OTTB vs Thoroughbred

OTTB vs Thoroughbred

I’m not a huge COTH forums poster, but I do browse it several times a week.  One day I stumbled on a thread that essentially said; “OTTB is not a breed.  Thoroughbred is a breed.  It annoys me when someone uses OTTB as if it were their horse’s breed.”

Reading this, it occurred to me that I am one of those people.


And why not?  I like the “OTTB” label.  It’s kind of like being in a club where horse people around have an impression of where you stand.  Often times you’re a hard working amateur that doesn’t have a deep pocket book.  Maybe you’re an animal rights person that chooses to rescue instead of breed?  Maybe you love a spitfire of a horse.  There are a lot of “maybes”, but the OTTB label says something… and that’s why I think I use it and others do as well.


On the flip side, do I really qualify?  Simon is tattooed, but he never raced. The best internet sleuth I know found out that he did two official timed workouts at the track – one fast, and one not.  His breeder told me that they decided to stop his race training when they got a diagnosis of loose/locking stifles due to conformation.  He’s almost eight years old, and has spent more time being lame in a pasture or doing hunter/jumper arena work than he ever did racing.  He has show miles.  He is not hot, nor has he ever been.


At what point do I lose my OTTB label?  Is it time to just call him a Thoroughbred?  Does anyone besides people on COTH even care?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to trash my OTTB saddle pad and car decal… but it is interesting to me.  My ultimate showing goal with Simon is to do the Take2 classes offered at a few of our A shows, which are divisions limited to race bred Thoroughbreds only.  You have to show various forms of proof, like a tattoo or registration papers, in order to be able to enter.  With that in mind, does he ever lose his OTTB status?


For those of you with similar horses, what are your thoughts on the question?

43 thoughts on “OTTB vs Thoroughbred

  1. I read COTH but i don’t allow myself to post because they annoy me a lot and it would be ugly 🙂 No, no one cares but some people on COTH with a bug up their butt. Your pony is an OTTB. He was, bred to race, he was race trained, he was tattooed. Hes an off the track thoroughbred. No OTTB isn’t a bred and i really doubt people use it as a bred but it is an identifier of where he came from. So people use it instead of thoroughbred when referencing their horses or others.

    COTH is their own subculture and though i do read the forums and on occasion i get something out of it that i didn’t already know, it is full of people who ” know everything and whatever you’re doing its wrong” they are a gain of salt site to me.

    Keep doing what your doing, wear that OTTB saddle pad and be proud, drive around with that decal and let the world know you own an a horse that was race trained. So what if he didn’t get though that first gate because his trainer/owner had heart and saw the dangers of racing him and gave him a chance at another life. Thats a good thing, a very good thing.

    1. I tend to agree with you with COTH. Some really good info, some really annoying stuff… but this subject made me go hmmm.

      Although you hit the nail on the head! I do have the OTTB pad and car decal 😀

  2. If he’s tattooed and has official training times I think it’s fair to say he’s an ottb. While he never did officially race he was certainly on the road to it. Our homebred who has JC tattooed and reg parents but who is not registered, he’s a TB, def not an OTTB.

  3. It’s taken me awhile to warm to the OTTB title. Mainly because I hate acronyms 😉 I describe Guinness to others as an “Off-the-track thoroughbred.” It’s a good description of him. He raced for 6 years in England, California and the East Coast. He still remembers his race training, and has the competitive spirit I love about racehorses.

    I love the thoroughbred breed, and I think there are standards apparent in the breed whether the horse actually raced or not. That said, I do think that stakes horses and winners have a bit of a different feel of life. They know they’re special. They walk into situations like they own them.

    I guess I feel that any horse that’s been to the track, dealt with the regularity of life there, the stabling, the unique atmosphere, has the right to be called an OTTB. It’s such a different start than most horses have. It carries through into their whole lives. It makes them special.

  4. I’ll be honest: the label kind of irks me.

    On the one hand, it’s an accurate label, even for TBs that didn’t race. They were at the track if they were race-trained, breezed, whatever. They are now on their second career as sporthorses. I think it’s super cool that there are systems and safety nets for those horses. So it’s not like you’re misleading people or anything when you call a horse like Simon an OTTB.

