There are tons of misconceptions regarding off the track Thoroughbreds, many of which I believed myself prior to starting work with Thoroughbred racehorses on the track. People view these horses as crazy, hot headed athletes who come off the racetrack knowing next to nothing when that really is not the case. I've been blessed to have owned and retrained several of these magnificent athletes as well as having ridden dozens of different horses on the track. They are truly the most amazing horses and I am so passionate about their training both on the track and off. There is nothing quite like a Thoroughbred.
Now, I think the main thing that a lot of people seem to forget is that these horses are broke. Yes, they are "track broke" so they won't be as fine tuned as people's performance horses, so to some less experience with working with greenies, the way in which OTTBs are trained may be confusing. They don't just go out on the track and gallop every single time. They're broke w/t/c and much of their training is at a slower pace than a true gallop. Breezing them everyday for work would only serve to set them up for a breakdown, much like jumping the crap out of your horse every single day. The track is busy. Hectic. Loud. Think of taking your horse out to a horse show to ride EVERY time you school. Public tracks are exciting and Thoroughbreds are made to deal with this at a very young age. They've seen a lot by the age of 2. Much more than most people's young horses do in the show world. Now, for some horses, this can fry them, however, for many it sets them up for further success in the future and allows them to effectively deal with excitable situations with an air of calm, once they realize they are no longer a racehorse and therefore don't need to go fast or be excitable.
While these horses may be broke to do more than just run at a flat gallop everyday, it's important to remember that as racehorses, they still won't ride just like your riding horse. They'll feel green, often stiff to the right due to mostly going to the left. They don't work on circles or bending exercises to anywhere near the same extent as a horse would in an arena. It's also important to remember that when buying horses straight off the racetrack, the vast majority of the time you will not be riding them first. You need a license to ride on a public racetrack and taking a Thoroughbred out on a private track can be really dangerous if you don't know how to gallop a Thoroughbred as you can get bolted on. Some trainers may let you ride in arenas at private barns or through the alleyways at track but most will expect you to buy off of watching them jog and feeling their legs. Riding them in a track setting or small arena really won't give you much of an idea of the sport horse they'll become because they'll feel so green. You more or less will have to go off of build and soundness. Look for a horse who is alert and curious, interested in the surroundings and in the people around them. Their trot may look tense and short, too, especially on concrete. Their muscles are developed differently than your riding horses due to the work they do. The loose, flowing and bigger trot will come with training.
Also, it's important to keep in mind that due to the exciting and ever changing nature of the racetrack, coupled with the high energy feeds, racehorses may be reactive and silly at the track in a way that they won't be after settling from let down time. Even some of the worst horses that I gallop, who are prone to throwing some big bucks, rearing or wanting to bolt would be considerably easier to ride in an arena setting or after letdown time. Heck, you might just catch me getting on bareback. Keeping these athletes contained when they're fit and out with other excitable young horses on the track that they know they get to race on or do their works on can be difficult. This doesn't mean that horses who get silly on the track or who've thrown their riders or act up in the paddock before races won't make you a good riding horse. It's all relative and they'll undergo some big attitude and body changes as they develop the right muscles and get introduced to a quieter lifestyle, more turnout, lower energy feed and different types of work.
Another thing about these athletes that seems to run people into trouble with them is that they're sensitive. If you aren't a soft rider or if you're a little too excitable yourself, for lots of these Thoroughbreds, that can be a deal breaker. You can't expect a horse to be quiet if you're not quiet yourself and if you make a big deal over minor mishaps, you're simply setting your horse up to be a nervous wreck. Take things slow. Delight in lots of trot work and bending exercises when you're putting the first rides on them after the track. Make your rides as relaxing and lacking in excitement as possible. Don't give your horse a reason to get "up" as soon as you sit on them. Talk to them. Tell them stories. Be soothing and quiet. Lots of the riders on the track talk to the more nervous and reactive horses, so you may just find that doing the same helps yours relax.
