As Off-The-Track Thoroughbreds Become More Mainstream, Products Need to Keep Pace

The popularity of the off-the-track-Thoroughbreds has exploded in recent years. A lot of that growth can be attributed to programs such as the Retired Race Horse Program, the Thoroughbred aftercare organizations, the Thoroughbred Incentive Program (T.I.P.), along with the affordability of OTTBs and more OTTB shows than ever being hosted. With that popularity, more riders are searching for the best options and products suited for the challenges OTTB owners face such as saddle fitting and getting them to round their backs more.

Thoroughbred Conformation and Saddle Fitting

A horse bred with one thing in mind …

Among other physical attributes, it’s clear that the focus when breeding these horses is to produce animals who can run fast. However, those characteristics can represent a challenge for the rider who has a different discipline in mind when the horse’s racing days are over.

Experienced OTTB owners are aware that a Thoroughbred’s large and muscular shoulders, coupled with his high withers, can create saddle fitting challenges from day one.

There are two common questions when confronting this dilemma:

Withers or Shoulders?

Do I look for a saddle that fits the withers or the shoulders?

Typically the answer is to fit for the shoulders, as free, unimpaired movement is necessary for any horse to develop proper balance and collection. If a horse is unable to move comfortably while under saddle, issues will inevitably arise. Many times accommodating the shoulders means using a wider saddle tree than initially assumed when considering the overall trim, athletic appearance of the OTTB.

If the saddle is fitted to the shoulders and back with no consideration for the withers, it can result in a saddle that isn’t providing enough clearance for the withers, causing pressure and pain during exercise as the saddle sits atop, or bumps them.

Which saddle works best for an OTTB?

Visit any OTTB forum or chat, and inevitably, a question posted regarding specific saddle recommendations will have numerous replies with many different – and oftentimes conflicting – advice. While there are saddles designed with the Thoroughbred in mind, the important thing to remember is that each horse is different, and his individual characteristics must be taken into consideration when searching for the “perfect saddle.”

Photo: JJ Sillman

Saddle Fit 101

A comfortable horse will engage his back.

When this happens, the rider’s weight is being carried in the most efficient way, allowing his horse to stay sound and healthy for longer than the horse whose back is “hollow” or stretched out. This aspect of achieving a good saddle fit is often overlooked.

Not only is correct fit important for training and short-term comfort – it also makes it possible for a horse to develop the muscles it needs to remain active and healthy.

As with any saddle, the purpose is to provide a secure seat for the rider while distributing her weight evenly, ensuring the comfort of her horse.

Whether you barrel race with your OTTB, take to the air around a cross-country course, enter the dressage ring, or meander down woodsy trails, ensuring a comfortable saddle fit should be the very first thing on your list.

If you’re confident your saddle fits well, you can focus on the next part of the journey.

Achieving Goals with your OTTB

The OTTB has been growing as a performance horse prospect among many disciplines.

Their athletic breeding has produced not only power and stamina but also the will to win.

This makes them excellent candidates for any equestrian with competitive goals.

However, in order to realize their great potential, riders must communicate effectively and learn to “read” their horse’s body language as they train. Often sensitive to nature, these horses thrive with a calm consistent rider who has developed good balance and seat. When the rider is comfortable, the horse will follow suit.

The shock absorption of a Thinline saddle pad, such as the ThinLine Basic pad, provides comfort to the horse and rider as they learn and grow together.

Photo: JJ Sillman

Can a saddle pad really help my OTTB relax?

With the technology behind Thinline saddle pads providing unparalleled shock absorption, the answer is YES!

Thinline saddle pads are perfect for sensitive OTTB backs.

When the sensitive and intelligent OTTB can relax and move confidently, his training goals are met and exceeded regularly. With the concussion of the rider “muted” thanks to Thinline, the fussy OTTB is less distracted and can focus on his training instead. This promotes “relaxing” and “engaging,” two huge components that are absolutely fundamental when advancing with the OTTB.

Many Thoroughbred owners recognize immediate behavioral changes when using a Thinline pad. Being able to “really connect” with their horses as they become more relaxed is a common testimonial.

“Typical thoroughbred conformation” – not to mention their notable sensitivity – make these products game-changers for the OTTB.

What the OTTB crowd has to say about Thinline products and the amazing difference they make, speaks for itself.

Katlin Russell, an OTTB Owner, said she purchased a ThinLine Trifecta Cotton Half pad after reading reviews for another memory foam half pad where the reviewers continuously recommended ThinLine pads over the pad that were reviewing. She said, “I then decided to buy a ThinLine pad, and I have not regretted it! I ride 10 OTTBs for the barn I work at, and I ride countless other horses that have high withers or no withers. I put it on any horse I ride, mainly for shock absorption.”

“I am a believer in ThinLine!” she said. “I ride so many horses and for my saddle to make none of them sore is absolutely amazing. I give that credit to ThinLine. They give the right amount of cushion without the bulk and in turn act as a shock absorbing pad which in foxhunting is great, especially when the hunts run anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. To be able to come back and your horse’s back be fine is a blessing!”

I cannot recommend ThinLine products enough. I currently have a growing three-year-old OTTB with a very sensitive back, and my Full Sheepskin Fleece Correction Half pad from ThinLine makes a world of difference. The very first time that I rode with the pad, I immediately noticed a difference in the way he was moving.” – Emily Johnson.

“I would not be able to use the saddle I currently use if I didn’t have a shimmable ThinLine Pad,” said Shauna Wells, an OTTB Owner. “He not only has high withers and large shoulders. He also has significant atrophy to the point where in his PPE my vet warned me that saddle fitting would be nearly impossible with him, and I would have a long expensive road ahead of trying to make things work. Thankfully, I found a Stubben that fits well enough, and with my shimmable half pad we are in decent shape until I can afford a custom saddle. Even then, I will still ride with a Thinline – just without the shims!”

Thinline Global has supplied the answer to many off-the-track thoroughbred horse tack challenges. They provide a consistent solution to possibly significant problems, as well as support that helps maintain horse and rider health.

At the end of the day, the use of Thinline saddle pads results in happier, more relaxed horses and riders, enjoying healthier backs and more productive rides.

– Sara Shelley