    On the other hand…labels have power, right? That’s why people use them. And I feel like in this case, it’s often wielded with a sense of smug superiority. Maybe some of that is because for so long “track reject” was pejorative. But there is a certain type of person (not you!) who says OTTB like they should be praised and congratulated. (There is the flip side, too, that all OTTBs are crazy hot and ill-behaved.)

    It doesn’t irk me nearly as much in TBs as it does in mustangs. There are BLM mustangs (off the range) and then there are all the other ways in which people label mustangs so as to “prove” their purity/special snowflake status. You get the Kigers and the Spanish Colonial Horses and the Pryor Mountains and on and on and on and people, your horses are mutts and that’s ok. Own up to it. All the psudeoscience in the world won’t “prove” your poorly-conformed, scrubby, inbred little horse is somehow more “worth saving” than a random gathered mustang in excellent shape and with great conformation.

    /soapbox, sorry. 🙂

    1. I agree with you with having some issues with the label. A lot of times I think people use the OTTB label because they think they are better than people who buy purpose bred sport horses. Kind of a “I handle a wild and fiery Thoroughbred who had no training… so I’m better than someone who bought a fancy hunter warmblood.” That drives me crazy, mainly because I know a LOT of warmbloods that are much harder to ride than Simon. He may not have changes (yet) or be a 10 mover, but he’s not going to do you dirty and buck you off after the jump.

      1. Easy solution – buy both! I have a chestnut OTTB mare (oh the horror!) who was, quite literally, a nightmare to retrain. She’s STILL difficult. She’s not hot though… and you would never guess by looking at her that she is OTTB – but she won over $50k!!!! My WB is half TB… no label for her, and people look down their noses when she’s not a “full bred” WB breed. Sooo – it goes both ways I guess…

    2. I think Amanda hit the nail on the head. I don’t see a problem with you using the term OTTB either, several of my barnmates have OTTBs and are quite proud to talk of their horses’ pasts. BUT, none of them wield the term like a badge of honor, like somehow they are mightier than all other thoroughbred owners because theirs came from off the track. That’s the key.

      It’s not just limited to thoroughbreds either. I see it with dogs at the dog park all the time, some folks seem to think their adopted dog is better than all others because he came from x location. Example: “Well, MY rescue is a KATRINA dog.” I want to tell them, that’s nice, that dog rescued from the local SPCA over there is just as awesome and deserving of a loving home as yours is.

    3. I’ve heard people use OTTB as a special snowflake label, but I think you can use that argument for nearly all breed registries. Heck, we are proud of our horses and they are special snowflakes to *us*, so it’s kinda hard not to let that spill out in conversation.

      My horse’s previous owner bothered to register her NFQHA even though she goes back to Three Bars several times as well as Top Moon and Man O War. And nothing say Foundation Quarter Horse like Man O War, right? On the flip side, I’ve met several people who proudly label their horse Appendix as a badge of honor when to others it means “not good enough to be a real QH.”

      I guess we all just really, really love our horses. 😉

  5. I could go both ways. I’m a very fact driven person from my line of work, and factually OTTB is not a breed. I had my first OTTB before they were “in” and when people asked what she was, I always said she was a TB. The whole OTTB thing never occurred to me. On the other hand, the whole point of pushing the OTTB concept is to show that ex-racers can excel in second careers. So if we don’t identify them somehow, how will people know? I think its all in how you use the term. I think its fine to let people know your horse raced, but I can’t stand people who shout it from the rooftop like they deserve an award. And yes, I do have a saddle pad 🙂

    1. I think that’s why I use it really! Otherwise, how would someone know? I guess it doesn’t make a huge difference and while I don’t think I’m superior for having a track horse vs a bred horse, it does make a difference in his background for sure.

  6. I admit it — I really really like Thoroughbreds but a lot of the OTTBs-are-special-snowflakes stuff makes me a little nuts. Not the stuff that recognizes and celebrates a cool and useful horse! That’s fine. But the stuff that treats them like they’re more or less than just horses or that clearly doesn’t include any actual knowledge of what life is like at the track, yes. I can sympathize with that COTH quote (although I didn’t see that thread and so dunno if my sympathy would generalize!).

