The Thoroughbred horse as it exists today was founded in England in the late 17th and early 18th century by aristocratic breeders looking to improve their racing stock. All registered Thoroughbred horses in the world today can be traced to three foundation sires: The Darley Arabian, the Byerley Turk and the Godolphin Arabian. They were named after the men who imported them to England from the Middle East. The Jockey Club is the recognized studbook for the breed.
These aristocratic gentlemen -- Lord Godolphin, Thomas Darley and Captain Robert Byerley, bred these three sires to stout, hearty native mares called "Scottish Galloways" and got a horse that could run faster, longer and could carry more weight than any British horse of the day.
Once again, Britannia had to look North to Scotland for some fresh blood. The Royal Family had been breeding in Scots' strength for centuries -- for example the Stuart Dynasty -- why not use their horses in the same way?
Through careful breeding and a closed stud book, the strength of the Thoroughbred was built and maintained over the ensuing centuries. Thoroughbreds today must still be bred with "live cover" as opposed to artificial insemination so as to ensure the purity of the breed.
Some would say this exclusivity has lead in recent decades to horses that are hotter, more mentally fragile and more physically apt to break down than Thoroughbreds of yesteryear. I would tend to agree; there's a reason no Thoroughbred has won the Triple Crown since 1978. There is no living Triple Crown winner today. We lost the great Seattle Slew in 2002. I choose to believe that I will see another Triple Crown Champion crowned in my lifetime, but unless Thoroughbred breeders put some beef and bones on their animals, I despair the possibility.
Today's Thoroughbreds are not as big boned as those of the past; think Secretariat, Northern Dancer or Swaps (bred and trained by our own Dr. Burt Ellsworth's grandfather). They were big strong animals that could hold up to the punishing mile and a half that is the Big Sandy Belmont or the flat out home stretch of Churchill Downs.
That said, Thoroughbreds are still the go to sport horse of choice for many equestrian disciplines including show jumping, hunters, hunt seat equitation, three day eventing, fox hunting,steeplechase, dressage and even reining! I've even seen a Thoroughbred cut a cow!
I have owned more Thoroughbreds than any other breed and I adore them. I have won at every level in varying disciplines with my Thoroughbreds. However they are not I repeat not a good fit for a first time horse owner.
Let me count the ways...
1. They are huge, 16 hands plus on average and upwards of 1000 pounds. It is not uncommon to see a 17.3 hand, 1250 pound Thoroughbred.
2. They need to eat twice what your average horse eats to maintain fat stores and muscle density -- not just because of size, but also because they have faster metabolisms. That is even more true of retired race horses, called OffTrackThoroughbreds (OTTB) in trainer parlance.
3. OTTBs are started and trained totally differently than non-racehorses. To a racehorse, when you pull on the reins, that means, go! So there is no way for a non-pro to stop the horse unless it is retrained.
4. All OTTBs must be retrained. They need at least six months to a year of retraining before any amateur throws a leg over. That costs at least $300-$400 a month, minimum. For top trainers plan on paying $1000 a month and up.
5. They are what we call a "hot" breed. That means they have a hot temper, a skittish personality and an abundance of energy. You must have a way to work off that energy!
6. Most casual weekend or afternoon riders do not have the time to work down a Thoroughbred and if you don't, you will get hurt, period.
Now if you say, "Kelly, I want a horse that is tall, beautiful, athletic and intelligent but not as hot as a Thoroughbred" I will tell ya to go find an Appendix or "Running Quarter Horse." They are the racehorses of the Quarter Horse breed, but since they only have to race over distances less than a mile, they are not bred as "hot." They look very similar to purebred Thoroughbreds and they are recognized by both breed registries in special sections.
These runnin' Quarters are, to my mind, a way to get a lot of bang for your buck and no "buck with a bang!" They have better minds, in general, than your average OTTB and are just as easily adopted.
Whether you adopt an OTTB or a runnin' Quarter, plan on spending some money on training, but if you do, you can have an equine partner that will give their all for you, whether on a track, in a dressage arena or jumping fences in the Olympics.
Next week -- Our first TrainerTalk interview with cutting horse trainer Chip Carden.
KELLY MOLLOY-MCDANIEL is a Tehachapi-based trainer. Please email any questions to email@example.com; follow her on Twitter @SpitCreekRanch #SpitCreekelly