Friday, May 23, 2008

Transitioning Thoroughbreds -Day 1

We frequently receive   phone calls and emails from well-intentioned potential first-time horse owners enquiring about adopting an OTTB (Off-The-Track-Thoroughbred) or a rehabilitated and retrained rescued TB. While we never discount an adoption applicant without previous hands-on equine ownership experience, Chez Chevaux is committed to ensuring that the best possible permanent match is made for every horse and human. Our adoption application process will verify that potential adopters are willing and able to make the necessary  time, training and financial commitments.
In the case of OTTBs, particularly those directly exiting a stall at the racetrack, a structured transition into a lower-impact performance paradigm is key. OTTBs have had excellent , yet specifically focused, care and training. They are accustomed to, expect, enjoy and anticipate  a predictable routine of feeding, exercise, shoeing, grooming,  handling and, as needed, prompt veterinary attention. A racehorse leaving a successful career has, in fact, enjoyed his/her  job.
Psychologically, the OTTB best benefits when the transition from the backside to a transitional facility is made with the consideration and knowledge of what each horse is used to in mind. There will, naturally,  be changes in routine and environment, but it is important to institute them incrementally and positively. 
It is much easier to transition an OTTB right into a new environment than a rescued TB. OTTBs have had positive human interactions and they are neither sick,starved nor abused. The OTTBs may, intially, miss familiar faces and their stable buddies, but they  generally adapt more quickly as they lack the anxiety factor of rescued TBs (who can be very afraid that things can get WORSE... hay does help lessen that worry pretty quickly!). The most pathetic and lengthy rehabilitative rescue challenges we've faced have been TBs who left the track happy and healthy and then transited through one or two homes that became progressively less attentive. 
So, what does Day 1 look like when any TB arrives at Chez Chevaux?
First, a walk around the perimeter of the barn and the barn aisle so they can see where they are, settle,then into their stall where a meal of (for OTTBs)  whatever hay they are used to is waiting for them. Our regular feeding program includes 4 daily servings of hay and a.m and p.m supplement feeding. OTTBs are often used  to having full haynets in front of them. Throughout the first  week, we make sure they have some good grass hay available, when stalled, between feedings. For underweight rescues, mini-meals of second cutting orchard grass hay will be fed. All of our stalls have attached paddocks and an incoming horse will be housed next to a calm, friendly and happy resident that can serve as a social ambassador. Should a new horse require stall rest or limited movement for rehabilitative reasons, we can close off paddocks or offer a small paddock. Horses are supremely intelligent herd animals that glean much from watching and interacting.We can see the barn from the house and my office and we monitor how quickly a new horse relaxes in his/her new space. Domesticated horses like a predictable routine and they relax and settle in most quickly when it is apparent that a logical routine is in place.
As the incoming TB relaxes and demonstrates additional curiousity, we may introduce some turnout and a hand-walk around the arena on Day 1, although that's usually  Day 2.