    I think a horse needs to have actually been in race training to be an OTTB, and I personally wouldn’t use the term for a horse that never raced. But once an OTTB, always an OTTB. I don’t think a horse ages out and it’s a job — like bring ex-military — not a breed or temperament or set of traits.

    1. But see the problem with not using OTTB until a horse actually races- what about the TBs who race but lose so badly after one or two they just call it quits? Or the TBs that lose so badly they officially don’t even finish? (Have one of those at the barn). So are they considered OTTBs just because they ACTUALLY raced, despite being so slow they technically don’t even finish. I have a hard time seeing how that is different, really, from Simon who was in race training but didn’t race. Like if I gallop my TB around a race course with another horse, by that definition, then he’s an OTTB. See where I’m getting at?

      AKA, you make a good point Lauren- what a crazy term that is kind of hard to define!

      1. The “personally” there means that this is how I use the term; I’m not going to hunt somebody down and cut them if they use it differently. 😉

        But no, I see no problem. I, personally, call a horse an OTTB if it’s a TB that raced. So if it raced once or twice and then flunked out or broke or otherwise stopped racing, that’s an OTTB in my book; it’s a TB that raced. Likewise, if it…you know, I have read a lot of race charts and I don’t recall ever seeing a horse DNFed on account of being a super slowpoke. Are you talking about the notation “distanced”? But yes, I would call that an OTTB; it’s a TB that raced. My definition, like I said, has to do with the job and the action. It doesn’t say anything at all about whether the horse was any good at the job.

        And if you read my comment, you’ll also see that “actually raced” is my useage and I’m perfectly happy with the “race-trained” definition as a more general-purpose useage. So sure, Simon is in. But race training is nnnnot the not the same thing as just going for a gallop around the track, in company or out of it. A lead pony that ran away once is not an OTTB.

        You’re welcome to disagree with my definition, but it’s not nearly as complicated or as internally inconsistent as you’re making it out to be. 😉

  7. I would consider Simon an OTTB since he did actually spend time on the track and his initial training was for racing.

    What does suck, though, is having a TB, who was bred from two rescued OTTBs, who was not gelded until he was 2 because he was suppose to get registered and go to the track but he was way too small so they never did it. So, I have a TB who is not registered and not tattooed and never actually went to the track who acquired for free as an unbroken almost 4 year-old who spent his youth out in a pasture. Which kind of sucks because I don’t get to join the OTTB club, though in many ways I still have re-purposed TB who I trained from the ground up and got for nothing. :'( If I had not been given Wiz for free, my plan was to purchase an OTTB when I had the money. I REALLY WANT SOME OF THOSE OTTB DECALS AND SHIRTS AND PADS. But unfortunately, OTTBs snobs wouldn’t let me in the club 😉 I can’t even do the OTTB show circuit point thing! Sad days.

    I guess what I’m saying is, in one way I am all about the OTTB push, so that these track horses get another home. In another way, it really sucks having a TB and feeling like I’m missing out on something or don’t have something as good just because he’s not technically an OTTB. Sigh.

    1. The Jockey Club is trying to get better about pushing the TB breed for more than just racing and this includes TBs who raced and the ones that didn’t. TIP (thoroughbred incentive program) was started by the Jockey Club for this purpose and it is slowly growing. TBs do not have to have a tattoo or to have raced to be registered with TIP but they must be registered with the Jockey Club. Unfortunately due to the expense there still isn’t much incentive for a breeder to register a TB that they know is not going to race. Hopefully that will start to change as the TIP program grows and the interest in TBs outside of racing grows. (We can only hope!) It’s no different than my sister’s Arab. She never got around to registering him for various reasons and now she can’t show him in any breed shows even though he is a purebred Arab.

      The big push right now is for OTTBs but hopefully this will expand to include all TBs because I think they are a pretty darn nice breed whether they raced or not. Wiz being a great example of that. And luckily with eventing breed really doesn’t matter in the end anyways.

