiacono’s test? “Overall, I really like this horse. He’s got good conformation with no major red flags. Plus, he seems to be enjoying his new job, which is the most important part!”
Want to learn more about Olivia Loiacono and her program in Bonsall, California at OKL eventing? Visit her website!
Would you like to have your off-the-track Thoroughbred featured in the next edition of OTTB Critique presented by Athletux? We are looking for our next horse! Email your tips to [email protected].