April 26, 2009 | | Comments 0

Interview with Robin Petrasek: Choosing a Thoroughbred

Written by: Jan Hoadly

Most people think of Thoroughbreds and they think racing. This breed is developed to run, and yet not all Thoroughbreds have the talent to excel at racing. Some simply don’t have the desire but these horses are not lost causes.

Thoroughbreds can make good broodmares if the genetics and conformation is good. They are hunters, jumpers, dressage, cross country and polo stars. They are the lesson horses teaching new riders and the challenging mount for more accomplished riders. Each horse is an individual situation and should always be treated as an individual.

Thoroughbred Horses

Thoroughbred Horses

Like many trainers, Robin Petrasek of Maryland’s Talbot Run center appreciates what the Thoroughbred brings to the arena. From the onset there are qualifications a good Thoroughbred should have, and what was a disadvantage on the race track can be an advantage in other venues.

The first step is selection and of course this varies on the intended use of the horse. As a general rule the Thoroughbred is built to cover ground. With the right temperament and “handle” they can excel in polo, but some many not be cut out for this work just as in racing. Also, not all will pan out in the hunter or dressage world. But what this should highlight is the various opportunities other then racing available to the Thoroughbred.

What to Look For in a Thoroughbred

Robin notes “For a dressage horse, I like good, straight legs. They are the base of the horse, and if there is any sign of problems (i.e. chips or severe crookedness) I steer clear. Any leg conformational problems can lead to severe problems later.” An example of this might be an injury that heals but doesn’t hold up to the stress of jumping – when a conformation problem predisposes the horse to injury, the horse is really set back from the beginning. This creates an issue where because of the structure of the leg they can’t help the way they walk.

“I also like a strong solid back, not too long or short. A long back is hard to collect and susceptible to pain and discomfort, as well as difficulty truly tracking up. I like a longish neck so the horse has an easy time stretching over the topline to really develop and strengthen their backs.” This is a basic form to function for the horse – they must be equipped to do the job. The muscles in the neck and back are needed for that long pretty profile a dressage horse has.

Although a balanced picture is important in dressage too much length alters the picture. Too long or too short detracts from the balance needed to really excel in the sport. The more one is too long or too short the harder it is to find that balance point that allows an excellent result in the dressage ring.

Some trainers swear by – or at – certain bloodlines in general terms that overlooks the individual. Robin comments “A lot of the horses that have been specifically bred to run, tend not to hold up as riding horses. However, I believe that every horse has the potential to do anything with the right amount of training and patience. If they have the heart and drive to do it, there should be nothing to stop them!”

This sometimes means finding the right way to communicate what you want so that the horse understands it. Many Thoroughbreds are very intelligent. The intelligence that allows them to excel at the track and observe the small things in their world is the same intelligence that if challenged with training can carry them far.

“A good head and willingness to be sane on the ground. It all starts with ground manners, so something that cannot be controlled on the ground will be very difficult to turn in to a good riding horse.” This falls heavily to the early handlers of young thoroughbreds long before they get to a racetrack. This is often small teaching of and giving respect to a young horse which can truly change, or save, a horse’s life should he (especially geldings) or she be unable to race for whatever reason. The manners can be taught but the horse’s nature can’t and some horses naturally want to please and “go with the program.” These can be ideal for training for a second career.

The Maryland horse trainer had advice for the potential owner as well “I believe that only a very confident rider with a lot patience and dedication should take OTTBs as projects. They are very easy to mess up, and need a lot of consistency.” This is not something to undertake for the rider who is easily rattled as at times you will swear Thoroughbreds have a bad sense of humor. There’s a fine line sometimes between putting a foot down and starting a battle and it takes experience to do the first without doing the second.

The long debate of geldings vs mares can also matter to some. Robin observes “Geldings are often easier to ride and calmer, while mares have a bit more attitude. However, it is often the mares that will give it their all and really perform when needed.”

One adage is you tell a gelding, you ask a mare and discuss it with a stallion. For most a stallion is out of the question to compete on, but the differences between mares and geldings can be substantial, as well as the way to approach an issue. There are also exceptions to the general guidelines as we all know horses don’t read! A mare can be “testy” to deal with but once you get through the communication and earn her trust and respect she’ll dig down for every last drop for you.

A good Thoroughbred is worth the effort – choose wisely and prepare for an adventure where challenges may be high but so are the rewards.

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