      1. I mean, yeah, good thing eventing doesn’t bother with breed- but it’s still kind of lame that I have the papers on both of his parents and can’t claim any kind of registration on him!! I mean maybe I could still register him? But I don’t have that kind of money. They have that program in eventing though where I thought they had to be OTTBs to point, or is that TIP that you’re talking about? Either way, I was disappointed that Wiz couldn’t do it 🙁

  8. I never thought of people using the term OTTB to be boastful. Rather, I always viewed the term as a way to know the horse’s background. An OTTB is, most likely, going to have the issues attributed to being worked hard and fast at a young age. Not all of them, but some. Fiction has issues – he had splints, tieback surgery, and somewhat poor hocks at this point and he is just a baby. He also had some weird surgery done to his neck that we can’t identify, his tongue is twisted and scarred, and he is head shy.

    Can these issues come with a horse not off the track? Yes, they can. But identifying a horse as an OTTB to me is essentially saying: I bought a horse that probably has/will have issues from the intense training on the track. It also tells me that you probably didn’t spend a lot of money on him.

    Buying an OTTB is a risk. I would have never considered it if I had the money to buy a really nice-bred thoroughbred. That being said, you can get some solid competitors off of the track, and it is nice to see them rehomed to new jobs.

    I do consider an horse that had race training as an OTTB, even if they never raced. They were in that atmosphere, they were probably introduced to steroids, drugs, large quantities of oats (to cause ulcers) and stressed at a young age. Normal TB’s don’t have that sort of environment imposed upon them.

  9. I’ve never realized people were very divided on the nuances of what qualifies an OTTB! Both of my horses are registered Thoroughbreds. Moe raced once, failed miserably and quickly found a new job as an eventer. Gina has never seen a racetrack. I tell people both are TBs; sometimes I mention Moe is off the track, but it rarely comes up. I suppose the difference is that OTTBs’ original purpose in life was to race, regardless of how successful they were. A regular old TB is just a member of the breed.

  10. ‘race bred Thoroughbreds’ I think is the qualifier to call your horse an OTTB. And Simon was, so I have no problem with you saying OTTB. I do think some people throw it around as if they are special, part of an elitist club. Don’t care for that attitude. Like the difference between a ‘rescue’ dog and a purchased responsible breeder’s dog. Like you are a lesser person because you didn’t go the rescue route (lots of VERY valid reasons not to, btw). Two of my 3 dogs are rescues – see, I feel the need to disclaim that!

    1. Haha, the rescue vs non-rescued dog thing is legit. I’ve been guilty of it myself even though we have 2 rescued dogs and 1 bought one. I need to try and be less smug about it!

  11. **raises hand**

    Totally one of those elitist breedist.

    To non-horsepeople, I tell them that my horse is a Thoroughbred. If there isn’t a dazed look on their faces after hearing that, I’ll tell them that he was a racehorse. That seems to also give some clarity as to his breed.

    To horsepeople, I always say that I have an OTTB. And I’m probably pretty smug about it, too. I think it’s pretty goddamn amazing that my horse had a job prior to finding me. I know other horses can change disciplines and cross-train on other disciplines, but our guys were backed as babies, trained and trained and trained some more, possibly ran, possibly won, and possibly brought home a paycheck. And then they retired and learned a whole new set of skills, while essentially working to wipe out everything they’d previously been taught.

    Just because I think being an OTTB is overly deserving of the super-special-snowflake club doesn’t eliminate other breeds from that same snowflake status. My horse being awesome doesn’t negate the ability of your horse to be awesome, too.

    (Actually, all of this could apply to other racers, too, but I think the issue is that the OTTB is more common.)

    As far as Simon goes, I wondered about this recently, too. Another TB at the barn had race training, but never raced. I pondered this fine line and finally determined that I still consider him as an OTTB because he had the training.

    1. Don’t get me wrong – I wear it proudly too. Every time I get a little frustrated by not winning or not getting things easily, I try to inwardly focus on how my little nerd horse is making me a better rider. If it weren’t for the OT part of his TB I’m not sure I necessarily feel the same way 🙂

  12. I really like the label because I am always so proud of the progress I make with those guys. Race bred tbs try so hard and I think they are definitely a special kind of animal. Val for example has his quirks, but he also never says no or runs out of heart, and I love telling people how far we’ve come since he came off the track as an 8 year old.

