Off-track Thoroughbreds are an ongoing source of versatile horsepower for Western riders, making “racehorse to ranch horse” a reality.
In 2009, the gelding Well Armed streaked past the finish line in what was then the world’s richest Thoroughbred race—The Grade 1 Dubai World Cup. The 6-year-old bay, owned by WinStar Farm, would race one more time before retiring.
Today, you can sometimes see the tall bay gelding under Western tack being ridden around the Rafter C Ranch in Flower Mound, Texas, by owner Bill Casner. Both look comfortable in their attire, and the now-16-year-old gelding seems to be loving his new life. During his career on the track, Well Armed earned more than $5,000,000, but now he’s a cow pony. It’s one of the more amazing racehorse-to-ranch-horse stories.
“He was a pretty special racehorse,” Casner says of the gelding. “I’ll probably never own another like him in my lifetime.”
Casner adds that the homebred gelding’s one flaw never slowed him down.
“He really toes in, and he wouldn’t have brought a ham sandwich as a yearling because of that conformational fault. But it turns out he was one of the best horses in the world in his generation.”
From Winner’s Circle to Cattle Calls
While it might seem crazy to imagine a multimillion-dollar-earning Thoroughbred roughing it on a ranch, it’s actually not all that uncommon. Truth is, horsemen are starting to look at off-track Thoroughbreds (or OTTBs, as the industry calls them) for more than just three-day eventing or show jumping.
In fact, the extreme growth of the $100,000 Thoroughbred Makeover is proof that Thoroughbreds are finding their way into Western events. The Makeover pits former racehorses against each other, and no contestant can have more than a year of non-race training. Many disciplines are represented, including ranch work, barrel racing, and competitive trail.
That’s a recent trend, but if you talk with Dale Simanton and Dorothy Snowden of Belle Fourche, South Dakota, they’ll tell you Thoroughbreds working on a Western ranch isn’t really new.
“Out West a lot of people used to use Thoroughbreds,” says Snowden. “Up in this area, there are a lot of people who always had a racehorse or two they’d race in the summers on the fair circuit, then use on the ranch during the winter.”
Snowden’s husband, Simanton, grew up around dual-purpose Thoroughbreds. He remembers weekend race meets with mixed cards of Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Paint, and Appaloosa races. Ranchers did their work during the week, then hauled a few racehorses to the meet to play racehorse trainer on weekends.
Continue reading this piece I wrote for Horse & Rider Magazine, posted January 2020.