Racehorses are fed a VERY high energy diet and burn lots of calories with their level of work when they're in training as a racehorse. Because of this, coming off the track is a bit of an adjustment nutritionally as well as in relation to the level of their work load. I would personally recommend allowing the horse to settle in turnout for at least a couple weeks. Turn out is a necessity, in my opinion, even in the event the horse has turnout anxiety and "prefers" a stall, I think it's important to get them happy and comfortable being outside if you want them to relax and be quiet in the future. Now, nutrition wise, the adjustment can be difficult. Many horses coming off the track will have ulcers, if they were not preventatively treated. So, this is a discussion you may want to have with your vet regarding treatment and/or prevention options. The main thing that I find a lot of people miss the boat on nutritionally is good hay and enough of it. In a perfect world, your horse should have constant access to hay. At the very least, they should be getting lots throughout the day and never going much longer than an hour or so without any forage to munch on. This will help to prevent ulcers in the future as well as keeping weight on.
Now, on top of lots of high energy grain, they're often fed very rich hays such as alfalfa. Again, this means that the adjustment to a new diet can be difficult, especially if they're fed low quality hay or too little of it. Make sure your hay is sufficient in both volume and quality. If the hay isn't up to standards, you'll likely end up wasting a ton of money on weight gaining supplements and grain only to see very little in the way of results.
For supplementation of top of good quality grain and hay, I've had really good luck with oils. Some people swear by things like rice bran, but personally I don't love this unless it's in oil form (and then I prefer other types of oils) as it sticks to the teeth, lots of horses I've had haven't found it particularly palatable and it can add a lot of volume to the grain. Any how, for oils my favourites have been the following: Cocosoya Oil ($35-$40 a jug and lasts around a month or so for one horse) and O3 Animal Health Equine Omega Complete ($60 a jug and lasts a month... But I have a code for $20 off two gallons so would be more comparable to the Cocosoya with more health benefits: code = Dennis). O3 also has a Mega Gain oil that's more targeted for weight gain, but I've had amazing results so far with their Omega Complete. I use it on both of my horses for its health benefits but it can also be great for adding weight to a thin horse. Other alternatives to oils that I've used include soyabean meal, flax seeds, black oil sunflower seeds. Now that my OTTB has a good weight on, I've pulled him off of all supplements aside from the Omega Complete and Biomane (for hair growth). The Omega Complete helps him maintain his weight while having added benefits that include soft tissue health, hoof health and more. My OTTB is a particularly picky eater and I have had great luck with keeping his volume of grain to a minimum and avoiding soaked alfalfa cubes (hates them, but will eat his alfalfa mix hay) and avoiding powdered supplements (or if you must feed powders, try to mix them with something wet... like fibremax or an oil and mix well. Add molasses if you have to). Anyways, give them time to adjust to their diet. They may lose some weight while adjusting to their new lifestyle and it may take some playing around for them to get the right fit diet wise. Young, growing horses may be even harder to keep a good consistent weight on as they adjust to more turnout, different food and rapid growth.
Patience, understanding and taking your time in building a strong foundation on the flat and the basics prior to throwing more exciting things (like jumping) at your off the track Thoroughbred will help set them up for success. Some are more reactive than others, just like any other breed or type of horse and may require more time. It's easier to take it slow and avoid frying a horse than it is to fix a horse who has had way too much thrown at them and as a result, become even more nervous. Trust me, I've made this mistake in the past myself and with trusting the wrong people with my beloved Thoroughbreds and it's easier to take the extra time to build your horse up, rather than trying to fix a horse who has had its confidence crumpled. It will all be worth it in the end. Teaching them to work properly and quietly on the flat should come first and foremost, once this is achieved, you will find that everything else will come easier.
While Thoroughbreds off the racetrack often aren't the crazy, spooky, out of control and hard to train horses that people often love to stereotype them as, it's important to remember that they are green and powerful horses who often come off of the track high energy. They are not, in most cases, suitable for anyone without training experience or support from a qualified trainer. Getting a horse straight off the track as a novice rider is a great way to ruin your confidence. If you want an off the track Thoroughbred but are a nervous rider or don't have the necessary experience to retrain one from track broke, consider getting an OTTB that has been retired for a while and has had relevant retraining off the track. You'll get all of the work ethic of the Thoroughbred while getting a horse that rides in a manner that you're more comfortable with. There are lots of organizations that offer ex racehorses with some retraining or trainers who specialize in retraining and resale of Thoroughbreds off the racetrack.