  13. My opinion is if a horse has a lip tattoo he is an OTTB whether he raced or not. He or she saw time on the track and for whatever reason never made it to an actual race.

    OTTB is not a breed. TB is a breed but the OT does give people a little more information about the horse whether it be an OTQH or OTSB, etc.

    I think the backlash against OTTBs just goes to show how successful the push to put OTTBs in the spotlight has been and honestly that is a good thing (the success, not the backlash). There was(is) a huge need for these horses to find jobs outside of racing as well as a need to change the mindset of racehorse owners, trainers and breeders and one can only hope that this change is happening.

    As far as the attitude of my horse is “better/more special/whatever” because he/she is an OTTB well #1 I think that attitude happens with any and every breed and #2 I think it is normal. Sure there are people who take it too far but honestly every breed should have it’s champions, people who genuinely love the breed and want to shout it from the rooftops. Sure, it can be taken to the obnoxious level but again that is true for all breeds. I absolutely love and am proud of my OTTB and I don’t mind letting people know but I also have a lot of respect for other breeds and I love the fact that there are people out there who love the QH or Arab or Haflinger, etc, etc, etc as much as I love my TB (and my Arab). It’s like I tell my son if everyone was a Bengal’s fan eventually there wouldn’t be any other teams to play. Diversity is a great thing!

  14. I’m 100% with you on this one. There’s something special about the OTTB label (and I do think Simon qualifies!) And, no, I don’t think anyone but COTH cares.

  15. Roz is an OTTB but if someone asks what breed he is I’d only reply TB. Maybe it’s because I got him several years off the track. I do have an OTTB sticker on my car and have no problem with the label.

  16. I always just referred to Don as an ex racehorse. He was a thoroughbred who had moved on to a new career. I hate acronyms. There are too many acronyms in my life that I can’t remember what they mean (mostly at work).

    Apparently my parents told people their daughter had a retired horse and no one was shocked when he died because all the non horse people thought 8 must be old for a horse.

  17. It’s funny, I was just up at the barn yesterday and I was speaking with one of the other boarders, who has two lovely geldings. She was asking about my mare, and I told her how I got her off the track as a three year old, to which she interjected “My boys are both off-track Thoroughbreds, too!” and we moved into talking about their various quirks (probably developed at the track). So, among fellow horse people, I think it can be a fun way to make a connection with someone. I find it most useful as a label when speaking with non-horse people, though. I cannot tell you how many times someone will ask me “what kind of horse do you have?” and when I reply “Thoroughbred” they are confused and almost always follow up with “Yeah, but I mean… what breed?” I’ve taken to saying “I have a Thoroughbred, you know, an ex-racehorse, bought off the track.” That seems to at least give people a point of reference!
    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to use the OTTB label, because that is what the horse is: an Off-Track Thoroughbred. I’ve known homebred TBs (purpose-bred eventers and the like), so I think it’s fine to distinguish your horse as a Thoroughbred who was race-bred and race-trained.

  18. Why is it not surprising that some people on a clicque-ish internet forum would try to make other people feel bad about being proud of their horses’ background? Thoroughbred is the breed, ottb is a distinction within that breed.

    I absolutely refer to Val as an ottb. He trained at the track. He’s tattooed and registered. Don’t think he raced – I can’t find any record. Probably because of his other tattoos – pinfiring scars on both fronts. And his talent for conserving energy. He’s definitely my special snowflake. ;D

    There’s nothing wrong with being “just” a thoroughbred either. Not all breeds’ books go back as far. People have cared about breeding thoroughbreds for a long time. The furthest back I could get with Zenyatta was the Fairfax Morocco Barb – 1633.

