So, it’s time to buy a horse. That’s so exciting! No doubt you have dreamed of this time for ages, and now that it’s finally happening, you are overwhelmed with possibilities. Maybe you’ve even posted a “Wanted” ad on Facebook, I’ve seen quite a few of those.
Wanted: 16+hh sporthorse, must jump 2’6″, be competitive in the hack, yada yada yada.
No thoroughbreds.Facebook person, Hopefully Not you.
I’ve seen this so many times, and every time I want to scream into the void. Why?!?! Why no thoroughbreds?! Why would someone discount an entire breed of competitive horses. “I would like one competitive horse, but also, not that competitive horse, ew gross.”
Some people just don’t like thoroughbreds, I get it. They say they don’t like their personality, or they are too hot, or come up with some BS reason why they don’t want a thoroughbred. A horse that is already competing in their chosen discipline at their chosen level, but no, it’s a thoroughbred.
Look, people are allowed have their own preferences, and likes and dislikes, I get that. But to not even look at a thoroughbred, simply because it’s a thoroughbred? That’s just someone who wants the designer brand label on their horse. It’s breed snobbery. I think it’s different if this person already had a bloodline in mind, or was looking for something a specific breed, but they never are, they are just looking for a generic warmblood horse, of whatever breeding.
I’ve owned 2 thoroughbreds in my horse life, and one of them was such a wonderful mare that I’m kicking myself that I sold her. In remembrance of the great life we had together, here are all the reasons you should consider a thoroughbred as your next horse.
Let’s start with their sheer ability. Thoroughbreds have been well known sport horse competitors for a long time. They have been found in all disciplines, at varying levels, but let’s take a look at one of the most impressive sports, at the Olympic level.
Gem Twist: Of course no list of great thoroughbred sporthorses would be complete without the great Gem Twist, a horse so incredible that he’s been cloned.
Gem Twist was a purpose bred thoroughbred, so bred specifically for show jumping, and not for racing. He begin winning early in his career, and eventually earned two gold medals at the 1988 Olympics. In 1990, he was named the “World’s Best Horse.”
He was ridden by Greg Best, Leslie Howard, and Laura Chapot, winning over $800,000 in prize money over his career. He was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2002.
He’s now been cloned three times. All of his clones are being used only for breeding in the warmblood studbooks.
Touch of Class: a thoroughbred mare who, after having a brief racing career, was ridden by Joe Fargis in the 1984 Olympics, taking two gold medals.
She had a Breyer horse made in her likeness. In 2000, she was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.
Snowbound: another former racehorse who became a show jumper. He had two tendon injuries in his legs, and his owner, Barbara Worth Oakford, Hall of Fame showjumper, said he “might as well be snowbound as to think he’d made it as a show horse.”
Snowbound became the mount of the legendary Bill Steinkraus. He won four FEI Nations Cups in 1985. Because of his tendon injuries, Snowbound was only jumped at large competitions. In 1968, he and Steinkraus competed in the Olympics, winning the individual gold. Unfortunately he did reinjure his tendons, and was retired after that.
In 2005, he was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.
Is this a complete list? Definitely not. There’s way more thoroughbreds competing or that have competed at high levels of the sport. I didn’t even get into the thoroughbreds competing in dressage or eventing. Could the next one be found at your local racetrack? Well, it’s possible…
Thoroughbred VS. Warmblood
Let’s get this one out of the way. The people who say “no thoroughbreds are 100% looking for a warmblood or warmblood cross. Honestly, it’s understandable. They are usually purpose bred for dressage or jumping or whatever. Their bloodlines are carefully studied to create exceptional sporthorses. Where as the thoroughbred is usually bred to be a racehorse, so may not seem the best choice for a specialized discipline.
