OTTB’s- otherwise known as ‘off the track thoroughbreds’ have a particularly large part of my heart, begining with my first (and only) personal horse, Copper. I was 13 when I got Copper and he had scored a 2/9 on his PPE (pre-purchase exam) meaning he had extremely poor body conditions and would need months of rehabilitation before riding. I spent the beginning months of being a horse owner bonding with Copper and seeing his personality quickly come out. As a 13 year old, I had always thought highly about race horses. Afterall, Secretariat is one of the most famous horses to date and my horse happened to have the same career path. Seemingly enough, my horse ‘looked’ like Secretariat, so (as an excited 13 year old who ~might~ own a horse related to Secretariat) I began researching on websites like the Jockey Club to see if I could find more about Copper’s race history. Unlike Secretariat, my horse only won about $28,000 on the track and was quickly retired, sold for a grand and forgotten about. I was amazed to see that Copper as a yearling had been sold for $11,000! As a 13 year old, knowing I owned a horse that won $28,000 from being a race horse absolutely amazed me.
Flash forward 10 years, and my boss (our Executive Director) tells me that we are getting an OTTB mare that was tried as a Broodmare- but failed. I was thrilled to hear that we were getting an OTTB because we had yet to rescue one at Wayward Ranch, and I had high hopes that she would be a great project horse. However, I quickly became anxious anticipating the shape of this OTTB. I had personally never heard anything positive about ‘breeding programs’ let alone one for a horse that was immediately off the track. Would she have scars all over her body from restraint? Were her legs going to have marks from race techniques? I was absolutely clueless and anticipating the worst.
In April 2019, the long legged “Money Game” made her way off the trailer and into our barn. Her caretakers seemed distraught that she was leaving, as she seemed to have a personality that resonated with those around her. She looked like a typical OTTB, with a slender body frame, a big build and intense eyes. She was in much better physical shape than I had anticipated, which I felt was a good sign that people understood her value. The same week, our equine- senior resident Nevada also arrived, so we decided to stick with the name theme and name her Montana, or as I call her, Mo. We promptly did our research on our new OTTB to see her race-horse history. Montana came to us as a 9 old, which means she raced recently enough to have most of her race’s filmed (unlike Copper who only had 1 race filmed- being his last in 2007) so I was excited for the possibility of a solid amount of records, videos of her racing, and auction records. We were absolutely stunned (and still humblebrag) that our new Mare, who had been surrendered to us, won a shocking $300,000 in her career and was actually a direct descendent of the great Secretariat! As amazing as this is, I grew cautious knowing that this mare certainly knows how to run- and fast.
We started off our interactions with Montana very slow, since we had no clue what techniques were being used in attempt to impregnate her, let alone on the track. Throughout the summer we began riding her undersaddle, teaching her to walk instead of run and she quickly proved herself to be less high-strung than anticipated and willing to go where you point her.
Working with Montana quickly became a high-priority for our horse trainer and myself, as she seemed uncomfortable in her own skin and we were desperate to figure out the cause. As you’d run your hands along Montana’s body, she would flinch in discomfort at almost every section. We quickly began asking questions: Was this from abuse? Is this just who she is? Is she too skinny so this hurts? We decided to hire an equine acupuncturist who was also a vet to treat some of our horses, which was the day it became clear that Montana had discomfort that we may not be able to solve on our own. When it was Montana’s turn to go, we had warned the Vet that she was a bit touch sensitive. Montana couldn’t even make it out of the stall, as she was showing symptoms of being in heat, in an adorable- yet intense way. This night in particular is the first time I have ever personally witnessed a mare in heat acting extremely affectionate towards myself. She started off nuzzling her head into my chest as we were talking with the Vet. As I backed away to initiate walking away, she pressed into me more- like she was giving me a bear hug with her face. Having a 1200lb horse rub into you can seem sweet for a few seconds- but after that you grow to realize their strength and I was fortunate to be able to just step out of the stall and remove myself.
“She really loves Sophie '' our Executive Director exclaimed. I chuckled and agreed, while also stating that she had never been THIS friendly towards me before. After observing how intensely affectionate she was, we decided that the acupuncture was not going to be productive for her today. After that night, Montana began going into heat more frequently. It began one every few weeks or so, and then every 2 weeks, then every week, and by October 2019 she was going into heat every few days. As it was escalating, we knew that from being a Broodmare she had likely been pumped with various hormones, and this could be her body’s way of working that off. Unfortunately, Montana’s mood swings became relatively dangerous for those caretaking her and was only getting worse- so we began to talk with our vets about medical interventions.
It became apparent to our doctors and staff that Montana’s best course of action would be to completely remove her ovaries and therefore stop her from going into heat. This concept was something I had never heard of, but I was hopeful that if successful, this could drastically change Montana’s entire quality of life. In January 2020, Montana went into the clinic to receive a Standing Laparoscopic Ovariectomy. As Montana walked off the trailer to come home, I stood in silence, shocked at the large shaved sections from her stomach area. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I was certainly NOT expecting to see over a foot of square space shaved from both sides of her stomach from the surgery. However, her actual surgery wounds were relatively small, clean and covered and it was just the eye-catching amount of hair removal that was exposed. Unfortunately her recovery was not smooth- sailing, and Montana needed a few more visits from our vet before we were in the clear. Recovery with Montana was like starting from square one. We had no idea what horse-personality we were getting everyday. Previously, we were used to anticipating her fluctuating heat cycle which was presented in erratic behavior whereas now, we were anticipating her raging hormones to hopefully be mellowing out, and we were excited to see the end result.
It’s been about 1 month since Mo has recovered from surgery. Her stomach is still bare, but her spirit is higher than ever. Every morning, Mo accompanies me in the pasture while I put hay outside for her. She races (and wins) alongside our ATV, gallops to greet every single horse or human who comes to the gate and her personality is becoming more consistent than ever. Since she is still growing her hair back, Liberty Work (training with the horse in an enclosed area but not attached to them in any way) is our horse trainer and I’s favorite activity to work with her to bond with her and stimulate her in a working environment. Montana has quickly become comfortable trusting us, and will follow us around freely without any bribery. She has even become particularly bonded with a very special herd member to me, my own OTTB Copper. Together, they can gallop around their pasture like in their old career, and trust that they are safe here with us. Every day that I work with Mo, I grow more and more hopeful that she has the potential to make someone extremely happy. Her large framework and willing attitude has set her up for a future where she could thrive in several different horse careers- whether that be someone’s trail horse or someone's eventing horse. No matter how long that takes, she has a home here with us.
Montana (right) and Copper (left)