    Byerly Turk – 1680
    Darley Arabian – 1700
    Godolphin Arabian – 1724

  19. I may be in the minority, but I see OTTB as a totally separate case than TBs. I have owned a TB (registered, but not tatooed, and certainly never raced. He was bred to jump) and I have owned an OTTB (Miss Trinity. She raced for 2 years, won the first one and failed the rest). I honestly and truly believe that they are different species entirely. Their attitude, their mentality, their drive is all different. First and foremost, a TB doesn’t have to be full TB. They can have WB in their genes or Arabian or QH. As long as they are over (I think, don’t quote me) 66% TB they are considered TB. OTTB on the other hand are 100% TB. They have to have been live bred (no AI at all), they have to have blood lines traced to only other race TBs, and other requirements. I look at it like Swedish Warmbloods and Dutch Warmbloods. They are both based in the same historical lineage, but over time have diverged and become their own breeds. Do I think that OTTB will ever become a “recognized” breed? What does recognized even mean??? Who ‘recognizes’ them? I think the fact that you are seeing OTTB specific classes at recognized shows means that people understand the differing qualities that OTTB has from other TB and WB breeds. I think that specifying OTTB is 100% allowed and should be encouraged, because it means something!

  20. Nothing anyone posts on COTH should be taken even the least bit seriously. Those know-it-alls make me crazy.

    If he was trained as racehorse and stepped foot on a racetrack, he’s an OTTB.

  21. Henry never raced either and is not tattooed, but I still consider him an OTTB. He was in race training for 2 years. If a horse spent two years jumping but never went to a horse show would you not call it a jumper? Did those two years just *poof* disappear? I don’t think actually racing is the qualifier… if the horse ever saw a race track (or training track) it’s an OTTB. And there’s nothing wrong with being a little proud of it. They’re super cool horses, it’s fair to celebrate them. Granted the people that think they’re a better rider because they can “handle” an OTTB are annoying and ignorant. An Oldenburg that I leased was the most difficult horse I’ve ever sat on in my life… my TB’s have been some of the easiest.

  22. When talking to people in real life I say that I own a thoroughbred, but when talking to someone online I call him an OTTB. It is really weird. Maybe I type that he is an OTTB because it is shorter than typing out the word thoroughbred. Kind of like writing LOL instead of ‘laugh out loud’, and I am just THAT lazy.

  23. The way I see it, OTTB is a label and Thoroughbred is the breed. As long as you’re not filling out membership forms and saying he’s a OTTB instead of a thoroughbred… you’re not, right??? 🙂

    Though I did have a “trainer” once who insisted that one of her tb’s was a JC Thoroughbred and the other just a thoroughbred. She might have meant to indicate that one was registered and one wasn’t but it was the stupidest thing I ever saw (especially since both had tattoos and were clearly registered).

  24. I love CoTH…it’s like a slow painful torture that you are free to leave but just keep returning to lol.

    I use OTTB for horses that come from the track or have come from the track. When people ask what my breed is I say Thoroughbred. I put OTTB on my show entries because it is easier. I think OTTB is interchangeable but Thoroughbred is not. OTTB now represents more than just an off track horse though, it represents a culture of people who recognize what these horses were bred for, where they come from, and that they have a second life available to them after their track life.

  25. OTTB refers to a horse who has been on the track, not necessarily one that raced. 🙂

    As far as my horse goes, he is tried and true OTTB who spent 4 years racing with well over 30 starts under his belt… the downside to this is that there has been a LOT of track to get out of him. He’s been with me 2 years and it’s still slow going. He’ll be a fun horse whenever we get past the track mind-block!

  26. It’s a label.
    Like Dressage Horse, or Hunter-Jumper or Sport Pony or Pretty Pretty Princess Pony. Whatever floats your boat.

    My only pet peeve is that OTTB does NOT equal rescue. A previous career- even if you don’t agree with it- doesn’t constitute abuse. If money changes hands, its a purchase, not a rescue.
    //End Rant

    Owner of a GTRTFOMPTB

  27. I find this conversation flow about TB v. OTTB v. ex-racehorse to be fascinating! I was doing some writing recently about my precious TB I had for 16 years until he died at 23, and it got me wondering if he would have been considered an OTTB. He was Kentucky-born, but never raced (no tattoo). My guess is he was just too slow? Was I a cool kid for having an OTTB before the label even existed? Just kidding. But I am curious. What say you?

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