Comparing the two may not always be fair, as there’s a range of what would be considered a “warmblood” and there’s a range of thoroughbred body types. I remember the days when people would literally call any thick, tall horse a warmblood in order to increase the price. Maybe people still do that, it wouldn’t surprise me. But basically, you can’t always trust that a random horse posted online as a warmblood is actually a warmblood. Unless it has the papers that go along with it, it could be a thick thoroughbred or a random backyard bred horse of any random breeding, but just happens to be tall and thick. These are not necessarily purpose bred horses, or perhaps they were purpose bred, but not by a professional.
Thoroughbreds, while not always bred specially for the typical disciplines, are always bred to be an athlete, because that’s what is needed at the racetrack. But, certain racehorse lines make better sport horses than others. Before you buy a horse, you can look at the bloodlines and guess at the horse’s potential. If this is a route you want to take, there are knowledgeable people and groups that can help you break down your thoroughbred’s bloodlines to determine potential. It’s a neat advantage to owning a thoroughbred, as everything is carefully recorded.
Thoroughbreds Are Abundant
The Jockey Club has reported that the amount of thoroughbreds born each year has been going down since 2016. In 2023, an estimated 18,500 foals were born. Compare that to 2015, when there was 23,047 foals born.
Overall, this is a promising trend, as there’s such an abundant amount of thoroughbreds that many were simply discarded to the slaughter houses once their racing career ended. However, this is still a lot of horses, and that means there’s plenty of opportunities for you to find a thoroughbred that matches your exact discipline, personality, and probably even color preference.
The large amount of thoroughbreds needing homes has motivated programs like the Retired Racehorse Project, which aims to create a market for retired thoroughbreds. I personally known 5 trainers who regularly compete their horses in this program. I know several additional amateur riders who buy horses specifically to compete them in this program.
The Jockey Club has it’s own program, called the Thoroughbred Incentive Program. I actually have a few ribbons from Berry from them. Their goal is to encourage the retaining of thoroughbreds into other disciplines.
The abundance of thoroughbreds might be a turnoff to some, but it should be seen at the positive it is. There’s tons of athletic, amazing horses for sale, many for very affordable prices. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get an amazing show partner.
Thoroughbreds Have Unique Personalities
If you’ve spent any amount of time around horses, you’ve heard the rumor that thoroughbreds at hot, sensitive, and hard to handle, but I’m here to squash that rumor right now.
I think a lot of the reputation of the hot thoroughbred comes from the idea that when a horse first comes off the track, which is usually quite young in life, maybe 3 -5 years old, they are hard to handle. That makes sense because their training so far has revolved around being super fast (so crazy and high strung is perfectly fine), and oh yeah, many horses are hard to handle at that age. Literally, they are young horses. Young horses are difficult, they are in their teenager stage, trying to figure out their place in life, what their job is, and how they can look cool to the other horses. They aren’t going to be easy, they are going to test you, test their limits, and act a bit crazy. It can be an age thing, not always a thoroughbred thing.
Compare that baby thoroughbred with a thoroughbred that’s is now a few years off the track with some training under their girth. Chances are, you’re going to be looking at a completely different horse. They are going to act differently from their baby self, because they aren’t babies anymore. Now that they have an understanding of their jobs, their personalities and mannerisms are going to be related to the quality of their training and environment, instead of being related to being a crazy youngster.
But this is not a blanket statement at all. Are some thoroughbreds hot? Most definitely. Are some thoroughbreds lazy? Yes. Are some thoroughbreds somewhere in between? Yeah, very likely. Because they are all different. There isn’t going to be one set personality for a thoroughbred.
So if you are looking for a horse, don’t let the “hot” stereotype turn you away from thoroughbreds. Like other aspects of horse buying, selecting a horse that fits with your riding style is very important, but the thoroughbred aspect in itself isn’t going to effect whether the horse is hot or not. Don’t let that idea turn you away from trying out some thoroughbreds in your quest.
Thoroughbreds come in all shapes and sizes. (My own was shaped a bit like a weiner dog, short legs with a long back.) They should be considered as individuals, and as the true athletes that they are. If you’re looking for a new partner, at least try a thoroughbred. These wonderful horses might surprise you.